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Liveblogging the Origins of World War II, August 28, 1939

George Orwell:

28.8.39: Have been travelling etc. during the past days & therefore unable to keep up the diary in ordinary way. The main developments have been as follow:

Hitler has proposed some or other kind of plan which was flown across by N. Henderson & has been discussed at several Cabinet meetings including one yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, but no statement has been made by the gov.t as to the Nature° of Hitler’s communication. H. is to fly back today with the Brit. Gov.t’s reply, but even so there is no sure indication that either H.’s proposal or the gov.t’s reply will be communicated to the public. Various papers have published statements, all of which are officially declared to be unfounded.

No clear indication of the meaning of the Russian-German pact as yet. Papers of the left tendency continue to suggest that it does not amount to very much, but it seems to be generally taken for granted that Russia will supply Germany with raw materials, & possibly that there has been a large-scale bargain which amounts to handing Europe over to Germany & Asia to Russia. Molotov is to make an announcement shortly. It is clear that the Russian explanation will be, at any rate at first, that the British were playing double & did not really wish for the Anglo-French-Russian pact. Public opinion in the U.S.S.R. said to be still somewhat taken aback by the change of front, & ditto the left wing opinion in the West. Left wing papers continue to blame Chamberlain while making some attempt to exhonorate° Stalin, but are clearly dismayed. In France there has evidently been a swing of opinion against the Communist Party, from which there are said to be large-scale resignations (D.Tel. repeating Reuter). Humanité has been temporarily suspended. The Anglo-French military mission is already returning.

Germany & Poland now more or less fully mobilized. France has called up several more classes of reservists & is said to have 4,000,000 men under arms. No more reservists yet called up in Britain. Admiralty has taken over control of all shipping. Sale of foreign shares is being controlled by gov.t. Main buildings in London being sandbagged. Practice evacuation of children in evacuation areas today. Little or no excitement in London. For the last day or two it is possible to overhear people in the street discussing the situation, but only in terms of “is there going to be war?” Yesterday afternoon during the Cabinet meeting about 1000 people in Downing St., mostly rubbernecks, & no banners etc. No demonstrations in Hyde Park. The only political speaker there a Trotskyist who was getting a good hearing (about 200 people). No mass-exodus from the railway stations, but immense quantities of luggage waiting to leave, by the look of it luggage of the fairly well-to-do people.

L.[H.]M[yers]. is of opinion that if we do not involve Italy in the war she will sit tight until we are in difficulties & have alienated the smaller European countries & then will come in on the German side. He is of the opinion that virtually the whole of the wealthy class are treacherous & quite ready to do a deal with Germany, either without war or after a short sham war, which could be presented as an honourable peace, & would allow for the imposition of fascism in England. Spain is at present making declarations of neutrality, & Turkey still declaring she will stand by France & England.

The price of gold has risen to record heights (about 155/- per ounce). Price of wheat still extremely low (price in wholesale markets recently quoted at less than 4/- the cwt.)

P.P.U. evidently completely quiescent & not intending to do anything. I.L.P. has issued official declaration that they will not support the government in war.

The Emergency Powers Act passed by over 400 votes to 4. Dissentients were Maxton (the other 2 I.L.P. MPs acted as tellers), Lansbury, Cecil Wilson & an Independent. Gallacher abstained.  Some of the extremists, eg. Ellen Wilkinson & A. Bevan, voted for the bill.