We have an [Eden] Group dinner at the Carlton. Waldorf Astor attends. He feels that it is essential that the Prime Minister should be removed and that Winston Churchill should take his place. The question is how and when. We discuss this matter in all its bearings. I suggest that in any case the Prime Minister will have to deal with this peace offer and that thereafter, when the war really begins, there will be such an outburst of public indignation that a Coalition Government will have to be formed. It is evident that none of the Opposition leaders will enter a Cabinet which contains Chamberlain, Simon and Hoare, and that therefore the removal of these three will take place almost automatically. Duff Cooper and [Leo] Amery, while agreeing with this argument, contend that we have no time to lose. The armament situation is really very bad and it is feared that our army in France is not sufficiently equipped. It is absolutely essential that Burgin be dismissed from the Ministry of Supply and a really formidable figure be put in charge. The tragedy is that we have so few formidable figures.
I go on with Duff Cooper to the Carlton Grill, where Diana [Cooper] has a supper party in honour of Burckhardt, the former League of Nations High Commissioner in Danzig. In view of the fact that Hitler has twice referred to him in his speeches as 'ein Mann von Format' and a most tactful person', I had somehow imagined him to be another Horace Wilson.1 Not at all. He is rather a dapper, smart, fresh-coloured Swiss aristocrat speaking the most beautiful French. I sit next to him and find him most intelligent and amusing. He talks a great deal about Hitler. He says that Hitler is the most profoundly feminine man that he has ever met, and that there are moments when he becomes almost effeminate. He imitates the movements of his white flabby hands. He says that Hitler has a dual personality, the first being that of the rather gentle artist, and the second that of the homicidal maniac. He is convinced that Hitler has no complete confidence in himself and that his actions are really governed by somnambulist certainty. He says that the main energy in Hitler is an energy of hatred, and that he has never met any human being capable of generating so terrific a condensation of envy, vituperation and malice. Yet now and then there is a pathetic side to him. For instance, he once heard Hitler say, `It is a great sorrow to me that I have never met an Englishman who speaks German well enough for me to feel at ease with him.' It was evident to Burckhardt that he was fascinated, 'as so many Germans are fascinated', by the problem of our easy-going self-assurance.
DIARY12th October, 1939
Walk away from the Foreign Office with Rab Butler.2 He asks me what I would like the Prime Minister to say this afternoon in reply to Hitler's peace offer. I say that I should like a speech saying quite shortly that we are only too anxious to make peace but that we must have a guarantee before entering a conference. That guarantee would be the withdrawal of German troops from Prague and Warsaw. He laughs and says, 'I am afraid that that sounds rather like appeasement. The Prime Minister is much more bellicose than that.' He is a curious man. I have a suspicion that he does not really agree with the appeasement policy and has all along been on our side. He has seen in some paper that I was writing this Penguin Special and he asked me if he could see the proofs. I said, 'There is a great deal in the book which will annoy the Government terribly.' He answered, 'It won't annoy me!’
DIARY 25th October, 1939
Dine with the Eden Group. Hore-Belisha is our guest. He says that if the Germans do not attack us within the next fortnight, they will probably wait till March. He is extremely confident, and although he is preparing for a three-year war he does not think it will last anything like as long as that. There is in fact a general feeling in Ministerial circles that the war will peter out before the spring. I cannot get anyone to give me any serious grounds for such optimism.
On 28th October Harold Nicolson flew to Paris with a party of eight other back-bench M.P’s, led by Sir Edward Spears  Chairman of the Anglo-French Parliamentary Committee. The purpose of the visit was to exchange views with French politicians and to gain first-hand knowledge of the Maginot Line. They visited the sector of the line at its northern extremity near the French frontier with Luxembourg, where at this stage of the war there was no hostile activity except the occasional exchange of counter-battery fire and patrols across no-man's land. The British visitors were much impressed by the professionalism and high morale of the Maginot defenders and by the confidence of the French political leaders, which at this period exceeded that of the British themselves.
DIARY 29th October, 1939 Paris
We are called at 6.30 am. and are driven to the Gare de l'Est. It pours with rain the whole morning and the valleys of the Marne, Meuse and Moselle are completely flooded. 'The elements', Delbos says to me, `are fighting on our side.' Eventually we arrive at Nancy. We enter a convoy of five military cars and are driven to the French Headquarters, where the Chief of Staff explains exactly how the present line runs. We then drive on through the rain.
After passing Thionville we begin to realise that we are entering the zone of the Armies, since the ordinary road signs are supplemented by huge white and red boards bearing the words 'Section A', 'Section B', marked with arrows. On we go in our five cars until suddenly a platoon of soldiers rush out and remove a barbed wire barricade across the road. We then suddenly draw up in front of a sharp hill under a wood containing a great gateway with an iron grille. Above the archway is an inscription in stone running as follows: Ligne Maginot. Ouvrage de Soetrich.' Underneath it runs the words, ne ‘passeront pas.' We are met at the gateway by General Cousse who commands the local group of armies, and by General Conde who is in command of that sector of the Maginot Line. There is a very smart guard of honour. We enter under the arch and see that the outer hallway is packed with cages of pigeons and, I regret to say, mice.' That is for gas. We enter the tunnel and walk about fifty yards to a point where we are faced by a lift-shaft just like that in the underground4. We enter the lift and go down about 300 feet. When we get out of the lift we are faced with a tunnel brilliantly lit and reminding me of the Mersey Tunnel. In front of the lift is drawn up a long train or tramway similar to those tramways which conduct one round exhibitions. Our particular tramway is decorated with French and British flags. We all take our seats and the tram starts off, clanging a bell the whole time. To me the distance seems as if we had travelled from Gordon Square to the Temple. The atmosphere is very like that of a tube-station; and there is a sort of hum in the air of motors pumping through ventilation.
We are first taken into the control chambers of this particular ouvrage. It consists of three large rooms separated from each other but each containing a hatchway by which each section can communicate with the others. The walls of these chambers are papered by a top line of elaborate photographs depicting the area facing this ouvrage, and underneath this row another row of diagrammatic plans giving the range of each single tree or hedge. There are about thirty men and four officers in this basement, sitting round tables on which are spread other diagrams. The General explained to us the system of fire-control which, of course, I did not understand. He then said to us, ‘Now supposing that you were in the observation post and you saw German tanks advancing on any particular point of this area, what would you do?' We said we did not quite understand that question. 'Well, now, put your finger upon one particular field in this photograph (as it might be the field that leads to Frittenden) and tell me that you see tanks coming from that area.' I put my finger upon a distant field on one of the photographs. In a second, each one of the three basement rooms hummed into activity. All the young men there (and I should add that they were dressed in white overalls like in a hospital) immediately rushed to a particular job. Some of them clamped earphones to their heads, others rushed with dividers to their maps, and in a second a great buzz of telephonic conversation began. Two or three of them held pieces of white chalk in their hands and stood by the telephone operators. The latter flicked words at them, at which they rushed to the blackboards on the wall which were divided up into squares and began writing on these blackboards numbers such as 235, 410, 789. The officers watched these figures accumulating and when they had reached a certain point they turned a dial in the wall which rang a bell, and when that bell had rung they all suddenly relaxed and took off their earphones. 'That,' the General said to us, 'means that full firing has been directed on the point you marked?
We were then taken round the kitchens, canteens and dormitories of the men living in the lower basement. What was so extraordinary was that they did not look like soldiers at all, but had the white faces of troglodytes and the nervous white hands of scientists. We then entered the lift again and went upwards out of this great basement which seemed to me like the B.B.C. buried in a mountain. We were taken to a casement in the flank of the hill lit by brilliant electric light. It was exactly like a gun-emplacement in a battleship. All we could see was the backs of enormous guns, mortars and machine-guns embodied in the outer wall. They said to us, 'Would you like to see the Germans?' We said, 'Yes, we would.' The Commandant then pressed a button and there was a gentle hum. Gradually one of the guns began to swing backwards, and as it did so, it disclosed a long aperture about two feet high by ten feet wide through which we suddenly saw wet daylight. They turned out the blaze of lights. We could see a line of high ground about the distance of Staplehurst from Sissinghurst. 'Voila les Boches', the General said to us. We were allowed to look for a few minutes, then they quickly shut the thing up again. We again entered the lift and went up to the top storey. We were to be shown the '75s. We were first taken up into the topmost observation chamber which actually shows above the surface of the hill, little more than the height of a wine-glass. By some mechanical method this observation is exaggerated, like a camera-obscura, and we can see the whole front from that area. Only two men are kept at this topmost point. It is they who communicate with the great battery inside. We then went down steps to the battery itself. It was exactly like some enormous telescope in an observatory. Again they said to us, 'Put your forger on one point of the map which you wish to bombard'. We did so. At this the turret immediately filled with some twenty men each one of whom rushed to a particular point. Switches were turned and a loud hum echoed in the air. The telescope, which until this moment had looked no more than a ventilation shaft, shifted suddenly, began to rise in the air directly upwards and at a certain point the ceiling above it swung away and exposed the damp afternoon sky above it. The great shaft of the gun rose like a lift into the air and then stopped suddenly. `Fire!' remarked (he did not shout) the Commanding Officer, and at that the shell-casings began to revolve accompanied by an intermittent click. Although the shells were packed all round us they did not actually put them into the cases, but we knew that each click represented a shell. There was a click every second and it went on for eighty seconds. The Commandant explained to us that that represented a deluge of fire such as no tank or infantry could possibly withstand. When it was over the gun hummed again, descended into its recess and the cupola was closed. We got back to Nancy at 9 o'clock where we had a large banquet with the Prefect and the local military.
DIARY31st October, 1939
We reach Paris at 12.30 and are driven off at once, without being allowed to wash, to the Ministry of Finance. Paul Reynaud is there to meet us. He is very anxious to hear what we think of the Maginot Line and is frankly delighted by our enthusiasm. I have a good talk with him and am enormously encouraged. He keeps on repeating, `We've got them already, and they know it!' He realises that we shall have great disasters and moments of defeat, but he seems to have no doubt whatsoever that, Russia or no Russia, we shall be victorious. `It is absolutely inevitable,' he says, 'and you know that I would not say so to you who have shared my doubts in the past unless I really believed it. I should say to you, "We have to face great perils." I don't say that now. I say, "We have to prepare for inevitable victory", and when I say that, I say it after having estimated all our dangers, all our capacities, and being a pessimist at heart.'
We then go on to see Daladier." The whole place hums like a General Headquarters and in every ante-room there are officers waiting with portfolios under their arms. We are conducted into Daladier's room where he sits at an enormous Directoire writing-table with masses of papers in front of him and a bowl for his pipes and tobacco. We start the proceedings by a few set speeches which go very well and then we sit down. Daladier starts to talk. He is not an attractive man. He looks like a drunken peasant. His face must once have had sharp outlines but now it is blurred by the puffiness of drink. He looks extremely exhausted and has the eyes of a man who has had a bad night. He has a weak, sly smile. The conversation is perfectly easy and we ask him what he thinks the Germans are going to do. He replies: 'I have no idea at all. I hope they will attack the Maginot Line, but I don't think they will be so foolish. I think they may direct against you in England in the next few days an absolutely overwhelming air-attack. I think they may try to encircle the Maginot Line by driving through Holland and Switzerland. I think they may remain where they are and hope that their propaganda will dislocate us during the coming winter. I don't know which of these alternatives they will adopt.' I think that he was moved by our visit and by the really excellent little speech which Spears made. He was tremendously friendly to us and said that if any one of us ever wanted to see him again, he would cut any engagement to do so.
We filed out into the ante-room, and there we find an old man in a wheeled chair dressed in full uniform with the Star of the Legion of Honour on his chest. Spears rushes up to him and greets him warmly. It is Franchet d'Esperey.11 He says to us, 'Well, gentlemen, you see a ghost revisiting the scenes of his past.'
We then go on to a Reception given by the President of the chamber, where we are offered a large buffet with champagne. I have a talk with Giraudoux and certain members of the French Foreign Office. I also have a talk with Leon Blum, and all of these conversations convince me that we are much too defeatist in London and that these people are absolutely certain of victory. They think that we shall suffer very much from the air and that this time it will be we and not they who are invaded. They are convinced that if we can stick at it for six months, the whole German edifice will collapse.
 On 28th September a joint German—Russian statement called for an end to the fighting, now that Poland had ceased to exist.
 Sir Horace John Wilson, GCB, GCMG, CBE (1882-1972) was a British government official who had a key role in the appeasement-oriented government of Neville Chamberlain just prior to World War II.
 A former Minister of Transport, was responsible for the introduction of two innovations which led to a dramatic drop in road accidents: the driving test and the Belisha Beacon named after him by the public. This is flashing sphere on the end of a post indicating a pedestrian crossing.