African success brings cheer to British home front

Two black GIs and their girlfriends pass the Istanbul restaurant at number 12 Frith Street in London's Soho. Cars are parked along the street.

Two black GIs and their girlfriends pass the Istanbul restaurant at number 12 Frith Street in London’s Soho. Cars are parked along the street.

Policemen who have formed a Pig Club clear out one of their pig sties, somewhere in London.

Policemen who have formed a Pig Club clear out one of their pig sties, somewhere in London.

Civilians walk past a poster warning citizens about the dangers of Venereal Disease (VD) which has been posted on the wall outside the Ministry of Health building in Westminster. Behind them, a bus can be seen and in the background, the Houses of Parliament are just visible.

Civilians walk past a poster warning citizens about the dangers of Venereal Disease (VD) which has been posted on the wall outside the Ministry of Health building in Westminster. Behind them, a bus can be seen and in the background, the Houses of Parliament are just visible.

Finally it looked like the war in North Africa was over. The British public had spent the last three years monitoring maps that showed obscure desert outposts that became the names for great battles. They had watched the ebb and flow of of the conflict all along the Mediterranean shore. In the past few months the convergence on the city of Tunis had begun to look inevitable. Suddenly it was a reality.

In London Molly Panter Downes was still chronicling the war for the benefit of her readers in the New Yorker magazine. Her 9th May 1943 piece told the story :

The African victory came so suddenly that astonished Londoners had hardly enough breath left to cheer with. The news of the all-out offensive had already put everyone in a mood of confident expectation, but the fall of Tunis and Bizerte was so far in advance of schedule that the first jubilation was just faintly dazed.

By evening, however, most citizens had got over the shock sufficiently to put on their hats and go forth to celebrate. In spite of official warnings that enemy resistance hadn’t ended yet, beaming Britons insisted on talking, over their victory pints, as though the boys had rolled Africa up in a bundle and were now on the European road to Berlin.

All this excitement was the climax of a growingly cheerful week. The American success at Mateur had already been enthusiastically played up by the papers and welcomed as warmly by the public, which bought its evening penny worth of good cheer from news vendors who had chalked their boards with such amiabilities as “Go it, Uncle Sam” and “The Yanks are coming and the Jerries are running.” Everyone seemed particularly pleased, too, that the French had been in on the Tunisian triumph.

Shabby as the town may be, the parks have once again put on their not especially abundant but still gay floral show to gladden weary eyes. The tulips near Wellington Barracks draw throngs of Whitehall clerks, who come at lunchtime to eat their sandwiches and to admire.

Spring has also had its effect on the sheep in Hyde Park, who have been taking advantage of the absence of railings, removed to augment the nation’s scrap-metal pile, and strolling out into the road ways, where they have been known to lie down in front of nonplused jeeps.

As one more indication that spring is here, and also as a gesture of condence in London’s new barrage, a couple of ducks have trustingly nested in one of the big reserve water tanks near Bond Street. They seem to like it there.

Although the expected renewal of the blitz is still lacking, the theatres cautiously continue to start their evening performances at six-thirty. So far, the most important event of what has been a healthy theatrical season was the offering of two new Noel Coward plays, which opened at the Haymarket last week.

See Molly Panter Downes: London War Notes

Doreen, Susie and Hugh Buckner play a game of 'Wardens' at their London home. Doreen, Susie and their dolls sit under an up-turned armchair covered in blankets, as 'Warden' Hugh checks to see that they are safely inside their make-believe air raid shelter.

Doreen, Susie and Hugh Buckner play a game of ‘Wardens’ at their London home. Doreen, Susie and their dolls sit under an up-turned armchair covered in blankets, as ‘Warden’ Hugh checks to see that they are safely inside their make-believe air raid shelter.

A general view of the 'Colonies at War' section of an exhibition on Colonial life, held at the former car showrooms of Rootes Ltd in Piccadilly. The exhibition was produced by the Ministry of Information for Colonial Office, was opened by the Duke of Devonshire, and was displayed at Rootes in London, before touring the country.

A general view of the ‘Colonies at War’ section of an exhibition on Colonial life, held at the former car showrooms of Rootes Ltd in Piccadilly. The exhibition was produced by the Ministry of Information for Colonial Office, was opened by the Duke of Devonshire, and was displayed at Rootes in London, before touring the country.

In the tea enclosure in London's Hyde Park, one customer writes a letter, whilst another settles for a doze in the early afternoon sunshine, her feet resting on the bottom of a nearby chair.

In the tea enclosure in London’s Hyde Park, one customer writes a letter, whilst another settles for a doze in the early afternoon sunshine, her feet resting on the bottom of a nearby chair.

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