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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

War nerves

Wednesday, March 27th., Yacht Club, London.

Yesterday the brothers McKenna at Reform Club on bad war news.

Reginald McKenna (1863-1943) was educated privately and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he obtained a degree in mathematics in 1885. A member of the Liberal Party, McKenna won North Monmouthshire in the 1895 General Election. In the government formed by Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1905, McKenna was appointed as Secretary to the Treasury. This was followed by a year as President of the Board of Education. McKenna also served as First Lord of the Admiralty (1908-1911), Home Secretary (1911-1915) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1915 - 1916) under Herbert Asquith. McKenna was totally opposed to conscription and left the government after it was introduced by David Lloyd George in 1916. Like most Liberals that stayed loyal to Asquith, McKenna lost his seat in the 1918 General Election. After the election he retired from public life. See also 'Absolute Five Towns' - March 24th.

They came in together. I said "The Brothers" and they sat down with me, and asked if I'd been to any newspaper offices to get news. "My god! It's awful," said Ernest, in a quiet, disgusted, immensely pessimistic tone. I referred to Spender's two articles that day. Ernest said Spender was a good man, kept his nerve - but Reginald looked at the first article, saw one line, and said: "Now, I read nothing but that. The man who will say that - " etc. Ernest said: "There's only one thing to do. Call Parliament together at once and get more men." Reginald repeated this after him. They had evidently been long talking together and had exactly the same ideas on everything. "Robertson was right. Jellicoe was right," said Reggie oracularly. "Robertson is on the beach. Jellicoe is on the beach. In order to be on the beach you only have to be absolutely right." I have no idea what they meant by this, but it obviously meant a lot to them. Perhaps brothers who are close develop a way of communicating ideas which is perfectly intelligible to them but impenetrable to the rest of us?

Lunch at Sidney and Beatrice Webb's today. (See also 'Strolling about - February 4th.) Webb said his wife couldn't sleep on account of the war news, and he had to exaggerate his usual tranquil optimism in order to keep the household together. It was one of the rare human touches I have noticed in the said household. However, they were soon off on to the misdeeds of the Reconstruction Committee. I was told that certain of the staff of the 'Department of Information' had resigned when Beaverbrook was appointed minister over them, refusing to serve under 'that ignorant man'. They won, and were transferred to the Foreign Office - one more instance of the hand-to-mouthism of Ll. George. Went to Reform Club to see papers. Massingham was so gloomy he could scarcely speak. (See also 'A curious mixture' - March 15th.) The brothers McKenna came in, intensely pessimistic. I was rather ashamed of them. Spender's two articles in the Westminster were A1 for fortitude and wisdom. I think more and more highly of this man. (See also 'Writers for Peace - February 11th.)

On March 21, 1918, near the Somme River in France, the German army launched its first major offensive on the Western Front in two years. At the beginning of 1918, Germany's position on the battlefields of Europe looked extremely strong, with conflict in the east drawing to a close, leaving the Central Powers free to focus on combating the British and French in the west. Russia's exit had allowed Germany to shift no fewer than 44 divisions of men to the Western Front. German commander Erich Ludendorff saw this as a crucial opportunity to launch a new offensive--he hoped to strike a decisive blow to the Allies and convince them to negotiate for peace before fresh troops from the United States could arrive. In November, he submitted his plan for the offensive that what would become known as Kaiserschlacht, or the kaiser's battle; Ludendorff code-named the opening operation Michael. Morale in the German army rose in reaction to the planned offensive. Many of the soldiers believed, along with their commanders, that the only way to go home was to push ahead. Michael began in the early morning hours of March 21, 1918. The attack came as a relative surprise to the Allies, as the Germans had moved quietly into position just days before the bombardment began. From the beginning, it was more intense than anything yet seen on the Western Front. Ludendorff had worked with experts in artillery to create an innovative, lethal ground attack, featuring a quick, intense artillery bombardment followed by the use of various gases, first tear gas, then lethal phosgene and chlorine gases. He also coordinated with the German Air Service or Luftstreitkrafte, to maximize the force of the offensive.
By the end of the first day, German troops had advanced more than four miles and inflicted almost 30,000 British casualties. As panic swept up and down the British lines of command over the next few days, the Germans gained even more territory. By the time the Allies hardened their defence at the end of the month, Ludendorff's army had crossed the Somme River and broken through enemy lines near the juncture between the British and French trenches. By the time Ludendorff called off the first stage of the offensive in early April, German guns were trained on Paris, and their final, desperate attempt to win World War I was in full swing. 

Then to flat to dine. Electricity not working there. Gloom of candles. Marguerite very gloomy about the war. This sort of thing always makes me cheerful.

Sybil Colefax gave me a very good description of the All Clear Signal in a few words at dinner.

Sibyl, Lady Colefax (1874 – 1950) was a notable English interior decorator and socialite in the first half of the twentieth century.

She said she was walking with her husband in the streets towards the end of a raid. Everything was quite silent. Then the searchlights began winking the "All clear" all about the sky. Then the sound of the "All clear" bugles was heard. Then the footsteps of a man. Then the footsteps of ten people, of twenty, of a hundred. The town was alive again.

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