My mother and I had built my ‘house’ the summer before in the Glatting orchard, some way from the farmhouse. It was made of wood, with a stove, and was a much-valued private space where I sometimes entertained and fed members of the family. I remember on one occasion my brother Martin asking if I had put an OXO cube in the stew and when I nodded he said ‘I thought so, I’ve just found it’.
The refugee children’s hostel was at Pampisford in an empty vicarage. The boys and girls who came to Cambridge were from an anarchist orphanage in Bilbao. My parents took particular responsibility for José.
After the fall of Bilbao in June 1937, when some children from other hostels began to return to Spain, the Cambridge group remained intact. They had to move out, however, because the vicarage and its garden, which had been refurbished by volunteers from Cambridge trades unions and students, were acquired by a new incumbent who gave them notice to quit by the next quarter day, which was December 25th. Before leaving, my mother planted the lawn with crocus bulbs in a pattern which read ‘Mark 10-14’ (‘Suffer the little children to come unto me …’) and let a goat loose in the vegetable garden.
Clara and Lorna were among the thousands of children sent out soon after the outbreak of war in the expectation of the bombing which, so far, had not happened. They were daughters of a First World War holder of the Victoria Cross who had been unemployed through much of the 1930s. Clara was a little older than I was and was almost the first girl and the first working class contemporary I had had any chance to know. I thought she was wonderful.
Evacuees played an important part for many people in diminishing the incomprehension and prejudice derived from British class divisions, although the opposite was also sometimes the case. For all the liberal and left wing beliefs of my family, my mother and sister never questioned that their way of doing things was right. In retrospect, I think Clara dealt with this in a dignified way, even when having to submit to having her nits (head lice) treated by my sister by having her hair washed with kerosene. Her younger sister Lorna, who was an unhappy child, earned a place in my heart by resisting my mother’s attempts to make her eat parsnips with the heartfelt explanation: ‘they make me spew’.
My diary records that over the next 2 weeks Clara or Clara and Lorna often accompanied me and my sisters skating or taking Tinker for walks. Soon after I went back to boarding school, they returned to London, as did most evacuees at that time.
Lord Haw-Haw was a name given to a number of broadcasters of German propaganda. The most infamous was William Joyce. The broadcasts had a considerable audience in Britain.
José re-appeared in my life after the war. Following his conscription to, and desertion from, Franco’s army he had spent a period in the Pyrenees in a Resistance group, carrying out sabotage. They hoped that Franco might fall when the war ended but in the event they were interned in France. José contacted my parents who managed to get him to England, where he soon became known as Joe. He settled in London, working as a refrigeration maintenance engineer. But for many years, until he married, he took some months off in the summer so he could visit old Basque friends in France and work on the grape harvest. He became a good friend and a wonderful honorary uncle to my older children.
On the 19th January, I went back to Holt for my second term at school. The main diary entries recorded during the first weeks of school concerned my frustration at not being able to toboggan (using a sledge I made myself in MT manual training classes) due to a persistent swelling of one knee. Although I was extremely homesick, I had got used to the dormitories, the tuck box of jams and other treats stored under the iron beds and the unfamiliarity of collective living. Being one of the older boys in the junior school, I did not suffer from bullying.
Noting the casualties as reported in the press became a regular feature of my diaries.
He was, I imagine, Jewish, but this was not mentioned. Anti-Semitism was widespread in Britain and the racial policies of the Nazis were little emphasised at this time.
The election was for the University seat. At that time, anachronistically, Oxford and Cambridge graduates each elected one MP. My father was a candidate.
I had become accustomed to compulsory prayers and chapel services and had got over my initial embarrassment at my ignorance of the rules. In my first term I had noticed that boys were sometimes called away from prep for ‘remedials’, and I thought that they were attending some religious mystery, but I now know they were having treatment for conditions such as flat feet.
Skybirds was a pioneering range of 1/72nd scale model aircraft construction kits, made of wood and metal, launched in the 1930s. The Frog Penguin brand introduced plastic models a little later.
Wartime regulations required that no lights should be visible from buildings after dark. This usually meant having very heavy curtains in windows, but windows could be painted over permanently instead. Coastal areas were especially sensitive on the matter.
The Maginot line was an extensive construction of ‘impregnable’ fortifications along the French frontier, connected by underground road and rail tunnels, stretching from Switzerland to Luxembourg and linked to Belgian defences. It was intended to prevent any repetition of the horrors of trench warfare. Like so many military developments, it was a solution more relevant to the past than the present. For me, what ‘France’ meant was derived from the First World War. My knowledge about that war owed little to my father, who, in common with so many participants, seldom discussed his experiences, but at some point I had discovered in the attic a bound edition of the Illustrated London News for the war years which provided an adequately documented and gruesome account. Maybe I was less reassured than was the French Army by the comforts and supposed impregnability of the Maginot Line.
Summer time started two months early this year and remained in force all through the winter of 1940-41. Another hour of (double) summer time was introduced from May to August in 1941.
In Louis Malle’s great film Au revoir les Enfants, my near-contemporaries in a French boarding school were depicted as sharing the same craze.
Boston, a fellow pupil, was an enthusiastic brass rubber, taking images of brass plaques in surrounding churches by rubbing overlaid paper with a black substance called heelball.
I had been made a House prefect and this was one of several reports of my distressingly officious exercise of my powers. Hierarchy was a dominant theme in the social structure of the school.
A rider, as I recall, is an extension of a mathematical proof. This was probably the high point of my mathematical ability and left no trace.
Public schools, in addition to daily uniforms of blazers and grey flannel trousers, marked Sundays by requiring boys to wear black suits and straw ‘boaters’.
The gauge 3 and Bassett-Lowke gauge 0 (such as the Enterprise) model locomotives were steam-powered.
Figures of losses which I quoted were taken from the news, and in time I realised that they were seldom accurate. Historical records show that there were two phases in the Norwegian naval engagements; in the first the British losses included 5 destroyers, in the second 8 German destroyers and 2 U-boats were sunk with little cost to the British.
Fox hunting was not approved of in the family.
I later realised that the ‘Hurricanes’ were plywood dummies intended, I imagine, to draw attacks from the RAF fighter base at Tangmere, a few miles to the south.
British, French and Polish troops were sent to Norway, a force which, combined with the Norwegian army, outnumbered the Germans, but lacked a clear, unified command. The eventual naval victory made it possible to evacuate them, leaving the Norwegian army with no choice but to surrender.
The household now included Kenneth Richards, a cousin from Rhodesia, who had come to join the RAF, and a Spanish Republican refugee doctor (Henry Bassadone). Kenneth was convalescing after having his appendix out, and he and I greatly enjoyed playing together with my trains and canoeing on the Cam. He ended up in the Fleet Air Arm and, having requested a posting in East Africa, found himself on HMS Uganda off the Hebrides. He visited us once more on leave but I never knew what happened to him thereafter. HMS Uganda survived the war, serving in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Henry Bassadone had been a doctor in the Republican army in Spain. In due course, his qualifications were recognised and he worked in hospitals in South London.
Birtles was the school ‘pro’. Sport in those days, most notably cricket, was played by two distinct groups, public school and university amateurs on the one hand, and by professionals who were paid, on the other.
Mr. Bagnall Oakley was one of the minority of teachers who conveyed both a real interest in teaching and an awareness of the world which he felt we should share. In most cases school work and activities carried on as if, apart from some inconveniences, nothing abnormal was happening.
Martin was at the (euphemistically named) Telecommunications Research Establishment near Swanage, which was one of the main centres where radar was being developed. This, of course, was not public knowledge at the time. Radar research had begun in the 1930s in many countries, including Germany. My brother had graduated in Physics from Oxford in 1939 and was now part of a research group working on basic developments and applications of radar. As the Swanage area is virtually an island, it would have taken a very small group of Germans to kill or capture them all, and they were soon relocated to Malvern. Developments in radar allowed the accurate location of aircraft, ships and surfaced submarines, and played an important part in winning the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. My brother was involved in the development of airborne radar devices, and in the creation of an illusory invasion in the Eastern Channel at the time of the D-day landings in 1944.
My father did not get into the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps), probably because of his pre-war pacifist views and unwillingness to participate in research into poison gases. But he did leave Cambridge in order to work for the Emergency Medical Service, travelling the country to teach from his First World War experience, in particular about the management of chest injuries, and he returned to his beloved Guy’s Hospital in London. Margaret, a shy 17 year old, went to work as a timber measurer for tough Canadian foresters in Wales, but later returned to school and went on to Oxford. !
The re-definition of the catastrophic defeat and the Dunkirk evacuation as a great British victory was underway. Which is not to deny the real strength and heroism (or the fortunately calm weather) which allowed the evacuation of a considerable proportion of British troops and also of many French soldiers.
My diaries’ record of these days is one of the few which does not entirely match my memory. I recall Frank (the housemaster) addressing all the boys in the junior house with passionate anger at our apparent unawareness of, or lack of interest in, the historical moment. Though I excused myself from this charge—unlike most of the boys I did follow the news in the papers made available to us—it is strange to read how we went on playing cricket and swimming even through those frightening days.
The school—much depleted—had re-assembled in two hotels in Newquay. The junior house, Kenwyn (where I was), and Woodlands (where I soon went) were in the Bay Hotel, 2 or 3 hundred yards from the sea and overlooking Fistral Bay (now a popular surfing centre). A cinder path led up to the Pentire Hotel where three other senior houses—Old School House, Farfield and Howsons—had a floor each.
The hotel bedrooms became study bedrooms for three or four boys. The lounges and bars were adapted as classrooms in the Bay hotel, and as the Assembly Hall and laboratories in the Pentire. Games were played on the more level parts of the nearby golf course, and supervised swimming and surfing became available. The rock pools and cliffs and the tidal estuary of the river Gannel, as well as the more distant countryside, offered scope for biology, natural history—especially bird watching—and for exploration on bicycles. We were allowed unaccompanied access to these at weekends and on half days.
After the French surrender, the Vichy government had undertaken to remain neutral. But their promise was not trusted by Britain, and after the French naval force in Algeria rejected the offer of safe conduct to neutral places, it was attacked and several ships were sunk, with the loss of over 1,000 French sailors. This caused much resentment against Britain. The justification for the attack was the fear that, if strengthened by these ships, the Italian navy could pose a serious threat to the supply lines to North Africa. Later, in November 1942, as Germany occupied Vichy France, the French fleet which had docked at Toulon was scuttled.
Beauforts were maritime patrol aircraft stationed at RAF St. Eval about 4 miles away.
On later reflection I wonder if the ‘Beaufort’ was a mis-identification and that it was in fact a German plane seeking to fly below our radar. If so, its presence was probably connected with the RAF base at St. Eval a few miles along the coast. In the ensuing weeks, there were large numbers of German attacks on coastal towns, ports and shipping. The raid on Cambridge and then the shooting down of the German plane were my first direct war experiences. But perhaps experience is the wrong word; it was more like theatre and it generated excitement and no fear. Neither these events nor the news brought home to me the reality of Britain’s military situation. Both the optimism I expressed as I chronicled the disasters of the previous months, and my willingness to believe our propaganda in the face of the catalogue of disasters, were quite irrational, but shared by most people.
These were increases in income and purchase tax.
The Cambridge house was being packed up as it was being given to the Army for the duration of the war. My father would be based in a small flat in London, while the rest of the household moved to Glatting.
This was the beginning of the Battle of Britain, which started with attacks on shipping and coastal defences and then switched to attacks on airfields.
This, if true, must have involved equally obsolete Italian planes. In engagements with contemporary fighters, Gladiators suffered 100% losses.
The furniture was to be delivered to Glatting over the next week. In retrospect, it seems amazing that 4 or 5 pantechnicons could be employed as if the war was not happening. In fact, as events I witnessed suggested, this was the period when German plans to invade Britain were being prepared.
Actual losses in air battles were hard to estimate and both sides made exaggerated claims. Post-war records suggest that over the whole Battle of Britain the Germans lost nearly 1900 fighters and bombers and the RAF a little over 1000 fighters.
My father had taken a small flat over a shop in Pilgrimage Street. This was near Guy’s Hospital in the area where Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims had gathered. Over the next few days we were getting the flat ready but sleeping with friends in North London. There were frequent air raid warnings and raids.
In retrospect I can fully understand his reaction. He was by nature—and until the war by conviction—a pacifist. My spectator sport attitude to the air war must have jarred with his knowledge that falling planes could be ours as well as theirs—and had men on board.
This was the start of the night raids on London and many other towns.
On my way to Newquay, my mother and I stayed with friends in North London.
Anderson shelters were mass-produced out of corrugated iron. They were half buried in the garden and offered significant safety and considerable discomfort.
I went on a trip by car before term started with Mr. Candler (physics teacher), Martin Wood, his brother Christopher and others.
My mother’s fuller account—which I was told later and have confirmed since from a letter she wrote to her parents at the time— described how, when my father had returned to Guy’s, he had found very inadequate plans and preparations. He had mobilised the Works Department to remove the bars from a window providing an escape route from the wards, and had had walkways installed over the glass roofs, and it was these which medical students had used to evacuate the patients.
My partisan mother always protested that my father’s contribution to the successful evacuation was never acknowledged, whereas the hospital superintendent, who had not been there, was photographed posing with a bandaged arm (which had been injured by a burst hot water bottle). Students were also recruited as firewatchers, and were stationed on the roof with buckets of water, sand and a stirrup pump—as firewatchers were on all large buildings—ready to deal with the hundreds of incendiary bombs that were scattered over the town.
Older boys in the school Officer Training Corps—soon to be democratically re-named the Junior Training Corps (JTC)—were incorporated in the Home Guard. The ‘acute alertness’ was presumably related to the fear of invasion.
‘Of death and dying’ was an essay published in the Lancet, arguing that death should not be feared, and that modern medicine can alleviate any pain accompanying it. ‘Those … whose lives are compounded of action and a faith in mutual aid need know no death, and … they will find, in all probability, that the phase of passing is quite different from all imagined experience, from all that ignorance, fiction and superstition have made it.’ It was shortly to be published in a collection of essays Fears may be liars.
This is an image which has stayed with me all my life—remembered not as a sports spectacle but as my witnessing the moment of a man’s death. I did not record that thought in the diary, and it may be that I experienced but did not record similar feelings when describing other events.
The sand dunes above all the beaches were mined, the mined area being surrounded by barbed wire with warning notices.
Looking back it is clear that my preoccupation with this relationship was a powerful experience like falling in love. My feelings were, however, non-sexual and I remained uninterested in homosexual relations throughout my time at school, in which I was, I think, a minority.
This may have been a story about Hitler’s attempted uprising in 1923 known as the ‘Beer hall putsch’
The Bren gun was a Czech-designed light machine gun widely used by infantry and also mounted on a tracked vehicle such as the Bren carrier.
At this time there was no effective night defence and one went to sleep at Glatting to the constant drone of German planes on their way to London.
The ‘had to’ betrays that this was the idea of parents rather than the participants and we never established any rapport. Joan was the step-daughter of a writer living nearby. Her father was the American poet Conrad Aiken. She became a well-known author of children’s books.
Roger Cruickshank encouraged me to become a better-informed bird watcher.
Peter Brook, who has since had a distinguished career in the theatre, was a rather older pupil. He left to work in films very soon after this.
The Whirlwind was introduced in late 1940 but saw little active service due to technical problems and high landing speeds. Some were stationed at St. Eval.
Over the next few days other oiled-up sea birds were found. I made no comment on where the oil came from but post-war records show that the German Battle Cruiser Admiral Hipper, based at Brest, sank 7 ships in a slow convoy west of Gibraltar on February 12th. Six other sinkings were recorded between February 7th and 11th, 2 from submarines, four from aircraft, location not recorded.
Officially one carried gasmasks at all times. I don’t think this applied when cycling about on the North Cornish coast.
It seems odd that a prefect was encouraged to do this. He was essentially kind and probably ended up as a benign clergyman.
There was a considerable homosexual culture in the school with younger boys who were sought after by older ones being known as ‘tarts’.
The rabbits were reared for eating, and were kept in movable hutches which had to be moved on daily; the goats were intended to provide milk and cheese, but were so destructive that they were eventually disposed of.
This was true throughout the war, attributable in retrospect to his working under pressure in the development of radar, and to his knowing too much to allow any complacency.
This was the most devastating raid on the UK so far. Coventry was an important engineering city which had already been badly damaged in a raid in November. Much was made of the destruction of the cathedral and the 1,000 casualties. This should be remembered in the context of our far more devastating raids on Germany in the subsequent years.
I learnt many years later that airedales had been trained to catch otters and then voles—T had clearly reconnected with his heritage.
This sardonic tone is new to my diary. It was probably an expression of anxiety.
Tinned butter always tasted slightly rancid. An earlier tin had been called ‘party butter’ by Clara and Lorna (evacuees), who at home probably only replaced margarine with (unrefrigerated) butter on special occasions. By this time food rationing was an accepted part of life and we never suffered serious shortages. The average weight and height and general health of British children improved significantly during the years of rationing, an indication of the widespread deprivation of the pre-war years. In addition we were helped by vegetables, eggs, fruit and honey from Glatting.
HMS Diamond had been involved in evacuating troops from Greece. She was sunk by dive bombers.
I have never really understood how my friend went on in daily activities with no evident change; whether it was denial, courage, British inexpressiveness or acceptance. But from May 8th I was not around, being in isolation in the school sanatorium. I had never met the brother but saw a pre-war photograph of him tranquilly steering a dinghy with one hand on the tiller and the other supporting his chin. Throughout my life, when enjoying small boat sailing, I often found myself aware of being in the same posture and remembering the image. A kind of memorial.
Amba Alagi (a mountain in northern Ethiopia) was the last battle of a long campaign between the Italians, who had invaded British Somaliland, and a mixed force of British, Indian, Rhodesian and other Commonwealth troops and Ethiopian irregulars.
Hood, the Royal Navy’s largest fighting ship, had been sunk by the German battleship Bismarck. There were in fact only 3 survivors.
Bismarck would have been a serious danger to our Atlantic convoys if it had got away. The German invasion of Crete was the first major assault from the air. The Germans suffered very heavy casualties in the first 2 days, many inflicted by Greek civilians because the German weapons were dropped separately from the men, but they were much better equipped than the mixture of Greek Army, civilian and New Zealand forces.
Field Days were supposedly training exercises, with referees posted around to declare who was dead etc. It was obviously fun but cannot have been a great learning experience! I managed to get killed in every one. I seem to have made no connection in my mind between the Field Day and the events in the world of the previous few days.
The wild valley was the one near Glatting we had discovered in April.
‘Eric, or Little by Little’ was the title of a moralistic Victorian novel about a boy at boarding school.
Evidently the model planes I had were updated as were the real ones. The modification to the Beaufort was, I believe, because German fighters had found that the most successful way to attack involved approaching from behind and below.
Mr. East was a surgeon in one of the south London hospitals linked with Guy’s, and he had spent periods on duty at Guy’s. When the staff were sleeping in the basement during the night raids, the matron would bring round an evening cup of cocoa to the common room, and would conspicuously not serve Mr. East; so my mother would accept hers and then equally conspicuously take it to him.
In fact Russian losses were far higher.
In fact it was Pierre Laval, recently and later head of the Vichy administration, but now out of power, who was shot. Marcel Déat was a Fascist journalist. The young Frenchman, a Communist, was arrested on the spot.
My father’s bringing home Russian books was a sign of a new identification with the USSR. My diary did not record any discussion concerning how this came about but, as the subsequent diary entries show, it persisted. This may now seem hard to understand, and some explanation may be helpful.
During the period between the World Wars, reports of life in the USSR had been polarised. Some conveyed the image of a country which—despite foreign intervention, a harsh civil war and many cruelties—was overcoming the inequalities and injustices of the past. Others reported the facts, if not the extent, of famine, repression and the Gulag. Since the war these negative aspects have become the whole received truth, and how I and millions of others could have ignored or discounted the evidence for them is difficult to understand. I believe there are three main explanations.
First, many critics of the USSR were suspect witnesses, paying little attention to abuses committed by the European colonial powers and being complacent in the face of the gross inequalities and widespread poverty in the capitalist world.
Secondly, there was widespread disillusion with the years of appeasement of Germany, Italy and Japan and with Britain’s failure to support the government in Spain where, for the first time, there had been active military resistance to the spread of Fascism. The Spanish war had mobilised anti-Fascist public opinion in Britain, and in France the Popular Front, a socialist-communist alliance, had won the 1936 parliamentary elections. But Spain had not been saved and then Czechoslovakia had been abandoned.
Thirdly, by the end of 1940, Europe was largely allied with, or occupied by, Germany, and it was not easy, and certainly not rational, to believe in the survival of Britain. In this precarious situation the German invasion of the USSR, despite the early chaos and massive losses suffered, brought us a credible military ally. We needed to believe in the Red Army and in the possibility of peace and of a different future.
My diary shows that I realised how this need might blind me to the realities of the system, and records how I tested my enthusiasm by reading books that were critical of or hostile to it. But as the war progressed, the Soviet Union, despite horrific civilian and military losses, proved to be a remarkably resilient military ally, whose victory offered the main basis for our hope of peace.
The hostile British press now recorded Soviet achievements and Stalin became Uncle Joe, and sober critics began to feel hopeful that the pre-war oppression would yield in the face of the shared sense of suffering and achievement. In the end I continued to link my socialist and egalitarian ideals to a largely fictitious version of Soviet society. I was not alone in doing this. Also, Communists, inspired by the achievements of the Soviet Union and by the historical theory and traditions on which they were seen to be based, played a leading role in the resistance movements in occupied Europe. As their contribution became known I found further justification for my beliefs.
Propaganda accounts of Russian valour were at odds with the military debacle; but as the war progressed, both the high cost borne, and the courage and skill of the Red Army, were indisputable.
Another example of the triumph of hope and belief over reason! He never collected.
The 51st (Highland) Infantry division had escaped encirclement as the Germans advanced to Dunkirk, and withdrew to Normandy with part of the French army. The survivors eventually surrendered at St. Valery en Caux. The division had to be reconstituted from scratch.
Two brothers, Adml. Sir Andrew and Gen. Sir John Cunningham, and AVM Sir Arthur Coningham were simultaneously in command of sea, land and air operations.
The story about gliders does not seem to have any basis in fact.
Sir Bernard Pares was a distinguished Slavonic scholar who had known Russia before the revolution. He was an admirer of the Russians and their culture as a whole, regardless of any regime, and had remained a firm but non-political advocate of the importance of continuing good relations.
While he insisted on the repressive nature of Stalin’s government, he saw it as a return to Russia’s tradition of autocratic nationalism after the Bolsheviks’ earlier excesses of internationalist revolutionary fervour. His discussions of the potential benefits of Stalin’s modernisation could reasonably be seen as a defence of the aims, if not the methods, of the Communist Party.
His lecture may have encouraged me in my writing of a eulogy of the Soviet Union (see 28th Nov.).
I described all the advantages (not one of which was an established fact) which together presented a vision of a Utopian, anti-capitalist world. Even after 70 years I find my level of certainty and my dismissal of others as duped and self satisfied too embarrassing to quote!
This was not a triumph of Soviet propaganda, however, so much as a distillation of what I hoped for. Many of the features were established in Britain by the post-war Labour Government, for example a free medical service for all, two weeks paid holiday, improved education, some moves towards colour and sex equality, and the State being concerned with the welfare of all. These were the widely-held hopes for a different society which determined the results of the 1945 election.
I contrasted the ideal society with the pre-war situation:
At this point Japan formally joined the Axis—Germany and Italy—and the USA declared war and joined the Allies.
The attempt to remain optimistic through the disastrous year is still evident!
I imagine I was passing on some things learned in the JTC at school. It was also my first contact with the boys in the village.
The attempt to involve my contemporaries in war-related activities was probably a bit romantic. What I did not know at the time was that we were only a mile away from a house where, since mid-October, some of the most heroic acts of the war were in process.
I only discovered this when I read French Resistance in Sussex (Pulborough, Barnworks Publishing, 1995, reprinted 2012), written by Barbara Bertram who lived in Bignor (3/4 mile away). I remember that my mother disapproved of her because she stopped accepting evacuees, and had too many handsome men, and some women, staying for short periods in her house. They were passed off in the village as convalescent French soldiers but were, in fact, French agents, her house being a staging post for those just flown back from France, or about to be taken there from RAF Tangmere. They were flown in slow, low flying Lysanders, navigating by moonlight to find—provided there was no mist—fields indicated by the French resistance by three torches, where people and equipment were rapidly unloaded or loaded.
Some 200 agents passed through her house in Bignor— some, delayed by the weather, staying long enough to take on the local darts teams in the White Horse in Sutton. Several crossed over and returned many times, knowing each time that they would be tortured and shot if caught, as some were.
Although at the time Barbara Bertram could know no details, from what she remembered and from what she learned after the war, she wrote in her small book a movingly understated and loving account of the incredibly brave guests who passed through her house, and of the pilots who transported them. The last view the agents would have had as they left her house would have been the line of the South Downs which was so familiar to me from Glatting.
Up to this time the Downs—chalk hills a few hundred feet above sea level—were unfenced, dotted with hawthorn, yew and other small trees, and were grazed by unfenced Southdown sheep. The clearance was part of the major national expansion of agriculture, aimed at reducing dependence on imports.
I was not, of course, the first to identify this issue! According to Dodds, in ‘The Greeks and the Irrational’ (p.211), Plato in the Laws saw the common man as being concerned with happiness while the legislator wants him to be good, in pursuit of which he tries to persuade him that happiness and goodness go together. This places Wittgenstein, who was one of the century’s most distinguished philosophers, on the side of the common man and my mother on the side of the legislators! At this time Wittgenstein was working as the pharmacy porter at Guy’s hospital, something arranged by my father at the request of my philosopher uncle Gilbert, in response to Wittgenstein’s wish to do something useful. It is said that he did his best to persuade patients that their medicines were more likely to do harm than good—which may well have been true!
Warship weeks were held in many towns as part of an official war-savings campaign. Towns pledged a certain amount of money and adopted a ship.
The Junior Training Corps uniform was First World War, including puttees and many bits of brass. Battle dress was the basic uniform worn by the army and the Home Guard—I clearly saw it as a badge of maturity.
The school debates did not attract big audiences and my unusually whole-hearted endorsement of the war and interest in its course was not generally shared, a fact which generated a (self-righteous? appropriate?) irritation in me. The school debates were often on interesting topics and were enlivened by speakers from local RAF and Army units, in whose contributions the changing mood in Britain was often evident. The theme of this one assumed the existence of a post-war England (together with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, presumably) despite the precarious military situation.
This may be an allusion to a brief thaw in US-Japanese relations in 1940 which allowed the Japanese to obtain some military material from America.
The encircled Germans were sustained by an air-lift and broke out in April.
My father was a vocal advocate for a National Health Service. Many of his consultant colleagues angrily criticised him, suggesting he was pulling up the ladder up which he had climbed—an attitude conveying the commercial assumptions of private medicine. Younger colleagues and the doctors then in the Forces, on the other hand, were enthusiastic supporters of a National Health Service.
The patients treated at Guy’s Hospital came from the region of the Docks, a densely populated area where poverty and unemployment were widespread, and my father had never forgotten the contrast between his work there and the private practice on which he depended for his income. It was some satisfaction to him that the NHS was founded, and I qualified as a doctor, shortly before he died.
Coppers were large containers under which a small coal or wood fire could be lit on washing or bathing days.
Stafford Cripps, a member of the government, was on a mission to India seeking to gain support for the war against the Axis powers with an offer of increased Indian participation in government.
The fight for Indian independence during the years before the war had made little progress despite the widespread support for Gandhi’s policy of non-violence. Churchill was contemptuous of Indians and remained an unrepentant imperialist, resisting any compromise; he was one of the influences which sustained my political convictions. Support in India for the British in the war against Japan was far from universal; the wish to get rid of the British was seen by many as of equal or greater importance. An Indian National Army fought with the Japanese in Burma. However, 2.5 million volunteers fought with the British in North Africa, Burma and Europe, and India was a major producer of war-related industrial goods.
This was the Augsburg raid. Two groups of six Lancasters converged over Selsey (15 miles from where I saw the six) and flew very low all the way; all but five were shot down. To this day I know exactly where I was when the six planes flew over and recall my distinct awareness of the men flying them and of the fact that they knew that not all of them would come back.
Popular support for Russia’s demand that a second front should be opened in western Europe (by an invasion from Britain) was widespread in the UK, where the enormous losses suffered by Soviet soldiers and civilians were recognised. The motives of the UK government in delaying it were suspected of representing a deliberate policy—based on the calculation that Russia would bleed to death, or at least emerge weakened at the end of the war.
However, the military reality was that preparation of an invasion force in the UK depended on winning the battle of the Atlantic, and accumulating US troops and armaments. This was only achieved with radar, sonar and effective air cover in 1943-4. Russia bore the full brunt of the European war for three years—over the whole war, three-quarters of German land and air losses were incurred on the Eastern front.
Living either in a boy’s school or at Glatting meant that there were no occasions on which it was normal to meet girls and they remained an unknown species.
This was the battle of the Coral Sea. In fact only one Japanese carrier was sunk but two others were damaged and this reduced their capability in the subsequent Midway battle. Naval power was crucial in the Pacific war and both Japan and the USA relied increasingly on carrier-borne aircraft to which conventional battleships were very vulnerable.
Malta was our air base for attacking German ships supplying their troops in N. Africa, and for protecting British supply ships on the way to the Eastern Mediterranean. It suffered incessant air attacks.
Empire Day (Queen Victoria’s birthday) had been an offical celebration in Britain since the First World War.
Initially described in terms such as ‘attacks on marshalling yards’, it was soon apparent that the targets were less clearly defined—as indeed was inevitable given the inaccuracy of bombing at that time—and that in reality mass attacks on civilian targets had become a deliberate policy.
Much is still made of British experiences of the blitz on London, Coventry, Plymouth, Liverpool, Belfast and other towns, but our civilian death rate during the war was one tenth of what we inflicted on Germany in raids such as those on Cologne and Essen, and later on Hamburg and Dresden, where the RAF had perfected the technique of creating firestorms by the combined use of explosive and incendiary bombs.
But the losses of RAF aircrews were also oppressively present for those who could count; aircrew flew for a tour of 20 operational flights and on average about 5% of bombers failed to return from most missions. RAF bomber command losses of over 50,000 aircrew over the whole war amounted to more than half of all those trained.
Because of the war, events such as this, and the crowded school trains to and from London at the start and end of each term, were a window of opportunity to mix with girls. A more experienced friend (AWW) was quick to initiate and sustain contacts, and helped me overcome my timidity to some extent.
William Temple had recently become Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a Labour party sympathiser, and former member, and supported the idea of a state welfare system. The statistics were from Poverty: a study of town life by Seebohm Rowntree, sociologist and chocolate manufacturer, who was now assisting William Beveridge with his welfare proposals.
John’s report extract was probably included in a letter to my father. He subsequently wrote his DM thesis on fear, and noted the importance of keeping occupied.
School Certificate was the nationwide school examination taken at about 14. It had to be passed as a whole, reaching the required level in a combination of subjects.
This was the first battle of El Alamein; it was a stalemate but halted the German advance on Alexandria. Edmund Blunden’s book is a memoir of the First World War.
A tractor-drawn reaper-binder delivered bound sheaves, which had to be propped up in groups (stooks or shocks) of 6 or 8 to keep the grain bearing ears off the ground.
70 years later I cannot recall having ever really believed in the possibility of revolution, bloodless or not. But the threat of elected left wing governments being overthrown was not imaginary as, for example, some years later, the fate of Allende in Chile demonstrated. I suppose the mythology informing the discussion served some function for me and the other participants, perhaps signifying that things would be much better after the war, while life continued to be scary in the real world.
The Dieppe raid was a disaster—as a result of poor security, the Germans were ready, and the Canadians suffered heavy casualties.
These were German propaganda showing pictures of dead and captured Canadian soldiers from the Dieppe raid.
’12th Sept’ may refer to 1941. On that day the first snowfall in Russia began to impede the German advance, and the first ships arrived with supplies for besieged Leningrad.
Melody was brother John’s fiancée, who lived in London.
The manufacture and sale of ice-cream was banned from the end of September.
The report consisted of recommendations to the party on policy towards youth and education, advocating the development of a sense of civic obligation, and proposing a national federation of youth organisations, one of which every 14 to 18 year old would be expected to join.
It was some time before Britain accepted that Tito’s partisans were the effective anti-axis force.
Willkie was an American Republican politician.
We were not. This was the decisive (second) battle of El Alamein, fought by Australian, New Zealand, Indian and British troops.
Some Vichy forces resisted the landings, but other French troops and resistance units cooperated with the British and US.
In fact this was the first episode of coronary artery disease. After it, any exertion was liable to provoke anginal pain and he had a number of heart attacks (coronary thromboses) and finally died in 1950. Despite this, his last few years were active and productive and during them he set up the Institute of Social Medicine at Oxford and visited India, South Africa and the USA.
He suffered from Disseminated Sclerosis (as Multiple Sclerosis was then called) and had to have someone assisting him with all physical manipulations and writing on the board.
~Peter Drucker, who wrote The End of Economic Man, was a theorist of how business corporations should be run.
Sydney and Beatrice Webb were respected social researchers and reformers—Fabians—who wrote this totally uncritical account of the Soviet system.
This is the nearest I got to seeing Communism as a quasi-religious belief system with implications for how I conducted my life. The error, as I now see it, was in linking my beliefs to a deeply flawed state, not in investing political belief with moral significance.
This comment in many ways summarises my evaluation of Churchill’s contribution. He was wrong on nearly every social and military issue, but his unifying and at times inspirational rhetoric sustained the unrealistic hope and commitment of the British through the long and dark days of 1940-1945. His distress at the Labour victory in the 1945 election and the major contribution to that of the Forces vote demonstrated the limits of his understanding of the people he led.
Her brother John had contracted polio while their father was in India, and he had stayed with us when out of hospital, and in some school holidays. He was now a medical student.
‘The Brains Trust’ was an immensely popular radio discussion programme with questions sent in by listeners. C.E.M. Joad, a philosopher and lecturer with some very unconventional opinions, was a panellist.
Later in his life he would say bitterly that all his work did was to save a few hundred RAF crews so that thousands of German civilians could be killed.
Lin Yutang was a Chinese writer who wrote in English about Chinese philosophy and culture, and commented on Chinese and world politics.
Sir William Beveridge had been a civil servant with a particular interest in employment before going on to be Director of the London School of Economics in 1919. In the 1930s he played a part in helping German-Jewish academics to come to the UK.
His report, published in 1942, provided an outline for the reform of employment and social security. His proposals were not popular with the Conservatives and the publication and debate on the proposals was delayed. It became an important focus of political concern. He argued that the serious poverty endured by so many in the 1930s could be abolished by a universal system of insurance, and public support for the proposals was a main reason for the success of the Labour Party in the 1945 election. It provided the basic structure of the Welfare State which the Labour Government put into operation in the immediate post-war years.
My father was visiting Oxford following his appointment as the first Prof. of Social Medicine. Beveridge, now the Master of University College, was welcoming, and lent us his house while he was away.
Cripps, a lawyer, was a left-wing (initially pro-Communist) Labour MP, and a friend of leaders of the Indian Congress Party. It was as a result of his views and contacts that he was made ambassador to Moscow 1940-1942, and then was involved in the mission to India described before.
Thompson became a prominent critic and educationalist.
On the way from the station my mother softened the news that my dog Tinker had been shot—it was impossible to get meat for him—with the news that John was home.
Polish troops captured by the Russians at the time of the invasion and partition of their country were being sent by way of the Middle East to join the army in North Africa.
The Inter-Schools Conference was organised by the Council for Education in World Citizenship, which was founded just before the war as an offshoot of the League of Nations Union, to promote international understanding and co-operation.
John Boyd Orr was a research nutritionist, and advocate of international planning of the use of food resources. During the war he was adviser to the Minister of Food.
Cecil Powell was a nuclear physicist and internationalist.
Ralph Wedgwood, who had been a railway manager, was an advocate of a world development plan, on the model of wartime Lease-Lend, run by an international economic council.
The last entries demonstrate a number of traits which I still recognise as aspects of my nature. My attachment to my parents was linked with a rather morbid concern. Most of my references to my mother concerned her vulnerability, her mood or her health; and since my father had developed angina I was naturally anxious that he might have another heart attack, and was concerned about how stressful situations might affect him. My own dependent needs were usually met indirectly by being a helpful person, but on this occasion my vulnerability found a childish expression.
Old and complex enmities had been exacerbated by German reports, later clearly validated, of the Katyn massacre of Polish officers by the Russians in 1939-1940.
This is the beginning of my disquiet at the RAF’s mass bombing campaign. A few public figures voiced concerns about it as the military effect remained uncertain, and the morality of targeting civilians as a main strategy was disputed, but the policy remained unchanged.
My housemaster (Max) was doubtless correct to see my self-righteous challenges to the school system as arrogant. But looking back, I can understand why his alternations between authoritarian stamping of the feet and phases of friendly informality had irked me, and do not regret my rejection of the banality and hypocrisy involved in compulsory religion. I do regret my provoking teachers who did not deserve it. Mr. Hales, for example—the music teacher who was now required to teach French—was a poor disciplinarian, and I recall earning cheap popularity by provoking him. I owe my reasonable French accent to him. And I had been no trouble to teachers who earned, and granted, respect, of whom Mr. Taylor was one.
I was anxious to avoid another year at school.
The Sicily invasion was costly, with many troops killed by friendly fire, and many airborne troops landing in the wrong places, including the sea. There were problems in co-ordinating the different armies, and in due course a large proportion of German and Italian troops were successfully evacuated across the straits of Messina.
Denmark had not resisted the German invasion, having no adequate means, and had retained initially some autonomy. Fewer than 500 Danish Jews out of over 7,000 died at the hands of the Nazis, by far the best record in occupied Europe. Two days before deportation was due to begin, the news was leaked and the Jews disappeared, hidden by all kinds of people and betrayed by no organization, in contrast to France where the police actively cooperated with the round-up of Jews. Large numbers escaped in small boats to Sweden over the ensuing months.
Italy under Badoglio had surrendered in early September, on terms which involved participating in the war against German occupation.
Common Wealth was a new left of centre party formed in 1942, with J.B. Priestley amongst its members, to campaign for a non-authoritarian form of socialism. It was sympathetic to co-operativism and syndicalism (a kind of workers’ control).
This meeting was the most cordial and constructive of any of the 3‑power wartime conferences.
Richard Hillary had become famous for his account of his experiences as a fighter pilot, before being severely wounded.
The dominant role of the communists in the Yugoslav partisans was now being acknowledged.
I heard later that he lost a leg in North Africa.
Another inter-schools conference was to be held in London in January.
The Scharnhorst had been damaged in previous engagements. She constituted a threat to the convoys taking supplies to Russia from Britain and to the Atlantic convoys. She was sunk by the convoy’s escorts. Despite the German air and sea forces in northern Norway, convoys to Russia were maintained to 1945, under 10% of the merchant ships being lost.
What I most remembered is that the company were shortly going to the Middle East and all had plasters on their arms where they had been vaccinated.
Previous diary entries concerning my feeling lonely and longing for a like-minded (girl)friend make it clear that there was, in my mind, a relationship waiting to happen. Little came of this one.
He later left the CP, and gave me a group photograph of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party with those already killed indicated.
A further volume of the diary was lost. The last entries show that I was becoming less isolated from my contemporaries, and was approaching my 17th birthday with ‘that precarious gait some call experience’ (Emily Dickinson). The end of the war was still eighteen ferocious months away, and the last entries record continuing military uncertainties. But in both individual and worldwide spheres there was a sense of a new phase beginning.