Orwell Diaries 1938-1942

29.5.40

One has to gather any major news nowadays by means of hints and allusions. The chief sensation last night was that the 9 o’c news was preceded by a cheer-up talk (quite good) by Duff-Cooper[1], to sugar the pill, and that Churchill said in his speech that he would report again on the situation some time at the beginning of next week, and that the House must prepare itself for “dark and heavy tidings”. This presumably means that they are going to attempt a withdrawal, but whether the “dark tidings” means enormous casualties, a surrender of part of the B.E.F., or what, nobody knows. Heard the news between acts at a more or less highbrow play at the Torch Theatre[2]. The audience listened a good deal more attentively than would have been the case in a pub.

E. says the people in the Censorship Department where she works lump all “red” papers together and look on the Tribune[3] as being exactly in exactly the same class as the Daily Worker[4]. Recently when the Daily Worker and Action[5] were prohibited from export, one of her fellow-workers asked her, “Do you know this paper, Daily Worker and Action?”

Current rumours: That Beaverbrook[6] since his appointment has got 2,000 extra aeroplanes into the air by cutting though bottle-necks. That the air raids, possibly on London, are due to begin in 2 day’s˚ time. That Hitler’s plan for invading England is to use thousands of speed-boats which can ride over the minefields. That there is a terrible shortage of rifles (this is from several sources). That the morale of the ordinary German infantry of the line is pitiably low. That at the time of the Norway business the War office˚ were so ill-informed as not even to know that the Norwegian nights are short and imagined that troops which had to disembark in broad daylight would have the cover of darkness.

[1] Alfred Duff Cooper (1890-1954; Viscount Norwich, 1952) was a Conservative politician, diplomat, and author. After he resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty, through disagreement with Chamberlain over Munich, he became the figurehead of the patriotic right. Churchill made him Minister of Information in May 1940.

[2] See 636 [Complete Works] for Orwell’s review of this play.

[3] A socialist weekly, then edited by Raymond Postgate, to which Orwell contributed many reviews and essays.

[4] The Communist Party’s daily newspaper in Britain.

[5] The journal of the British Union of Fascists.

[6] In May, Max Aitken, first Baron Beaverbrook (1897-1964), the Canadian newspaper proprietor, had been made Minister of Aircraft Production by Churchill. He was effective, if controversial. Later he was made Minister for War Production. In 1918 he had served as Minister of Information. Peter Davison