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Aug. 23, 1939: Britain is ready for war

The Story


On Aug. 23, 1939, one thing is alarmingly clear: war is inevitable, and it is coming soon. In this excerpt from a BBC news report, we hear live coverage of the day's emergency session of British parliamentary speeches as they occur. Reporters break off their commentary intermittently to quote speeches by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, foreign secretary Lord Halifax and Opposition leader Arthur Greenwood. As one reporter sums up, the politicians are adamant: "if Germany drives through her attack on Poland ... the British fight.

Medium: Radio
Program: BBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Aug. 23, 1939
Duration: 29:59
Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Did You know?


• On Aug. 23, 1939, one thing is alarmingly clear: war is inevitable, and it is coming soon. In this excerpt from a BBC news report, we hear live coverage of the day's emergency session of British parliamentary speeches as they occur.
Reporters break off their commentary intermittently to quote speeches by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, foreign secretary Lord Halifax and Opposition leader Arthur Greenwood. As one reporter sums up, the politicians are adamant: "if Germany drives through her attack on Poland ... the British fight."

• By Aug. 23, 1939, it was clear there wasn't a lot of hope left for a peaceful solution to the situation in Europe. Globe and Mail publisher George McCullagh wrote a column that day that began: "The swiftly moving events of the past few days and especially the last 24 hours have brought Europe much closer to the brink of war than at any time since the march of the dictators first began."

• The most newsworthy event of Aug. 23 was the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (which was actually signed after midnight in the early hours of the 24th, but was dated the 23rd). This was a non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany, in which each side pledged not to fight each other, and not to join any alliances that were directly or indirectly aimed against the other party in the agreement. There was also a secret side to this pact that wasn't revealed until after the war ended - Germany and the USSR divided eastern and central Europe up among themselves into "spheres of influence," determining which of the two nations would be entitled to invade different areas of Europe.

• A Globe and Mail article from Aug. 24, 1939 said the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact "darkened the already pessimistic outlook and made the task of the peace front more difficult."

• In 1939, the CBC relied on the BBC for its international news because CBC didn't yet have foreign correspondents. After the Second World War broke out, however, CBC sent reporters overseas for the first time. Find out more about this development in the clip How do you cover a war on radio?


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