Diary of Events Leading Up to the War

2 July 1939 – 3 September 1939

This Diary of Events Leading Up to the War is, in the main, a handwritten list of extracts from newspapers from 2 July to 1 September 1939, the day Germany invaded Poland. It concludes with a summary dated 3 September, the day Britain declared war on Germany following Germany’s refusal to withdraw from Poland. No record was made for ten of the days covered by this Diary. However, items for days not specifically recorded were sometimes included later. After the break from 25 to 27 August, there is a summary on the 28th. The manuscript comprises fifty-five pages, each page being divided horizontally, the upper half recording events and the lower half the source of information; the pages are divided into five columns headed Foreign & General, Social, Party Politics, Miscellaneous, and Remarks. Except for 24August (to which two pages are devoted) there is only one page per day. The writing is often small and cramped. The allocation of topics and the arrangement of the information as reproduced here are sometimes arbitrary but they are Orwell’s. When Orwell gives a source and date, the source is noted in square brackets but the date is given only if it differs from that at the head of the section. Orwell’s remarks follow the item to which they refer and are marked ‘[Orwell’s note]’. Some very slight corrections have been made silently.

Orwell quotes from forty-one sources for the 297 items. Of these, 138 (46.5%) are from the Daily Telegraph. There is a notable increase in references to The Times and the News Chronicle (which tended to share the stance of the Liberal Party) and a proportionate decrease in references to the Daily Telegraph when Orwell went to stay with L. H. Myers at Ringwood on 24 August. Orwell evidently looked to the Daily Telegraph for factual information during these months. Of these sources, Socialist Correspondence and Revolutionary Proletarian are worth some attention. The first was run by a ‘right-wing opposition’ within the left-wing ILP.  Members were followers of Nikolai Bukharin, victim of a show trial in 1938 and then executed. Among its members was W.W. Sawyer, a mathematician at Manchester University and author of the popular Penguin book, Mathematician’s Delight. Socialist Correspondence was an octavo of eight to sixteen pages, some which were blank but marked ‘To Let’, and described itself as ‘An Organ of Marxist Theory’. Revolutionary Proletarian was La Révolution Prolétarienne, founded 1 January 1925; suspended after issue 301, 25 August 1939; issue 302 was published in April 1947. Its line was anti-Stalinist. In its issue 255, 25 September 1937, it published the French translation of Orwell’s ‘Eye-Witness in Barcelona’ on the suppression of the POUM in Barcelona which the News Statesman had refused to publish, but which was taken by the ILP journal, Controversy (see CW, XI, pp.54-60). For further details, see CW, XI, pp.362-3.

Peter Davison, from George Orwell: Diaries (Penguin in paperback, Harvill Secker in hardback)

Where possible, images of the articles Orwell refers to are provided. We are extremely grateful to Telegraph Media Group, Guardian News and Media, Solo Syndication (for Associated Newspapers) and News International Syndication for giving us permission to reproduce the articles online, and to the staff at the British Newspaper Library in Colindale for their invaluable help.

Gavin Freeguard

2 Responses to Diary of Events Leading Up to the War

  1. Pingback: 2.7.39. « THE ORWELL PRIZE

  2. Pingback: 10.7.39 « THE ORWELL PRIZE

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