Friday, September 9, 2011

September 3, 1939

Shortly after 11. 00 am on September 3, 1939 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to break the news everyone expected but no one wanted to hear. In a radio broadcast made from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, Chamberlain announced, that for the second time in a generation, Britain was at war with Germany.

By 1921 Austrian born WWI veteran Adolf Hitler was leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, popularly known as the Nazi Party. In the 1932 July elections he led the Nazis to a victory which saw them the largest party in the German Parliament with over 37% of the votes and 230 seats.

Throughout the 1930s Hitler climbed the political ladder in pursuit of his ambitions, the creation of a thousand year Third Reich and the annihilation of the Jewish people. In defiance of the Treaty of Versailles he had rebuilt the German armed forces in preparation for the seizure of Lebensraum, ‘living space’ for his Aryan master race. Hitler resolved to reunite lost German territories and set his sights on the reclamation of Czechoslovakian held Sudetenland.

When Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement in September 1938, resulting in the annexation of the Sudetenland, he had hoped to avert war, but it soon became obvious he had misjudged the German Fuhrer.

During the summer of 1939 the world watched and waited as French residents in Germany were evacuated on orders from Paris, while German 'tourists' in Danzig suddenly began to number in the thousands.

German troops eventually marched into Poland on September 1 and air attacks on Polish towns and cities followed the invasion, among those bombed the capital Warsaw. At Czestochowa a famous 16th century shrine was destroyed despite a declaration that attacks would be confined exclusively to military objectives.

In Swindon, volunteers worked double shifts digging and erecting air raid shelters and 2,400 evacuees arrived on September 1, the first in a mass evacuation of children from Britain's cities.


On this historic day 70 years ago, the Evening Advertiser published five special editions, keeping the people of Swindon fully up to date with events in the developing crisis.
The first emergency blackout saw Swindon resemble a ghost town, according to a report in the Advertiser. "There was something strangely unreal and uncanny about the stillness which came with the darkness. And it was oppressively hot too."

Although described as not a hundred per cent black, Swindon residents explained that they had been unable to "procure the most suitable materials." Pedestrians were said to have caused inconvenience by ambling all over the road but the new white line in the centre of the main Streets had proved invaluable.

All cinemas and places of entertainment were closed until further notice and the Evening Advertiser's planned excursion to the Huntley & Palmer's biscuit factory in Reading was cancelled.
Doctors under the Ministry of Health Emergency Medical Service were ordered to report for duty.

Radio Relay, Swindon declared it would broadcast any emergency announcements affecting the interests of the people of Swindon and the evacuees.

More than 100 pregnant women were among the evacuees expected in Swindon. Accommodation at the Maternity Home had been extended and seven new nurses employed.

With 177 hours ten minutes of sunshine, August 1939 was a hotter month than that of the previous year, according to Mr. H. Cook, the Swindon meteorologist. Temperatures reached 70-78 degrees Fahrenheit across a 20 day period.



photographs courtesy of Swindon Advertiser; www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

Frances Bevan

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