I have a talk with Buck De la Warr and Stephen King-Hall in the former's room at the House of Lords. Buck seems to think that if Norway is lost, the P.M. will have to resign. I say that what will happen is that Reynaud will resign and the P.M. will stay put. The tapers and tadpoles are putting it around that the whole Norwegian episode is due to Winston. There is a theory going round that Lloyd George may head a Coalition Cabinet. What worries people is that everybody asks, 'But whom could you put in Chamberlain's place?'
DIARY3rd May, 1940
People are saying that Lloyd George should come in. They are saying that Margesson destroyed the Conservative Party since he put obedience above ability. We are evacuating Namsos as well [as Andalsnes]. We are in a bad way. We shall win !
DIARY4th May, 1940
I find that there is a grave suspicion of the Prime Minister. His speech about the Norwegian expedition has created disquiet. The House knows very well that it was a major defeat. But the P.M. said that `the balance of advantage rested with us' and that 'Germany has not attained her objective'. They know that this is simply not true. If Chamberlain believed it himself, then he was stupid. If he did not believe it, then he was trying to deceive. In either case he loses confidence. People are so distressed by the whole thing that they are talking of Lloyd George as a possible P.M. Eden is out of it. Churchill is undermined by the Conservative caucus. Halifax is believed (and with justice) to be a tired man. We always say that our advantage over the German leadership principle is that we can always find another leader. Now we cannot.
DIARY5th May, 1940
I read Dylan Thomas' Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.' I am slightly disgusted by all the urine and copulation which occurs. I have a feeling that these people do not believe that they can write powerfully unless they drag in the latrines. And yet it is quite clear that this young Thomas is a writer of great merit.
The lovely day sinks to sunset among the flowering trees. The Italian news is bad. It seems incredible to us that Italy should really come in. If she does, it must mean that Mussolini is convinced of our early defeat. That is what fills me with such depression. Not Italy as an enemy, but Italy convinced as an intelligent and most admirably informed nation that Germany is going to win this war.
DIARY7th May, 1940
Finish my review and then go round for an E.N.S.A. meeting. It is evident from the first reports that we have received that the soldiers prefer lectures having some relation to the war to lectures devoted to perfectly irrelevant subjects such as 'Climbing the Himalayas'.
Lunch with Cyril Joad. He is rather pathetic. He minds dreadfully being out of things, and yet as a pacifist and one of the leaders of the Pleace Pledge Union, he can scarcely eat his words. But he has written to the Ministry of Information offering his services. I think I cheered him up, since he has no feeling of false pride in admitting to me that he cannot stand pacifism any longer.
Down to the House for the Norwegian debate. I have a talk with Clem Davies  about possible alternative Cabinets. He makes the point that we all forget the constitutional position, which is extremely difficult. If there is not to be a Coalition, the King would have to send for Attlee and it would be extremely difficult for him to send for Lloyd George.
The House is crowded, and when Chamberlain comes in, he is greeted with shouts of 'Missed the bus’ He makes a very feeble speech and is only applauded by the Yes-men. He makes some reference to the complacency of the country, at which the whole House cheers vociferously and ironically, inducing him to make a little, rather feminine, gesture of irritation. Attlee makes a feeble speech and Archie Sinclair a good one. When Archie sits down, many people stand up and the Speaker calls on Page Croft. There is a loud moan from the Labour Party at this, and they practically rise in a body and leave the House. He is followed by Wedgwood who makes a speech which contains everything that he ought not to have said. He gives the impression of being a little off his head. At one moment he suggests that the British Navy have gone to Alexandria since they are frightened of being bombed.
A few minutes afterwards Roger Keyes comes in, dressed in full uniform with six rows of medals. I scribble him a note telling him what Wedgwood has just said, and he immediately rises and goes to the Speaker's chair. When Wedgwood sits down, Keyes gets up and begins his speech by referring to Wedgwood's remark and calling it a damned insult. The Speaker does not call him to order for his unparliamentary language, and the whole House roars with laughter, especially Lloyd George who rocks backwards and forwards in boyish delight with his mouth wide open. Keyes then returns to his manuscript and makes an absolutely devastating attack upon the naval conduct of the Narvik episode and the Naval General Staff. The House listens in breathless silence when he tells us how the Naval General Staff had assured him that a naval action at Trondheim was easy but unnecessary owing to the success of the military. There is a great gasp of astonishment. It is by far the most dramatic speech I have ever heard, and when Keyes sits down there is thunderous applause.
Thereafter the weakness of the Margesson system is displayed by the fact that none of the Yes-men are of any value whatsoever, whereas all the more able Conservatives have been driven into the ranks of the rebels. A further terrific attack is delivered by Amery, who ends up by quoting from Cromwell, 'In the name of God, go!’
I go out into the Lobby where I met Camrose and take him off for a drink. Although a firm supporter of Chamberlain, I can see that he has been much shaken and he admits that if we have to leave Narvik, Chamberlain will fall. The general impression left by the debate is that we are unprepared to meet the appalling attack which we know is about to be delivered against us. The atmosphere is something more than anxiety: it is one of actual fear, but it is a very resolute fear and not hysteria or cowardice in the least. In fact I have seldom admired the spirit of the House so much as I did today.
I have some people to dine in the Strangers' Dining-room, namely Sibyl Colefax, Baffy Dugdale, Violet Bonham Carter and Hugh Walpole. Oliver Stanley winds up with an able but ineffective speech. There is no doubt that the Government is very rocky and anything may happen tomorrow.
DIARY8th May, 1940
Watching Committee at 21 Arlington Street. Lord Salisbury begins by criticising the Prime Minister's attempt to bolster up his Cabinet by announcing that extra powers have been given to Churchill It is impossible for the head of one Service department to arbitrate in disputes affecting two other departments, and in any case no human being could stand running the Admiralty and a Defence job such as this. He feels that what we have to do is to restore shaken confidence both at home and abroad, and that no ordinary reshuffle will do this. Lloyd says that he knows that Labour will not enter any Government which contains Chamberlain, Simon and Hoare. The present agitation is not due solely to Norway, but to very widespread anxiety about supply and labour conditions. It was really no alternative to create a strong War Cabinet under Chamberlain, since the efficacy of the Government depended upon the character of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's character had not proved sufficient.
Nigel comes back from France. He had been over to the Base Camp with a draft and enjoyed himself immensely. He lunches with me at the Travellers and walks down with me to the House.
The second day's debate is opened by Herbert Morrison who makes a very damaging attack. Chamberlain intervenes at the end to say that the situation is grave and that the attack which Morrison has made upon the Government 'and upon me in particular' makes it graver still. This really horrifies the House, since it shows that he always takes the personal point of view. He goes on to say that he accepts the challenge of a Division, since it will show who is with him and who is against him. 'I have,' he says with a leer of triumph, 'friends in this House.'
Until that moment the House had not really foreseen that the Opposition were to press for a Division. I think that it was a mistake that they should do so, since it will create a bad impression in the country and leave such bitterness behind. Lord Salisbury had begged us this morning not to vote against the Government if a Division came, but we find on reaching the House that so many unexpected people such as the Service Members and Lady Astor are determined to vote against the Government that we have no alternative. We hope to get as many as thirty people to join us.
At 6 we go upstairs to a Committee Room and join with Clem Davies' Committee in discussing action. We agree that we must vote against the Government. At 7.00 Dunglass comes to Paul Evans and Gunston, indicating to them that if we will agree to vote for the Government, the Prime Minister will see us tomorrow and that we will find him ready to meet our demands. When asked what that means, he indicates (although without committing the Prime Minister) that in order to save himself, Chamberlain is prepared to sacrifice Hoare and Simon. We say things have gone too far. Meanwhile in the debate both Duff Cooper and Lloyd George have made devastating speeches.
I dine with Rob Hudson and Sir Patrick Hannon, and go in to hear Alexander's winding-up speech. He is followed by Winston. He has an almost impossible task. On the one hand he has to defend the Services; on the other, he has to be loyal to the Prime Minister. One felt that it would be impossible to do this after the debate without losing some of his own prestige, but he manages with extraordinary force of personality to do both these things with absolute loyalty and apparent sincerity, while demonstrating by his brilliance that he really has nothing to do with this confused and timid gang.
Up to the last moment the House had behaved with moderation, and one had the sense that there really was a united will to win the war. During the last twenty minutes, however, passions rose, and when the Division came there was great tensity in the air. Some 44 of us, including many of the young Service Members, vote against the Government and some 30 abstains. This leaves the Government with a majority of only 81 instead of a possible 213, and the figures are greeted with a terrific demonstration during which Joss Wedgwood starts singing Rule Britannia, which is drowned in shouts of 'Go, go, go, go !' Margesson signals to his henchmen to rise and cheer the Prime Minister as he leaves, and he walks out looking pale and angry. I go round to Ronnie Tree's house where there are Buck De la Warr and Rob Hudson. They both agree that the Prime Minister can scarcely survive.
DIARY9th May, 1940
At 9.30 in the morning we have a meeting of the Watching Committee. Lord Salisbury is very moderate and distressed. We give him our impressions and Amery makes it quite clear that the Prime Minister cannot really survive for more than a week or two. The sooner he goes the better. We therefore agree to the following formula:
I. That a Coalition Government is essential.
2. That Labour will not enter such a Coalition if Chamberlain, Hoare and Simon remain; and that therefore
3. They must go.
There is some suggestion that in order to mitigate this blow, Chamberlain should be asked as a patriotic duty to become Chancellor of the Exchequer. Salisbury agrees to convey all this immediately to Lord Halifax.
Down to the House, which meets at Clem Davies has put down a motion regretting the Whitsun Recess, but it is not well supported and he withdraws it. It is all rather an anti-climax after yesterday. We have a National Labour meeting at noon. Even Elton agrees that the Prime Minister must go, but Lord Amulree and Sir Ernest Bennett are in a minority in thinking that Chamberlain is always right and must be supported whatever he decides. We pass no resolution at all.
I walk across to the Club with Stephen King-Hall and we meet Tom Martin. He tells us that the Whips are already putting it about that the whole business was a snap vote cunningly engineered by Duff Cooper and Amery, and that all good Party men must rally round the Prime Minister. At the Travellers I meet Tommy Lascelles, to whom I impart all the information I have and who tells me that, contrary to Press rumour, Chamberlain has not asked to see the King. Lunch at the Beefsteak, and find that all are unanimous in feeling that Chamberlain must go. Admiral Hall tells me that the whole Navy are absolutely insistent upon it and that it is even worse in the Army. Walk down to the House with Barrington-Ward who has come completely round and agrees with me
(a) that the Germans may attack at any moment;
(b) that we cannot have a prolonged Cabinet crisis;
(c) that Chamberlain ought therefore to resign within the next few hours.
We have a meeting of the rebels under Amery's chairmanship in Committee Room 8. Amery says that the Whips are being very active, and that Chamberlain has given vast promises of conciliation to those Tories who were not contented but who voted with the Government. We realise that it would be quite impossible in the state of public and Press opinion for him to make a reshuffle by putting in Yes-men in important places, but we recognise that there is a danger that Margesson will organise an Iron Guard and fight a rearguard action. This will delay matters. We decide therefore that we shall support `any Prime Minister who enjoys the confidence of the country and is able to form an all-Party Government'. We decide not to publish this for the moment.
Go down to Brighton to see Richard Rumbold who has got into another mess.
DIARYl0th May, 1940
It is a beautiful morning, and I reflect how, if it had not been for the war, I should be going off on the boat this morning. I drive to the station, and on the way I see posters, 'Holland and Belgium invaded'. In the train coming up there are two Dutchmen, one of whom was in the Legation when I was in Berlin. He is hurrying back to Holland to fight. He says there is no doubt that they will fight to the last man, but that they are worried about their Quislings. The news is still rather vague when I get to London, although there is a report that Lyons has been bombed. This looks as if they were about to invade Switzerland. Nigel rings up to tell me that he has been confined to Wellington Barracks, since they fear parachute descents and leave has been stopped. I receive a cable from the Montreal Standard asking me to describe the scene in the House, and I write 1,000 words which are cabled back. While I am doing this, a telegram arrives summoning me to a meeting at Lord Salisbury's. I reach it late. There is not much definite information, but it seems that the Germans have landed parachute troops on Dutch aerodromes and have heavily bombed Brussels and several French towns. It seems almost inevitable that Italy will come in, although Kennedy, the American Ambassador, told Lord Salisbury this morning that he had received definite information by telephone from Phillips in Rome that they were not going to do so. I rather distrust this information. The meeting breaks up fairly early, and I go down to the Club with Dick Law.
We are joined by Paul [Emrys] Evans, who, after leaving the meeting, had bumped into Brendan Bracken who had told him that in view of the military crisis, the political crisis had been postponed, and that Hoare was insisting on remaining at the Air Ministry. He telephones this information to Salisbury, who says that we must maintain our point of view, namely that Winston should be made Prime Minister during the course of the day. I am still at the Travellers when the wireless news comes through that the invasion of Holland and Belgium is complete, and that both countries have mobilised and appealed for our assistance. Alec Dunglass comes in and we tell him that our Group will never allow Chamberlain to get away from the reconstruction owing to this invasion. He says that the reconstruction has already been decided upon, but that the actual danger of the moment really makes it impossible for the Government to fall. The situation is really one of videant Consules, and that we must have a triumvirate of Chamberlain, Churchill and Halifax to carry us over these first anxious hours. Sam Hoare, for instance, must be at his desk night and day for the next 36 hours, and it would be quite impossible to replace him by another Minister. There is some sense in this, and it is hoped that the Labour and Liberal Oppositions will agree. At that moment the wireless announces a statement on the part of the Labour Party, which is really quite helpful, in that they call for national unity and imply that the political controversy is suspended for the moment.
I go to the Beefsteak where I find Barrington-Ward, Ned Grigg and others. Grigg says that the War Office have little more news than what has been on the tape. There is a rumour that we have managed to get the Rotterdam aerodrome and a statement that no information regarding the movements of British or French troops will be issued. There is a general feeling of relief that the thing has now come to a head and that we shall know the worst within ten days. Grigg thinks that the only thing they know for certain is that the German losses in aeroplanes over Belgium and Holland have been terrific, but that French towns including Orleans have been very heavily damaged.
I go back to King's Bench Walk and on the way I see posters saying, `Brussels bombed, Paris bombed, Lyons bombed, Swiss railways bombed'. We are all most anxious regarding the position of our Army on the Belgian frontier, since we dread it being caught in the open. What makes it worse in a way is that it is a beautiful spring day with the bluebells and primroses in flower everywhere.
Salisbury's Committee are pressing for the House to be called on Sunday or Monday [12th or i3th May] for the purpose of giving whatever Government is established (even if it be a Chamberlain triumvirate) the necessary vote of confidence to carry on.
I go down to Sissinghurst. Met by Vita and Gwen. It is all looking too beautiful to be believed, but a sort of film has obtruded itself between my appreciation of nature and my terror of real life. It is like a tooth-ache. We dine alone together chatting about indifferent things. Just before nine, we turn on the wireless and it begins to buzz as the juice comes through and then we hear the bells. Then the pips sound 9.00, and the announcer begins: 'This is the Home Service. Here is the Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain M.P., who will make a statement.' I am puzzled by this for a moment, and then realise that he has resigned.
He begins by saying that recent events in Parliament and elsewhere have shown that the country wants a Coalition Government. He has since understood that the only obstacle to such a Coalition is himself. Therefore he has tendered his resignation, and Churchill is Prime Minister. For the moment, acting Ministers will carry on. He will agree to serve under Churchill. He ends with a fierce denunciation of the Germans for invading Holland and Belgium. It is a magnificent statement, and all the hatred that I have felt for Chamberlain subsides as if a piece of bread were dropped into a glass of champagne.
Then we have other news thick and fast. The Germans have dropped parachute troops on Dutch and Belgian aerodromes. They have appealed for our help and we are moving onwards. At one moment the Dutch Foreign Minister (who has flown today from Amsterdam) intervenes with a short and admirable discourse. Afterwards we hear for a moment Lord Haw Haw telling us that we really started the whole thing. Never have I heard a more dramatic broadcast. It is like something in a play. The Swiss will mobilise tomorrow morning.
This is the final fight. I go to bed and shall, I hope, sleep. We shall be attacked from the air tonight in all probability. We have already announced that we shall bomb German towns since they have bombed French towns. At Sissinghurst the gas-proof room which had been created in the library and since dismantled is re-established. Bombs dropped in Chilham today.
The new War Cabinet—with Churchill as his own Minister of Defence, Eden at the War Office and Chamberlain as Lord President of the Council—was formed immediately, and the minor appointments followed during the next few days. Harold Nicolson was one of the last to be offered a Government post. Churchill asked him to go as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information, of which Duff Cooper had just become Minister. He accepted without hesitation. In such a position he might have been expected to acquire more information than most people about the battle in Northern Europe. But he was still rather remote from the centre. The Ministry was only one of many filters for the news, and it was not, except obliquely, a department of Press censorship. Harold Nicolson was chiefly concerned with questions of morale at home. He broadcast frequently. He was made responsible for coordinating the advice given to the public about the possibility of invasion, and he rewrote the Government's pamphlet on the subject. Sissinghurst lay close to the probable invasion coast, and he faced in his own life the problems on which he was trying to advise the public as a whole. What he did not pass on was the decision to which he and V. Sackville-West quickly came, that they would commit suicide rather than fall into German hands.They supplied themselves with lethal pills, referred to in the letters as 'the bare bodkin'.
The German armoured attack through the Ardennes reached the Channel coast on 2oth May, cutting off the B.E.F. from the main French armies to the south. The Belgian Army capitulated a week later. The evacuation from Dunkirk began on 27th May and ended on 3rd June. On the 5th the Germans attacked the new French line on the Somme and entered Paris on the 14th. On 17th June the French sued for an armistice. These are the essential dates in a familiar story.
In Harold Nicolson's diary it is presented as daily slices of concentrated meat. He had no time to elaborate the news as he received it, and it was often wrong. The following extracts have therefore been chosen more for the light they throw on his personal reactions at the time than for the narrative of events, and for the same reason I have added to the diary a larger proportion than usual of his correspondence with V. SackvilleWest. For them, as for everybody, these six weeks were a test of their courage and of the ties which bound them.
DIARY 13th May, 1940
When Chamberlain enters the House, he gets a terrific reception, and when Churchill comes in the applause is less. Winston sits there between Chamberlain and Attlee, and it is odd to see the Labour Ministers sitting on the Government Bench. Winston makes a very short statement, but to the point. Percy Harris replies for the Liberals and makes an absurd anti-climax. 'The Lord President of the Council', he says, referring to Chamberlain, 'has set a great example. At this there are cheers from every quarter of the House `. . for constant attendance on the front bench.' Everybody laughs a great deal. Then Lloyd George gets up and makes a moving speech telling Winston how fond he is of him. Winston cries slightly and mops his eyes.
Harold Macmillan told me that Brendan Bracken had given him a vivid description of Cabinet-making. He sat up till three in the morning with David Margesson going through lists. Winston was not in the least interested once the major posts had been filled, and kept on trying to interrupt them by discussing the nature of war and the changing rules of strategy. Meanwhile they would come back to their list, and Brendan would say, 'Well what about So-and-So?' Margesson would reply, 'Strike him out. He's no good at all.' 'Why then,' Brendan would ask, 'did you appoint him?' 'Oh well', Margesson said, 'he was useful at the time.' Macmillan had asked Brendan what was Winston's mood. 'Profound anxiety,' he replied.
The wireless announces quite gaily in the evening that the Queen of Holland has arrived in London and was met at the station by the King.
DIARY17th May, 1940
I fear that it looks as if the Germans have broken the French line at Mezieres and Sedan. This is very serious. These surely are the saddest moments of my life, and I don't know how I could cope with it all were it not for Vita's serene and loving sympathy.
At 12.40 the telephone rings, and Mac in an awed voice says, 'The Prime Minister's Private Secretary'. I lift the receiver and wait without hearing anything. Then after about two minutes' silence, a voice says, `Mr. Nicolson?' I say, 'Yes'. 'Please hold on. The Prime Minister wishes to speak to you.' Another long pause and then Winston's voice: 'Harold, I think it would be very nice if you joined the Government and helped Duff at the Ministry of Information.' 'There is nothing that I should like better.' 'Well, fall in tomorrow. The list will be out tonight. That all right?' 'Very much all right.' `O.K.', says Winston, and rings off.
Come up from Sissinghurst. Ring up Duff Cooper who welcomes me warmly.
DIARY20th May, 1940
Go round to the Ministry early. We discuss the dreadful problem of wireless while an attack is on. If we remain on the air we definitely assist enemy bombers, but they are frightened that if we go off the air, the Germans will use our wave-length to issue false messages which will much alarm the public. A clever impersonator might imitate Winston's voice sufficiently well and give instructions that all troops are to lay down their arms. Duff will take this problem up in the Cabinet.
The Germans, so far as we can make out, are at Albert  and pretty close to our communications. They are massing for further terrific attacks and we cannot hope to get many reserves.
DIARY21st May, 1940
The situation is terribly obscure. It is just like an immense cavalry invasion such as the Russians used to practise in the Napoleonic wars. But it is not yet clear whether these little highly mechanised units are being mopped up or whether the main forces are advancing. Meanwhile, of course, terrific panic is being spread in France. The telephone connections with Paris have been temporarily severed, but some lines are working. The general impression is that the first panic is drawing to a close and that the French are recovering their nerve. Walter Monckton said, 'I was at the Foreign Office this morning and heard someone laugh, quite loud, a sound which I have not heard there for a week.'
LETTERV.S-W. To H.N.22nd May, 1940 Sissinghurst
How ghastly it all is. How thankful I am to think of your dugout. I dread the possibility of Nigel being sent out to France. But what's the good of going on like this? Supposing Kent is evacuated, and I have to go? To think that we should come to this! And the eventual outcome—victory, or defeat? Anyhow you and I have always seen the possibility of defeat since the beginning of the war and even before that. Darling ... the dots represent all the things I can't say.
LETTERV.S-W. To H.N.22nd May, 1940Ministry of Information
Of course we hope to pinch out the German bulge and throw them back from the Channel. They are not there in strength and we have already retaken Arras. I don't know whether the Government have prepared any scheme for evacuation, but you should think it out and begin to prepare something. You will have to get the Buick in a fit state to start with a full petrol-tank. You should put inside it some food for 24 hours, and pack in the back your jewels and my diaries. You will want clothes and anything else very precious, but the rest will have to be left behind. After all, that's what the French did in 1915 and we have got to do it ourselves. I should imagine that the best thing you can do is to make for Devonshire. This all sounds very alarming, but it would be foolish to pretend that the danger is inconceivable.
LETTERV.S-W. To H.N.23rd May, 1940 Sissinghurst
The only nice thing that comes out of the war is that we now have a guard on top of the tower. In a steel helmet and rifle he looks most picturesque in the moonlight over the parapet. Ozzy is in command of the local squad of Volunteer Defence. They have got 32 from Sissinghurst village. Not bad.
LETTERV.S-W. To H.N.24th May, 194o
Ozzy came here yesterday with the officer in charge of all the searchlights in this district. He wanted to inspect the country from the top of the tower. He was very frank. It is not only parachutes that they are afraid of, but troop-carrying 'planes landing on our fields. If this happens, our tower-guard rushes downstairs, informs Ozzy who telephones, and shock-troops arrive. They have pickets all over the district. The young officer was obviously longing for German 'planes to choose Sissinghurst or Bettenham to land on. I wasn't so sure that I shared his longing. Nor was Ozzy. 'My wheat . . .,' he remarked ruefully.
DIARY24th May, 1940
Up to Leicester where there is a huge dinner of the 1936 Club. I get an excellent reception and find that their morale is very good. It is not mere complacency, since I give them a test question to vote on, namely, 'Should the Derby be put off?' They voted some 88 per cent in favour of postponement. I notice the rather dangerous anti-French feeling and the belief that the French Army has lost its morale.
DIARY25th May, 1940
Go down to the War Office to discuss with Ned Grigg the question of civilian morale in case of invasion. He feels pretty certain that the Germans will attempt to make an attack on London, and he says that the possibility of evacuating the Channel and East Coast towns is now being considered. He indicates on the map the area which they are thinking of evacuating, and although it does not include Sissinghurst, it is only some twelve miles off. This makes me feel rather glum inside. The Germans occupy Boulogne and Calais.' Our communications are almost completely severed, and it is possible that the B.E.F. may be cut off. There is a belief, however, that Weygand will be able to re-establish his own line within two weeks. We may have to ask the French to send some Divisions across here to help us.
LETTER H.N. TO V.S-W.26th May, 1940 4 King's Bench Walk, E.C.4
What a grim interlude in our lives! The Government may decide to evacuate Kent and Sussex of all civilians. If, as I hope, they give orders instead of advice, then those orders will either be 'Go' or 'Stay'. If the former, then you know what to do. If the latter, we are faced with a great predicament. I don't think that even if the Germans occupied Sissinghurst they would harm you, in spite of the horrified dislike which they feel for me. But to be quite sure that you are not put to any humiliation, I think you really ought to have a 'bare bodkin' handy so that you can take your quietus when necessary. I shall have one also. I am not in the least afraid of such sudden and honourable death. What I dread is being tortured and humiliated. But how can we find a bodkin which will give us our quietus quickly and which is easily portable? I shall ask my doctor friends.
My dearest, I felt so close to you yesterday. We never need to put it all in words. If I believe in anything surviving, I believe in a love like ours surviving: it is all so completely unmaterial in every way.
LETTER V.S-W. To H.N.27th May, 1940 Sissinghurst
I could not trust myself to say much to you yesterday, but I expect you know what I felt. Every time we meet now, it must be in both our minds that we may possibly never meet again; but it must also be in both our minds (as you said) that we have known what few people know: a great happiness and a great unalterable love. I am sending your diaries to Eric, also my Will.
LETTER H.N. To V.S-W.27th May, 1940Ministry of Information
I am afraid that the news this afternoon is very bad indeed, and that we must expect the Germans to surround a large proportion of our Army and to occupy the whole area of Belgium and Northern France.2 We must also face the possibility that the French may make a separate peace, especially if Italy joins in the conflict. I warn you of this so that you will prepare your mind for the bad news when it comes and be ready to summon all the courage that is in you. I think you had better keep this to yourself for the moment.
LETTER V.S-W. To H.N.28th May, 1940Sissinghurst
God help us, I have just heard about the Belgians! Well, we must wait. In the meantime, how deeply I agree with you about love and also about the bodkin. I promise you never to do anything rash or impetuous with the latter, but I should like to have it by me. So see Pierre Lansell as soon as you can, for both our sakes, and get it for yourself and also post me a little parcel. There must be something quick and painless and portable. Oh my dear, my dearest, that we should come to this! Anyhow, we have had our lives, or at any rate more than half of them, so let us never repine. I won't write more. I know you are busy, and it is not necessary for me to say more than that I have loved you more than anyone or anything in all my life.
DIARY29th May, 1940
We are creating a Corunna Line along the beaches around Dunkirk and hope to evacuate a few of our troops. The Navy is superb. I find a passionate letter from the French Ambassador saying that our Press is putting all the blame on the French Army. I take this to Walter Monckton's Committee and we hope to improve the situation. I then belatedly try to dictate correspondence. The work is as urgent and cumulative as during the Paris Peace Conference. But then we were happy in those days and not in a state of fear.
LETTER H.N. To V.S-W.31st May, 1940 4 King's Bench Walk, E.C.4
Our Army has fought the most magnificent battle in Flanders. They have created what they call the `Corunna Line' and are holding it. We never hoped to rescue more than 20,000, and we have already saved 80,000 and hope to do more. Moreover we are now able to supply them with some food and ammunition. It is a magnificent feat once you admit the initial misery of the thing. It is perhaps fortunate that the B.E.F. is so good at retreating, since that is what it mostly has to do. But I am not sneering. They have done more than just rescue themselves. They have killed two dangerous legends:
(1) that no army could stand up to German mechanised attack;
(2) that complicated naval operations such as embarking troops under fire could not be undertaken in the face of air superiority.
My darling, how infectious courage is. I am rendered far stronger in heart and confidence by such bravery.
 Since 1st May, Churchill had been made responsible for giving 'guidance and directions to the Chiefs of Staff Committee' in addition to acting as the Prime Minister's deputy chairman on the Military Coordination Committee. 'I was to have immense responsibilities,' he later wrote, 'without effective power in my own hands to discharge them.'
Lord Lloyd, formerly High Commissioner for Egypt and the Sudan, and soon to be appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies.
 He was now a 2nd Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards.
 The Division was technically on the Motion for the Adjournment, but in fact it became a vote of censure on the Government's conduct of the war.
 Later Sir Alec Douglas-Home. He had been Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chamberlain since 1937, and British Prime Minister 1963-1964.
 Sir Derrick Gunston, Conservative M.P. for Thornbury since 1924, P.P.S. to Chamberlain, 1931-36, and since earlier in 1940, P.P.S. to Sir Edward Grigg.
 The division-lists showed that 41 supporters of the Government voted in the Opposition lobby, and about 6o Conservatives abstained. See A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945 (Oxford, 1965), p. 473, note 1.
 Political Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.
 Sir Alan Lascelles, Assistant Private Secretary to the King, 1935-43
 That afternoon, 9th May, Chamberlain saw Churchill, Halifax and Margesson at Downing Street, and it became evident that Churchill was the only possible choice as Prime Minister of a Coalition Government, since Halifax himself declined the office because he was not a Member of the House of Commons. Late the following afternoon, Chamberlain advised the King to send for Churchill, who agreed to form a Government.
 Sir Reginald Hall, Director of Naval Intelligence throughout the First World War.
 Assistant Editor, later Editor, of The Times.
 The decision was nevertheless published in the morning newspapers.
 The author of My Father's Son, etc. He was a very close friend of H.N.
 H.N. had been planning another lecture-tour of France for the Ministry of Information, due to start that very day.
Ciano,in his diary for that day, wrote: 'It appears that they [the American, French and British Ambassadors] are expecting our intervention at any moment. I try to calm them down and partially succeed.'
 Sir Samuel Hoare's autobiography, Nine Troubled Years (1954), includes this sentence: `Chamberlain's first inclination was to withhold his resignation until the French battle was finished.' But he says nothing about his own inclinations at that moment.
 Up to this point H.N. had dictated the day's diary in London. He finished it that night at Sissinghurst on his own typewriter.
 A very pretty village near Canterbury, 20 miles from Sissinghurst.
 Now Lord Privy Seal, and, in effect, Deputy Prime Minister, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951
 Such as Arthur Greenwood, Minister without Portfolio; A. V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty; and Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour.
 This was the 'blood, sweat and tears' speech.
 Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. Later Minister of Information.
 Queen Wilhelmina had come to England to beg in person for British air support for her Army. Two days later the Dutch capitulated.
 Miss Macmillan, the secretary at Sissinghurst.
 Between Cambrai and Amiens. On the previous day the Germans had captured not only Albert, but Amiens and Abbeville as well.
 Sir Walter Monckton was then Director-General of the Press Bureau at the Ministry of Information.
 Arras was not 'retaken', since it had not yet been captured by the Germans. On the 2,1st there had been a limited counter-attack by British troops west of Arras, which was partially successful in delaying the German advance.
 A. 0. R. Beak, the tenant-farmer of Sissinghurst Castle farm.
 The Local Defence Volunteers, later rechristened the Home Guard, which was formed by Anthony Eden on i4th May.
 This news was premature. Boulogne was captured on the 25th, but Calais not until the 26th.
 General Weygand had succeeded General Gamelin as Commander-in-Chief on i9th May.
 Eric Nicolson, later 3rd Lord Carnock, H.N.'s elder brother. He lived at Burrator, on the edge of Dartmoor.