Eighty Years Ago
Before dawn on the 1 September 1939, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler sent his armed forces into Poland.
At 04:45, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish port of Danzig on the Baltic Sea. The Luftwaffe attacked Wieluń around the same time, and at 08:00, German ground troops attacked the village of Mokra.
The World held its breath…….
On the 3 September, just eleven months after he declared “Peace for our time” on his return from Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave a live radio broadcast:
“This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
“You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed.
“Hitler’s actions, show convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.
“We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace.
“But the situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted, and no people or country could feel itself safe, had become intolerable. And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.”
British armed forces had already been mobilised following the invasion of Poland; but it wasn’t until the declaration of war that the National Service Act was enacted, immediately enforcing full conscription for all men between 18 and 41.
Chamberlain also restructured his existing Conservative government to create a War Cabinet, with Winston Churchill returning as First Lord of the Admiralty.
The same day, King George VI addressed those in Britain and across the Empire. Speaking in a live broadcast from Buckingham Palace, he called upon “my people at home and my peoples across the seas” asking them “to stand calm, firm and united in this time of trial.
“The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield. But we can only do the right as we see the right and reverently commit our cause to God.
“If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail.”
This was the start of a conflict that would eventually engulf every Continent on the planet and affect countless millions of people.
Join my Walking Tour around Carrickfergus, and discover how this small town in Northern Ireland rose to the challenge, and made a significant contribution to the eventual Allied victory.
Hear how Matilda, Rupert and Franklin all departed from Carrickfergus to leave their mark on the outcome of WW2.