This Country Is at War with Germany. May God Bless You All; Britain Looks Back on 70th Anniversary

Article excerpt

Byline: Joanne Butcher

AS SUNDAY, September 3, 1939, dawned Britain was bracing itself for the worst. Less than 21 years after the armistice of the conflict they called the Great War, the nation was preparing to go to war again.

Already, people had bought gas masks in case Adolf Hitler's Germany launched poisonous gas attacks, and the evacuation of children from industrial centres like Newcastle and Sunderland was being planned. And at 11.15am, as people huddled next to their wireless radios, the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, delivered his fateful broadcast from the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street.

"This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note, stating that unless we heard from them - by 11 o'clock - that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.

"I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that, consequently, this country is at war with Germany."

Chamberlain signed off by blessing his audience and assuring them right was on their side.

Two days earlier, on September 1, Adolf Hitler had invaded Poland, setting in motion his plans to create a master-race and wipe out the Jewish population from Europe.

Fifty-five million lives would be lost in the following six years, including thousands of brave young men from the North East. Everyday life would change for millions of people.

The war would only end in 1945, when Allied troops finally invaded and defeated Germany and the detonation of two atomic bombs forced Germany's ally Japan to surrender.

The impact of the conflict is still being felt today, 70 years on.

But for the first few months after Chamberlain's first chilling announcement, people would experience what was termed the "Phoney War." Britain was officially at war with Germany, but life in England barely changed. No fighting was taking place in Europe, and RAF raids behind German lines dropped only propaganda leaflets.

Theatres and cinemas were closed for fear they would be targeted in bombing raids but many soon re-opened as the bombers failed to arrive - at least, not then. …