After hearing Neville Chamberlain's statement to the House of Commons that Britain was at war with Germany, Harold Nicolson went down to Sissinghurst on the evening of 3rd September. He returned there each weekend, and during the week stayed in his chambers at 4 King's Bench Walk, Inner Temple. As Member of Parliament for West Leicester, his first wartime activities included the Chairmanship of the back-bench Air Raid Precautions Committee and membership of Duff Cooper's Committee on German Refugees. But more of his time was occupied by journalism (his book-reviews for the 'Daily Telegraph' and his weekly article 'Marginal Comment' for the 'Spectator') and by writing in less than three weeks a 50,000-word Penguin Special Why Britain is at War', which was published on 7th November and soon sold over loo,ocio copies. V. Sackville-West remained at Sissinghurst, where she joined the Kent Committee of the Women's Land Army, on which she continued to serve throughout the war. Both their sons were soon in uniform—Ben as a private in an anti-aircraft battery outside Rochester, and Nigel as an officer-cadetat Sandhurst.
These first entries in Harold Nicolson's war-diary reflect the nation's growing despondency, passing defeatism and uncertainty about its war-aims. Hitler conquered Poland in less than a month (Warsaw, which held out longest, surrendered on 27th September), and the Russians, who invaded Poland from the opposite direction on 17th September, partitioned the country with Germany. The war in the West was carried on mainly at sea by German U-Boats. Not a single move was made by Britain and France to relieve pressure on the Poles. Even bombing of industrial targets in Germany was forbidden for fear of German reprisals on France. On land, 106 French Divisions in the Maginot Line faced only 23 German Divisions while the Polish campaign lasted, but General Gamelin, the Allied Commander-in-Chief, said privately that no major offensive could be launched before at least two years.
Criticism mounted in Parliament, and the group of M.P.s, including Harold Nicolson, who still called themselves 'the Eden Group', though Anthony Eden was now a member of the Government and could take no part in it, remained convinced that the British war effort would stiffen only if Winston Churchill, now First Lord of the Admiralty, succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister.