Hitler had already made his firm decision to attack in the West through Holland and Belgium. The date of the offensive was set for 12th. November, postponed for three days on 7th November and again postponed, almost week to week, on fourteen separate occasions during the winter for various political and military reasons. The closing months of 1939 imposed on the British the strain of inactivity. There was still no fighting on land. The first British Army casualty of the war did not occur till 9th December (a corporal shot on patrol). At sea the magnetic mine was mastered, and the 'Graf Spee' was scuttled off the River Plate on 17th December after a dramatic engagement with British cruisers.
The only large-scale military event was the invasion of Finland by Russia on moth November, following the rejection of Soviet demands for slices of Finnish territory. As Harold Nicolson recorded in his diary, the Finns were expected to capitulate 'in a day or two'. To everyone's astonishment, they flung back the Russian troops at every point except Petsamo in the far north, and held them pinned down by the Mannerheim Line a score of miles from their starting-point near Leningrad in the south.
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's  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.
DIARY30th 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, 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.
DIARY7th 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.
Diary14th December, 1939
The Graf Spee put out and was engaged by three of our little boats who drove her back into port. 6 in. versus 10 in. A fine performance. It cheers us all up.
Talk to Paul Evans. He agrees that yesterday's sitting was a great blow to the Party machine. They must have realised the underlying force of the opposition on our side. The effect of the Secret Session was not to divulge secrets which could not have been divulged in public. It was to show the Whips what their supporters really felt. The tremendous reception given on our benches to Archie Sinclair's speech must in itself have shown the Whips how precarious is their hold on their own Party. This marks a stage in the end of this administration. They will try to placate us by appointing Amery Minister of Economics. But our implacability remains. We have got them.
Let me be quite clear in my own mind about this. I comb my conscience with a fine comb and do not find any traces of resentment. Yet I am sure that we shall not win this war with Chamberlain at the head and with people like Simon, Hoare, Hore-Belisha and Burgin in key positions. I do not want a Coalition Government at this stage, since we must keep our second wind for the moment when true disaster occurs. Let Chamberlain remain. But let him know, and his satellites know, that he remains on sufferance and under the very sharpest observation. He must know that now.
DIARY17th December, 1939
After dinner we listen to the news. It is dramatic. The Graf Spee must either be interned or leave Montevideo by 9.30. The news is at 9.00. At about 9.10 they put in a stop-press message to the effect that the Graf Spee is weighing anchor and has landed some 250 of her crew at Montevideo. As I type these words she may be steaming to destruction (for out there, it is 6.30 and still light). She may creep through territorial waters until darkness comes and then make a dash. She may assault her waiting enemies. She may sink some of our ships. But I hate it all. I wish she had consented to be interned. I loathe the idea of these brave men steaming out in cold blood either to our destruction or to their destruction. Few things have convinced me so much of the idiocy of modern warfare. It is no more than blood-sports. The bull is being driven out to face the bull-fighters. But the bull is as noble an animal as the bull-fighter. I have in mind, on the one hand, the picture left by Rauschning's book  of this perverted sadist planning the rape of nations, and on the other hand the officers and crew of the Graf Spee, obeying his orders, yet doomed either to murder or to be murdered. Definitely I hope she escapes. Even a dramatic and heroic episode such as this blurs our feelings. We simply do not want either side to win in this combat. There will be no sense of triumph or defeat whatever happens to the Spee. Merely a dull sense of the ineptitude of the human mind.
DIARY18th December, 1939
Have a long talk with Rab Butler. He tells me that my book  is a work of art and perfectly correct. He thinks that I am right about Chamberlain and Horace Wilson in so far as diplomacy is concerned, but that Horace is really a very gifted man nonetheless. He says that his influence over Chamberlain is something extraordinary and that the latter simply cannot move without him. He says that Chamberlain is tough without being strong.
DIARY31st December, 1939
Cyril Joadl expounds pacifism after dinner. His line is that the ordinary person in England would be less unhappy after a Nazi victory than if he or she lost their sons, lovers or husbands. He thinks only of the greatest unhappiness of the greatest number, and accuses me of national and spiritual pride. It is a pleasure talking to him. He stirs up the mind. He is extremely imaginative about physical pain, and the picture of young men being gored by bayonets is so terrible to him that he would prefer sacrificing liberty to prevent it happening.
I do not stay to watch the New Year in or the Old Year out. I write this diary at 11.45 and shall not wait. The old year is foul and the new year terrifying. I think, as I go to bed, of Nigel and Ben, Ben and Nigel. How stupid life is. Not evil, only stupid. What shall I have to record this time next year?
 Sir Horace Rumbold, British Ambassador in Berlin, 1928-33.
 Wickham Steed, formerly Foreign Editor, and later Editor, of The Times.
 Oswald G. Villard, Editor and owner of the New York Nation. He was 67 in 1939.
 That is roughly £260 billion at today’s prices using the UK Retail Price Index.
 Victor Cazalet, M.P., was Commanding Officer of the anti-aircraft battery in which Benedict Nicolson was then serving at Rochester.
 Actually he would have been a Lance Bombardier, a Bombardier is a Corporal.
 William Gallacher, Communist M.P. for Western Fife since 1935.
 A play based on Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
 Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, daughter of Queen Victoria.
 Lord Louis Mountbatten, then in command of H.M.S. Kelly and of the Fifth Destroyer Flotilla.
 The Duke of Alba, Spanish Ambassador in London 1939-1945
 Cyril Vernon Connolly (1903 - 1974) was an English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
 The Admiral Graf Spee was one of the most famous German naval warships of World War II, along with the Bismarck. Her size was limited to that of a cruiser by the Treaty of Versailles, but she was as heavily armed as a small battleship due to innovative weight-saving techniques employed in her construction.
 The Graf Spee had in fact been raiding the South Atlantic since the outbreak of war. She only took refuge in Montevideo after the action on 13th December. The Spee had 11 in. guns; the British cruisers 8 in. and 6 in.
 Paul Emrys-Evans; Conservative M.P. for South Derbyshire.
 The first of the Secret Sessions of the House of Commons.
 L. S. Amery became Secretary of State for India and Burma in 1940.
 He did not foresee what actually happened. Hitler ordered the Graf Spee's commander, Captain Langsdorff, to refuse internment in Montevideo, and to fight his way out, scuttling the ship as a last resort. Langsdorff transferred 700 of his crew to a German merchant ship in the harbour and sailed out to sea at 6.15. At 8.45 she blew herself up within sight of the waiting British cruisers. Two days later Captain Langsdorff shot himself.
 Hermann Rauschning's ‘Hitler Speaks’, which had just been published. Rauschning was by that time a refugee in England.
 Sir Horace Wilson was Permanent Head of the Civil Service, 1939-42, and chief Industrial Adviser to the Government, 1930-39. But he was also unofficially chief adviser to Neville Chamberlain on foreign affairs, 1937-40, and had a room in 10 Downing Street while Chamberlain was Prime Minister.