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(Send my letters to Randolph Gardens as usual).
My dear kids,
I can just imagine how you are feeling in the midst of all this awful confusion & horror - isn't Hitler the lousiest louse on the loose? Words fail me, & I do hope this new 4 power conference today will settle things peacefully AND finally - you've no idea how awful this dithering & suspense is here in London - but before I proceed to tell you all the things that are happening I want you not to worry about me, Mill - you'll have enough to worry about if we go to war, the boys will join up - so don't get all of a frenzy about me - first & foremost, after all my fears - oh yes, I must confess, we've had some awful moments, this gas business & Air Raid precautions is enough to force upon folk the horrors in London in a war on modern lines - we've really been terribly upset, wondering what is the best thing to do - of course we'll join up if necessary, but in the meantime it is rather terrifying. Nellie is in an awful stew - she is due to sail in 10 days & can do nothing about it - she feels she can't go home if war does come & then if she doesn't go on this chance, there are no berths available on ships to Australia until January - we've just been sitting round in the flat in our free time listening to the news over the wireless - hearing Mr Chamberlain's speech & etc. - I just couldn't help thinking of you all when I was listening to it - knowing you would hear it & how you would feel - Nellie & I felt as if our last hour had come - we immediately packed all our gear, just keeping out very necessary things & decided we were ready for anything that should arise - you see, we may suddenly have been shot off anywhere - in the meantime she is carrying on her job & I'm still with my old Canon - you remember, the old boy left the Clinic & has been staying in town - just opposite Kensington Gardens, at the Whitehall Hotel. All I have had to do is go in morning & evening, washout his antrums - take him to the Dr in Harley St. every second day - all for the usual full fees - the rest of the day I've been getting in all the sights of London I hadn't seen & just strolling round town, seeing & hearing everyone's reaction to this awful situation - this however came to such a pitch & after Mr Chamberlain's speech on Tuesday night the old boy got the breeze up & decided to leave London for Oxford next day - so here I am - with them until Monday - then I finish up & return to town. Oxford is lovelier, much more so than I expected & I'm awfully lucky to be seeing it at someone else's expense & you remember I told you my old boy is an Oxford Don - they put great stock by such things here. He is a very big shot - Tutor of Oriel College & of course they are going to take me all over the inside & outside of the Colleges - 22 in all. This morn we visited Oriel & I'm very thrilled. 'Tis hard to imagine how peaceful & far away war seems here after London - in a way I'm rather regretful to be out of town - but things have quietened down so considerably that I've seen all the worst & most anxious moments I hope - anyway - Another thing my pets I shall always be terribly glad I was in London at a time like this - no one, unless actually witnessing such things, can have any idea how close to the centre of things is London - all England I should say. I have no intention of leaving - even if anything does happen - I just must be in the centre of things - so my pets don't worry, for whatever happens to me always remember I would never have it otherwise - of course I feel awful & far away from you all, but deep in my heart, even if I had to choose - I would unhesitatingly stay here, even if I am gassed - so please don't think another thing about me. I was going to cable you if war broke out, not to worry, all is well - now, of course at Oxford, I am more than safe - this as I say I rather resent, but even here I can do my bit - in between times I'm free all day so I go down to the A.R.P. depot & help them with gas masks, measurements, fittings & etc. so I'm being of some use, & my old boy doesn't mind - he's quite well & I only have about 1 hours' work all told for him.
Now I shall tell you how very near to war we've been here - for the past week things have been pretty serious without any very evident signs - Hyde Park has been filled with orators of every shape - hot-headed arguments are being carried on - the English for the first time are relaxing & chatting to each other in a human & friendly fashion. But to the last man the general public are behind Czechoslovakia after Hitler's speech & attitude - there is no question as to where the root of the trouble is & everyone is anxious to stop Hitler's gallop & dictatorship of Europe at once even if it means war - and I agree - if we give in we're done, it only means more arming, more taxes & etc. whilst he is at large in Europe. Now is the time to stop the beast for always. I'm so afraid Mr Chamberlain will weaken at Munich today - I think we should have sent Anthony Eden along with him - just to spite Mussolini & Hitler - they produce their Goerings & von Ribbontrops & we should produce our Edens - its rather amusing to contemplate the picture - Anthony Eden suddenly walking in to the midst of proceedings - Hitler & Musso would do a spot of snarling & gnashing - like his hostile speech the other day.
Well my pets - Monday was a day of activity here - all the A.R.P. Sections were opened & the recruiting stations began operations - just unofficially, we heard the Territorials had been called up & really we did get scared - we went & got fitted for our gas masks & packed all our rubbish in case of emergency. On Tuesday the anti aircraft guns were erected in Hyde Park & all my lovely lawns in Kensington Gardens & Parks everywhere are being dug up for trenches - can't you imagine how I felt when I saw the anti aircraft guns being swung into position - very grim & uncompromising sandbags are being carted everywhere & all the lovely old stained glass windows & etc. are being covered with galvanised iron - posters were up everywhere requesting everyone to remain calm & dig - then of course the King's message to his people, really I've never been so upset in my life - my old boy told me to get quite a large sum of money out of the bank & prepare to come to Oxford with them - they got alarmed - off I trotted & got £15 out - queued up for 3 hours to get fitted & get my gas mask - Nellie & I were almost in a frenzy - all the poor mothers with tiny babies & children terrified of the awful appearance of the masks - heavens you should see us in our masks - we look like prehistoric monsters, but oh, the comfort of having them - heaven knows however we shall keep them on - the smell of rubber is awful & the heat ghastly - still I'm not so afraid of gas as those incendiary bombs - I went up into the city to see all I could & found miles of men all joining up at the Mansion House recruiting station & the most pathetic sight - about 20 young lads about 18 years or so, all joined the army, getting off with their kitbags, new uniforms, caps & etc. in their hands - trailing behind the sergeant major, poor devils looked very forlorn, but quite determined - this sight reduced me almost to tears - England isn't being amused at this moment - she is very grim & determined AND heroic, I s'pose.
Tuesday night & Mr Chamberlain's speech was the end - over the air came the news for everyone not to be alarmed about mobilisation orders & etc. and never will I forget Wednesday September 28th 1938 until I die - I had to go round to the Hotel, pack up my old boy's gear, get him to Harley St at 12 noon then we had to catch the train to Oxford at 2pm. The King had signed the mobilisation orders for the Fleet - all the Reserves & Territorials had been called up & many school children had been ordered to leave town - the old boy had me scared stiff - he was preparing to abandon our luggage if needs be & all sorts of alarming things - I had visions of dragging to Oxford almost naked, but hanging frantically onto my gas mask - for this reason we decided we would get to Paddington Station as soon as possible - thank heaven we did - for the place was thick with people - mostly women & children going off to the country, poor husbands seeing off their families - really it was awfully pathetic - old ladies getting away - many of them without anyone to see them off, dragging luggage as best they could - it was impossible to get porters - all the Naval Reservists were there getting down to their stations, many of them middle-aged men who obviously were in the last war - really & truly I shall never forget the sight of Paddington Station yesterday - groups of poor school children -with their worldly possessions in bags & a blanket each, all decked out in their Macintoshes & rubber boots - clutching their toys as well as their gear - can't you imagine how their parents must have felt sending them off to school like that, wondering when they would see them again - the kids were very good, tho', they are very restrained & stolid, English kids - no fuss & no tears - very little normal healthy excitement about them either - really I felt like tears every new little batch I saw arriving, poor people as well as wealthy ones - with their belongings in the perambulator & basket sort of thing, it was like the 'Last Train from Madrid' - did you see that picture? - only without the shooting. We parked Mrs Simpson on the luggage until it was out of the way& then the old boy & I helped all the frantic travellers with their children, luggage & etc. until our train was due to leave - believe me it is strenuous work being a luggage porter, nursemaid & etc. but bits of barley sugar helped with the youngsters considerably, so I kept my pockets full - maybe bribing is bad but 'tis useful at times like these - however it is the only sensible thing to do, send all the children & old people out of London - one poor old lady I helped was on her way to Devon - she had 3 daughters in London married, but their husbands were all in the Territorials & the poor old lady said - "I couldn't let my daughters come with me, they are busy ironing & getting their husbands' clothes together to go to camp - an old lady like me is only a hindrance in town if there is a war" - really it is awful & this of course is nothing to France & Prague - my heart bleeds for Czechoslovakia - when I think of all the lovliness of Prague, the nice folk I met - I could bash Hitler - but oh I'm glad they stood up to him - the way he abused Dr Benes [second President of Czechoslovakia] in his speech was beastly - didn't you think? We heard his speech in German & he was roaring & shouting & almost sobbing at times - just like a madman - as tho' he were an enraged, badly spoilt kid who couldn't get what he wanted. Anyway, I hope & pray Mr Chamberlain won't give in to him too much more - especially as he has done so well up to date - good hunting to him anyway.
I've tried to tell you a few things about the state of affairs in London during the crisis, but 'tis impossible for you to imagine - I shall fill in the bits when I see you next - but I'm so glad I have been here in the thick of everything -I can be of some use at times like this - it really brings out the very best in everyone & people are grand - so you see my pets - whatever happens to me, I shall never regret this - that is why you are not to be worried my pets - just forget your daughter is here - only write AND write --
I simply must stop & get this off - I'm off to do a spot more helping - I can't join the A.R.P. properly yet, but I can assist.
Best of love to you all & write very soon - pardon the scrawl but time is against me as usual -
All my love,