August 18. France had fallen to the Nazi onslaught. The
British escaped by the skin of their teeth in the miraculous evacuation
of more than 300,000 from the beaches at Dunkirk.
On August 18 the long-awaited Battle of Britain began as German
bombers tried to knock out airfields in the south of England in
preparation for their invasion, codenamed Operation Sealion. The
odds were on the Germans by sheer weight of numbers. A crucial
difference was that British pilots shot down over the UK could
be back in action almost at once; Germans went straight into captivity.
huge losses, the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering attacked
the radar stations which were directing RAF formations against
his bomber fleets. But his Stuka dive-bombers, the symbol of Nazi
terror in Europe, were no match for Britain's legendary Spitfires
and Hurricanes. Although many British airfields were pounded,
Goering was unable to dominate the skies. On August 25 the first
German bombs fell on London.
The following night the RAF bombed Berlin. Hitler was furious
and ordered an immediate onslaught on London. The Blitz had begun.
The capital blazed by day and night. London and other cities,
notably Coventry, were ravaged. Tens of thousands of British civilians
died in bombing raids.
March 7. It should have been a splendid occasion but,
instead, the maiden voyage of the liner Queen Elizabeth ended
quietly as she sailed into New York which was to provide her,
literally, with a safe harbour for the duration of the war. Painted
in drab grey and fitted with an anti-mine device, the 85,000-ton
ship sped across the Atlantic at 24 knots. She was yet to be completed.
July 23. The new Local Defence Volunteers were renamed,
at Churchill's suggestion, the Home Guard. An Express & Star
reporter observed the first training session of a newly formed
unit in a garage yard in a Midland town.
"Their instructor was a soldier of the last war who, if the
truth be told, had never handled anything but a short Enfield
rifle in the previous spot of bother and who, besides finding
the Canadian model slightly unfamiliar, had to confess that he
had forgotten some of the finer points of rifle drill himself
for the moment.
"The men managed very well for the first try-out, though the
squad of half-a-dozen recruits included one man not much taller
than the rifle itself, another who was such a lightweight that
when he slung it across his body to shoulder it the weight almost
knocked him down, and another who simply could not persuade his
hand to grasp the weapon the right way round when he canted it
up from the 'order' position.
"But the instructor, no doubt only too alive to the rustiness
of his own military accomplishments, wisely made no attempt to
indulge in the sarcastic pleasantries which he distinctly recalled
having been exercised just over 20 years ago at his own early
March 1. Vivien Leigh won an Academy Award for her memorable
performance as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, the most
sought-after role in movies. Her casting caused waves in Hollywood
as she was relatively unknown at the time and was chosen ahead
of leading actresses of the day.
May 10. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, whose father
Joseph had been possibly Birmingham's finest Lord Mayor, resigned
after Parliament and the people had become disillusioned by his
conduct of the war. The hasty withdrawal from Norway had removed
his last remaining shred of credit. There was little doubt about
his successor. Winston Churchill had been a great success as First
Lord of the Admiralty and was a master of public relations. He
formed his government the same day.
January 2. About 200,000 Soviet
troops launched a new offensive against Finland.
February 23. Russia presented Finland
with peace terms.
March 16. The first British civilian
died in an air raid in Scotland.
April 9. Hitler's forces invaded
Denmark and Norway. The "phoney war" was over
May 10. Germany invaded Holland
May 27. The Bishop of Lichfield,
Dr E. S. Woods, declared that using force to fight Nazism
was right and urged Christians to prepare for "the fiery
ordeal" of war.
June 4. Operation Dynamo, the evacuation
of British and French troops from Dunkirk, was over.
June 17. Rubery Owen of Darlaston
voted 500 towards the Express & Star's Spitfire Fund.
July 3. The Royal Navy sank French
warships in Algeria to prevent them falling into Germans
hands. Some 1,000 French sailors were killed.
August 26. First RAF raid on Berlin.
Hitler was furious with his Luftwaffe chief, Goering, who
had promised that the RAF could never reach Berlin.
September 2. Midland wool shops
reported a sudden surge in demand as local women took to
knitting clothes while in the air-raid shelters.
September 15. British forces inflicted
heavy losses on Italian troops in North Africa.
September 26. A Brierley Hill man
was fined 10s (50p) for breaking blackout regulations by
flashing a torch at the sky and threatening to knife anyone
who came near him.
October 9. John Lennon, the future
Beatle, was born.
October 25. Subject to war censorship,
the Express & Star reported how nurses "at a West Midland
hospital" formed a chain of buckets to deal with incendiary
bombs the night before.