British celebrate the ‘end of the beginning’

Milk girls leave the dairy in their horse-drawn carts, working the rounds of the milkmen who have joined the services. The carts are piled high with crates, full of bottles of milk.

Land Girl Iris Joyce leads a bull at a farm somewhere in Britain. Iris had previously been a typist but after four weeks training at the Northampton Institute of Agriculture, she is now confident to deal with such animals and all aspects of her work in the Women’s Land Army.

The success at El Alamein and the Torch landings in Morocco and Algeria were to prove a turning point in the war. At the time some people thought it premature to celebrate such victories. Yet suddenly some of Winston Churchill’s critics realised they had been quite wrong to accuse him of inaction – he had been unable to disclose what plans were afoot. There was renewed confidence in him when he was able to state:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Henceforth Hitler’s Nazis will meet equally well armed, and perhaps better armed troops. Hence forth they will have to face in many theatres of war that superiority in the air which they have so often used without mercy against others, of which they boasted all round the world, and which they intended to use as an instrument for convincing all other peoples that all resistance to them was hopeless….

Winston Churchill at the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon, Mansion House, London. November 10, 1942, see Churchill Society.

On Sunday 15th the country had celebrated with the mass ringing of church bells up and down the country. They had not been rung since the invasion threat of 1940, as they would have been used as a general warning to the population in the event of an invasion. If the country had been invaded the government intended to issue the poster “Keep Calm and Carry On”:

It was now apparent that it would not be needed and it was never issued during the war.

Mrs Winifred Twigg, a tram conductress, climbs aboard her tram in Leeds, England.

The national mood was summed up, as usual, by Molly Panter Downes in her New Yorker column for the week:

lt has been exhilarating to live through the last ten days in England. There has been the biggest wave of national emo tion since Dunkirk, when, in every town and village, one felt the quiet but stubborn resolve immortalized by Low in the famous cartoon that showed a solitary Briton facing the Channel and bore the caption “Very well then-alone.”

Last week, with Stalingrad holding and Morocco falling, Britons had good cause to realize thankfully that they were not alone and that the beginning of the unified grand strategy for which the critics had long been clamoring was right there on the mat with the morning paper.

The excitement over the American landings in the west of Africa and the British advances in the east was terrific, and this time not particularly quiet, either. On the morning when British families switched on their radios and heard the news that the Nazi forces were in full retreat, London was a city of smiling people who walked as though they were stepping out to the music of a Guards’ band.

Neither the girls behind shop counters, nor the taxi-drivers, nor the humorous bus conductor who tinkled his bell and shouted, “Next stop, Bengasi!” needed any encouragement to demand of the customers, “Well, it looks all right, doesn`t it?” For once, these Britons were not referring to the weather.

See Mollie Panter-Downes: London War Notes 1939-1945

Women in the United States Forces in Britain: United States nurses take cover against “air attack” during training in England while training for the opening of the second front.

Miss March manning the tiller of the narrowboat ‘HEATHER BELL’ as it carried flour from Worcester to Tipton during 1942.

Mrs Wardle makes Sten gun parts at an ordnance factory somewhere in Britain.

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Michael Foley November 16, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Really fantastic pictures of the women who did what was necessary to keep the farms and factories humming, and who served in military roles as well. There was a British TV show recently called “Home Fires” that focused on the effect of the war on a village in the south of England, including the need for women to work on the farms. Highly recommended.

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