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Friday, 25 June 2010

1943 November-December

November-December.  London visit. Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt meet. Presents problem. Meat ration for Christmas dinner. Speculating on price of victory.

Tuesday, Nov 2nd
              The conference in Moscow has come to an end and various declarations of policy. Italy to be helped to restore a democratic government, Austria to be restored, war criminals to be handed over to the countries where crimes committed. A four-power declaration by Britain, America, China and Russia recognizing the necessity of setting up a general international organization to maintain peace and security. General plans for shortening the war have been examined and a commission to advise on European problems set up in London. This should lead to closer unity between ourselves, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. and refute the pessimistic prophecies of those who shake their heads over the co-operation.
Saturday, Nov 13th
              Went up to London for half-term weekend. Alerts on two nights quite early, both while we were having supper in Lyons at Piccadilly. Band stopped playing and the loudspeaker announced in vibrant tones: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we beg to inform you that an alert has been sounded,” then the chatter and clatter went on. Out in the street we hurried back to the hotel. The second time our walk was punctuated by bursts of gunfire and we saw the shells bursting in the sky across Green Park. A curious world, for while we slept on the first night they hit a nursing home and rescue parties were trying to rescue new-born babies; on the second night during our walk they dropped bombs on a crowd in Purley High Street, a milk bar and dance hall, and killed 200 people in a few seconds. It was impossible to distinguish between bombs and guns. The raiders are so few and London so immense that no one takes any notice, the taxis run on and West End crowds continue to saunter along Leicester Square in a dense mass. A bomb may fall, a raider may get through, but the chances are small, one takes the risk – a bigger risk of being hit by one’s own barrage than by the Germans.
              Went to two theatres. Programmes bear the notice, “You will be notified from the stage if an air raid warning has been sounded, but that does not necessarily mean that a raid will take place. If you wish to leave, you are at liberty to do so. All we ask is that if you feel you must go you will depart quietly and without excitement. We recommend you to remain in the theatre.”

Saturday, Nov 27th
              This week we turned our bomber force on Berlin and the communiqués are speaking of the “Battle of Berlin” as they spoke of that of Hamburg. Immense damage by high explosives and by fire has been done to the centre of the city and its life appears to have been disorganized. Neutrals describe the attitude of the citizens as one of dumb despair. Casualties are believed to be higher than Hamburg, where the narrow streets were death traps when the fires began. “They can’t stand much more of this,” people here say on the trains and you hear predictions that the war will be over by next March or April. I hope so. The accounts of what are happening in Berlin are horrible. Asked children how they can justify this destruction and hope to make them think a bit.

Monday, Nov 29th
              Went up to Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and had lunch with Molly in the Painted Hall, a first rate meal, every thing of the best, stewards in white coats and gloves, fine oak tables and individual chairs instead of benches as at Oxford colleges – the Hall one of the loveliest in the British Isles with great windows, a spacious staircase up to the floor level, and then the dais rising in a semicircular alcove beyond. The ceiling lit by concealed lighting in the cornice and the tables by electric candelabra. Each cadet allowed two visitors. One table full of Chinamen, cheerful and courteous men. Interesting to see how the Navy absorbs men and women, eastern and western, with its long tradition. Still, after meals in so much stateliness and space one quite understands why the King and Queen like small private apartments. (Diarist’s note: Molly and her friend Ruth Brown, enjoying life together as drivers in the WRENS in Cornwall, were dug out and told they must upgrade to officer rank and were sent to the R. N. College at Greenwich).

Monday, Dec 6th
              We knew Churchill and Roosevelt had left Cairo to meet Stalin and it was amusing to guess where. It turned out to be Teheran, where they lived together for four days. The first meeting between the President and the Georgian Communist took place alone with only interpreters, then Churchill joined them later. It was mainly a military conference for synchronising the blows of next year, but one day was apparently spent on questions of the peace. Churchill celebrated his 69th birthday there and a banquet was given at the British Embassy, which Stalin and Roosevelt attended.
              The meeting with Stalin overshadowed by the appearance at Cairo of China in the person of Chiang Kai Shek and Madame – the only woman at either conference – a fine person and a fine brain.
              News of conference and the presage of victory to lighten the frustrations of war at home. Trains late, long distance trains sometimes hours, principally I think from overloading and traffic congestion. Lucky if you can get a seat and not have to stand in corridors, jammed in with troops of all varieties. Meals another blight as impossible to get lunch or tea at all later than 12 or 4. Stations so dimly lit at night than nothing readable is distinguishable without a torch. Waiting rooms and refreshments rooms, poor in peace time, now indescribably sordid, dirty and overcrowded. All these discomforts make delays still more trying and take the edge of any pleasure to be got from a visit to London in an effort to see your friends.
              Germans now talking of secret weapon “to avenge” air attacks on German cities; speculation about whether one exists and if so what it is. Some think a self-propelling rocket shell by which London may be bombarded from Calais.
              Smuts made a speech on the future of Europe which has caused much discussion – only the three great powers, a trinity, Russia, U.S.A. and ourselves. In Europe Italy, Germany and France will have disappeared. France has gone and if ever she returns it will be long and hard upward pull for her to emerge again. She will not easily resume her old place. We may talk of her as a Great Power, but talking will not help her much. French very angry at this frankness. Perhaps an attempt to make them a little less intractable than they have been of late.

Christmas Day, 1943
              Presents a great problem as nothing to buy. Many people take refuge in book tokens or something of that kind which puts the onus of choice on the recipient! Clothes out of the question; so easy before the war to go into a shop and say “I want something for a lady”; or the chemists and buy soap, scent, powder, a sponge; or a grocers or a sweet shop and buy crystallized fruit; or a stationers and buy a diary or expensive note paper….. but there are none of these things now. Toys for children are few and far between, shockingly made and at fantastic prices. Impossible even to buy a diary! Got Hilary some tools of the less lethal variety – these at any rate you can obtain.
              Hilary very excited. We put his presents in a bag attached to his bed about 10 o’clock. At midnight he woke up and Nora heard him beginning to get out and open them and had to tell him it was not morning. Made up a jug with hips, hawthorn, bracken, old man’s beard, willow and cedar for the dining room and it looked most decorative.
              For dinner we had our meat ration, topside, sprouts, parsnips, potatoes and Christmas pudding with brandy butter (same small bottle of brandy bought in 1939). Lemonade, apples. Hilary was late home from Long Dene School with influenza, but he made a hearty meal, after which he played Halma with Nora and then went for a walk. Listened to the King. Rather better than usual and not so long.
              Everything being done to prepare us for the final shock and the losses and the grand assault. One speaker said 1944 would be our finest hour; don’t agree, think that was 1940 when we stood alone against all expectations of the world, strong only in hope and faith and in the possession of a man of destiny with courage enough, knowing the frightful risks in which we stood, to make that supreme decision, and the right decision, to go on alone. Three long years later we know that the future must bring victory, but we do not know what price the Fates will make us pay for this victory, or by next Christmas how many men living to-day will have lost their lives to win it. How long? The enemy can only hope that the price will be so high and the defence of Europe so fierce that he will be able, out of our weariness and disillusionment, to work a negotiated peace of exhaustion. But for him there is no hope.

Dec 31st
              End of the year cheered by naval success, sinking of the Scharnhorst at last off the North Cape when attacking a Russian convoy in the Arctic twilight and the destruction of three destroyers in the Bay of Biscay….
              The P.M., who had another attack of pneumonia after Teheran conference, now convalescent. Still two attacks in one year not good for a man of his age. M & B used again. Just heard a speech by deputy P.M. Attlee, but nearly sent Nora to sleep!
              An American senator has announced that 73% of the troops on the second front will be United States forces. Generals have all been announced, Eisenhower to command, with Montgomery as British leader, and an R.A.F. officer, Tedder, as Eisenhower’s second. We wait for the attack with confidence, but knowing the Germans will fight with all their courage and skill they showed in 1918 – so the year ends.

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