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Sunday, 11 July 2010

1945 May

May. Hitler dead. De Valera. Peace at last. School thanksgiving. General election.  Petrol again. Our Lady in Tibet. Russians a problem. Fish, but no fishermen.

Tuesday, May 1
A bitterly cold May Day with N.E. wind. The Red Flag flying over the Reichstag. No other news. When the P.M.asked in the house, he replied the only news he had was that the situation was better than in 1939! The Home Office is getting ready by telling us what we may do. We may have bonfires, we may floodlight buildings, we may drink, but later (not in the afternoon). Nora asked will I have a bonfire, but nothing much to burn apart from the cricket pavilion. Some doubt as to what we shall do at school. Still have not got long enough rope for the flagpole.

Wednesday, May 2
Woke this morning to hear that Hitler was dead, the evil man who caused more destruction and suffering than anyone certainly in modern, perhaps in ancient times, too. Clever, a master of deceit, lies and terror, he used the first to unite 80 million Germans and then to destroy other nations. We heard of him first as an Austrian in a belted raincoat and jackboots without a hat. At first we was thought of as a funny figure with his saluting, heil-ing and Chaplinesque moustache, not even a German citizen. The common attitude was that he was an uneducated party boss who was unlikely to last long in power. We heard of his monster meetings and saw him on the newsreels. Many people spoke of his work for the German unemployed and German youth etc. The seizure of power, the Reichstag fire and trial and the bloodbath in 1934 opened some peoples eyes to his character and aims. The protracted negotiations with a more and more powerful Germany, now with an air force as big as ours, began to make people fear his intentions, but always to us he spoke only of peace and made offers. Finally, with the Rhineland and Austria, we realized we were being blackmailed and divided until in the Munich year he dominated Europe and we had put our fate in the hands of this wicked man with the lie in his soul. “He did bestride the world like a colossus and we petty men did creep about.” But there was always France! It was not until 1940, that frightful summer, that we felt the cold fear of his power on our homes; our country and our children. When he boasted that he would rub out our cities, he seemed to have it in his power to do so.
General Dittmar, the captured German radio commentator, has had a lot to say to a BBC correspondent to-day. He puts the blame for everything on Hitler and the party. The officer corps did not know of the camps; their advice was not taken on military matters; the best they could do was to try and assassinate Hitler last summer. Well, as Hitler is dead; everyone; even Himmler, can find an excuse in him. They have not taken long to shift the blame and make a getaway.

Thursday, May 3rd
Yesterday Mr De Valera called at the German delegation in Dublin to offer his condolences on the death of Hitler.
Hilary went to the zoo for the fourth time to-day with Nora. Throwing cake to the bears on the Mappin terraces; he remarked, ”It is a pity that Daddy is not hear; he is so good with bears.”

Friday, May 4th
To-night I went to the cinema and saw the newsreel of the concentration camps. The dead bodies lying in contorted heaps with hollow eyes and shaven heads were not as horrible as I had expected. What I found more horrible were the living – skeleton puppets moved by wire-like tendons held together with lightly stretched parchment. The soldiers and visiting MPs (slightly ludicrous in their soft hats and Mrs Tate with her smelling bottle, no doubt very necessary) moved about normally: the prisoners moved with slow and fumbling steps, while all over scattered about lay the dying.

Saturday, May 5th
Hilary went back to Long Dene. Nora and I took him up to London. At one stop, a soldier got on the train and fumbled with the window and did not seem to know how to manage it; remarking that he had been a P.O.W. and was just back after five years in Saxony. Escaped from the camp, reached the American lines, flown in in a Dakota to Brussels and thence by Lancaster to England. He had been working in various jobs, including in a cotton factory. Said until the last two months the food was sufficient; then they did not get their food parcels and were very hungry. He looked thin, but brown and fit. He had been given six weeks leave.
Went with Nora to The Duchess of Malfi. What a play! The author is out to give you full value for money, everything from lycanthropy to strangling. Peggy Ashcroft a marvellous Duchess..... We had to leave early in order to get on (literally) the train, the windows of which were bulging with people.

Monday, May 7th
The Times said this morning that the peace announcement is expected from London, Washington and Moscow and might be expected at any hour. I told the children I would call them down to the hall and tell them; but nothing came at one o’clock; nothing at five, nothing at six. About five a parent rang up to say that someone had told her that the Germans had surrendered early this morning and it was being announced by foreign radio. Tuned in to what foreign stations I could find, but no wiser. Finally at 7.40 in a break between two items, an announcement was made. The surrender is to be officially announced to-morrow by the P.M. and at 9 to-morrow evening the King will address the nation. to-morrow and Wednesday to be an official holiday. Hurrah! Evening somewhat disturbed by constant succession of parents ringing up to know whether children should come to school to-morrow. Government announcement not good enough for them!
Many memories of November 11th, 1918; the end (this time) very flat compared with the singing, flags, dancing etc then. After supper went to school and, with Nora as sole spectator, hauled up the flag.
It seems extraordinarily queer to sit here after six years and think that there is no war in Europe. It has become such a part of things that, as Nora says, ”We miss our hair shirt.” Still, here we are after six years, well fed and clothed, scarred, tired, ”supped full of horrors”, but alive, uninvaded, unconquered, free, the most fearful risks and dangers surmounted by the courage of our fighting men, the constancy of the country and the matchless vision and faith of Winston Churchill. The curtains are drawn back, all the lights are on and they shine fearless into the night. It is Monday, May 7th, 1945, eleven o’clock – ”and so,” as Mr Pepys said, ”to bed”.

Tuesday, May 8th - Victory in Europe; V.E. Day
But not to sleep! A tremendous thunder storm blew up and by half past two had reached its height. The lights all went out, brilliant lightning, crackling thunder, a downpour of rain filled the night. "The heavens themselves blazed forth the death” of an empire.
Went down to the town this morning to get my tomato plants; the streets were crowded and people were putting out flags. The thunderstorm had been hard on the paper decorations, but people were cheerful and happy. After I came back I turned on the wireless and heard directions being issued to the German High Command in Norway, first in English and then in German, from Scottish Command. To hear our commanders issuing orders to the enemy was very moving.
Half an hour ago; at 3 o’clock, the P.M. from the Cabinet Room in Downing Street made the long awaited announcement. He said that yesterday at Reims, Eisenhower’s headquarters, the instrument of surrender was signed, and that a French general, our own Air Marshal [Tedder], Eisenhower’s second in command, had flown to Berlin where a similar document was signed to-day. Then raising his voice he said in ringing tones,"Advance Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!”
The cease fire was blown on bugles, the national anthem followed. Nora sat sewing and mending on the sofa, I paced up and down the room or stood looking out over the fields turning yellow with buttercups, both our eyes filled with tears. The she got up and we stood for a moment clasped together. After this cut the grass and rolled the lawn! About seven o’clock Nora decided to go to church. I thought on the whole that Sunday next would do me nicely and did not go. The children were busy building bonfires with effigies of Hitler to burn to-night.
We had a good programme from Empire representatives saluting the King, including Indians, West Africans, and all the Dominions – a living witness to the variety and freedom of the Commonwealth of Nations. Then the King spoke – he was much better than usual and spoke finely and confidently without long pauses or hesitations. After the news we heard the crowds outside Buckingham Palace cheering the Royal Family; then a great mass of thousands of people calling for Churchill in Whitehall. He appeared with the War Cabinet on a balcony at the Ministry of Health. After that he motioned to the great crowd to be silent and addressed them. This speech, which was a personal one to the people of London, was not broadcast.
After supper about 10.30 Nora was anxious to go to the paddock overlooking the town to see the bonfire. We waited some time and eventually a very damp bonfire was lit. It emitted an immense plume of smoke; white and dense, which drifted down the valley; as no flames appeared or seemed likely to, we came back through the garden with its flowery smells. However in about 20 minutes it got going and gave off really satisfactory flames and a glow. There were fireworks which went off with a whitish-green bang; but no rockets of course.

Wednesday, May 9th
A rather dull day, an anti-climax after the excitement of yesterday. Weather thundery, showery, mostly overcast. There was not really anything special to do. I gardened, cleared undergrowth by the bees in the morning.....Wondering to-night what hymns etc to have at the school service of thanksgiving and whether to choose a bloodthirsty Old Testament passage or not. Decided to have the prayer adapted from Lincoln’s speech of 1865 – "With malice towards none, with charity to all, with firmness in the right as thou givest us to see the right, we may strive to finish the task which thou hast appointed us.”
Grand to go round Europe to-night on the wireless and hear the stations broadcasting without German jamming – French, Dutch Czech and Norwegian. No Paris since the summer of 1940 and now Paris is alive again, while the German stations are silent.
Moscow heard the news about 2 a.m. and turned out on the streets. to-day they are celebrating and to-night a salvo of 1,000 guns is to fire 30 times (Citizens are advised to see their windows are open).
Heard the bells of Utrecht ringing to-night and the Dutch singing a liberation song, for now the two parts of Holland, which have been separated since 1944, are joined again. Then Copenhagen and her bells, then the first reports from Oslo too. Then Smuts from San Francisco and MacKenzie King from Canada. Finally a Zulu chief reciting a psalm.

Thursday; May 10th
A basic petrol ration is to be restored, but rather smaller than it used to be: 4 gallons as against 5 in 1940-42. However our car is minus battery and tyres, and am not at all sure I shall run one again anyway, as I have got used to doing without one and a taxi seems cheaper. Bicycling will soon cease to be much fun again.

Friday, May 11th
    Had our school thanksgiving service to-day. Four of staff away so was a lively day. Took supper down to Shiplake reach with M for the first time this summer.

Saturday, May 12th
The first school cricket match after victory – but we lost it!

Sunday, May 13th
Victory Sunday. Went to the parish church at 10.15 for the town service. The Mayor, Corporation, Home Guard, Civil Defence, Air Training Corps, Naval Cadets, Army Cadets, Fire Services, Police, British Legion and Women’s Voluntary Services etc etc
Last time I went to an official service was in summer 1940. The future was utterly uncertain. We expected invasion. Doubt, fear, uncertainty, foreboding filled our minds. Now victory – and yet somehow it all seems so flat. One felt – or at least I did – little lifting of the heart. In 1918 we felt exalted; now we just feel tired.
to-night Churchill spoke. To my great pleasure he said what he thought about De Valera. He also spoke very plainly about the importance of defending democracy and fair play at the peace table – query a warning to Russia about her abrupt, unmannerly and secretive behaviour since Yalta where the three powers pledged themselves to unity of purpose and action.
To-night we had the first weather forecast after nearly six years. It was "colder and rain"!!!

Tuesday, May 15th
Suggested that whatever the result of the general election, we should have an all party delegation to the peace conference. Nora thinks the Conservatives will get in anyway. I think there will be swing to the left, but I too rather doubt whether Labour will win...

Wednesday, May 16th
Read the children extracts from Churchill’s speeches in 1940, ’41 and ’42. It lasted 40 minutes and they seemed to like it. A governors’ meeting in the afternoon and as usual most of the time was taken up by the verbosity of the chairman and the general result was a feeling of frustration and futility which these old gentlemen are such geniuses at producing. No decisions of any importance were taken.

Thursday, May 17th
A lovely evening; took a supper picnic by the river with M. The water meadows were full of moon daisies, ragged robin, and buttercups. We saw a pair of yellow wagtails.

Saturday, May 18th
Had Fr. Tomlinson, H.M. of Oratory School, to tea. He told how a man he knew visited a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. He was taken up higher and higher in the building; on each floor there were statues of Buddha. Finally they reached the top and the abbot said he would now see their most precious possession on the highest point of the monastery. In a small room at the summit was a medieval statue of Our Lady and Child! It had been brought there by medieval missionaries who had settled in the valley and just been forgotten. They were good men and their image had been preserved by the Buddhist monks at their death.

Sunday, May 19th
Gardening and sawing logs. Germans said to be co-operating very well. Margaret Burton was very pleased that Navy gave the German representatives bully beef and water for supper. Water certainly a beverage that should have shaken them.
The Russians in their present mood are not prepared to admit that the western allies have any interest in the well being of the small nations of Eastern Europe. They have erected a barrier between western and eastern Germany and the danger is that in the differences between the administration in these areas the Nazis will again get a look in. They appear quite unable to see any point of view but their own. However Margaret says this is the mistake we always make of thinking that all foreigners must immediately see the benefit of our system of compromise, when they see nothing of the kind and are all out to push their own point of view regardless of the other peoples. However it is clear that if the Russians go on as they are they will soon dissipate the stock of goodwill they have acquired in this country.

Thursday, May 24th
The most famous of all coalition governments has come to an end and Churchill is forming a Conservative government. The election is fixed for July 5th (Decided to have one in the school as well!), but the results will not be till July 26th or 27th.
Various inventions are now being revealed, first the Mulberry harbour, now Operation Pluto, the laying of oil pipelines across the channel so that soon a million gallons a day were being pumped from the Mersey to the banks of the Rhine. What we can do in war! What we did not do in peace! Let us hope we do better this time.

Saturday, May 26th
Went over to Oxford, one of the most frustrating and overcrowded places in the neighbourhood. Had to book a table at the Union by post for lunch. No elevenses obtainable at all; had to queue for tea at Fullers at 3.20. A long meeting on the development scheme for secondary schools. The H.M.s although divided on coeducation were solid against dividing the secondary schools at 13 into upper and lower schools, so that was a good thing.

Sunday, May 27th
Difficulties accumulating in Europe. Partition seems more likely than co-operation in Germany and we all seem to be following our own policies. The Russian controlled radio very friendly; ours not. The Americans let in freely the foreign press; we keep them out. The Russians appear to be annexing control of Austria and will admit no journalists in their areas.
Meanwhile rations have been cut and I am sawing logs against next winter’s coal shortage. The North Sea is teeming with fish, but because there is no labour to handle them at the docks and our refrigeration methods are out of date, they are being chucked back in the sea.

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