September 3rd 1939
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declares Britain is at war with Germany.
On the 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, attacking all fronts. People throughout Britain heard the whispers of war grow and grow and by the morning of the 3rd September 1939, the tension hung in the air of many a household.
While Chamberlain tried to avoid war at all costs, it was not to be. At 11 am on the 3rd September, people tuned in to listen to the news on their radios, and to their prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who was to address the nation. His voice was grave as he announced:
“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently, this country is at war with Germany.”
As his speech ended, church bells rang out all around the country then the air raid sirens wailed, prompting people to dash into the shelters in panic. Fortunately it was a false alarm. It was Sunday morning, and children played out in the streets and their gardens. Adults exclaimed, “Oh, God help us,” – those who knew what to expect.
Afterwards, young men all eager to ‘do their bit’ and to have some excitement, rushed out to join up.
War had been expected for some time, although Chamberlain and his government had taken action to avoid it. In the meantime, Andersen shelters had been distributed to some 1.5 million homes to people living in areas which the government thought would be targeted by the Luftwaffe. The first shelter was erected in a garden in Islington, London on the 25th February 1939 and thereafter the shelters were rolled out up until the declaration of war.
Following the announcement, the blackout began and the lights all across Great Britain were snuffed out, one by one when darkness fell while gas masks were hastily distributed. The fleet was mobilised, placing the Royal Navy immediately in the action and Winston Churchill was given the post of First Lord of the Admiralty – the same post he’d held during the Great War.