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15 October 2014
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Declaration of War

by ateamwar

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
ateamwar
People in story: 
F H Dawson
Location of story: 
Birkenhead, Merseyside
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4444878
Contributed on: 
13 July 2005

Sept 3rd 1939, Lord Chamberlain had just made a statement to the people of England saying “As from this moment England is in a state of war with the German nation.” Going on to explain the reasons and wherefores of how he intended to defend the rights of the free peoples of Europe, and go to the help of the Polish, whose country had been attacked by heavy German forces, bombing the towns of Warsaw and Danzig in so called retaliation for what they described as a vicious attack on German troops on the German Polish borders.
On the streets people gathered, discussing the news and what it would mean in the following days to come, points had been set up[ in various places in the towns and cities for the issue of gas-masks for children and adults, even babies had their own special issue, looking almost like an iron lung in miniature. The whole of that day was spent in conjecture and everybody speculating as to the outcome as the different families prepared themselves for the worst. Those who were lucky to have a radio, and accumulator sat with their ears glued to it, to catch every word spoken those who couldn’t afford such a luxury were using home made crystal-sets with an earphone and each minute that brought further news was spread verbally to the public gathered on the street corners.
Out on the street were quite a few neighbours, all the gossip was of the declaration of war. The air was balmy and the day had been quite warm and pleasant putting most people into a humorous frame of mind despite the seriousness of the situation. Some were showing off the gas-masks they had that day been issued with. One who had a baby of three months was showing her neighbours the special one with a side pump on, remarking that she wouldn’t know what to do if she had to use it. It seemed that within the next few days instructions would be given to obtain Identity Cards, register for food ration books, and to apply for the first batch of evacuation groups which would be done by the schools, which the children attended.

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

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Message 1 - Declaration of War

Posted on: 13 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Dawson

With the greatest respect, war was not declared in the way you recollect.

The Lord Chamberlain, who at the time was Lord Villiers, did not make the announcement. The announcement was made by the Prime Minister, Mr Neville Chamberlain.

Nor did the Prime Minister go on "to explain the reasons and wherefores of how he intended to defend the rights of the free peoples of Europe". You can access the full text of his broadcast and hear the audio clip of it here news.bbc.co.ukAbout links

You say that on that day "points had been set up[ in various places in the towns and cities for the issue of gas-masks. ... Some were showing off the gas-masks they had that day been issued with." But the fact is that by 3 September some 44 million gas masks had already been distributed; distribution started in September 1938 and had been completed well before war was declared.

You also say "Those who were lucky to have a radio, and accumulator sat with their ears glued to it, to catch every word spoken those who couldn't’t afford such a luxury were using home made crystal-sets with an earphone". By the late 1930s crystal-sets had virtually disappeared, I cannot recollect ever seeing one. The electric 5-valve wireless set (no accumulators) was practically in every house, certainly in towns and cities. Wireless sets ranged considerably in price, but a modest three-valve set was quite cheap. The latest EKCO Model AD65, for example, sold for £11, but this was a popular top model - it was a boom time with hundreds of manufacturers.

You further say "It seemed that within the next few days instructions would be given to obtain Identity Cards, register for food ration books, and to apply for the first batch of evacuation groups which would be done by the schools, which the children attended." The Emergency Regulations were in fact published on 28 August and the evacuation was completed by 3 September. It started on 1 September and in three days, due to meticulous pre-planning, 1,430,000 had been evacuated.

Regards,
Peter

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