chapter  2
War and resistance
By1939–45
Pages 6

Clement Attlee, the British Labour leader, recovering from an operation, was playing a leisurely game of golf in North Wales on 3 September 1939, when he heard the news that Britain had declared war on Germany. It is not recorded whether he continued.1 His parliamentary colleague, young Welsh firebrand Aneurin Bevan, greeted the news by playing Spanish Republican marching songs on his gramophone.2 Young German Social Democrat Willy Brandt, exiled in Norway, was on stand-by editorial duty at the Norwegian socialist paper Arbeiderbladet on that day. Over the radio he heard British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announce that a ‘state of war’ existed with Germany because Hitler had failed to respond to the British ultimatum to withdraw from Poland, which had been invaded by German forces two days earlier. Brandt was astonished at how casually his superiors took the announcement.3 They had become used to the appeasement of Nazi Germany by Britain and France, and were too shaken by the Hitler-Stalin Pact to expect any decisive action. In neutral Norway, and in most other places in Europe, ‘Life went on much as usual’4 from September 1939 to April 1940. This was the period of the ‘phoney war’ when there was little military activity.