As a speaker, writer and member of many Committees, Harold Nicolson was very active in what Churchill later called 'these months of pretended war', but his activity, like that of everyone else, was a whirring in a vacuum. All were awaiting Hitler's next move. Scarcely one proposal for an Allied initiative survived the discussion stage. Aid to the Finns was still under debate when at last the Russians broke through the Mannerheim Line in mid-March and Finland capitulated. The 'Altmark' incident on 16th February was the bright spot in a winter of exceptional cold and gloom. At home Hore-Belisha's replacement at the War Office by Oliver Stanley was more popular in Parliament than with the general public, and Chamberlain's leadership was accepted on sufferance until great events should reveal its inadequacy.
DIARY 1st January, 1940
A pleasant dinner with Cyril Joad and Vita. We listen to Lord Haw Haw afterwards. Joad does not think that he will have any effect on his young pacifists. It is upon the middle, uncertain people that he will have an effect, the untrained mind. He simply must be answered. Joad teases me for being self-depreciative. He says that I lack the competitive instinct and that I never throw the whole of myself into what I believe. He is, in a way, right about this. But what does it come from? Do I lack courage? But in the House I have been brave enough. It cannot be fear of responsibility or hard work, since I enjoy both. It is, I suppose, a profound disbelief in myself coupled with a rather self-indulgent and frivolous preference for remaining an observer.
DIARY 6th January, 1940
We dine with Victor Cazalet, who has Eddy and the Anthony Eden family staying with him. Anthony is in good form. I can see that he still loathes the Prime Minister, whom he regards as obstinate, opinionated, rather mean and completely ignorant of the main issues involved. He also dislikes Sam Hoare," whom he calls 'Aunt Tabitha'. He feels that Kingsley Wood  is a help since he is truthful. He believes that the manner of Hore-Belisha's dismissal will have shaken the P.M.'s position.
He repeats at length the story of his own resignation. It boils down to this. He said to the P.M., 'If you check Italy in Spain you will check Germany in Austria.' The P.M. simply could not understand that formula. The final Grandi interview, which led to his resignation, was a farce. Grandi said things that were not true, and the P.M. nodded his head in acquiescence throughout. He is certain that it was Horace Wilson who secured his dismissal.
Anthony is very much in favour of my Penguin, and has bought many copies. He says that I have not stated the Rhineland thing correctly. Hitler's aim was (1) to get the Rhineland; (2) to split France and us over it. Gamelin wanted to resist, but Flandin was not with him. We wished to keep out of it. If Flandin had said, 'We attack', then we could not have kept aloof. But as he said, 'We shall apply economic sanctions', we were able to say, 'We cannot follow you.' He contends therefore that though Hitler got the Rhineland, he did not succeed in separating France from us, and that although he scored a great strategical triumph he did not score a diplomatic triumph.
DIARY7th January, 1940
I am amused by the effect of Hore-Belisha's dismissal. We in the House would assume that it was due to the fact that having told so many lies he had sacrificed the confidence of the country. But not at all. It seems that the country regard him as a second Haldane and a moderniser of the Army. The line is that he has been ousted by an intrigue of the Army chiefs, and there is a general uproar about being ruled by dictators in brass hats. The Germans could make great capital out of all this consternation, were it not that Belisha is a Jew. Yet the general effect will be (a)among the unknowing that Belisha has been sacked because he supported the private against the officer; (b) among the cognoscenti that he has been ousted because he told lies, but that Chamberlain has managed the thing clumsily; (c) a vague suspicion that the Press are really anti-Chamberlain and are exaggerating this incident in order to attack him. My own feeling is that this is less a pro-Belisha than an anti-Chamberlain outburst.'
DIARY 13th January, 1940
There is a letter from St John Ervine  in the Spectator attacking me bitterly for the article I wrote for the 5th January issue. I had told a story about a private being turned out of a restaurant by 'a major in a minor regiment'. It is interesting to observe that what arouses Ervine's rage is not the ills of the poor private, but my reference to 'a minor regiment'. This is another indication of the great and angry tide which is rising against the governing classes. I have always been on the side of the under-dog, but I have also believed in the principle of aristocracy. I have hated the rich but I have loved learning, scholarship, intelligence and the humanities. Suddenly I am faced with the fact that all these lovely things are supposed to be 'class privileges'. The snobbishness of the British people (that factor upon which the aristocratic principle relied and often exploited) has suddenly turned to venom. When I find that my whole class is being assailed, I feel part of them, a feeling that I have never had before. Thus this afternoon, as we walked through the frozen woods together, Vita said, 'It is not as if we were fighting to preserve the things we care for. This war, whatever happens, will destroy them.' We imagine that we are fighting for liberty and our standards of civilization. But is it perfectly certain that by these phrases we do not mean the cultured life which we lead? I know that such a life, as lived by Vita and myself, is 'good' in the philosophical sense. We are humane, charitable, just and not vulgar. By God, we are not vulgar! Yet is it any more than an elegant arabesque upon the corridors of history?
DIARY17th January, 1940
An Eden Group dinner at the Carlton. Amery, Cranborne, Spears, Harold Macmillan and others. Bower  is there. He is very frank and informative. He says that we have got the submarine menace taped, and although there will be occasional losses, it is no longer a major menace. We have also been able to discover the nature of the magnetic mine and devise adequate counter-measures. But the bombers are prohibited by the Cabinet from bombing, and although they have been two or three times over Wilhelmshaven and seen below them a huge battleship in course of construction, plus endless submarines, they have been prohibited from dropping a single bomb. The Group agrees that this is a very serious situation, and it is disclosed that there is still a group in the War Cabinet working for appeasement and at present in negotiation via Bruning to make peace with the German General Staff on condition that they eliminate Hitler. We discuss the means by which this intrigue can be countered. Shall we organise an attack upon Horace Wilson in the Press? Should we start a House of Commons campaign and distribute questions among our Group in such a way as will indicate to the House that there is a concerted movement? Here again we hesitate, for we do not wish to give the impression of disunity. Cranborne then suggests that a very small committee should be created of very respectable Conservatives like Wardlaw-Milne upon which we should be represented by Amery and who would exercise pressure on the Cabinet. We all agree that such pressure would only be possible if it could be indicated that in the event of reluctance on the part of the Government, we should tell them quite franldy that we will go to the leaders of the Opposition and promise them that if they insist on a Secret Session we shall go to the point not only of supporting them at that session but of voting against the Government if necessary. I really feel that our Group is in a very strong position and can exercise what may prove to be a determinant influence.
DIARY20th January, 1940
We listen to Winston Churchill on the wireless after dinner. He is a little too rhetorical, and I do not think that his speech will really have gone down with the masses. He is too belligerent for this pacifist age, and although once anger comes to steel our sloppiness, his voice will be welcome to them, at the moment it reminds them of heroism which they do not really feel.
Get a letter from Walter Lippmann.1 He says that the American people want us to win but wish to keep out. Thus there is a conflict in their desires, and they want to be assured that they ought to keep out. It is this gap between one desire and the other desire which offers so wide a fissure for German propaganda.
 In February 1940 the German supply ship Altmark was returning to Germany with 299 British merchant sailors on board from ships sunk by the pocket battleship Graf Spee. On its way from the southern Atlantic to Germany, the Altmark passed through Norwegian waters. It was investigated three times by officers from Norwegian vessels.However, the Norwegian search parties did not hear 300 men banging the side of the ship, and allowed it to continue on its way.
Altmark was then spotted off Egersund later the same day by a British aircraft, which raised the alarm in the Royal Navy. After being intercepted by the destroyer HMS Cossack, captained by Philip Vian, the Altmark sought refuge in the Jøssingfjord, but Cossack followed her in the next day and forced it to ground. The British then boarded the Altmark at 2220 hrs, 16 February, and after some hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets, overwhelmed the ship's crew and released the prisoners.
 William Joyce, the Anglo-American who broadcast anti-British propaganda from Germany, was so named from the superciliousness of his voice. He was found guilty of treason and executed after the war.
 Edward Sackville West, the author and musical critic, and V.S-W.'s first-cousin.
 Sir Samuel Hoare was then Lord Privy Seal, with a seat in the War Cabinet.
 This interview took place at Downing Street on 8th February, 1938. In his notes of the conversation with the Italian Ambassador and Chamberlain, Eden recorded: 'The Prime Minister sat there nodding his head approvingly, while Grandi detailed one grievance after another. The more N.C. nodded, the more outrageous became Grandi's account.'
 Pierre Etienne Flandin, who was French Foreign Minister in 1936.
 Later Fifth Marquess of Salisbury. He had resigned with Eden in 1938.
 Commander Robert Bower, Conservative M.P. for Cleveland, 1931-45. He was then working in the Air Ministry department dealing with Coastal Command.
 Heinrich Bruning, German Chancellor, 1930-32. He was then in the United States.
The Prime Minister makes his weekly statement. It is as dull as ditch-water. I admit that there was little for him to tell us, but he need not have done it in so glum and gloomy a form. I hear that Halifax said recently, 'I wish the P.M. would give up these weekly statements. It is as if one were in East Africa and received the Times Weekly Edition at regular intervals.' It is certainly very bad. Attlee and Archie [Sinclair] are little better. I am ashamed, as there are Dominion representatives recently arrived who are crowded in the Gallery. They had come expecting to find the Mother of Parliaments armed like Britannia. They merely saw an old lady dozing over her knitting, while her husband read the evening paper aloud.
DIARY24th November, 1939
Round to Horace Rumbold's1 house. Steed is there. He has been seeing Villard, the American correspondent, who has been in Germany. They had filled Villard with panic. It seems that they are going to lie low during the winter, shake us with their magnetic mine, and then on 1st May launch a terrific offensive by air and sea. Italy and Spain may join in, and we shall be brought to our knees by 16th July. They are producing aeroplanes and submarines on the Ford system. They are confident that they will crush us completely. Horace Rumbold listens to all this with a glassy stare and his mouth half-open. When Steed has finished, he drops his eyeglass suddenly. 'Bilge', he says.
DIARY25th November, 1939
How curious are the moods through which one passes! I sit here in my room at Sissinghurst thinking back on the days since 3rd September. The acute depression and misery of the first weeks has passed. I have accepted the fact that we are at war, and I suppose I am physically relieved by the fact that there are not likely to be any raids during the winter upon London and that the Germans have not made a dash through Holland. Yet the fact that this war is costing us six million pounds a day and that I am not really certain that we shall win it, fills me with acute sadness at times. We all keep up a brave face and refuse to admit that defeat is possible. But my heart aches with apprehension.
Then Victor Cazalet rings up to say that Ben has got his stripe and is now a Bombardier. We are absurdly pleased by this. A windy night with a scudding moon. I think of the people at sea and all those devils in Germany and Rome plotting, plotting, plotting our destruction in the spring.
DIARY3oth November, 1939
The Russians send an ultimatum to Finland and start bombing Helsinki and Vyborg. The Prime Minister makes a statement. The Labour Party are enraged with Russia and even little Gallacher,1 who makes a plucky intervention on behalf of the U.S.S.R., is none too happy. There are cries of ‘Shame!' from all the benches. I was amused at Question time to watch a discussion between the Whips as to whom they should put up from the back-benches to answer Dalton. I saw them pointing at me, at which David Margesson shook his head in fierce negation. He never forgives nor forgets.
DIARY3rd December, 1939
The news is encouraging. We have sunk another submarine and the Finns seem to be putting up quite a good show. They will collapse in a day or two, and all they need to do is to demonstrate a few hours' heroism. They are doing that. After the news there is a B.B.C. scrap-book for 1910. It is rather moving for Vita and me, since it brings in The Speckled Band, which was the play at which we met for the first time. There is also a record of Florence Nightingale. Very squeaky and interrupted it is, but still recognisable. She says the last words as if she were signing her signature on a cheque. 'Florence' (pause) 'Nightingale' (defiantly). All this comes out at us from the past. From the distant past. Princess Louise is dead. My God! How the past slides like a great mass of vegetable matter down the sluice.
DIARY 7th December, 1939
Lunch with Sibyl Colefax. Dickie Mountbatten is there on leave. He looks so well and is so keen that it is like a breath of sea air. He feels that the Navy do not get enough publicity. The Air Force seem to bag the whole thing. For instance, the other day a merchant ship was arriving in the Firth from the Argentine. As they came in, a Messerschmitt swooped down upon them and raked the bridge with machine-gun fire. The navigating lieutenant was killed, and the old captain was wounded by thirty bullets. He picked himself up and said to the signaller, 'Is Lieutenant Jones dead?' 'Yes, sir.' 'Then bring me a chair.' He sat down and steered the ship in. Finally he signalled, 'stop engines'. He remained sitting, and then they found that he was dead. Dickie feels that that story ought to have been written up, but I gather that they won't do so, since it might show the Germans how effective is machine-gun fire on the bridges of merchant vessels.
DIARY9th December, 1939
It starts fine, and then as usual turns into driving rain. Never have I known so phenomenally wet a winter. The historians will probably record these constant days of rain as a main factor in the strategic development of the war. I see it as sodden chestnut leaves, bursting streams and a brown and turgid lake.
The Finns seem to be holding out for the moment, but that does not mean much. What I fear is that the Germans and the Russians will feel that this winter pause will damage their prestige, and that (even unwillingly) they will be forced to provide conquests at the expense of the Scandinavian and Balkan powers. The sum of these will expose us to grave strategical disadvantages when the real war begins. Meanwhile Russia has repudiated any designs on Bessarabia, and Alba has announced that Spain will never become an area for German action. I do not believe all this. I believe that it looks as if we were going to be beaten, and all the vultures and all the crows will gather to peck at our corpse.
Read Cyril Connolly's new paper Horizon. The editorial note says that in this war we are not inspired by 'pity or hope' as in the Spanish war. No pity. No hope. Glum. Glum. Glum. All this business about our having lost what we used to describe as 'patriotism' must be thought out carefully. The old national theory has been cut horizontally by class distinctions. We used to cut it like a cake in perpendicular wedges. Now it is cut sideways. This is a difficult alteration.