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Sunday, 4 July 2010

1944 September

September. Rolling back barbarians. De Gaulle in Paris. Wartime restrictions to go (slowly). Term starts with "Now thank we all our God". Arnhem.

Wednesday, Sept 6th
              On the last Sunday of peace Billy Temple, Archbishop of York, said, “Crisis is the Greek word for Judgment…. every emergency which is fitly described as a crisis tests the character and faith we have so far acquired and throws light on the course of events, including our own conduct, which led up to that emergency”. The light thrown on our own conduct of affairs was lurid enough!..… But we came through the judgement until now with powerful allies and immense resources we are rolling back the dark barbarians from the face of Europe.
              The unfought campaign of 1919 is being fought in the September of 1944. This week since the last entry sees the invasion of Germany again. There is no army left between the allied spearheads and the frontiers of the Reich. There are no reserves left in Germany….
              The German Festung-Europa has collapsed because of gross mistakes of strategy of the German part. They saddled themselves with an enormous perimeter from the N. Cape to Crete and the whole of the Eastern front, which they could only man by withdrawing all their reserves from the centre to the rim. They were tied to the defence of a wall and repeated the mistakes of the French of the Maginot period. They prepared their own undoing. They could not do anything else because their political plans were faulty. They had to spread out their forces thinly along the edges of the continent because of the refusal of all the Europeans to co-operate in defence of Europe. Everywhere, France, Norway, Holland, Greece, Yugoslavia, they were faced by open rebellion or silent and sullen masses. There was no “New order”; there was only the domination of the hated German tyrants.
              Last Monday week, Aug 28th, de Gaulle entered Paris, drove down the Champs Elysée to Notre Dame. As he walked up to the cathedral he was fired on from the organ loft but unhurt. The crowds outside were machine gunned by snipers and lay in the pavements and gutters. On the Monday the first maps appeared in the papers showing the distances to Germany.
              The question is will the Germans fight on after the crushing defeat and rout of her western armies…. Soon we shall reach the Siegfried Line built after the Rhineland occupation in 1936.

Thursday, Sept 7th
              Hitler has said he will go on fighting after 12 o’clock, that is after resistance has become hopeless Perhaps 12 o’clock has already struck because the German army is in much worse shape that it was on Nov 11th 1918…. The food situation is better (for the present) than in 1918, the home front is held in a more efficient and ferocious grip by the Gestapo than then.
              We are not going to cast off our wartime restrictions in a final burst, as most people imagined, but have them removed gradually. Fire watching is to stop next Tuesday. Personally I gave it up in the Easter holiday and did it at home instead of school. When summer time (double) stops the blackout is to stop too. That is, ordinary curtains are all that will be required, and a good deal of street lighting is to be restored (Actually saw a man repairing a standard lamp in the street and putting in a bulb. Can hardly remember now what lighted streets were like). The Home Guard is to be “stood down.” As Hayes says, what are the men with sedentary occupations to whom it meant drink to do. Perhaps they will join the Scouts, he added.
              There are worse bugbears than the blackout. The rationing of food, especially fruit, cheese, milk and butter and the rationing of clothes, the discomfort of all travel by train or bus; the lack of help in the house – still, the blackout and fire watching make a start.
              The battle of the flying bombs now over except perhaps a few parting shots. Hence evacuated sister in law and baby plan to return to Wimbledon on Saturday.
              Account of the flying bomb attack on London given to-night…. Our defences a balloon barrage, a gun belt and two fighter zones, one out to sea. Of the bombs, 29% reached London. On our best day, of 101 that reached the coast, 97 were shot down, 4 burst on London. For this we paid a heavy price: 450 aircraft and 2,900 men were lost in attacks on the launching sites.

Sunday, Sept 10th
              Opposition is stiffening as we get near Germany…. Hitler is said to have issued an order “to stand at all costs.”… Inside Germany it seems clear that the Nazis are preparing resistance of the party against the occupying forces. “Not a single German blade of grass will feed the enemy; no German lips will give him information; no German hand will help him; he will find every footbridge destroyed, every road blocked; nothing but death, destruction and hate will face him.” Will the non-political, dull, tired, disillusioned, apathetic German mass support the Nazis in this policy?
              Warsaw is a bad business. The Russians appear to have been badly checked by German armour on the Vistula, but the Poles in London, without waiting to see what happened to the Russian advance, fixed August 1st for the rising because for political reasons they wanted to set up a Polish government before the Russians entered Warsaw. The rising took place, led by anti-Russian officers, but Russian help did not come and the German reinforcements started annihilating the insurgents and massacring the citizens. We sent bombers from Italy, but in the Russian view as the Poles held only isolated houses this was labour lost for little material would not fall into German hands.
              This afternoon and evening heard continuous bumps, sometimes so marked that they shook the doors. As the noise came from the London direction, N wondered if the flying bombs had started again. It was a terrific bombardment. I suspected Calais, for I remember as a boy hearing the 1917 and 1918 battles on the edge of Epping Forest. In the nine o’clock news heard that it was Canadian attack on Calais, for Calais, Dunkirk and Le Havre still holding out.
              Hilary asked why the soldiers sang “It’s a long way to tickle Mary”.
              The day bright and sunny, but the first frosts of autumn are starting. At night several degrees below freezing.

Tuesday, Sept 12th
              American troops on German soil in the Moselle Valley near Trier. Eisenhower warns Germans in the Ruhr that they will be bombed high and low level where there are military targets and advises them to get out into open country.

Thursday, Sept 14th
              Heard to-day that some kind of V2 bomb had fallen in London and made a crater 15ft deep. No news is being allowed to get out about it. Govt has warned people not to return to London but mainline stations deep in prams, cots etc. Hilary was going to Uncle at Wimbledon, but decided finally not to send him.
              Americans one mile from Aachen and an account of German household visited by correspondents with Russian domestic servants….. Quebec conference between Churchill and Roosevelt to settle details of final settlement with Japan. Some Americans, it is said, would like to get on without our help; others say that once Germany is settled we will back out. Churchill firm that Pacific war is our war too.
              On Tuesday Hilary rowed a skiff with two oars for the first time, very well too. To-day he got breakfast, made porridge and did the toast.

Saturday, Sept 16th
              Started term yesterday. Had Now thank we all our God at assembly and told the children that when they went on holiday we were before Caen and St Lo. To-night the electric street lights went on for test about eight o’clock. Flying bombs launched from aeroplanes started again in London to-day.

Sunday, Sept 17th
    To-night about 8.30 the lights in Henley were turned on. Nora took Hilary down to the river. I went as far as the end of the lane, but heard the cheer in the market place. People were wandering about in groups looking at them as though they were the most marvellous illuminations. “It is nice, isn’t it!” was Hilary’s comment. I write this with only the ordinary curtains drawn instead of the black ones drawn and the room has a naked appearance. I thought of Grey’s remark in August, 1914. "All over Europe the lamps are going out: they will not be relit in our lifetime.” May the lamps which were relit to-night remain un-extinguished for Hilary’s and many other generations.
              More news of V 1. Each bomb on average wrecked 10 houses and damaged 500. In Sutton and Cheam only 4,000 out 22,000 homes escaped. In Croydon 3 out of 4 were damaged. 1,200 food shops were seriously damaged. Altogether raids London has lost 107,000 homes sheltering about 500,000 people.
              Tremendous airborne landing behind the German lines in Holland round Nijmegen where the Rhine enters Holland. Did not see any of the gliders here as we did on D Day, but reported to be the greatest airborne attack yet made.

Monday, Sept 18th
              The air invasion of Holland…. Marks the resumption of the initiative on our part and shows that we are not going to allow transport difficulties to delay us any further, as the Germans hoped they would. The waterways are to be leapt over by airborne attack and then the north German plain will lie open to the north of the Ruhr with a left handed scoop by the British army, while the Americans drive round it to the south through Aachen, in which they are reported fighting to-night. Besides there are now signs of demoralization in Germany. Refugees are streaming out of the Rhineland and blocking the roads and the foreign helots are reported in revolt and in some cases marching westwards…..

Tuesday, Sept 19th
              Our armour is through and has linked up with the airborne forces as far north as Nijmegen.

Wednesday, Sept 20th
              The Germans are evacuating civilians from the Rhineland. Women with small children are to go by train, the rest are to march or go on horse carts. Some, it is said, are refusing to move though penalties are threatened against those who “break the order of the march”. This news must be a shock to the Herrenvolk.

Thursday, Sept 21st
              We have captured intact the mile and a half long bridge over the Rhine at Nijmegen, so we now have a way to relieve hard-pressed airborne troops 10 miles to the north at Arnhem. On the battle round this hangs the fate of the Ruhr. It is the key to the turning of the western front.

Sunday, Sept 24th
              Yesterday a fresh airborne army was dropped round Arnhem where the first expedition has been surrounded and incessantly attacked for nearly a week. To-day we heard to our great relief that the forces battling forward to relieve them have made contact. It seems uncertain whether the bridges which are the last Rhine barrier at Arnhem are down or not. It looks as if the last advance to the Rhine is a new conception in warfare. The airborne forces have been dropped far further ahead of the main force than before – 60 miles – to find themselves there not for 24 hours but for nearly a week. We are meeting fanatical resistance from the real Nazi and Hitler Youth type of troops. Holland has been garrisoned by some of their best remaining divisions.
              A tremendous underground flying bomb factory has been discovered capable of producing 5,000 bombs a week! But the German plans to win the war by a secret weapon were all too late and work put into these underground towns was so much wasted effort.
              The Nazis reported killing all and any possible leaders outside the party. Population of Buchenwald concentration camp said to have been destroyed by air raid, but really massacred by Himmler’s thugs.

Monday, Sept 25th
              The struggle for Arnhem still goes on. Food and medical supplies have been got across to the besieged. The situation said to be “critical”.
              To-night the government’s social security plan published. It seems to follow the Beveridge plan fairly closely.

Tuesday, Sept 26th
              Very little news from Holland for “security reasons”. But the corridor north to Nijmegen is being held. All the German channel ports except Calais have now fallen – and this is being heavily attacked by land and air. The Germans are believed to have lost 1,00,000 men since D Day. We have 500,000 prisoners…..

Wednesday, Sept 27th
              “This is the end. The most tragic and glorious battle of the war is over and the survivors of the British airborne force can sleep soundly for the first time for eight days and nights. This epic stand of the airborne force ended as it had been fought – with honour, with high courage and with selfless sacrifice.” We heard that what was left of the airborne force, 2,000 of the 6,500, got back across the river on Monday and Tuesday nights. They got through the German lines in small parties and made their way south to the river where they waited in the dark for assault craft to ferry them across. The Germans seem to have suspected what was happening and towards dawn mortared the river banks. “The kind of hell I never dreamed of could exist on earth,” one man described it as. We were surrounded by self-propelled guns, tanks, flame throwers and mortars. The stand of the 1st Airborne Division has struck the imagination of people more than any action since Salerno.

Thursday, Sept 28th
              The action at Arnhem was not in vain, said Mr Churchill to-day in the Commons. It enabled the armies to the south to capture Nijmegen. “This glorious and fruitful operation which will take a lasting place in our military annals and will in succeeding generations inspire our youth with the highest ideal of duty and daring.”
              Of the end of the war: "Many persons of the highest technical attainment have good hope that it will over in 1944. On the other hand no one can guarantee that several months of 1945 may not be required.”

Saturday, Sept 30th
           The P.M. paid special tribute to the supply services in France. These have worked wonders. From the U.S. magazine Time: “It was a miracle begotten by a people accustomed to great spaces, to trans-continental railways, to nation-wide trucking chains, to endless roads and millions of automobiles, to department stores, supermarkets and mail order houses, to a nation of builders and movers.”
              By last week the Americans had laid 700 miles of oil pipeline and 9,000 trucks are working on the trunk toad – "The Red Bull Express highway” – day and night with full headlights on. European distances in France are nothing to them….
              Went to Ewelme downs to-day and heard very distant gunfire, think probably the last attack on Calais. To-day the people of Dover and Folkestone celebrated the capture of the big guns at Cap Gris Nez, which have been shelling them for four years.

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