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WWII: Outbreak | Britain on the brink of World War II

About this collection

On 3 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation that Britain was at war with Germany. Only a year before, it seemed a peaceful solution had been achieved with the Munich Agreement.

Experience British life on the brink of war through original news broadcasts, eyewitness accounts and commentaries on some of the key events, including the evacuation of children and the distribution of gas masks. The beginning of the BBC's wartime role, which involved a massive change to programming, is also explored through documents and photographs dating back to 1935.

WWII: Outbreak Collection

Neville Chamberlain at Heston airport on his return from a meeting with Hitler.

Chamberlain Returns from Negotiations with Hitler

RECORDED c. 1938
4 MINUTES

Chamberlain returns from a meeting with Hitler in Bad Godesberg.

A woman studies an Air Raid Precautions leaflet. © Getty Images.

News

Britain Begins to Prepare for War

BROADCAST 1938
5 MINUTES

The BBC announces Britain's home defence measures.

Neville Chamberlain.

Chamberlain Addresses the Nation on His Negotiations for Peace

BROADCAST 1938
8 MINUTES

Chamberlain broadcasts to the nation after one of his last meetings with Hitler.

Neville Chamberlain holding up a piece of paper that represents the agreement signed by Hitler.

Chamberlain returns from Munich with Anglo-German Agreement

RECORDED 1938
9 MINUTES

Richard Dimbleby is at the scene of Chamberlain's return from Munich.

A woman tries on a gas mask.

News

The Government Issues Instructions on the Use of Gas Masks

RECORDED c. 1938
32 SECONDS

News extract on one aspect of British home defence measures - gas masks.

A BBC microphone.

Journey into Czechoslovakia After the Munich Agreement

RECORDED 1938
9 MINUTES

An inside report from Czechoslovakia on the German occupation.

Adolf Hitler speaking at a podium. © Getty Images.

News

Polish Question: 16 Points

BROADCAST 1939
5 MINUTES

Germany proposes a settlement to the Polish problem.

BBC broadcaster Lionel Marson.

News

Invasion of Poland

BROADCAST 1939
15 MINUTES

'Germany has invaded Poland and has bombed many towns.'

Evacuees at Waterloo station. © Getty.

Evacuees Depart from Waterloo Station

RECORDED 1939
17 MINUTES

Children from London depart for an unknown destination in the countryside.

BBC broadcaster Alvar Lidell.

News

Outbreak of War with Germany

BROADCAST 1939
2 MINUTES

The ultimatum to Germany is due to expire at 11.00am.

The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain leaves No.10 Downing Street.

Britain Declares War on Germany

BROADCAST 1939
13 MINUTES

'This country is at war with Germany' announces the Prime Minister.

King George VI.

King George VI Addresses the Nation

BROADCAST 1939
6 MINUTES

The King calls for courage and faith in the battle ahead.

A survivor from the SS Athenia talking to journalists on shore after being rescued. © Getty Ima

Survivors Recall the Sinking of the SS Athenia

RECORDED 1939
5 MINUTES

The Battle of the Atlantic begins as the first British ship is sunk by the Germans.

Evacuees in London walking towards the station to catch a train for the countryside. © Getty

Evacuation of Children

RECORDED 1939
3 MINUTES

Teachers and a schoolgirl describe settling down in the country.

Families waving goodbye to evacuees leaving Manchester. © Getty Images.

We Have Been Evacuated

RECORDED 1939
15 MINUTES

Evacuees from Manchester discuss their new lives.

Viscount Halifax giving a speech in a military aircraft hanger.

Our War Aims - Now and After: Viscount Halifax

RECORDED c. 1939
17 MINUTES

The Foreign Secretary speaks after two months of war.

HM Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother). © Getty Images.

HM Queen Elizabeth Calls on Women

BROADCAST 1939
8 MINUTES

A message of hope and encouragement to the women of Europe.

A group of nurses being interviewed by the BBC.

London Hospitals in Wartime

War Comes to London Voluntary Hospitals

BROADCAST 1939
8 MINUTES

How various hospitals in London prepared for war.

A newspaper vendor in London displays the headlines about Germany's invasion of Poland. © Getty

Prologue to War

BROADCAST 1959
13 MINUTES

Personal memories of the outbreak of World War II.

 German fighter-bomber over Poland. © Getty Images.

When War Came to Poland

BROADCAST 1974
9 MINUTES

A reporter remembers Poland in the summer of 1939.

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