One of the best purchases I made during my London trip was an original Daily Express newspaper dated 4th September 1939.
The paper was printed the day after war was officially declared against Germany and the Second World War began in earnest.
Given the combustible state of the world at present, the paper offers insights into a civilisation on the brink of unimaginable horror.
As it is exactly 75 years since this particular declaration of war, it is ironic and frightening that we, once again, appear to find ourselves balanced on the same uncertain violent precipice.
The declaration of war came two days after Hitler invaded Poland.
At 11am, 3rd September 1939, the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that the British deadline for the withdrawal of German troops from Poland had expired.
The British ambassador to Berlin had handed a final note to the German government that morning saying that unless it announced plans to withdraw from Poland by 11am, a state of war would exist between the two countries.
Mr Chamberlain continued: “I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany.”
“You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed.”
Here we read that France, Australia and New Zealand also declared war shortly after Britain.
When war is declared, King George calls upon “my people at home and my peoples across the seas”.
“I ask them to stand calm, firm and united in this time of trial. The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield. But we can only do the right as we see the right and reverently commit our cause to God.”
Meanwhile President Roosevelt declares America’s intention to remain neutral while Czechoslovakia pledged allegiance to the Allied cause despite being unable to provide its own army.
From the hostile, yet still civil, demands, rejection and ultimate declaration of war via notes and memorandums to the stiff upper lip of the opinion column – it is a glimpse of a lost world, of manners, restraint and a no nonsense acceptance of a new way of life.
Very at odds with our current society’s preoccupation with selfies and melodramatic, self absorbed outpourings.
With the benefit of hindsight, this small snap shot of history is incredibly poignant, To think that as the paper was printed and read, our country, and indeed the whole world had no idea of the horrors that would unfold with the coming of the second Great War.
However it was not just about huge, world changing events, The paper also covers the ongoing preoccupations of daily life with advertisements, advice, weddings and sports. I’ll show some more in the next post.