3 September 1939 The Western Allies declare war on Germany

In response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1 September, two days later Britain and France both declared war with Germany.  The news was announced by the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on BBC radio.  The Western Allies began a naval blockade of Germany and France sent limited direct military support to Poland.

Samuel Rich, in what he called his “journal of a minor Anglo-Jewish communal official”, chronicled his feelings about this new conflict .  Rich (1877-1949)  worked for most of his life as a teacher at the Jews’ Free School and he was also a lay minister at the South London Liberal Jewish Synagogue.  He had already lived through one world war; his entry from the 1 September shows he knew war was imminent: “For the 2nd time in my life a major war torments us all. How long this time?”   

Samuel Rich’s diary entry from 3 September shows his shock at the necessity of gas masks for babies:

 “Josy Civval came in – I cut him sandwiches. His gas mask doesn’t fit; – so like Amy, he went to the A.R.P. at the Ch. Hall, & got another. At the Hall in the aftn. we found Cooper superintending the issue of babies’ gas masks! – Babies’ gas masks!”

MS 168 AJ217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 3 September 1939

4 September 1939 S.S. Athenia – the first ship torpedoed in World War II

“An air raid warning at 10 to 3 A.M.! We are getting used to it. Down to the recess in the hall, wh. I judge to be the least vulnerable to splinters & the effects of blast… Roosevelt broadcast neutrality – and on its heels cam the news of torpedoed Athenia. Our gas masks slung on our shoulders we went shopping… I write this diary as & when I get the chance, during the day – at odd times. If I get bombed it will be made up till my extinction. If not, & we survive this horror, it will serve as a record.”

MS 168 AJ217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 4 September 1939

5 September 1939 At a time without 24 hour news, Samuel feel poorly informed

“Stagnation. Another day on which I’ve done nothing… The war news is tenuous & what there is, mysterious… The usual “dim” evening, with tea, news, whiskey, music, talk…”

MS 168 AJ217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 5 September 1939

6 September 1939 There are long air raid warning but no bombs and Samuel feels helpless and anxious

“Awaked at 6.45 by air raid warning. I.C. already down filly dressed, with tea. The morning very fine. The all clear didn’t sound till past 9. Air raid wardens w. anti-gas clothes – the silvery balloons, the pale half-moon, the blue sky, the neighbours… My feeling of helpless stagnation remains – I suppose it’s a sublimation of fear. I cd only do the Times X word; nothing else, altho’ much needs doing. Supper in the dim kitchen. Followed by an hr or so in the dim lounge: this, I suppose will be the normal daily routine. What a life!”

MS 168 AJ217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 6 September 1939

7 September 1939 The Rich family’s evening improved with some superior black out curtains

“Amy had a brain wave in the night: to get the old Prentis Hall curtains from the synagogue for supplementary use in our dining room… The dark curtains were a most effective black out. We were able to have full ordinary lighting, not a tiny crack showing outside. Mr & Mrs Parker came in & inspected the arrangement.”

MS 168 AJ217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 7 September 1939



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