Britain at war: ‘quiet living has ended’ – archive, September 1939

4 September 1939: And now the darkness of war falls on us but nothing can give us more confidence than the manner in which in these last days parliament has represented the spirit of the people

Adolf Hitler observes German troops crossing the Vistula River during the invasion of Poland near Chelmno, northern Poland, September 1939. Photograph: National Digital Archive Poland/EPA

We are now at war and there is no further room for argument. Quiet living has ended; we are plunged into a new world of desperate hopes and fears. Yet for the last act none of us can have any regrets. There was no other way. Conciliation was open to the end. Hitler would have none of it. The British Government held its hand for a day and a half after its warning. The French Government gave even longer time for a final gesture from Germany. Italy played a part (not yet known in detail) in trying to secure a cessation of hostilities. It was all to no effect. The German Government let the sands run out. It had counted the risks and it took them. It deliberately chose to bring calamity on Europe. And now the darkness of war falls on us, broken only by occasional flashes of vital news, a darkness in which our part is to work with patience, trust, and energy. Nothing can give us more confidence than the manner in which in these last days Parliament has represented the spirit of the people. It has been the great justification of the democratic principle and of the liberty and freedom for which we have taken up arms.

The Prime Minister played his sad part with high dignity and restraint; responsibility tied him. But through the Opposition leaders the eager spirit of the nation was able to find less fettered expression. The Commons did credit to their history by their passionate demand that there should be no shadow of vacillation in our policy. There was none, of course, but it was well that the magnificent unity of the British people should be so clearly demonstrated. It was the same with all the war legislation – conscription and the rest – which Parliament put through with such speed. The thing has to be seen through.

Many of us might have liked to see this unity translated at once into the personnel of the Government. Evidently that stage has not yet come, and we may fully acknowledge that there are good arguments for the course that the Labour and Liberal parties are taking. They do not shirk responsibility, and it may well be that for some time at least they can be of better service as a co-operating but none the less critical Opposition than as parts of a single machine. Mr. Greenwood, in whom Labour has had a leader in this crisis of whom it and the country may be proud, put it well when he said that

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