The Prime Minister makes a statement after Question-time. He is rather grim. He brings home to the House as never before the gravity of our shipping losses and the danger of our position in the Eastern Mediterranean. It has a good effect. By putting the grim side foremost he impresses us with his ability to face the worst. He rubs the palms of his hands with five fingers extended up and down the front of his coat, searching for the right phrase, indicating cautious selection, conveying almost medicinal poise. If Chamberlain had spoken glum words such as these the impression would have been one of despair and lack of confidence. Churchill can say them and we all feel, 'Thank God that we have a man like that!' I have never admired him more. Thereafter he slouches into the smoking-room and reads the Evening News intently, as if it were the only source of information available to him.
DIARY6th November, 1940
I pause outside the tube-station and buy a wet copy of the Daily Express. 'Roosevelt leading', it says. I get to K.B.W. in time for the 8 am., news and the first words are, 'Roosevelt is in'. Our later news tells us that he is not only in, but in by a huge majority and that he has also got a Congress to back him. Now this is odd. I try to be absolutely frank with myself and with my diary. Yet my delight at Roosevelt's victory shows me that underneath I had been anxious about Willkie. I should have said, if asked, that it did not really matter to us if Willkie won, since he was also pledged to our assistance. True it is that there would have been some confusion caused by the change of administration. On the other hand we should, with Willkie's help, have had Big Business solid on our side. Yet my heart leapt like a young salmon when I heard that Roosevelt had won so triumphantly, which showed me that underneath I had been longing for his victory. In the last week, the Germans, the Italians and occupied France have made it clear that they would regard the defeat of Roosevelt as a triumph for themselves. It would mean that the U.S.A. felt our eventual victory to be impossible. Thus the moral effect of his sweeping the board will be very great. It is the best thing that has happened to us since the outbreak of war. I thank God!
H.N. TO V.S-W.8th November, 1940 Ministry of Information
I was busy last night after I got back from dining at the Etoile, since Halifax had taken kindly to my paper on war aims and wanted me to make some further emendations. So I sat drafting away as if I were back in the Foreign Office twenty years ago. Then I got to bed and curled up on my rubber mattresses and went fast asleep. Splaaassh! Craash! Tinkle! Tinkle! Oh, I was no longer in my bed but on the floor. Charles Peake burst in. 'Are you all right, Harold?' 'Yes', I said. 'We've had another direct hit: a bad one this time.' Well, up I got, and into my trousers I got, and into my British-warm I got. The passage outside was filled with a red fog which was just dust. There were air-raid wardens rushing about in steel helmets. And would you believe it? We really had been struck on the boko by the Luftwaffe. Not a single soul was hurt. I went round the shelters on a tour of inspection. I brought one or two of the paler people up to my room and gave them sherry which Miss Niggeman had thoughtfully provided. And then I went to sleep again and did not wake up till my alarm clock went off at 7.30. A bomb had hit us just on the shoulder. It had broken through one floor and exploded on the floor below. It had done in the University library. Our windows on the courtyard side had been twisted out into shreds. The courtyard is full of masonry. But not a single soul even scratched. It was all great fun and I enjoyed it. This is not a pose. I was exhilarated. I am odd about that. I have no nerves about this sort of thing. Mentally I am like the people who stick daggers into their flesh.
I think we have managed to avoid losing this war. But when I think how on earth we are going to win it, my imagination quails. I go to Manchester tomorrow.
DIARYl0th November, 1940
There are three things that I have discovered about Manchester.
(1) That they are far more frightened of air-raids than we are in London, and one finds oneself adopting an old veteran attitude towards their nervousness.
(2) That there is a shortage of matches.
(3) That there is no Benedictine. Hitler's blockade is beginning to grip the provinces.
The House is meeting in what is called 'the Annexe', but which is really Church House. I bump into Brendan Bracken who says, `Wonderful about Italy, isn't it?' I imagine he is referring to their Greek reverses and say, 'Yes'. But I have a feeling that there is something more, and when I get to the Ministry, I ask if there is any Italian news. They say, 'You have seen the communique?' I had not. It seems that we have sunk half the Italian Fleet at Taranto. Really the Greeks cannot now say that we have failed to help them. James has won the Hawthornden Prize I am overjoyed.
DIARY20th November, 1940
We go to the Prime Minister's room to be told about the King's Speech. We hang about in the corridor while the Chiefs of Staff creep out after a conference. Then we all troop in and there are glasses of sherry about. The P.M. reads the speech (It is customary to stand up when the Kings speech is read'), and then we have a sort of party. I see out of the corner of my eye that Winston is edging in my direction and I am embarrassed. He slouches up. 'I see you have been speaking in Scotland?' 'Yes.' Was it a good meeting?' And so on. He seems better in health than he has ever seemed. That pale and globular look about his cheeks has gone. He is more solid about the face and thinner. But there is something odd about his eyes. The lids are not in the least weary, nor are there any pouches or black lines. But the eyes themselves are glaucous, vigilant, angry, combative, visionary and tragic. In a way they are the eyes of a man who is much preoccupied and is unable to rivet his attention on minor things (such as me). But in another sense they are the eyes of a man faced by an ordeal or tragedy, and combining vision, truculence, resolution and great unhappiness.
H.N. TO V.S-W.20th November, 1940 Ministry of Information
My day began with the Civil Defence Committee of the Cabinet, at which we had Herbert Morrison's report on the visit to Coventry. What amused me was Morrison's almost sobbing reference to the King's visit. He spoke about the King as Goebbels might have spoken about Hitler. I admit that the King does his job well. But why should Morrison speak as if he were a phenomenon? How odd these Labour people are ! I prefer Ellen Wilkinson's realism. She said to me, 'You deal in ideas, and one can never see how an idea works out. I deal in water-closets, and one can always see whether it works or not.' I do so like that little spitfire. She and Florence Horsbrugh are really the only two first-class women in the House. I should like to see both of them made Cabinet Ministers.
DIARY22nd November, 1940
I go up to Leicester with Ronald Trees as it has been badly bombed. Not many casualties and the people seem amused more than anything else. Ronnie says that I must come on with him to Ditchley. Ditchley is being used as one of the alternative places to which Winston goes for the week-end. It is quite a business. First come two detectives who scour the house from garret to cellar; then arrive valet and maid with much luggage; then thirty-five soldiers plus officers turn up to guard the great man through the night; then two stenographers with masses of papers; then Professor Lindemann, Brendan Bracken and the Private Secretary on duty; and finally Winston and Clemmie [Churchill].
Winston arranges his Sundays with complete regularity. He remains in bed till luncheon, working and dictating all the time and drinking quantities of Malvern water. After luncheon he works till 4.30 when he has a little walk and then tea. Then work again till 6.30 when he goes to bed with a hot-water bottle and is called at 8. Then a jovial dinner and bed. Ronnie says that Winston is convinced that the Germans will strive by every means to smash us before the spring. 'We are in for a very terrible ordeal.' After that we shall have a very strained summer and then supremacy in 1942. Meanwhile the Italian collapse in Greece is of great value to us. We may attack the Dodecanese shortly.
He says that someone complimented Winston upon his obituary oration on Neville Chamberlain. 'No', said Winston, 'that was not an insuperable task, since I admired many of Neville's great qualities. But I pray to God in his infinite mercy that I shall not have to deliver a similar oration on Baldwin. That indeed would be difficult to do.'
Then we get to Ditchley. The great mass of the house is dark and windowless, and then a chink in the door opens and we enter suddenly into the warmth of central heating, the blaze of lights and the amazing beauty of the hall. Nancy Tree is there and her sister and Rob Bernays, Leonora and young Michael Tree who has just had an operation. Dick Law comes later and there are airmen from the neighbouring aerodrome for dinner. The beauty of the house is beyond words. Nancy has been over with her canteens to Coventry.
H.N. To V.S-W.26th November, 1940
We had a quiet night last night since the fog hung damp over the aerodromes of Artois and Picardy. But at 3 am. I was rung up from New York by the United Press asking me whether it was true that Lord Lothian had asked the President for two battleships. 'I'm not awake!' I yelled across three thousand miles. 'But I thought you were secretary to the Ministry of Information?' Oh hell! What a world and what a whirligig ! I kept my head. I was polite—so polite, so cold, so sleepy.
The Greeks have landed a detachment north of Santi Quaranta to blow up the bridges. A suicide squad I expect it was. But it has put the fear of God into the Italians. The odd thing is that the Italian Air Force has not appeared at all for two days. I expect the Greeks will take a knock at any moment. But they have won a fine victory and dislocated the plans of the Axis at a vital moment. How proud I should feel if I were Greek!
DIARY3rd December, 1940
I tell Halifax that our paper on war aims must, when passed, be shown to us at least a week before publication. We shall have to prepare for its reception. I also tell him that it does not include enough about home reconstruction. We must say that we accept Socialism. He does not seem to think that the thing will in the last resort ever see light and that depresses me.
Most of the conversation afterwards circles round Jo Kennedy and his treachery to us and Roosevelt. The general idea is that he will do harm for the moment but not in the end. How right I was in warning people against him. I was the first to do so.
DIARY5th December, 1940
There is a wave of defeatism. Were I not so busy and happy, I should notice it. What is so curious is that people do not believe the Taranto victory and the Greek success is partly dismissed as another Finland and Norway and partly rejected as implying that the Greeks can turn the Italians out of Albania whereas the Italians turned us out of Somaliland.
DIARY12th December, 1940
Lunch with Guy Burgess at the Garrick. On my return, Geoffrey Neville rushes up to me and says that we have captured 20,000 prisoners at Sidi Barrani. A major victory. Ronnie Tree comes in and says that Lothian is dead. It is a blow over the heart. I say goodbye to Pick who is leaving us, somewhat embittered. Walter Monckton is to succeed him. Charles Peake has been dining with Anthony Eden and has the latest news about Africa. We have mopped up Sidi Barrani and taken much booty. The Italian tanks are retreating towards Sollum with our Navy bombarding them all the time. We are in hot pursuit.
Our armoured Division is lost in the desert and Anthony fears that they will catch the Italians at Sollum and that a bottle-neck will ensue in which our columns will be shelled by our own ships. It is a great victory all the same. Anthony says, 'I was thinking of the Sidi Barrani. Then I began to think of the capture of Sollum. Now I am beginning to think of the conquest of Libya.' This sounds bombastic, but the Italian defeat is very like a rout. The Italian general whom we captured admitted that he knew that 'something was up, although we expected nothing like this'. It is a fine show.
DIARY20th December, 1940
Go down to Nether Wallop to lecture to the Air Force about the German character. I do not feel that the young men really like it. They are all fascists at heart and rather like the Germans. I am taken into the operations room afterwards where I watch girls moving sinister disks over a great map. It all seems very efficient. I go to bed as soon as I can and am later joined by a scientist who snores and snores.
DIARY23rd December, 1940
Back in time to hear Winston's message to the Italian people. I had been bothered during the afternoon by people who urged me to stop him emphasising Italian links with America. I refused to intervene in any way, saying that I had confidence in Churchill's conception of great events. Then I listened with some trepidation. As a message to Italy, and to the Italians here and in the U.S.A., it was magnificent. But even as a message to our own people it shows that he was not a war-monger but a heroic pacifist. He read out his letter to Mussolini of May last. It was tremendous. He read out Mussolini's reply. It was the creep of an assassin. Afterwards some of the American correspondents tell me that they think it is the best thing that Winston has ever done.
DIARY25th December, 1940
The gloomiest Christmas Day that I have yet spent. I get up early and have little work to do. Finish reading the memoranda on local organisations with which I have been supplied. Have a talk with Hall about the reorganisation of our propaganda among minor nationalities inwar U.S.A. Lunch alone at Antoine's and read a book of Pitt's war speeches. Hear the King on the wireless. Pick Raymond [Mortimer] up at the Ritz Bar where I meet Puffin Asquith and Terence Rattigan. After that I have a nice dinner with Raymond at Prunier. I then go back to the Ministry, where there is a party downstairs followed by a film. Poor old London is beginning to look very drab. Paris is so young and gay that she could stand a little battering. But London is a charwoman among capitals, and when her teeth begin to fall out she looks ill indeed.
H.N. To V.S-W.31st December, 1940In the train from Bristol to Cardiff
I have found a new pleasure in life—travelling with a Private Secretary. One just walks about in a fur coat and things get done. Moreover, he keeps the purse and gives mean little tips such as I should never dare to give. But it is at him the porters scowl, not me. I just walk away and gaze at the show-cases in the hall.
I lunched with the Regional Commissioner yesterday to meet Alexander, the C.-in-C. of Southern Command.He is believed to be a great soldier. He thinks the Battle of England has already begun—Coventry, Southampton, Bristol, the City. They will burn and destroy them one by one. 'Archie Wavell', he says, 'mops up 40,000 Libyans and we claim a victory. In two hours the Germans destroy 500 years of our history.' I do think we are going through a hellish time.
 President Roosevelt was elected for his third term with a majority of five million votes. He carried 38 States and Wendell Willkie.
 In the course of his campaign, Willkie had said: 'All of us believe in giving aid to the heroic British people. We must make available to them the products of our industry.'
 An Army-type of short overcoat which was very popular during the war.
 The Ministry of Information was housed in Senate House, Malet Street, part of London University.
 Later Lord Cherwell. Scientific adviser to the Prime Minister.
 Malvern Water is a natural spring water from the 600 million year old Malvern Hills. The water is in fact a natural untreated water, generally devoid of all minerals, bacteria, and suspended matter; it approaches the purity of distilled water.
 The Dodecanese literally "twelve islands"; are a group of 12 larger plus 150 smaller Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
 The first Italian assault on Greece had been repelled by Greek counter-attacks which had captured Koritza in Albania on the 22nd. By the end of the year the Italians had been forced thirty miles behind the Albanian frontier along the whole front.
 Author of French without Tears (1936) and other plays. He was then 29.
 General, later Field-Marshal, Alexander had commanded the First Corps of the B.E.F. and supervised the final stages of the evacuation from Dunkirk. He was to remain G.O.C. of Southern Command until 1942, when he was sent as G.O.C. to Burma.