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The Storm Breaks 80th Anniversary of the Start of World War II


Poland was attacked by Germany at dawn on September 1 [1939]. The mobilisation of all our forces was ordered during the morning. The Prime Minister asked me to visit him in the afternoon at Downing Street. He told me that he saw no hope of averting war with Germany, and that he proposed to form a small War Cabinet of Ministers without departments to conduct it….He invited me to become a member of the War Cabinet. I agreed to his proposal without comment, and on this basis we had a long talk on men and measures.

I was surprised to hear nothing from Mr. Chamberlain during the whole of September 2, which was a day of intense crisis. I thought it probable that a last-minute effort was being made to preserve peace; and this proved to be true….I learnt later that a British ultimatum had been given to Germany at 9:30 pm on September 1, and that this had been followed by a second and final ultimatum at 9 am on September 3. The early broadcast of the 3rd announced that the Prime Minister would speak on the radio at 11:15 am.

The Prime Minister’s broadcast informed us that we were already at war, and he had scarcely ceased speaking when a strange, prolonged, wailing noise, afterwards to become familiar, broke upon the ear. My wife came into the room braced by the crisis and commented favourably upon the German promptitude and precision, and we went up to the flat top of the house to see what was going on.

Around us on every side, in the clear cool September light, rose the roofs and spires of London. Above them were already slowly rising thirty or forty cylindrical balloons. We gave the Government a good mark for this evident sign of preparation, and as the quarter of an hour’s notice which we had been led to expect we should receive was now running out we made our way to the shelter assigned to us, armed with a bottle of brandy and other appropriate medical comforts.

Excerpted from The Gathering Storm.

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