July. George Dunn on D Day. Six years to get Europe on its feet. Sir Henry Wood dies. Paris free! Lorry-load of landladies.
Friday, Aug 4th
The war is showing signs of age. Since I last wrote the Russians have reached the boundaries of Prussia and the outskirts of Warsaw. The Americans have broken out of the Cherbourg peninsular and are into Brittany as far as Rennes. Our men on the left are keeping pace with them through the thick Bocage of the Normandy hills. The fighting is confused as the tanks have thrust ahead in long tongues. In front of Caen we are still where we were, but Rommel cannot let go there even though his left flank is in danger of encirclement.
Had visit from George Dunn on leave from Normandy. Said casualties of landing craft from mines and obstructions very heavy, clearing impossible under fire from snipers, coast batteries had been silenced from sea and air and nothing to worry about from beach, but below tide mark a different story. His own craft blown up, but got ashore. Many men drowned. Once ashore he became a “beach master” where he found great use for strong language. Loading much hampered by bad weather, which Army seemed to think the Navy could control. Said French civilians tended graves of British and brought flowers. Two old ladies placed flowers on July 5th on blanket-covered corpses of two Americans who killed themselves with naval rum on Independence Day!
Tuesday, Aug 8th
Very busy over Bank Holiday as house full of visitors and occupied in extracting honey.
The news excellent. The blitzkrieg model of 1940 has been carried out on our side, and better. American armoured columns are turning west into Brittany and east towards Paris….. This is the Twilight of the Gods. A fight to the end has begun in the West and will not cease until the German armies are destroyed…. There is it seems a marked difference between the S.S. and the ordinary army units. The former are Nazi fanatics who fight until they are killed regardless of what is happening to the right and the left of them. The latter are often foreign soldiers who are quickly losing any hope of a German victory and are bewildered, frightened and disorganized, ready to surrender. If the Germans are hit much harder by our armour the war may end in a general catastrophe of the enemy much sooner than we think.
A great controversy in The Times as to whether Jones did or did not bowl through W. G. Grace’s beard!
Friday, Aug 11th
Nora asks when shall we be in Paris, I say in a fortnight. Reflect that last time I was studying the map of France so carefully was in the summer of 1940 – now the same but with what a difference.
Saturday, Aug 12th
The Promenade Concerts have had to be given up because of the bombs (I object to the name doodlebug) and took place instead in the studio, the on top of this Sir Henry Wood got jaundice and was unable to be present at the anniversary concert on Thursday. An appeal for a Henry Wood Hall to replace Queen’s Hall. Shall send a pound and hope Hilary will enjoy concerts there is years to come.
Sunday, Aug 13th
The events which are taking place in France to-day are so far reaching one can hardly grasp their significance. There is in effect no force adequate to oppose us south of the Loire. It looks in any case as though an invasion of south France is imminent. In a few days two thirds of France will be in our hands. The Vichy government has moved to the Vosges. The Algiers government is preparing to cross to France. That means that France will take part once again as a great allied power in the final battles and the peace negotiations.
To-night heard that the retreat has begun. German transport streaming east from the Mortain-Vire pocket through the Falaise bottleneck…. 40 German divisions have been in the Normandy pocket. It looks as if they are facing complete disaster…
Met a Ministry of Food official who is going to Germany when occupied to control German food supplies. Says they will go very short and come last on the list. They will lose their butter, cheese and bacon from Holland and Denmark, grain from central Europe, dried fruits from the south. It will be a case of autarchy [autarky, surely!] by necessity, not choice this time. I asked him how long it would take to put Europe on its feet from the food point of view. Said six or seven years would be needed before the number of cattle reached pre-war figures.
Negotiations between Russia and Poland off for the time being. Poles at odds among themselves. Polish resistance movement says let down by Russians who have left the Polish rising in Warsaw to the fury of the Germans.
Tuesday, Aug 15th
A fourth front. Landing on south coast of France with fleet of 80 ships. No opposition from air and not heavy from land so far.
Not much news of battle in Normandy. Correspondents insist there is no rout. Order of the day issued by Eisenhower calls for an all out effort to seize a fleeting opportunity of destroying Normandy army in the course of the next week. Hope they don’t get away, but feel a bit doubtful.
Fascists in Florence dispersed pictures etc and dumped them in country villas round Tuscany. There they remained without special protection. Five of the villas were in the middle of the battle zone. An American professor went to rescue them and was able to draw the attention of the military authorities to them through two war correspondents, who were amazed to find the Primavera lying amid dust and broken glass in a villa which was then under shell fire. A piece of luck for posterity. Not all pictures left the Pitti and the Uffizi. Wonder where the Venus is. Nora says some pictures left for Hilary to see.
Thursday, Aug 17th
Paris has heard the distant rumble of the guns of the army of liberation. We are beyond Chartres…. Germans are in retreat from their positions in front of Caen, but elements of 14 divisions are said to have failed to get out in time….. The railwaymen on the Est and Nord systems have gone on strike and the Paris police are reported to have done the same.
Went through London to-day to visit Aunt at Watford. Short alerts all day but heard no bombs. London seemed to have emptied considerably and very hot and very dirty.
Saturday, Aug 19th
The enemy say our patrols are on the outskirts of Paris and have reached Mantes and Vernon on the Seine itself. In the south we have closed in on Toulon. The men of the Maquis have already placed the Tricolour on the Swiss frontier in Savoy… Laval has left Paris with the German officials.
Sunday, Aug 20thAbout 2.30 this afternoon there was a loud explosion. It was a flying bomb. The weather was cloudy and the siren had only just begun to wail before it went off. Hilary was up in his tree hut but came back to the house to ask what it was. The horses in the field opposite were frightened and started galloping around.
The question is will the war be over this year! That was what we wondered in 1918 at this time of year and our plans were going forward for 1919 when the Germans gave up….. Doubt from the military point of view whether we can get into Germany from the west before November.
Very sorry that Sir Henry Wood died yesterday a few days after his jubilee Prom Concert that he was too ill to attend. Bad luck that the flying bombs made it impossible to use the Albert Hall, but I heard him conduct Beethoven’s 7th on the wireless, the last concert he ever conducted.. What tremendous pleasure and satisfaction he has given to many thousands over the last 50 years, a good life in every way, but I am sad that it could not have lasted a little longer. He was 75.
Monday, Aug 21st
Paris is in insurrection against the Germans. The Americans are at Versailles…. The battle of Warsaw is reaching a climax. The city is burning and our pilots who flew from Italy to drop arms to the Polish underground army fighting inside say they see the flames from 50 miles away and smoke filled the aircraft 10 miles from the city. The Germans will destroy what they cannot hold. The Russians say the rising was too early and ill timed, and the Poles, or some of them, think the Russians have not done enough.
Far away in Washington, removed from the hunger of Paris and the fires in Warsaw, the representatives of G.B., the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. met to-day to discuss the international organization of peace and unity after the war.
Tuesday, Aug 22nd
“Victory has been definite, complete and decisive. The end of the war is in sight. Let us finish off the business in record time,” Montgomery in message to the troops…. German losses in Normandy said to be 300,000 since June and 1,200 tanks destroyed or damaged…. This tremendously swift advance to liberate France once more is exciting and dramatic, but we were expecting it. It has not that quality of surprize and shock of France’s collapse that summer four years ago when our whole world seemed to be falling about our ears. This news is fulfilling all our hopes; that stunned us by its utter unexpectedness.
Wednesday, Aug 23rd
Paris is free! to-day at one o’clock told that the F.F.I. are in control of the city. France has her capital again. The Marseillaise was played. Hilary and I had a talk about Paris, the buses, the metro, cafes etc, and how he would one day learn French so that he could visit France..… To entertain the idea of going to Paris once again is so marvellous and gives one such a peculiar feeling – Europe seems to be born again, to have come alive, to have come back – though in fact it may be some time before we can go there again.
To the east of the city the Marne has been crossed at Meaux where in 1938 sat in the archbishop’s garden and watched the fountains play…The Germans in northern France are in a dilemma: either they have to clear out now eastwards or fight on with their backs to the sea. Tales from the Normandy battlefield are grim. On military maps it is said to be marked simply as a killing area and to be full of German dead.
Thursday, Aug 24th
The Festung-Europa, is breaking up badly. To-day Roumania gave up and accepted the allied terms, Bulgaria is waiting to do the same. Soon the iron ring will be drawn round the Reich itself and all the conquests of 1940 and 1941 will have been lost.
Paris is the first of the allied capitals to be freed from the Germans and her liberation by herself and by Frenchmen will make a tremendous impression everywhere. “France has lost a battle: she has not lost the war,” said de Gaulle in 1940. His prophecy has now come true.
Where the German garrisons are small they have been captured by the F.F.I., for instance Limoges last night was observed to be relaying programmes from London. Many high German officers captured have no idea that American columns are between them and Germany and are quite ignorant of what the real situation is.
To-day Hilary reported a lorry full of landladies (an awful thought), but it turned out he had seen a truck with some land girls in!