June-July. Difficult de Gaulle. Cyclists' paradise. Ardour for war diminishing. No fruit and nasty bread. Love drama in Henley. Musso goes.
Monday, June 7th
Timothy down and said Ruhr dams breached by self-propelling mines…. Surprizing amount collected in Wings for Victory week. School collected between 6 and 7 hundred pounds – much greater amount than last year.
At last the French have settled their differences in N. Africa. De Gaulle sounds a most difficult man, apparently he is subject to paroxysms of rage, foams, bites carpet etc. However we are seeing the renaissance of France in N. Africa. Goebbels speaks of “the British-American air terror”, the burdens of air warfare – pity he didn’t think of them sooner. For every bomber in the last four months which flew over here, we sent 40 over Germany. Churchill’s words, “We’ll give it them all back”, now coming true. Feel however no satisfaction or elation at destruction but rather horror of what the Germans have brought on themselves.
Tuesday, June 8th
P.M. made a statement in the House to-day, confident and encouraging. Germans at Stalingrad and in Tunisia had suffered two of the greatest disasters in their long military history. The U-boats would not succeed in holding back our offensive and the most complex and complicated amphibious operations were shortly to begin.
Sunday, June 27th
I bought a utility bicycle painted all black with no rubber on the pedals. Although I paid £8-6s-8d for it I got neither bell, pump, lamps, basket or even a spanner. Riding home in the dark, I held a small torch in my hand and switched it on when I met a policeman. I have been for some good picnics at Sonning and Streatley. The signposts have been restored. The roads are so free from motors that we are back in the 1912 period and shall never see such an opportunity for bicyclists again. The housewives of Henley are now being organised in invasion groups as if this were 1940 over again.
Town after town in the Ruhr is wiped out…. We are sometimes bombing at the rate of a ton a second…. The Nazi leaders are very concerned about the battle. Their propaganda no longer minimizes the attacks, but puts up a bitter cry, as Goebbels at Munich yesterday: “If those who are engaged in a defensive battle should lose the battle by giving in too soon Europe would be lost.”
Monday, June 28th
Forty 4-engined bombers flew over in formation, high and white like ghosts in the heat haze, while I was lecturing on the birth rate this afternoon. The limes are in full blossom and the air is full of their scent. It hardly gets dark till midnight with this double summer time, but the turn of the year is here and the hay is being cut.
Sunday, July 4th
Another thunder of engines high in the clouds this brilliant July morning and then again a large formation, about 35 4-engined day bombers moved ghostlike through the haze, scarcely distinguishable, bound south-east to Dover.
We are entering the end of term phase, School Certificate examinations, entrants, reports, staff meetings. Heard last night that social worker volunteers for European street work told to be on stand by to be ready at any time. Sounds hopeful, but when will “any time” materialize. Wrote to local M.P. to urge support for sending dried milk and vitamins to Belgian and Norwegian children.
Hilary home for first weekend. Did not find it as interesting as he had hoped, but went on river yesterday and he helped paddle the punt most efficiently.
Monday, July 5th
The first glider to be towed across the Atlantic, with a load of one ton on board, reached England yesterday.
J. B. Priestley, whose broadcasts made wireless history in that terrible summer of 1940, is again giving weekly talks, Make it Monday. Last week he was careful to say nothing at all, but to-night he pointed out the importance of not losing our grip and interest, our national power of leadership, our sense of the greatness of the occasion when peace came and not collapsing into littleness, selfishness and quietism when there would be so much to rebuild at home and abroad…..
I feel myself we are growing tired and losing our earlier ardour and interest. The war has gone on for so long that we are becoming emotionally stale. We are not easily moved to elation or despair. We have lived with war so long that it needs an effort to imagine victory: we have come so far that we plod on with our eyes on the ground. The entries in my Diary have become shorter and more infrequent for there seems to be little to record beyond the daily frustrations of the wartime restrictions and scarcities.
Tuesday, July 6th
Went to-night to a lecture on fire fighting in Town Hall for compulsory fire watchers. A little essay read by the Fire Staff Officer to a very talkative and noisy audience, mainly women, was followed by a lecture on bombs and methods of tackling them – keep 12ft away from them, always tackle them from behind cover, and wait seven minutes before coming into room seem to be the chief maxims for dealing will all bombs, for it is impossible to tell which are explosive. Apparently no telephone calls are to be put through to Fire Station but messengers to be sent. Even a policeman exceeds his duty if he reports a fire!
Thursday, July 8th
Apparently very heavy armoured attack in Kursk sector, said to be heaviest ever, launched on Russian front. Neither side saying much at present, but Germans seem inclined to put out that Russians began the attack, which is a good sign. Believed that they may be in need of a victory for political as well as military reasons. The demoralization of the Germans in Africa apparently very surprizing indeed.
[Ed. One of the greatest tank battles in history was fought at Kursk in these July days, involving some 1,500 tanks. It was a disaster of the first order for the Germans, who were outgunned and outmanoeuvred by the Russians, but the battle does not seem, at the time, to have made an impression on the Diarist, no doubt for lack of information]
The German naval broadcaster last night gave a very gloomy picture of the U-boat war. Conditions of warfare in 1942 became more and more difficult. The enemy left nothing untried (good) and the belt of protective vessels doubled. Aircraft increased in numbers, auxiliary aircraft carriers were used to bridge the gap over which shore-based aircraft could not fly. The enemy at present has the upper hand. This was an admission. The broadcast ended lamely by saying that the state of affairs was not eternal and adding that nothing could halt Germany’s faith in her historic mission.
Saturday, July 10th
News of the invasion of Sicily given on the 8 o’clock bulletin but no one was listening so did not hear it till one. No fresh news at nine to-night. To-day “invasion”, but the invaders and invaded have changed places. What an escape!
Spent most of the day planting winter greens and afternoon listening to Beethoven’s 8th Symphony.
Monday, July 12th
No fruit except cherries has appeared this year, or will I expect. It has all been taken for jam. We have had our own black currants and have made some jam of those, but unfortunately have no plums. The bread is getting more and more grey, heavy and queer smelling – that smell of mould! As a great treat Nora bought some salmon at the controlled price of 5/6 a pound.
Thursday, July 15th
Yesterday a sensation here as an American soldier shot one of the local tarts and then himself. Went for fire guard training last night. First we put on dungarees of all shapes and sizes. Then the professionals dealt with a incendiary bomb of the explosive type. I was helping them and it exploded close to my ear, but the other side of some corrugated iron, so that I could not hear anything for some time. Next we crawled on our bellies in a hut filled with a dense concentration of smoke. Then we put out fires made of shavings and soaked in a receptacle to imitate chairs etc. A grand occupation for pyromaniacs altogether – lighting and putting out fires only to light them again. A stirrup pump now consists of three, one to hold the nozzle, one to pump and one to fetch water.
Saturday, July 17th
Things appear to be going well in Sicily. We are within 10 miles of Catania, but the plain is full of watercourses and difficult for armour. Great use has been made of American ducks, an amphibious vehicle, half launch, half lorry, with a motor than can be connected either to a propeller or to a driving shaft! Churchill and Roosevelt have broadcast a joint appeal to the Italians to surrender and give up the fight. The Sicilians are reported friendly.
Recent nights with a full moon have been filled with the roar of bombers droning in procession to the south, and they pass continuously for hours at a time between 10 and 2 a.m. They carry death and destruction, but as I look at them I know that some of the men in them will soon be dead.
Monday, July 26th
When I came down this morning Nora said, “Musso has resigned, he’s going to retire and keep hens” and that’s the news! Badoglio, a non-fascist general, has taken his place. He talks of fighting on…. I saw Musso come in and I’ve seen him go out, and he is one of the first of the Quislings to go.