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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

1944 - January

January. "There shall be no night." In the barn at Nettlebed. Vests a disgrace. Americans visit school. Katyn massacre. What the London barrage does when it really tries.
Tuesday, Jan 4th
              Up in London for New Year’s Day. Place full of American soldiers, airmen and a few sailors. More than I have ever seen. Leave before the battle begins.
              Saw a fine play, There Shall Be No Night, by Robert Sherwood, with two American actors, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine.
Scene laid in Greece in 1940 and 1941, a story of death and struggle against hopeless odds, but raised to heights by the tragic emotion and by the restraint and dignity of the acting. It played in New York in 1941 at a time when America was still neutral and did much to awaken opinion to what was happening in Europe. The reactions of a Greek doctor, Karilo Vlachos, and his American wife Miranda to the Munich agreement, the Italian invasion, and the final destruction of the Greek armies by Germany. Their son is wounded and dies, leaving behind a young wife with an unborn child, the doctor is killed fighting at Thermopylae, but before the final crash Miranda Vlachos is able to send away her daughter to America bearing in her body the unborn hope for the future and the play ends with her waiting to burn her home over her head as the Germans enter Athens. An American radio commentator acts as a kind of classic chorus and is given Karilo’s last letter to take to Boston. He may not reach there before the war is over, but Miranda tells him, “In five or six years my grandchild will still not be able to read”. For Karilo Vlachos, as for the Jewish mystic who wrote the Revelations, when man reaches a knowledge of himself and his own nature “there shall be no night”. I found the play more moving than anything I have seen since St Joan 20 years ago

Thursday, Jan 6th
              The Russian thrust from Kiev goes on and by now they have probably reached the old Polish frontier. Relations between Russia and Poland very difficult. Talking to a Polish officer in Lyons one weekend, I discovered that he regarded Nazism and Communism as different terms for the same thing and hated the Russians as much as the Germans. The Poles seem to learn nothing and to forget nothing.
              German propaganda still on line of "fight for survival". German military expert on wireless said, “I many respects the Russians have left us behind. Our yielding territory did not constitute the real trial of the year that has gone. Much more were the bloody losses we had to suffer in the course of bitter defensive battles during 1943….. Expectations were too highly strung, as the past year has shown…. Defence became our lot, defence against the three greatest powers on this globe.”
              All round here the Americans are moving into camps and extending them. Yesterday their air force made the heaviest daylight attack on France and Germany so far. About two o’clock as I was bicycling to meet M, about 45 came back in formation and very low (for them). Some of them use an aerodrome on the old Oxford main road. When the Flying Fortresses came into use they closed the road and extended the runway right across it.
              We were walking on the Ewelme downs and came to an old barn that we sometimes visit. The large doors were bolted and peering through a crack into the gloom I thought it contained some agricultural machinery, but M who looked afterwards noticed what looked like bulls eyes. The machinery was five fighters, their propellers taken off and lying on the floor, standing on their noses with their tails in the air . How queer to find them parked in a lonely downland barn.
              People still very optimistic about the war and Stock Exchange betting that it will be over by May.

Monday, Jan 10th
              It looks like a real bust this time, bigger than Stalingrad. The Russians have broken out of the Kiev salient and are pouring out in all directions…The Germans in the Dnieper bend will be doomed if they stay there and there are tales of collapse and rout.
              Read the news of the break-out in the station master’s office at Radley, where the warden of the college has his entry to five newspapers while the common herd wait outside. Had been to the college for a conference of headmasters on the new Education Bill. Heard of a Quaker School sharing buildings with a Catholic school where on Prize Day the H.M. was alleged to have addressed the assembly: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen!”

Tuesday, Jan 11th
              Yesterday Hilary was taken to see a documentary film on the Battle of Britain. Provoked an endless series of questions, especially about bombs and the Blitz. Rather alarmed by pictures of fires and bombing. To-day we went up to Alice in Wonderland. It was a delightful and very faithful rendering. We began with the author in a boat on the river and Alice sitting on the bank nursing a real live kitten. And there we ended. Hilary most impressed and very solemn afterwards.

Wednesday, Jan 12th
              Clothes situation very poor. Vests a disgrace, more hole than vest, but good in their time. Woollens now unobtainable for adults and utility hardly worth spending coupons on. Jackets in hardly better state, frayed at sleeves, etc, but not so bad if only could get repairs done, but can’t. Your jacket has to wait in queue for months and one I took in last September still not ready.
              Russian govt has put cards on the table as they concern Poland. Eastern frontier to be original line fixed by Supreme Council in 1919. White Russia and Ukraine to remain in U.S.S.R., but Poland to receive some compensation in west.

Friday, Jan 14th
              Began school, fine and sunny weather. These great daylight air battles are continuing….. To-day, while reading Mill’s On Liberty with the Sixth Form a formation of 45 went over. Said to the children in joke: “Hostile or friendly aircraft?” Good that it can be said as a joke!

Sunday, Jan 16th
              The buses now have seats down the side to give more room for standing two abreast and packed like sardines. When no more can be got in the doors shut. There may be a quarter of an hour before the bus actually starts! Always avoid buses in the evenings and on Saturdays.
              Some kind friends at Valencia packed time bombs in with our oranges, so what with those that were destroyed and those that will go bad before they are vetted we shall have to wait. Hilary much cheered by a box of Turkish Delight that arrived from Cairo. Very good of them to transport it so safely and quickly in wartime. Curious that as a result of Tunis and Alamein Hilary gets a box of Turkish Delight from Phyllis Auty.
              The snowdrops later this year and none showing yet, but daffodils and hyacinths above ground.
              New Russian anthem, especially commissioned to take place of the Internationale, played for the first time at the beginning of the news with much drumming. The score just arrived from Moscow.

Sunday, Jan 23
              On Friday night about nine o’clock the Germans sent 90 bombers over and 30 reached the London area, a heavy barrage went off and some heavies near here shot for a minute or two. There were many searchlights and for a minute or so we saw a plane caught in the beams. As I was coming back from seeing Mary off by bus, a brilliant white light burst out of the eastern horizon and for about a minute produced an eerie artificial daylight. It seemed to burn up like a great torch and then gradually fade away. No mention of fire was made the next day.
              We have at last stopped mountain crawling in Italy and landed behind the German armies within 30 miles of Rome. Little opposition so far. If all goes well we may be in Rome sooner than expected.
              The American soldiers sent some sweets up to the school and we had some presents from American children through the Junior American Red Cross. On Wednesday two Americans turned up and wanted to be shown round the school, one from Illinois and one from Philadelphia.

Friday, Jan 28th
              Miss Hunter remarked to-day that wearing as a “best suit” the one I came in for an interview 10 years ago and it was new by three or four years then!
              Frightful descriptions of a team of surgeons plus group of Red Army men in rubber gloves prising out the bodies of 12 000 murdered Polish officers in a huge rectangular pit near Smolensk. Only deal with about 160 bodies daily. They have all so far been shot through the back of the head with revolvers. “Packed in the pit like sardines in a tin, we saw several layers of bodies just as though a section of a football crowd had been lifted up bodily and pressed into the earth.” They looked more like rag dolls than the bodies of once healthy men. These were the men the Poles accused the Russians of murdering. They were prisoners in Russian hands but abandoned in the Russian retreat. Other bodies were brought from other centres, the grave reopened and these added. Then the Russian prisoners who had done the work were themselves executed. The murders were carried out in the autumn of 1941. No horror of any previous period in human history has been left unperpetrated in this generation.

Sunday, Jan 30th
              Up in town last night and thought there might be a raid as cloud ceiling was low and continuous and we had been to Berlin twice running. Sure enough we were having supper in Lyons Corner House when the alert was sounded. After some delay we got our bill and left. When we got out in the street guns had begun but distant. Main difficulty is to decide what to do. Went to Piccadilly Circus, got tickets and then went down below to Green Park. Here shelterers occupying bunks on platforms. To Green Park,one station, and then decided to make a quick dash for the hotel. Gunfire drawing nearer but fortunately got a roof over our heads before the inner barrage opened up with a rat-a-tat roar and rumble. Main danger is not Germans but our own shrapnel, which has to come down somewhere. We had only just got upstairs when a very peculiar whizzing noise occurred, not the whine of a descending bomb. Don’t know what it was! A light A.A. gun seemed to be moving up and down the street firing in staccato bursts rather like a giant carpet beater at work. When the heavy stuff went off the house trembled and shuddered. We could hear the drone of the aircraft, presumably German. After about an hour with intermittent bursts of firing, the gunfire got more distant and finally the all clear went. There was no second raid..… Satisfactory to have heard what the London barrage can do when it really tries!
              We are stepping up day raiding by American heavy bombers with fighter escort and claim to have reduced fighter production by 40%.
              American general on being asked what he thought of his troops is reported to have said they were like bananas, some green, some yellow and some overripe!

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