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The War Begins
Chamberlain announced Britain’s declaration of war on the 3rd September 1939.
‘I was in church and the minister came and told us. Somebody came and told him and he came and told us. Sunday morning. We didn’t know what to do, what was goin’ to happen. We felt afraid.’
During the years prior to 1939 many people were concerned that another world war was likely. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were popular in Germany and there was support for the Nazis in Great Britain, the United States and France. Hitler had occupied what was Czechoslovakia and this had raised alarm throughout Europe. Hitler’s next plan was to invade and occupy Poland.
Poland endured heavy shelling; resistance ended on 17 September. After the initial Polish campaign the British government expected that Hitler would turn his campaign towards the UK. They expected heavy bombardment and children were evacuated to the countryside as Britain and France prepared for invasion.
‘Neville Chamberlain announced it and then the sirens went and we were a’ sayin’ “What dae we dae? Dae we jist sit here and die or whit dae we dae?” And then the ‘All Clear’ went and it was a beautiful day.’
‘We were all huddled about in wee groups and they were discussing what this was going to mean.’
‘It was a Sunday morning and in these days there was no traffic in our street, which was Prince Regent Street. Everybody seemed to come out their houses and talk to one another. I was swinging on the gate and I was aware that they were all waiting on eleven o’clock coming because they were goin’ tae get some information aboot this Chamberlain or somebody.’
During this time there was a lull as the different sides attempted to negotiate a peace without any fighting and that would avoid embarrassment. There was little in the way of armed conflict initially although the HMS Royal Oak was sunk in Scapa Flow in Orkney by the German U-Boat 47, with heavy loss of life.
‘Ah thought a bomb would come through the roof any minute now but nothing happened
for a long time.’
The ‘Phoney War’
The Phoney War led many to think nothing would happen but on 10 May 1940 Germany invaded France and the Low Countries heralding the war starring in earnest.
‘Most of our information came from the radio. Everybody congregated round the set, the wireless at six o’clock and nine o’clock. Everything stopped to hear the latest bulletin and for a long, long time it was all bad news, bad news ‘cos we were gettin’ thoroughly beat.’