I get up early. It is a perfect day and I bathe in the peace of the lake. Two things impress themselves on me.
1. Time. It seems three weeks since yesterday morning and it is difficult to get one's days of the week in chronological order. Everybody after this will be convinced of the relativity of time.
2. Nature. Even as when someone dies, one is amazed that the poplars should still be standing quite unaware of one's own disaster, so when I walked down to the lake to bathe, I could scarcely believe that the swans were being sincere in their indifference to the Second German War.
Up to London. The posters carry the words 'British Liner Torpedoed'. It is the Athenia out from Liverpool to Canada or the United States which was torpedoed off the Hebrides. .Many Americans must have been drowned. How insane the Germans are to do this at the very moment when Roosevelt has put out his neutrality proclamation. It is a bad proclamation from our point of view. He says that nothing on earth will induce the Americans to send forces to Europe. But he also says that no man can remain neutral in mind and that he knows where the right lies.
DIARY6th September, 1939
I wake up on a lovely morning and lie there thinking how foul it is that this late summer dawn should be bruised by fear and horror. I am thinking these uplifting thoughts when Vita' flings open the door and announces, 'There is an air-raid.' It is such a lovely morning that we do not take the air-raid too seriously and remain outside in the sunshine looking at the Alpine plants. Then off I go to catch the train. We are stopped by air-raid wardens in Sissinghurst and Staplehurst but I tell them that I am going to London to execute my functions as a Member of Parliament (MP) They are much impressed by this information and pass me on.
I go down to the House (Houses of Parliament – London)and find that it has risen. In the smoking-room I find Bob Boothby' talking to Arnold Wilson.' The latter is putting it about that Germany will mop up Poland and that we must then make peace. He is a dangerous, well-meaning but slightly insane person. Not that his view is incorrect. I feel perfectly certain that Germany will mop up the Poles in a week or so. She may also seize the Rumanian oil-fields, solidify her agreement with Russia, and then offer us the most favourable terms of peace. It will then be that our ordeal (and when I say 'our', I mean the Eden Group) will arrive. If we insist upon the continuance of battle, we may condemn many young men to death. If we urge acceptance, we are ending the British Empire. The appeasers will gamble upon the defection of Russia and Italy and good terms with Germany.Again one comes back to the point that Chamberlain did not want this war, and is continually thinking of getting out of it. He may be right. But he has not behaved with sufficient honesty and moral courage to carry the country with him.
DIARY14th September, 1939
The House is mainly concerned with the evacuation of children. It seems that where children have been evacuated along with their schoolteachers everything has gone well. But when the mothers have come, there has been trouble. Many of the children are verminous and have disgusting habits. This horrifies the cottagers upon whom they have been billeted. Moreover, the mothers refuse to help, grumble dreadfully, and are pathetically homesick and bored. Many of them have drifted back to London. Much ill feeling has been caused. But the interesting thing is that this feeling is not between the rich and the poor but between the urban and the rural poor. This is a perplexing social event. One thing that they say is that these children were evacuated at the end of the holidays and were therefore more verminous and undisciplined than if they had been taken in the middle of the term. But the effect will be to demonstrate to people how deplorable is the standard of life and civilization among the urban proletariat.
DIARY15th September, 1939
To see Vansittart at the Foreign Office. He does not think that we should make a violent war at present or provoke Italy. We are too weak for the moment. Nor is he absolutely certain that Germany will after all make a peace proposal when she has conquered Poland. They are so delighted by their Blitzkrieg (and it seems that they have almost reached Brest Litovsk and have surrounded Warsaw) that they may try a Blitzkrieg over here and invade France via Holland, Switzerland and Italy. I do not derive the impression that he thinks we shall win this war.
DIARY16th September, 1939
Wake up early and have a bad gloom. I try to think of something which is not painful, and all I can manage to think of are the telephone numbers of my friends. It is always the worst time, this early awakening. I get a letter from John Sparrow, who has joined up as a private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. His idea is (a) that although a Fellow of All Souls, he is not a good military man and that it is better to obey orders than have to give them; (b) that it is less painful if one breaks entirely with one's previous life. He is not too unhappy. I daresay he is right about all this. My appalling depression may be due to the fact that I am living my former life with all the conditions altered. Rob Bernaysi told me yesterday that all the front-bench people keep exclaiming, 'I wish I were twenty. I cannot bear this responsibility.' What they really mean is, 'I wish I did not know how bad things are !' The whole world is either paralyzed or against us. These are the darkest hours we have ever endured.
DIARY17th September, 1939
Write my Spectator article. At 11 am. (a bad hour) Vita comes to tell me that Russia has invaded Poland and is striking towards Vilna. We are so dumbfounded by this news that there is a wave of despair over Sissinghurst. I do not think that the Russians will go beyond her old frontier or will wish to declare war on us. But of course it is a terrific blow and makes our victory even more uncertain.
Let me review the situation. It may be that within a few days we shall have Germany, Russia and Japan against us. It may be that Rumania will be subjugated and that the Greeks and Yugoslavs will succumb to Germany. The Baltic and the Scandinavian states will be too frightened to do anything. Holland, Belgium and Switzerland will have to capitulate. Thus the Axis will rule Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Faced by such a combine, France may make her terms. Hitler is then in the position of Napoleon after Austerlitz, with the important difference that whereas we were then in command of the seas, our command of the seas is not now absolute. It is not so much a question of us encircling and blockading Germany; it is a question of them encircling and blockading us. Japan might threaten our position in Australia and the Far East. Russia might threaten us in India. Italy might raise the Arab world. In a few days our whole position might collapse. Nothing could be more black. And yet and yet, I still believe that if we have the will-power, we might win through. The Germans, who are diffident by nature, can scarcely believe in this fairy-tale. A single reverse and they will be overcome with nervous trepidation. Our position is one of grave danger. A generous offer of an immediate truce with the prospect of an eventual conference might tempt us sorely. But we shall not have a generous offer. What will happen ? I suppose that there will be a German ultimatum and a Coalition Cabinet. Chamberlain must go. Churchill ay be our Clemenceau or our Gambetta. To bed very miserable and alarmed.
DIARY20th September, 1939
Go round with Bob Boothby, Eleanor Rathbonel and Wilfrid Roberts to see Lloyd George at Thames House. The old lion sits there in his room at the top of the building with a wonderful view of the river down to St Paul's. He begins by discussing the general situation. He says that he is frankly terrified and does not see how we can possibly win the war. He contends that we should insist immediately upon a secret session of Parliament in which we should force the Government to tell us exactly how they estimate the prospects of victory. If our chances are 50/50, then it might be worthwhile organizing the whole resources of the country for a desperate struggle. But if the chances are really against us, then we should certainly make peace at the earliest opportunity, possibly with Roosevelt's assistance. He indulges in a fierce onslaught on the stupidity and lack of vigour of the present Government. He contends that to have guaranteed Poland and Rumania without a previous agreement with Russia was an act of incredible folly and one which was due to the essential weakness of Chamberlain's character.
The House is in one of its worst moods. The Prime Minister rises to make his weekly statement. He reads it out from a manuscript and is obviously tired and depressed. The effect is most discouraging and Members drop off to sleep. From my seat in the Gallery I can see at least ten Members slumbering. The Prime Minister has no gift for inspiring anybody, and he might have been the Secretary of a firm of undertakers reading the minutes of the last meeting. His speech is followed by an appeal by Archie Sinclair4 for a secret session. Bob Boothby in a vigorous speech supports this request and advances the theory that the Russian occupation of Polish territory is ultimately to our advantage. When he got up to speak, David Margesson turned round to him with a gesture of anger and exclaimed, 'You would !' Altogether, tempers are becoming somewhat frayed.
The House rises early and I dine with Rob Bernays, Sibyl Colefax, Guy Burgess and Ronald Cartland at the Savoy Grill. Cartland is extremely pessimistic about our prospects. He says that we are frightfully short of ammunition in every branch, that we have, in fact, no Army, Navy or Air Force and that we should make peace at once. He would like to see Margesson and Chamberlain hung upon lamp-posts. He also feels that Burgin4 and Hore-Belisha5 should be shot. He is particularly indignant at Winston Churchill having been silenced and blanketed at the Admiralty. The original idea (and Lloyd George told me the same) was that Winston should be a member of the War Cabinet without portfolio. Margesson insisted that he would be dangerous in such a position and that he must be 'nobbled' by having a department which would occupy all his time. I must say that if an old warrior like Lloyd George and a young warrior like Ronald Cartland both feel equally defeatist, the general feeling in the country must be pretty bad.
DIARY24th September, 1939
The effect of the blackout, the evacuation and the general dislocation has been bad for morale. The whole stage was set for an intensive and early attack by Germany which would have aroused our stubbornness. The Government had not foreseen a situation in which boredom and bewilderment would be the main elements. They concentrated upon coping with panic and have been faced with an anticlimax. They have not sufficient imagination to cope with that. We have all the apparatus of war conditions without war conditions. The result is general disillusion and grumbling, from which soil defeatism may grow.
DIARY25th September, 1939
Allen Lane' comes to see me, and it is agreed that I do a Penguin Special for him on why Britain is at war.
DIARY26th September, 1939
The Prime Minister gets up to make his statement. He is dressed in deep mourning relieved only by a white handkerchief and a large gold watch-chain. One feels the confidence and spirits of the House dropping inch by inch. When he sits down there is scarcely any applause. During the whole speech Winston Churchill had sat hunched beside him looking like the Chinese god of plenty suffering from acute indigestion. He just sits there, lowering, hunched and circular, and then he gets up. He is greeted by a loud cheer from all the benches and he starts to tell us about the Naval position. I notice that Hansard does not reproduce his opening phrases. He began by saying how strange an experience it was for him after a quarter of a century to find himself once more in the same room in front of the same maps, fighting the same enemy and dealing with the same problems. His face then creases into an enormous grin and he adds, glancing down at the Prime Minister, 'I have no conception how this curious change in my fortunes occurred.' The whole House roared with laughter and Chamberlain had not the decency even to raise a sickly smile. He just looked sulky.
The effect of Winston's speech was infinitely greater than could be derived from any reading of the text. His delivery was really amazing and he sounded every note from deep preoccupation to flippancy, from resolution to sheer boyishness. One could feel the spirits of the House rising with every word. It was quite obvious afterwards that the Prime Minister's inadequacy and lack of inspiration had been demonstrated even to his warmest supporters. In those twenty minutes Churchill brought himself nearer the post of Prime Minister than he has ever been before. In the Lobbies afterwards even Chamberlainites were saying, 'We have now found our leader.' Old Parliamentary hands confessed that never in their experience had they seen a single speech so change the temper of the House.
Dine at the Beefsteak. Dufferin is there. He tells me that Winston, in drafting his speech, had put in a passage as follows: 'Our destroyers then engaged that particular submarine, and all that thereafter was seen of the vessel was a large spot of oil and a door which floated up to the surface bearing my initials painted on it in white paint.' I think he was wise to suppress this particular quip.
DIARY 27th September, 1939
Lunch with Sibyl Colefax. The others there are H. G. Wells, G. M. Young, Victor Cazalet and Jan Masaryk. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor appear, although I had imagined that he was over in France. He is going there shortly. He is dressed in khaki with all his decorations, and looks grotesquely young. H. G. Wells, who is a republican with a warm sympathy for the Duke of Windsor, does not bow to him but treats him with great friendliness. I have seldom seen the Duke in such cheerful spirits, and it was rather touching to witness their delight at being back in England. There was no false note. Walking away with H. G. Wells, I said to him, 'You admit that that man has got charm?' 'Glamour', he said. 'Charm', I said. 'Oh very well', he said, 'have it your own way.' Go back to King's Bench Walk and go on with my Penguin Special.
DIARY 3rd October, 1939
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.
The 13,500-ton Athenia, carrying 1,400 passengers, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Atlantic at 9 p.m. on 3rd September. 112 lives were lost, including 28 Americans.
 Sissinghurst is a small village in the county of Kent in England. Originally called Mylkehouse, Sissinghurst changed its name in the 1850s, possibly to avoid association with the smuggling and cockfighting activities of the Hawkhurst Gang.The nearest railway station is at Staplehurst.
 Elected as Member of Parliament for East Aberdeenshire in 1924, holding the seat until 1958. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Winston Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1926 to 1929 and held junior ministerial office as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food in 1940–41. Boothby was bisexual. From 1930 had a long affair with Dorothy Macmillan, wife of his fellow Conservative politician and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Boothby is thought by many to have been the father of Sarah Macmillan, who was raised by the Macmillans as their own daughter. Boothby was raised to the peerage as a life peer with the title Baron Boothby of Buchan and Rattray Head in the County of Aberdeen, on 22 August 1958.
 Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold Wilson, Conservative M.P. for Hitchin, 1933-40. He had the reputation of a pro-Fascist, and in his books Thoughts and Talks (1938) and More Thoughts and Talks (1939) he expressed admiration for Hider and Mussolini. But in 194o he volunteered as a rear-gunner and was killed in action on 31st May, 1940.
 Sir Robert Vansittart was Chief Diplomatic Adviser to the Foreign Secretary, 1938-41.
 The Germans captured Brest Litovsk on the 16th, and joined up there on the 18th with the leading Russian troops.
 Fellow, later Warden, of All Souls College, Oxford.
 On December 2, 1805 (November 20, Old Style), a French army, commanded by Emperor Napoleon I, decisively defeated a Russo-Austrian army, commanded by Tsar Alexander I, after nearly nine hours of difficult fighting. The battle took place near Austerlitz (Slavkov u Brna) about 10 km (6 miles) south-east of Brno in Moravia. The battle is often regarded as a tactical masterpiece.
 Georges Benjamin Clemenceau (1841 – 1929) was a French statesman, physician, and journalist. He served as the prime minister of France from 1906-1909 and 1917-1920. For nearly the final year of World War I he led France, and was one of the major voices behind the Treaty of Versailles. He is commonly nicknamed "le Tigre" (the Tiger) and "le Père-la-Victoire" (Father Victory) for his determination as a wartime leader.
 Léon Gambetta (1838 - 1882) was a French statesman prominent after the Franco-Prussian War.
Eleanor Rathbonel Independent M.P. for the Combined English Universities, where she had defeated H.N. in the Election of 1931.
 Wilfrid Roberts Liberal M.P. for North Cumberland, 1935-50.
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC (1863 –1945) was a British statesman and the only Welsh Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During a long tenure of office, mainly as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was a key figure in the introduction of many reforms which laid the foundations of the modern Welfare State. He was Prime Minister throughout the latter half of World War I and the first four years of the subsequent peace. He was aged 76 at the time of this diary entry.  Government Chief Whip 1931-1940. Secretary of State for War 1940-1942
 Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport 1939-1940
 During the Second World War she organized soup kitchens.
 Guy Burgess had resigned from the B.B.C. in December 1938 and joined Section Nine of the Secret Service, where he was mainly concerned with propaganda and underground resistance to Hitler on the Continent. He defected to Russia with Donald Maclean in 1951.
 Conservative M.P. for King's Norton, 1935-40. One of Chamberlain's most pugnacious back-bench opponents. He was killed during the retreat to Dunkirk in May 1940.
 (Sir) Allen Lane, Chairman and Managing Director of Penguin Books Ltd.
 Hansard is the traditional name for the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the UK system of government.
 The fourth Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, 1937-40.
 A Conservative MP who opposed with W S Churchill the appeasement of Adolf Hitler by Neville Chamberlain's government. He was killed in 1943 when his B-24 from Gibraltar to Britain crashed seconds after take off.
 Jan Garrigue Masaryk (1886 – 1948) was a Czechoslovak diplomat and politician and Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1940 to 1948.