Went to the office of the [New Statesman][1] to see what line they are taking about home defence. C.[2], who is now in reality the big noise there, was rather against the “arm the people” line and said that its dangers outweighed its possible advantages[3]. If a German invading force finds civilians armed it may commit such barbarities as will cow the people altogether and make everyone anxious to surrender. He said it was dangerous to count on ordinary people being courageous and instanced the case of some riot in Glasgow when a tank was driven round the town and everyone fled in the most cowardly way. The circumstances were different, however, because the people in that case were unarmed and, as always in internal strife, conscious of fighting with ropes round their necks… C. said that he thought Churchill, though a good man up to a point, was incapable of doing the necessary thing and turning this into a revolutionary war, and for that reason Chamberlain and Co. hesitated to bring the whole nation into the struggle. I don’t of course think Churchill sees it in quite the same colours as we do, but I don’t think he would jib at any step (e.g. equalisation of incomes, independence for India) which he thought necessary for winning the war. Of course it’s possible that today’s secret session may achieve enough to get Chamberlain and Co. out for good. I asked C. what hope he thought there was of this, and he said none at all. But I remember that the day the British began to evacuate Namsos[4] I asked Bevan and Strauss[5], who had just come from the House, what hope there was of this business unseating Chamberlain, and they also said none at all. Yet a week or so later the new government was formed[6].

The belief in direct treachery in the higher command is now widespread, enough so to be dangerous… Personally I believe that such conscious treachery as exists is only in the pro-Fascist element of the aristocracy and perhaps in the Army command. Of course the unconscious sabotage and stupidity which have got us into this situation, e.g. the idiotic handling of Italy and Spain, is a different matter. R.H.[7] says that private soldiers back from Dunkirk whom he has spoken to all complain of the conduct of their officers, saying that the latter cleared off in cars and left them in the soup, etc., etc. This sort of thing is always said after a defeat and may or may not be true. One could verify it by studying the lists of casualties, if and when they are published in full. But it is not altogether bad that that sort of thing should be said, provided it doesn’t lead to sudden panic, because of the absolute need for getting the whole thing onto a new class basis. In the new armies middle-class people are bound to predominate as officers, they did so even, for instance, in the Spanish militias, but it is a question of unblimping. Ditto with the L.D.V. Under the stress of emergency we shall unblimp if we have time, but time is all [8].

A thought occurred to me yesterday: how is it that England, with one of the smallest armies in the world, has so many retired colonels?

I notice that all the “left” intellectuals I meet believe that Hitler if he gets here will take the trouble to shoot people like ourselves and will have very extensive lists of undesirables. C.[9] says there is a move on foot to get our police records (no doubt we all have them) at Scotland Yard destroyed[10]. Some hope! The police are the very people who would go over to Hitler once they were certain he had won. Well, if only we can hold out for a few months, in a year’s time we shall see red militia billeted in the Ritz[11], and it would not particularly surprise me to see Churchill or Lloyd George at the head of them.

Thinking always of my island in the Hebrides[12], which I suppose I shall never possess nor even see. Compton Mackenzie says even now most of the islands are uninhabited (there are 500 of them, only 10 per cent inhabited at normal times), and most have water and a little cultivable land, and goats will live on them. According to R.H., a woman who rented an island in the Hebrides on order to avoid air raids was the first air raid casualty of the war, the RAF dropping a bomb there by mistake. Good if true.

The first air raid of any consequence on Great Britain the night before last. Fourteen killed, seven German aeroplanes claimed shot down. The papers have photos of three wrecked German planes, so possibly the claim is true.

[1] ‘New Statesman’ seems probable here, though the diary has five hyphens.

[2] Probably Richard Crossman (1907-1974), scholar, intellectual, journalist, and left-wing politician, who was assistant editor of The New Statesman, 1938-55, and editor, 1970-72. He was also a Labour MP, 1945-1970; Minister of Housing and Local Government, 1964-66, and Minister of Health and Social Security, 1964-70

[3] See Orwell’s ‘London Letter’ in Partisan Review, March-April 1941, 740

[4] The British 146th Infantry Brigade landed at Namsos, Norway, on the coast some 300 miles north of Oslo, on 16-17 April 1940. They withdrew 2-3 May. The last Allied forces left Norway on 9 June.

[5] In 1949 Orwell said to a friend, ‘If only I could become Nye’s eminence grise we’d soon have this country on its feet’. G.R. Strauss (1901-1993; Life Peer 1979) was a Labour MP and co-director of Tribune.

[6] Neville Chamberlain’s government fell on 10 May 1940 and a coalition government under Winston Churchill was formed. Magnanimously, Churchill included Chamberlain in his cabinet.

[7] Rayner Heppenstall.

[8] ‘Unblimping’ was a frequent concern of Orwell’s. See, for example, ‘Democracy in the British Army’ (1939), ‘War Time Diary’ (23.8.40), ‘The Home Guard and You’ (1940), ‘Don’t Let Colonel Blimp Ruin the Home Guard’ (1941), review of Home Guard for Victory! (1941), ‘London Letter’, Partisan Review, July-August 1941, November-December 1941, ‘Three Years of Home Guard’ (9 May 1943), ‘Home Guard Lessons for the Future’ (15 October 1944)

[9] Not certainly identified. Possibly Richard Crossman again or Cyril Connolly. Inez Holden suggested either Christopher Hollis or a mysterious man known as Carter, whom Orwell’s friends never met.

[10] See ‘London Letter’, Partisan Review, March-April 1941

[11] See ‘My Country Right or Left’

[12] This is the first reference to Orwell’s dream of living in the Hebrides, to be realised in 1945 when he rented Barnhill, on Jura. Compare Winston Smith’s version of ‘the Golden Country’ in Nineteen Eighty-Four; see also Orwell’s review of Priest Island, 640. Peter Davison

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17 Responses to 20.6.40

  1. Pingback: Airminded · Post-blogging 1940

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  3. …..a woman who rented an island in the Hebrides on order to avoid air raids was the first air raid casualty of the war, the RAF dropping a bomb there by mistake. Good if true.

    [bold mine]

  4. Yes, I wondered what he meant by ‘good if true’. Schadenfreude, eh…

  5. The RAF don’t drop many bombs “by mistake”. Friendly fire, as far as one can judge, is mainly an American thing.

    Perhaps the unfortunate woman was a German or Italian spy?

  6. The Ridger says:

    The RAF may have dropped the bomb to get rid of it if bringing in a damaged plane – after all, the island was meant to be uninhabited.

    I expect what Orwell meant was that anyone who runs away (note the ref to “cowardly way” above) deserves to get bombed, and that the story is a good one if it’s true (here, “good” would include some sense of funny and pointed).

  7. I suspect the bomb, if there was one (I can’t find any corroboration), was dropped by accident.

    Orwell’s ecstatic response to this tragedy was a result of his hatred of the woman for having saved by bits and pieces enough of her egg money over the years to get as far from London as she could and still remain in the UK. There’s probably a hatred for RAF pilots, as well.

    Of course it is well known that American pilots intentionally dropped bombs on American archipelagos with great frequency.

  8. itwasntme says:

    Good to know that friendly fire mistakes are made by the us Yanks only. I wonder why, as our perpetual allies, you don’t give us the word on how it’s done.

  9. That Hebridean woman could have been the future me. The Luftwaffe dropped one of its bombs on the house next door to my that of my grandparents on the way back to Germany having not found the target in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The bomb killed the two elderly occupants.

    We, and I include George, must always remember that when we kill someone we kill not only them but we kill all future descendants that that person, in this case the potential descendants od a peace loving Hebridean woman. How many might she have had? The figure could run into hundreds or even thousands.

  10. I must say, after waiting almost two years for Orwell to actually say something (not including his concurrent writings) so that I could get into his head, he certainly hasn’t disappointed but, now that I’m there, I’m not sure what’s going on in here.

    He seems just a bit misanthropic at first glance after which there is an avalanche of adjectives for me to ponder.

  11. wordsmithsuk says:

    What does he mean by ‘unblimping’? It is a reference to Colonel Blimp? This is cartoon character who barges about causing terrible havoc but never sees what is going on in his wake.

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  13. truth is life says:

    What does he mean by ‘unblimping’? It is a reference to Colonel Blimp? This is cartoon character who barges about causing terrible havoc but never sees what is going on in his wake.

    Exactly–getting rid of the “blimpish” elements in the British Army. In other words, getting competent and more ideologically pleasing (for Orwell) officers, especially in the middle roles (colonels, lieutenant colonels, brigadier generals, and so on).

  14. Yes. I hadn’t been aware of Colonel Blimp before I read The Lion and the Unicorn but therein I was given a vivid image by Orwell.

    This is from the Wikipedia entry for Colonel Blimp:

    In his 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn”, Orwell referred to two important sub-sections of the middle class, one of which was the military and imperialistic middle class, nicknamed the Blimps, and characterised by the “half-pay colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain”. He added that they had been losing their vitality over the past thirty years, “writhing impotently under the changes that were happening.”

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