October 30. A remote Egyptian railway stop called El Alamein
passed into history. It was here that Britain's General Bernard
Montgomery, universally known as Monty, unleashed his offensive
against the German Afrika Korps.
was a veteran of the First World War and was haunted by the carnage
he had seen as Tommies made fruitless attacks against impregnable
positions. At Alamein he waited until he had overwhelming superiority
in tanks, aircraft and men.
The battle opened with one of the heaviest artillery bombardments
in history. Army engineers crawled forward to uncover mines by
hand and British troops and tanks poured through the gaps to take
The north African campaign involved only a tiny fraction of
Hitler's divisions; most were involved in the bitter fighting
on the Russian front. Nor was it a pushover. As Monty's attack
stalled, the advance demanded enormous sacrifices, particularly
among British tanks crews.
But it was a victory which mattered out of all proportion to
its tangible gains. Back home, it was the first good news for
ages in a year which had seen the fall of the huge British garrison
in Singapore and the carnage of the ill-fated Dieppe Raid. And
after Alamein, there were no more significant defeats.
As Churchill said of Alamein: "This is not the end. It is not
even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of
September 2. German SS troops launched a killing campaign
in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw, exterminating 50,000 Jews over
the ensuing weeks.
Soldiers bombarded the walled enclave with grenades and flame-throwers
as part of the "clearing" operation.
The week before, Himmler had ordered the liquidation of all
Jewish ghettoes, an order of huge significance to Poland where
there resided more than a quarter of the eight million Jews registered
in Europe at the outbreak of war.
Mass starvation had haunted the Polish capital which had been
taken by the Germans in 1939. Many Jews had simply died of hunger
under the murderous Nazi regime.
In the latest outrage, many Jews refused to be removed to their
certain deaths in gas chambers or concentration camps. Instead
they chose to die in the ghetto, either staying in their burning
homes or jumping from roofs.
February 18. People were urged to use only five inches
of hot water in their baths and take fewer of them, leading to
the marking of a "plimsoll line" on tubs up and down the country
- even, allegedly, those in Buckingham Palace.
Shared baths were also encouraged in this "waste not" regime
prompted by the fuel crisis. It was just as well, for soap had
been rationed to a bar a month. Only miners escaped the restriction
with ration-free soap on tap at their pithead baths.
Shaving soap was unrestricted but, like razor blades, in short
supply. People were advised to resharpen their old blades by sliding
them around the insides of glass tumblers.Unfortunately, glass
tumblers were in even shorter supply. Women were driven to use
beetroot juice for lipstick, soot for eye make-up and gravy browning
for silk stockings.
March 3. Hemlines went up as fabric rationing hit the
fashion industry and dictated trends. The Board of Trade introduced
a new utility cloth and fashion became a strictly no-frills business
for men as well as women. Out went double-breasted jackets, trouser
turn-ups and sleeve buttons. In came utility suits made by authorised
tailors for a standard price.Out, too, went embroidery on women's
underwear and nightwear.
October 16. Unnecessary travel between Wolverhampton
and Birmingham by shoppers was criticised in a report of the Select
Committee on National Expenditure. Earlier closing was necessary,
said the report, so that both shop assistants and customers could
get home before the 5pm rush of factory workers. Other recommendations
included publicity campaigns to stress the importance of diverting
more traffic from the roads to the railways. A census of factory
workers showed evidence of unnecessary travelling particularly
between large, industrial towns such as Wolverhampton and Birmingham.