September 3. Britain declared war on Germany. It was inevitable.
Two days earlier German troops invaded Poland. As Hitler's legions
struck from the west, Russia invaded from the east and the two
powers carved up Poland between them. Britain had warned that
any German attack on the Poles would mean war. Two hours after
our declaration of hostilities at 3pm, the French government also
declared war on Germany.
In Britain, the mood was quite unlike that of 1914. The carnage
of the First World War was still fresh in the memory. This time
there was no wild rejoicing and no promises that it would all
be over by Christmas. Rather, there was a grim determination to
sort out Hitler as quickly as possible. Neither Britain nor France
was in any position to go directly to Poland's aid and for the
following weeks, many dubbed the European crisis "the phoney war."
Barely a month after the declaration of war, the British Expeditionary
Force of 158,000 men and 25,000 vehicles slipped undetected across
the Channel to take up positions alongside the French. It was
a polished, professional operation and not a single casualty was
suffered. RAF fighters and bombers flew across to French airfields
in preparation for the blitzkrieg that must surely come.
July 17. Although all eyes were on Poland, it was a year
when the enemy within was still busy and the West Midlands was
among the targets. The IRA brought violence to British towns and
cities, including Wolverhampton. This was the scene at the Low
Level station after an IRA bomb exploded.
bomb exploded at 5.33 am. No-one was injured but two GWR employees
had lucky escapes. In Coventry, five people were killed in the
worst bomb explosion since the IRA began its campaign eight months
The bomb exploded in the city's main shopping street just before
2.30pm. Cars were overturned, shopfronts shattered, handbags and
children's toys scattered everywhere.
August 30. The evacuation of more than 1.5 million children
began leaving Britain's towns and cities strangely silent. Schools
were the reception centres for the great exodus with fleets of
buses ferrying the youngsters to mainline train stations.
Parents were told to send them off with no more than a change
of clothes, toothbrush, comb, handkerchief and enough food for
the day. The first three days, during which a million youngsters
were moved out, was seen as a triumph of government organisation
- not a single child was reported missing or injured. Stories
were already coming back of country folk's shock at the verminous
state of some of the children from city slums. Many of the townie
teenies were similarly unimpressed with their new surroundings.
June 4. Hopes of rescuing 79 men stuck for three days
on board a submarine in Liverpool Bay were lost when the vessel
sank. The Thetis, the Royal Navy's latest vessel, was being tested
at the time. The Navy sent 21 warships to the scene as plans were
made to to cut a hole in her hull. Eight men managed to escape,
four of them through a hatch, but the crew could not close it
again and the vessel slowly filled with water. Everyone else on
board, including a civilian trials team, drowned.
August 18. Despite everything, this was a great year
for Hollywood with several enduring classics being premiered.
The film Wizard of Oz opened in New York, making an overnight
star of its leading actress, the 17-year-old Judy Garland. She
played Kansas youngster Dorothy who goes off to see the wizard
with a scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion. Garland's rendition
of Over The Rainbow was an instant hit. Clark Gable and Vivien
Leigh starred in Gone With The Wind, a tale of sweeping romance
set against the American Civil War, another major box-office success.
January 28. Scientists split the
atom with the discovery of a new radioactive process - nuclear
fission. It was thought possible to use the process to produce
weapons of unprecedented power.
February 8. Peers passed the Bastardy
Bill, making blood tests compulsory in paternity suits.
February 20. Nylon stockings went
on sale for the first time in America at a cost of around
five shillings a pair.
March 29. Chamberlain unveiled
plans to double the size of the Territorial Army to a total
of 340,000 men.
March 30. In New York, Hitler's
nephew, William Hitler, called his uncle "a menace".
April 11. Darts were banned in
Glasgow pubs because they were considered "too dangerous".
April 29. Wolverhampton Wanderers were
beaten 4-1 in the FA Cup Final.
June 26. Public executions were
abolished in France.
July 1. Taking advantage of the
lack of parking in Wolverhampton town centre, a new 9d-a-mile
taxi service was launched in the town aimed at women shoppers.
July 20. Wolverhampton MP Geoffrey
Mander told Parliament that Government immigration policy
was leaving Jews with no escape from Hitler's Germany other
than by illegal immigration to Palestine.
July 27. With war looming, Bilston
Town Council said it was unhappy with Staffordshire County
Council's plans to deal with air raids and threatened to go
Band leader Glen Miller recorded the song In The Mood.
August 18. After the death of seven-year-old
Edward Barratt in Bloxwich, deputy coroner J H S Addison
calls for all disused pit-shafts in the area to be filled
in. Edward drowned after falling into a pit 60 feet deep
In Berlin, two Britons were arrested for involvement in
a failed bomb attempt on Hitler's life.