Monday, 23 September 1940

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Blitz of 1940-41 and the Baedeker Blitz of 1942. See here and here for introductions to the series, and here, here and here for conclusions.

Daily Mail, 23 September 1940, 1

There is tragic news today. Not that there has been any shortage of that lately, but this is on a different scale, at least qualitatively. A British passenger liner has been sunk by a U-boat in the Atlantic, with heavy loss of life. The ship -- its name has not yet been published -- was evacuating children to safety in Canada: eighty-three are reported lost, and only seven rescued. Two hundred and eleven others also perished, including seven other children not part of the official evacuation programme. The Daily Mail reports (1) that:

Some of the children were trapped in the ship or killed by the explosion.

Others suffered from exposure in life-boats and on rafts, which were swept by wind, waves, rain, and hail for hours before they could be picked up by a British warship.

A full list of the lost children is given on page 5, and stories from the survivors on page 6.

The Mail follows this with a leading article, on page2:

READ the details, dreadful as they are. Let them burn into our minds as proof of the character of the foe we are sworn to defeat. Let them never be forgotten until the day of reckoning comes.

But -- surely echoing the thoughts of many parents -- the Mail goes on to ask:

Are the Government absolutely satisfied with the arrangements made for transporting these children? Are the ships convoyed far enough out to sea?

It is not a sufficient answer to say that many thousands of children have already been taken across the Atlantic in safety, and that this is the first time loss of life has occurred among them.

Still more must be done to prevent a repetition of this intolerable tragedy.

But this is from the end of the article. The beginning of it makes it clear that the principle of evacuation (whether to the countryside or overseas) itself is not being questioned here:

THE bombardment of London continues. The Daily Mail makes no apology for repeating: It is the first duty of all concerned to get the children away from their threatened homes.

The Government, as we have said before, must make their evacuation schemes more attractive to parents. Parents, too, must face up to their responsibility to their children.

To keep children in constant danger when they could be evacuated is not a sign of the best type of affection; it is a sign of selfishness.

And indeed, on page 3 it is reported that evacuation of children from London is speeding up, with 2500 registered yesterday -- before the 'big raids' on London began the rate was only a hundred a day. The LCC has plans to speed up evacuation if necessary, and 'trains would be switched to new destinations in an emergency', presumably if the original ones had been heavily bombed or invaded.

Some evacuees don't go very far, however, at least in terms of miles:

The Knightsbridge mansion of Lord Redesdale, father of Unity Mitford, has become a home for families driven from the East End by Hitler's bombs. Here a Daily Mail reporter tells how Stepney folk are getting on in a peer's home at 26, Rutlandgate, Knightsbridge.

Very well, it would seem: for example, Rosie Sakien, aged 17, has had 'her first hot meal in five weeks yesterday'. The '"best" bedrooms' have been fitted out for the 'aged and ailing', while everyone else is kipping in the 'dove-grey and gold ballroom and the grand drawing-room'. This type of East-meets-West encounter may become more common; the Minister of Health, Malcolm MacDonald, wants London boroughs to requisition empty houses so that 20,000 bombed-out people can be accommodated:

"If an owner refuses to let his house and insists it is only for sale, the local authority can step in, requisition the place, and let it at suitable rent to an otherwise homeless person."

So perhaps Lord Redesdale is being wise as well as generous.

A few other points of interest. As usual, the Mail's mail is full of letters demanding reprisals on German cities. Here's one from a colonial:

SIR, -- I am an Australian soldier who has come 18,000 miles to help our Mother Country, and I say: As the Nazi airmen bomb our cities here we should use heavier bombs and as many more as possible on them.

You can take an Aussie's word that when we go into action we will give no mercy or quarter, and expect none. We will remember the innocent women and children who have suffered in this war of England. Our menu for Jerry is cold steel, hand grenades, and shrapnel. -- "Digger."

Edwin Tetlow reports on the front page that 'Still another zero hour for Hitler's invasion of Britain has passed'.

For a period to-day [Sunday] conditions in the Strait [of Dover] were more favourable than for some days, and it was thought that Hitler might take advantage of them [...] That the Germans have allowed today's favourable opportunity to go unused is being taken as another sign that the invasion is off.

However, in Durham yesterday, the Deputy North Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence, J. J. Lawson MP, gave the following warning to people living along the coast (3):

If there is such a thing as an invasion and it happens to be one from the sea, then gas will very probably be used.

So please get into the habit of carrying your gas mask.

Lastly, on page 2 air correspondent Noel Monks 'answers the questions everyone is asking' about the air war. One of these is:

Now that the first two weeks of blitz have passed, what can we expect in the next two weeks?

This is the first time while writing these posts that I've noticed the word 'blitz' used, as opposed to 'blitzkrieg'. Interestingly, Monks clearly considers the 'blitz' period to have started with the big London raids of 7 September. But it is not yet 'the Blitz'.

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