23.8.40

This morning an air-raid warning about 3 a.m. Got up, looked at the time, then felt unable to do anything and promptly went back to sleep again. They are talking of rearranging the alarm system, and they will have to do so if they are to prevent every alarm from costing thousands of pounds in wasted time, lost sleep, etc. The fact that at present the alarm sounds all over a wide area when the German planes are only operating in one part of it, means not only that people are unnecessarily woken up or taken away from work, but that an impression is spread that an air-raid alarm will always be false, which is obviously dangerous.

Have got my Home Guard uniform, after 2 ½ months.

Last night to a lecture by General ——–[1], who is in command of about a quarter of a million men. He said he had been 41 years in the army. Was through the Flanders campaign, and no doubt limogé[2] for incompetence. Dilating on the Home Guard being a static defensive force, he said contemptuously and in a rather marked way that he saw no use in our practising taking cover, “crawling about on our stomachs”[3], etc., etc., evidently as a hit at the Osterley Park training school[4]. Our job, he said, was to die at our posts. Was also great on bayonet practice, and hinted that regular army ranks, saluting, etc., were to be introduced shortly. . . . These wretched old blimps[5], so obviously silly and senile, and so degenerate in everything except physical courage, are merely pathetic in themselves, and one would feel rather sorry for them if they were not hanging round our necks like millstones. The attitude of the rank and file at these would-be-pep-talks – so anxious to be enthusiastic, so ready to cheer and laugh at the jokes, and yet all the time half feeling that there is something wrong – always strikes me as pathetic. The time has almost arrived when one will only have to jump up on the platform and tell them how they are being wasted and how the war is being lost, and by whom, for them to rise up and shovel the blimps into the dustbin. When I watch them listening to one of these asinine talks, I always remember that passage in Samuel Butler’s Notebook about a young calf he once saw eating dung[6]. It could not quite make up its mind whether it liked the stuff or not, and all it needed was some experienced cow to give it a prod with her horn, after which it would have remembered for life that dung is not good to eat.

It occurred to me yesterday, how will the Russian state get on without Trotsky? Or the Communists elsewhere? Probably they will be forced to invent a substitute.

[1] Unidentified. Tom Hopkinson, one of the founders of the unofficial Home Guard Training School at Osterley Park, tells how a Brigadier Whitehead attempted to have the school stopped in the autumn of 1940 because it did not have a license; see Of This Our Time (1982), 180. Orwell cannot be referring to Lieutenant-General Sir T.R. Eastwood, who took command of the Home Guard in the autumn of 1940; he was under fifty.

[2] Passed over for promotion.

[3] See Orwell’s review of Home Guard for Victory!, Horizon, March 1941, 768

[4] This was run by Tom Wintringham and Hugh (Humphrey) Slater. They taught guerrilla tactics and street-fighting based on experience with the International Brigade during the Spanish civil war.

[5] See footnotes to 20.6.40

[6] ‘Art of Knowing What Gives One Pleasure,’ Further Extracts from the Note-Books of Samuel Butler, chosen and edited by A.T. Bartholomew (1934), 165-66. This book was reviewed by Orwell in 1934. Peter Davison

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8 Responses to 23.8.40

  1. Konifuji says:

    Full-o-pep talks?

  2. Pingback: Airminded · Post-blogging 1940

  3. CAL says:

    Today’s diary was really interesting, a glimpse into how he was feeling as well as a picture of what was happening at that long-ago moment.

  4. itwasntme says:

    Ya know, Orwell sure is an off-and-on poster. Isn’t he thinking of us at all?

  5. andrew says:

    this one was great; good one konifuji!

  6. George~~
    Staying in bed during while air raid sirens scream definitely makes more sense than going out into the street and looking at the sky. But maybe you should have grabbed your pitchfork, gone out and prodded all of those ignorant, crap-eating fools into the shelters.

  7. Flandall says:

    Wonderfully interesting, and blimps come in all types and uniforms.

    Just as an aside, “limoge`” refers to the habit of General Joffre in the First World War of cashiering incompetent generals in the French army. They would be sent to the city of Limoges for new orders that would never come…

  8. Pingback: 8.4.41 « THE ORWELL PRIZE

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