Britain 1939

This is London

The following official communiqué has been issued from 10 Downing Street:

On September 1st, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin was instructed to inform the German Government that unless they were prepared to give His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom satisfactory assurances that the German Government had suspended all aggressive action against Poland and were prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom would, without hesitation, fulfil their obligations to Poland.

At 9.00a.m. this morning, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin informed the German Government that, unless, not later than 11.00a.m. British Summer Time, today September 3rd, satisfactory assurances to the above effect had been given by the German Government, and had reached His Majesty’s Government in London, a state of war would exist between the two countries as from that hour. His Majesty’s Government are now awaiting the receipt of any reply that may be made by the German Government. The Prime Minister will broadcast to the nation at 11.15. That is the end of the announcement.

Full Transcript

BBC Broadcasts
September 3rd 1939

Britain at War

It was approaching 11.15 on the morning of Sunday, 3 September 1939. Throughout the British Isles, families were clustered around their wireless sets, anxious to hear the latest news. But this was no ordinary Sunday morning, and the broadcast those families were about to hear contained no run-of-the-mill announcement.

The listeners drew closer to their wirelesses, and noisy children were hushed, as the measured tones of Neville Chamberlain cut clearly through the airwaves. But while the Prime Minister’s voice remained steady, he was unable to provide his listeners with the reassuring news they had been hoping to hear. On the contrary, he made an announcement that the entire nation had been dreading. Britain was at war with Germany.


Little Book of Britain at War
Pat Morgan
© Demand Media

War Speech

In this solemn hour it is a consolation to recall and to dwell upon our repeated efforts for peace. All have been ill-starred, but all have been faithful and sincere. This is of the highest moral value – and not only moral value, but practical value – at the present time, because the wholehearted concurrence of scores of millions of men and women, whose co-operation is indispensable and whose comradeship and brotherhood are indispensable, is the only foundation upon which the trial and tribulation of modern war can be endured and surmounted. This moral conviction alone affords that ever-fresh resilience which renews the strength and energy of people in long, doubtful and dark days. Outside, the storms of war may blow and the lands may be lashed with the fury of its gales, but in our own hearts this Sunday morning there is peace. Our hands may be active, but our consciences are at rest.

Full Transcript

Winston S. Churchill
House of Commons
September 3rd 1939

We Must Smash Hitlerism for Ever

The House of Commons met for 4 hours yesterday and after debating the declaration of war hurried through further emergency measures.
These were quickly passed through the Lords and given the royal Assent, making them law.

“This country is now at war with Germany. As I said the other day, we are ready.”

After making his dramatic declaration to a tense House of Commons yesterday, Mr Chamberlain went on: “Everything that I worked for…has crashed in ruins…I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed.”

Sirens were sounding ‘All Clear’ when the Prime Minister rose amid cheers of members and said: “When I spoke last night in the House I could not have been aware that in some parts of the House there were doubts and some bewilderment as to whether there had been any hesitation or vacillation on the part of the Government…but in the circumstances I make no reproaches, for if I had been in the same position as members of that side of the House and not in possession of all the information, very likely I would have felt the same…The statement I have to make today will show there were no grounds for doubt…We were in close consultation yesterday with the French Government and we felt that the intensified action which the Germans were making in Poland allowed of no delay in making our position clear…Accordingly we decided to send to our Ambassador in Berlin instructions which he was to hand at nine o’clock this morning to the German Foreign Secretary which read as follows:

Full Article

The Daily Mirror
September 4th 1939

First Encounters: September 1939 – May 1940

They called it the Phoney War, and in many respects the term seemed justified. On the continent, from Belgium to the Swiss border, as late summer gave way to autumn and then a freezing winter, an army of men in baggy khaki uniforms that were the hallmark of the French Army faced another army of men in somewhat smarter field grey uniforms, and apart from one small and inconclusive Allied offensive in the Saar region there was little activity.


Churchill’s Channel War 1939 – 1945
Robert Jackson
© Osprey Publishing

Time of Triviality

There was a peculiar dreamlike quality about life in Britain during the Phoney War. We had all known that life would be different once it all began, and it was – but different in an entirely unexpected way.


Margaret Lazarides
taken from History of the Second World War
[Phoebus Publishing Ltd in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum]

British Expeditionary Force

The British Expeditionary Force was started in 1938 in readiness for a perceived threat of war after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938 and the claims on the Sudetenland, which led to the invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. After the French and British had promised to defend Poland, the German invasion of that country began and war was declared on 3 September 1939.

The BEF was sent to France in September 1939 and deployed mainly along the Belgian—French border during the so called Phoney War leading up to May 1940. The BEF did not commence hostilities until the invasion of France on 10 May 1940. After the commencement of battle, they were driven back through Belgium and north-western France, forcing their eventual evacuation from several ports along the French northern coastline in Operations Dynamo, Ariel and Cycle.

Read More [wikipedia]

The First Winter
3rd September 1939 – 9th May 1940

On the day before war was declared the Royal Air Force flew to France a small advance party of eighteen officers and thirty-one other ranks. By the 27th September the Royal Navy with shipping of the Mercantile Marine under their control had moved to France, without the loss of a single life;

152,031 army personnel
9,932 air force personnel
21,424 army vehicles
2,470 air force vehicles
36,000 tons of ammunition
25,000 tons of motor spirit
60,000 tons of frozen meat

…in addition to other stores, equipment and supplies. Thereafter the build-up of our forces and of equipment, stores and supplies continued steadily.


Major Ellis, L. F
taken from The War in France and Flanders
[Naval & Military Press 2004]
also available online at