This is from the diary of Michael Macdonagh, at the time a reporter for The Times, writing in his diary on 3 August 1914, 100 years ago today, the day before Britain declared war on Germany. For me, Macdonagh’s diary is one of the most interesting of First World War diaries: not only is it charmingly written from beginning to end, but it is hugely informative too, since Macdonagh was reporting daily from the streets of London and was present at important political events. Here is the chapter on Michael Macdonagh from London in Diaries (see The Diary Review article for more about this unpublished book).
Michael Macdonagh reporting the drama of life
‘I think I can claim to have seen everything of importance bearing on the War for good or evil that happened in London during those eventual four and a half years, when the War was part of the texture of London’s life, domestic and public.’ This is Michael Macdonagh, an Irish-born journalist who worked on The Times for many years, introducing the published version of a diary he kept during the First World War. Not only is it charmingly written from beginning to end, but it is hugely informative too, since Macdonagh is present at important political events, in Parliament or at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, and out on the street reporting faithfully what he sees, hears and feels.
Macdonagh was born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1860. He became a reporter on a local paper before moving to Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, where he worked for eight years as a special correspondent in Ireland and in the Houses of Parliament. He married Mary in 1888, and they had one son. In 1894, he moved to London and joined the staff of The Times. He authored many books, about Ireland, the Houses of Parliament and topical history subjects (such as Irish Life and Character; The Reporters’ Gallery; and Daniel O’Connell and the story of Catholic emancipation). He died in 1946.
It was not until he had retired from active journalism, that Macdonagh published In London During the Great War: The diary of a journalist (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1935). A newspaper reporter, he said, ‘is brought into hardly less varied and intimate degrees of relationship than physician or priest or magistrate with the World, the Flesh and the Devil - vocationally, of course.’ And, indeed, the published diary goes some way to justify this claim, for Macdonagh seems to have been everywhere, with the Prime Minister at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, talking to commuters on trams, observing unofficial recruiters with their white feathers, helping three girls locked out of a tube station, or by Big Ben proclaiming the start and the end of war.
‘The theme of my book,’ Macdonagh wrote in his introduction, ‘is the drama of the life of the greatest civil community of the world in its direct relation to the Great War - London with its population of eight millions. It was the headquarters of the organising statesmanship and the executive military administration of the War on the British side, and on the American, when the United States joined the Allies. Accordingly things occurred in London during the Great War of a kind hitherto unknown in history. For the first time in warfare the civil population of a belligerent country were treated by the enemy as combatants, and - what was unthought of at the outbreak of hostilities - were bombed from the air by flying engines of war.’
Day of words, day of action
3 August 1914
[Sir Edward] Grey [Foreign Secretary] on rising got a prolonged cheer from both sides of the House, and he stood at the Table - tall and erect in his light summer suit - until the applause had subsided and the House settled down silently to listen. He spoke in a steady, even, passionless voice. It was a plain statement of the events that had led to the crisis, to which the tremendous issue - Peace or War? - imparted a solemn seriousness. Nor was he long in coming to the point. Great Britain was pledged to maintain the integrity of Belgium under the Treaty signed by the Powers in 1839. [. . .] If there was to be a war, he said, Great Britain would suffer terribly. But if we were to stand aside it would mean the loss of our self-respect, and at the end of the War, we should find ourselves powerless to prevent Europe falling under the domination of one Power, to our undoing.
4 August 1914
To-day is the day of days. It is a day of action, in contra-distinction to yesterday, which was a day of words. What counts with militaristic Germany is deeds not words. She has paid no attention to Sir Edward Grey’s speech. [. . .] [Prime Minister Herbert] Asquith stood at the Bar holding up another document. “A message from His Majesty signed by his own hand,” said he. At the words, all Members uncovered and the Speaker rose from his Chair. The Prime Minister then walked up the floor to the Table and handed the paper to the Speaker, who read the message to the House. It was a proclamation of the mobilisation of the entire Army. The Navy is already mobilised. This also was received in silence: a wonderful example of restraint and seriousness. Thus it can be said that the House of Commons declared war in no mood either of national vainglory or racial animosity. [. . .]
Men in straw hats, girls in calico dresses
It was in the streets after the House of Commons had adjourned that I found myself in an atmosphere of real passion. Parliament Street and Whitehall were thronged with people highly excited and rather boisterous. A brilliant sun shone in a cloudless sky. Young men in straw hats were in the majority. Girls in light calico dresses were numerous. All were already touched with the war fever. They regarded their country as a crusader - redressing all wrongs and bringing freedom to oppressed nations. Cries of “Down with Germany!” were raised. Germany was the aggressor. She must be made to ask humbly for peace. The singing of patriotic songs, such as “Rule Britannia,” “The Red White and Blue,” and also “The Marseillaise,” brought the crowds still closer together in national companionship. They saw England radiant through the centuries, valiant and invincible, and felt assured that so she shall appear for ever.
There were opponents, of course. Making my way through the crowds to Trafalgar Square, I found two rival demonstrations in progress under Nelson’s Pillar - on one side of the plinth for war, and on the other against! The rival crowds glared at each other. [. . .] I looked up at the effigy of Nelson - “sailing the sky with one arm and one eye” to see whether in imagination I could notice any change in his attittude. But no! He was still gazing steadily in a south-easterly direction - towards France, the enemy! - as he had been placed on his pillar some eighty years ago.
Suddenly, amidst the cheering and booing, a cry was raised, “The King! The King! On to Buckingham Palace!” [. . .] At Buckingham Palace the crowd sang “God Save the King” with tremendous fervour. His Majesty came out on to the balcony overlooking the forecourt, wearing the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet. [. . .] He had to appear on the balcony three separate times during the evening, because of the chanting of the crowd, slowly and with emphasis, betokening that they would have no refusal. [. . .]
From the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament came the light and gladsome chimes of the four quarters [. . .] then followed the slow and measured strokes of Big Ben proclaiming to London that it was eleven o’clock. We listened in silence.
5 August 1914
“Britain at War!” So London is informed this morning in bold black letters on the placard of The Times. In the House of Commons to-day, Asquith made officially the inevitable announcement. “Since eleven o’clock last night a state of war has existed between Germany and this country.”
Your King and Country need YOU
The first appeal for recruits on the walls of London to-day. It is printed in national colours. Within a deep red border, in vivid blue letters on a white background, are the words, “Your King and Country need You” - “YOU” being heavily underscored. [. . .] Lord Kitchener, who has been appointed Secretary of State for War, is confident “that this appeal will be at once responded to by all those who have the safety of our Empire at heart.” [. . .] The recruiting headquarters is in Old Scotland Yard, off Whitehall. As I passed there this evening I saw a big throng of young men still in straw hats, waiting their turn to get and, in the old phrase, “take the King’s shilling.”
31 August 1914
There is to be seen almost every day at Victoria railway station the arrival of parties of Belgians who are pouring into England in tens of thousands, torn from their homes and flying before the devastating advance of the Germans: a spectacle unparalleled, perhaps, since the flight to this country of the French Huguenots [. . .].
11 September 1914
The lights of London were lowered last night for the first time. [. . .] Only a few of the street lamps were alight, and these had shades. Lights in shop windows were reduced. Blinds must be drawn before lights are lit in upper windows of all houses.
As I was going home from the Houses of Parliament last night I could not read my evening paper, so dim was the lighting of the Clapham train. The car was also specially fitted with blinds, and before we crossed Westminster Bridge these were drawn by the conductor for the purpose, he explained to us, of disguising the course of the river from hostile airmen, should they attempt a raid on London
Two workingmen in the car were very contemptuous of the Zeppelins. “They could never get here,” said one. “I hope they will come,” said the other. “We’ll stick pins in their bloody gas-bags.”
31 December 1914
As I write, there is a sudden uproar outside; bells are ringing; railway locomotives at Clapham Junction are shrieking and cock-crowing; from the river comes the wailing of sirens; factories are sounding their hooters. People are rushing from their houses into the streets and roads shouting and shaking hands. It is twelve o’clock - midnight: 1915 is being hailed as a deliverer.
The largest arsenal in the world
I was tremendously impressed as I was being conducted through the Arsenal, covering three and a half miles long by one mile broad - the largest place of the kind, I was told, in the world - and saw those vast throngs of workers, men and women, absorbed in the making of all sorts of war materials. It is the first time the Arsenal in its long history as been open on Good Friday. Work never ceases now, night or day, Sunday or weekday. There are night and day shifts of ten and fourteen hours each. The workers are allowed the relief of just a Sunday off every fortnight.
13 April 1915
I went to the Horticultural Hall, Westminster, to-day to see the annual Daffodil Show.[. . .] [There was] a new specimen, called “Lord Kitchener” and described by the exhibitor as a “a bold, well-balanced flower, a tall grower.” It looked it - like the War Minister - every inch of it! [. . .]
But what is this? The mess of war is being introduced into that gem of our public parks, St James’s! . . . The lake of the Park has been emptied since August. It was feared it might provide air-raiders with a landmark, or rather a “watermark,” at night [. . .].
13 May 1915
There is a scarcity of bread in parts of the East End of London where German bakers have been rooted out by the process of their shops being pillaged and wrecked. I am told that other premises were attacked by the mobs because of incorrect assumptions as to the nationality of the names over the doors. For instance, a publican named “Strachan” - an old Scottish name - was taken to be a German and had his windows smashed.
Women offer to make war materials
For the first time since the outbreak of the War the streets of London were brightened to-day with colour and beauty. It was a dramatic and very moving procession of women through the West End offering Lloyd George, who has been appointed to the specially created office of Minister of Munitions in the National Government, the help of women in the making of war materials and other forms of national work. The organisers were Mrs Pankhurst and the other ladies who were prominent in the late Suffragette agitation - that militant movement for the franchise in which women displayed such amazing audacity, resourcefulness and exuberance.
2 October 1915
Explosions and counter-explosions of the agitation for and against conscription are being heard daily in London. [. . .] Meanwhile, nothing is being left undone to keep voluntary recruiting alive. To-day there was a “monster recruiting rally,” in which five columns of Regulars and Territorials, each twelve hundred strong, started from five different centres [. . .]. I accompanied one of the columns on its entire march through the City, along Holborn and Oxford Street, and up Tottenham Court Road to Camden Town. “Wake up, London!” was the motto of the rally. It certainly caused a great stir everywhere. In its widespread influence it was the most remarkable recruiting demonstration that London has ever seen.
6 October 1915
New but unofficial recruiters have appeared on the scene. These are the young women who have formed what they call the “Order of the White Feather,” which they publicly and forcibly confer upon any young man in “civies” whom they come upon anywhere, and whom they think should be in khaki. [. . .] Going home in a tramcar the other night I was a witness of the presentation of white feathers. The victims were two young men who were rudely disturbed form their reading of the evening paper by the attack of three young women. “Why don’t you fellows enlist? Your King and Country want you. We don’t.” One of the girls was a pretty wench. She dishonoured one of the young men, as she thought, by sticking a white feather in his buttonhole, and a look of contempt spoiled for a moment her lovely face.
I was in the Reporter’s Gallery, House of Commons, at half past nine o’clock this evening when the debate on the second reading of the Finance Bill was interrupted by the noise of explosions which came in through the open windows of the Chamber. A low cry of “Zeppelins! Zeppelins!” passed round, and immediately there was a rush of Members and journalists out into New Palace Yard, where they were joined by several Peers from the House of Lords. [. . .] In a southerly direction, over the Thames, I could see a long, black object so high up that it seemed to be moving among the stars. For a few minutes the airship, crossing the Thames in a north-easterly course and passing almost directly over New Palace Yard, was then played upon by two search-lights, and in their radiance she looked a thing of silvery beauty sailing serenely through the night, indifferent to the big gun roaring at her from the Green Park, whose shells seem to burst just below her. In a minute she disappeared from our view behind the houses, and immediately there broke upon our ears a frightful grinding roar, followed by what sounded like a disruptive explosion. Then another, and another, and another, in quick succession. The thing of beauty had transformed herself into a hellish monster, and was pouring fire and death upon the crowded streets.
14 October 1915
The official account of the raid in the papers this morning issued by the Press Bureau is very brief. It says a Zeppelin visited “a London district”; that thirty-eight persons were killed and eighty-seven injured, and that but little damage was done to property. [. . .] I went out to see for myself what had actually happened. [. . .] Had the bombs fallen on the Lyceum, the Strand and the Aldwych Theatres - and each was missed by only a few yards - frightful massacres would have occurred. [. . .] All the killed and wounded in the raid were people who had been taken unawares in the street. No public warning of the coming of the Zeppelin was given. The raider was determined to mark his flight across London with fire and carnage. He dropped about twenty explosive and incendiary bombs, all within five minutes and nearly all in central London. [. . .]
When I got home after my explorations my wife had a good story to tell me. She had been discussing the raid with our charwoman, Annie Bolster of Battersea. “Isn’t it an extraordinary thing, Annie,” said my wife, “that the Zeppelins, great ships like Atlantic liners, should be able to sail through the air from Germany to London and back?” “Don’t you believe it, ma’am,” Annie replied. “Don’t you believe it. We know in Battersea that these ’ere Zeppelins are hidden away in the back-yards of German bakers!”
Alexandra Palace internment camp
To-day I visited Alexandra Palace, those extensive buildings and grounds in North London, where close on a thousand civilian prisoners of war, males of military age, are interned. They are German subjects who lived and carried on their avocations in London [. . .] waiters, barbers, cooks, bakers and tailors. There are also several who held responsible positions as hotel managers and commercial agents.
14 July 1916
The fine equestrian statue of Charles I at Charing Cross, close to Trafalgar Square stands on the very spot where some of the regicides responsible for the King’s death in 1649 were hanged after the Restoration of Charles II, and the King looks down Whitehall to the scene of his execution, from which, as it were, he has triumphantly arisen. But he has temporarily disappeared from view. The statue is regarded as one of the finest in London, which is not saying much, so indifferent are the others. What is better to say is that it is the most romantic memorial in London. Now it is covered with sandbags and enclosed within hoardings to protect it from injury in the air raids. On a recent visit to Westminster Abbey I saw that the tombs of the Kings and Queens are almost hidden behind protective sandbags. The same precautions have been taken in other churches, and also in some of the Inns of Court. Old stained glass has been removed from several windows.
The drabness of civilians
It occurred to me to go for a long walk through the main thoroughfares, starting from Whitehall, to see in what respects the daily life of London has been altered by two years of war, so far, at least, as change is to be observed in the streets. [. . .]
The Strand, into which I turn from Whitehall, is still the busiest and most animated street in London, but its aspect is changed - its traffic and pedestrianism being so very different from what they were in the days of peace. The omnibus service is restricted; the use of private motor-cars is discouraged; horse-drawn vehicles are far more numerous. Among the walkers on the pavements khaki is predominant. Soldiers are everywhere. The military hustle and bustle to be seen in Whitehall is purposeful, being concentrated on War service and administration. In the Strand there is military relaxation, and some indiscipline. Obviously the men are from the training camps, spending a day off in London. They have not the seriousness which mark most soldiers back from the trenches on furlough. They have the idle vacancy of sheep wandering on the hill-side. [. . .]
The drabness of civilians is very noticeable! What shabbiness in dress! A remarkable change in the point of view regarding clothes has set in. The cause is to be found on the walls and hoardings. Recruiting posters have been replaced by economy posters. “Spend Less; Save More.” “Buy only War Savings Certificates.” Accordingly it is the mode to assume a studied air of personal untidiness. [. . .] The fashion among men of all classes is to wear hat, coat and trousers long - as long as possible, in time. The only short wear is the feminine skirt. [. . .]
Women are to be seen at work everywhere. “Men must fight and women must work - and weep.” You see them at the wheel of motor-cars and motor-drays. You see them handling the reins of horse-drawn vehicles. They are ticket-collectors at Underground and tube stations. At hotels and offices the lift-boy has become a lift-girl. The hall-porter at some of the big hotels is an Amazon in blue or mauve coat, gold-braided peaked cap and high top-boots - a gorgeous figure that fascinates me. But my favourite is the young “conductorette” on trams and buses, in her smart jacket, short skirts to the knees and leather leggings. [. . .]
Gone are the hurdy-gurdy men
Hyde Park has two anti-aircraft guns screened in extensive hutments and a searchlight over the gates at Hyde Park Corner - but no flowers. The beds that used to be bright with the colours in masses of the daffodil, the hyacinth, the narcissus, the tulip, the geranium, the dahlia - all processionally in their due seasons - are grass-grown. The Office of Works, which has charge of the Royal Parks, has suspended gardening for the duration of the war.
The bringing down of a Zeppelin in flames
2 October 1916
I saw last night what is probably the most appalling spectacle associated with the war which London is likely to provide - the bringing down in flames of a raiding Zeppelin.
I was late at the office, and leaving it just before midnight was crossing to Blackfriars Bridge to get a tramcar home, when my attention was attracted by frenzied cries of “Oh! Oh! She's hit!” from some wayfarers who were standing in the middle of the road gazing at the sky in a northern direction. Looking up the clear run of New Bridge Street and Farringdon Road I saw high in the sky a concentrated blaze of searchlights, and in its centre a ruddy glow which rapidly spread into the outline of a blazing airship. Then the searchlights were turned off and the Zeppelin drifted perpendicularly in the darkened sky, a gigantic pyramid of flames, red and orange, like a ruined star falling slowly to earth. Its glare lit up the streets and gave a ruddy tint even to the waters of the Thames.
The spectacle lasted two or three minutes. It was so horribly fascinating that I felt spellbound - almost suffocated with emotion, ready hysterically to laugh or cry. When at last the doomed airship vanished from sight there arose a shout the like of which I never heard in London before - a hoarse shout of mingled execration, triumph and joy; a swelling shout that appeared to be rising from all parts of the metropolis, ever increasing in force and intensity. It was London’s Te Deum for another crowning deliverance. Four Zeppelins destroyed in a month!
War shrines and the National Kitchen Movement
13 November 1916
“War Shrines” are not to be seen in the more residential and crowded areas of central London. Usually the shrine is a decorated wooden tablet surmounted by a cross, put up at a street corner, and containing the names of those from the street who are serving in the Army or Navy, or have been killed in action. There is a ledge for a vase or flowers.
28 November 1916
West London was bombed from the air this morning by an aeroplane, and I never heard of it, like thousands of others, until I opened the evening paper. It is the first day-light raid, and the first raid by an aeroplane. People in the vicinity of Victoria railway station and Buckingham Palace, close on midday, were suddenly startled and pulled up two or three explosions which followed each other in quick succession. [. . .] The aeroplane having thus made history was brought down by the French on its return journey to its base. There were two naval officers on board with a large-scale map of London.
21 May 1917
I was present at the inauguration by the Queen and her daughter, Princess Mary, of the National Kitchen Movement by the opening of an experimental kitchen in the Westminster Bridge Road. The purpose of this movement, organised by the Ministry of Food, is to instruct the poorer classes how food, by proper cooking, can be made to yield the most nutrition with the least waste. The food cooked in the Westminster Kitchen was distributed by the Queen and Princess Mary to the poorer residents of the neighbourhood, women, girls and small boys who came in large numbers with bowls, dishes and plates.
What a lot of aeroplanes - take cover
7 July 1917
The most daring air attack which the Germans have yet made on London took place this morning. It was also the most thrilling. The raiders came in twenty big aeroplanes. The weather was sunny and warm, and so low were the planes that they were seen from all parts of the metropolis by millions of people. Killed, 57; injured 193.
I was due at The Times office at eleven o’clock and my tram from Clapham had begun to cross Blackfriars Bridge when a woman on the upper deck of the tram, where she and I were the only passengers, aroused me from the book I was reading by calling out, “What a lot of aeroplanes!” I looked up and saw the fleet approaching from a north-easterly direction, and noticed, at the same time, how they were being intently watched by numbers of people on the bridge’s footways. “Are they Germans?” the woman asked me, with a note of anxiety in her voice. “Oh, no,” I replied, reassuringly, without any hesitation. “If they were Germans we should hear our guns firing at them. I feel sure they are our own airmen carrying out manoeuvres.” [. . .]
I alighted from the tram at the north side of Blackfriars Bridge and was walking towards The Times office when I was startled by the sound of a gun. It was the first I had heard. It sounded like the boom of a tremendous drum from afar off. [ . . .] Then I heard the weird swish of a bomb as it plunged downwards through the air and the roaring, rending explosion of its fall. Instantly the scene in the streets was wholly transformed. The policeman standing near the monument of Queen Victoria worked himself into a state of excitement, shouting “Take cover! Take cover!” and wildly waving his arms. Everybody ran hither and thither for shelter. I joined in the rush for Blackfriars station of the Underground. We tumbled down the stairs to the platform of the trains going west, and ran along it to its end, some distance under the roadway. A second terrific explosion had given added swiftness to our feet. The girls of the Lyons’s and ABC teashops at the station were in our wake, some of them being helped down, screaming hysterically. [. . .] For about five minutes more we could hear the uproar of bombs and guns. The silence fell, and, ten minutes later, gathering our scattered senses, we concluded that it was safe to emerge from the tunnel into the streets.
Prime Minister absent from the Mayor’s Banquet
10 November 1917
At the Lord Mayor’s Banquet last night, thinking of the many times I have attended it - every year since 1900, and off and on during the preceding ’nineties - and closely surveying the scene, it seemed to me that War which has changed so much has left this great civic, social and political event fundamentally unaffected and it remains what it has always been - a gathering of those eminent in Government, in diplomacy, in the fighting Services and in the Arts, set in the midst of a large company representative of the City’s municipal, commercial and financial life. [. . .]
For the first time in a hundred years and more the Prime Minister was absent from the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. Lloyd George, the quick-silvered, is in Italy, where it is reported the Germans have routed the Italian Army in the northern part of the country, taking thousands of prisoners and hundreds of guns. Bonar Law represented the Prime Minister at dinner. It did not concern the puritanical minded man whether the feast was bountiful or spare. To him a glass of water and a crust would have been enough, alone with himself. As I watched him in the Windsor uniform, seated to the right of the Lord Mayor, fingering nervously with the crumbs of bread on his plate, I thought how appropriately his face fitted the present dismal phase of the War - the pallid complexion, the sad eyes, the droop of the mouth.
Great Paul booming out for victory on the Western Front
23 November 1917
The joybells of the London churches to-day gave voice to the popular rejoicing at a great victory on the Western Front. It is the first time the peals have been rung since the outbreak of War. [. . .] I went up Ludgate Hill to hear St Paul’s carillon starting the City chimes at noon. This carillon is very rarely rung. It has not been heard since it celebrated the declaration of Peace after the South African War. There was a big crowd on the Cathedral steps and in the forecourt. After the clock had struck twelve, the big bell known as “Great Paul” - the bell that tolls for prayers - first boomed out, and was followed by the full peal of bells, twelve in number, which were a gift from the City Companies. The people cheered and cheered, exchanging greetings and smiles. The bells of the other churches, joining in with St Paul’s, helped to swell the wings of sound carrying the joyful news to offices, shops and warehouses.
16 December 1917
Such articles of food as tea, sugar, butter, margarine and bacon are now difficult to get. On an average fourteen vessels bringing food and raw materials are being sunk weekly by the enemy submarines. It is become a regular daily thing in all parts of London to see long lines of people outside provision shops waiting to be served and doubtful whether anything will be left when their turn comes. The Food Controller (Lord Rhondda) is still holding out against the growing demand for compulsory rationing.
We have to thank the Navy for that
24 December 1917
As I walked about the streets to-day I encountered a few military funerals of soldiers who died in London hospitals. The coffin is brought to the cemetery on a horsed gun-carriage, covered with the Union Jack. Marching behind it are a small party of soldiers with rifles to fire the parting salute to the dead, and with them a bugler to sound the “Last Post.” Then comes a mourning-coach, conveying a few relatives. [. . .]
The abundance of meat and poultry this fourth Christmas of the war is amazing. Shops generally were hung with holly. Butchers had their carcasses of beef and mutton, and poulterers had their turkeys and geese decorated with coloured ribbons. And, oh the apples and oranges and nuts at the fruiterer’s and oh, oh, oh, the wine, the whisky, the brandy at the grocer’s! Everything was dear, of course. But the price did not matter. What mattered was supply to meet demand, and everything one could reasonably want in eating and drinking was there to be bought. And this - I repeat - is the fourth Christmas of the War! Marvellous! As Churchill would say, “We have to thank the Navy for that.” [. . .] The truth is that the Food Ministry, while appealing to us to be sparing in our observance of the “festive season,” took care that we should have plenty to keep it up on the old fashion!
9 January 1918
In the House of Lords to-day I reported Lord Curzon announcing the abandonment of the scheme of taking over the British Museum for the Air Ministry. [. . .] Curzon added that the government had come also to the conclusion that the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, was unsuitable for departmental War purposes. These are the only Museums - the British and Natural History - now open to the public.
Mass of humanity blocked the platforms
29 January 1918
The air raid which has been expected for some nights past came off last night. Continuing from eight-thirty pm to one am; it was the most prolonged to which we have so far been treated.[. . .] As I and others were looking out at the weird moonlight spectacle presented by the waters of the Thames and the background of St Thomas’s Hospital without a light showing in any of its many windows, two bombs fell in the river to our left between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. A mighty disturbance of the waters followed, something like a tidal bore the waves of which, sweeping up the river under the arches of Westminster Bridge, rose so high that they poured on to the Terrace. [. . .]
I decided to move homeward by tube. I said to myself that I would be under cover until I reached Clapham Common Station, where I could wait for the “All Clear,” if it had not already gone. [. . .] All the stations on my way were filled with people, but these gatherings were far outnumbered by the mass of humanity which packed and blocked the platforms, passages and staircases of the two tubes at the Elephant, the Bakerloo, and the City and South London. Whole families were there - mothers with babies and kiddies wrapped in blankets, sitting and lying everywhere, many of them happily asleep. Not a trace of fear did I notice - not the slightest sign of that nervous tension which is the common feeling of people sheltering in their own homes listening perforce to the guns. They were all made easy in mind by their assured sense of security. No sound of the guns pierced to these depths.
A few policemen and special constables moved about, suppressing good-humouredly any sign of fractiousness. The slot-machines had been emptied of what solace they could afford in cigarettes, chocolates and sweets. A railway porter told me that with a view to avoiding the crowding and discomfort of the stations during a raid it has become the practice of many people to take a tube train and remain in it, on its journey from one terminus to the other, until the “All Clear” is sounded. But they sometimes find themselves in trouble at the end; for the train might stop for the night at the wrong terminus for them, with the result that getting home often involved a long walk through deserted streets. [. . .] [After considerable difficulties, MacDonagh manages to catch a rare tram, the driver of which is taking advantage of a lull in the raid to try and run it home to the Clapham Garage.]
Raiders returning for their devilish moonlight revels
At Stockwell stopping point, which is about half-way, that silence was shattered by a sound that made us quake. It was a rocket signal that the raiders were returning to resume their devilish moonlight revels! It explained the long lull. Most of the passengers bolted for the Stockwell tube station. Only three girls - programme-sellers at a theatre - and myself were left in the car when it continued its journey. About five minutes later the guns began to roar. The conductor and driver decided to go on, and advised us to remain in the car until we got to Clapham Common, where we could take refuge in the tube station. [. . .] When we got [there] I rushed the girls to the tube station. There I was confronted by a situation so extraordinary that it astounded me.
The iron lattice-door of the station was closed, and through its chequered bars I could see that the booking-hall was packed with men, women and children. Its congestion afforded no proper shelter from the raid - the people would have been better off in their homes - and its state could only mean that the safer places, the platforms below and the stairs leading to them, were so crowded as to be inaccessible. Two policemen were inside the gates, and what really staggered me was that one of them, when the girls and I asked for admission, lifted up a large piece of cardboard, on which was printed in bold lettering: “Full up; no more room.” Two of the girls dropped to the pavement in hysterics. And no wonder, for the barrage was now terribly affrighting. There was not only a mobile field-gun blazing away on Clapham Common, close at hand, but from the neighbouring Wandsworth Common I could hear the roar of the great gun called “Big Bertha,” joining in the thunder of the other artillery of the London defences, near and far off. The policemen, moved by the pitiable condition of the two girls opened the gates and helped them into the booking-hall. I looked round for the other girl and saw her coolly walking away, homeward bound. In the circumstances there was nothing else for me to do but follow the girl’s example. [. . .]
[It still took MacDonagh some trouble to get home, but eventually he found his wife and her sister at the Johnsons’, next door, in a ‘state of elation’ and shouting in welcome at his safe arrival. But he has yet more to say about the night.]
During the raid, as my wife was going upstairs at the Johnsons’, a piece of shrapnel came through the skylight and fell at her feet. She had a narrow escape from a nasty wound on the head - not to think of the worst. It is known that some of those officially returned as killed and injured during a raid have been the victims of our own exploding shells.
Cabbages, parsnips round the Queen Victoria Memorial
3 March 1918
During the past week compulsory rationing of certain foods introduced by Lord Rhondda, Food Controller, has been in operation in London and the Home Counties [. . .]. Each household has been provided with two cards - a “meat card” for butcher’s meat and bacon; and a “food card” for butter or margarine. [. . .] The weekly allowances for each person are - 15 oz of beef, mutton, lamb or pork; 5 oz of bacon; and 4 oz of butter or margarine. [. . .] We are all on equality under this system of rationing. The papers announce that the King and Queen received their cards from the Westminster food committee, and that everyone in Buckingham Palace is on rations.
1 April 1918
Easter Monday. “No flowers, by request.” This is the Order of the Day for Easter. It means, in the first place, that the very domesticated, stay-at-home Londoner, of whom there are hundreds of thousands, instead of devoting the holiday to planting bulbs in his back garden, as is traditional with him at Easter, should plant tubers; or, better still, extend his sphere of vegetable-growing by taking a plot or allotment in the nearest open space. An example has been set by the King. His Majesty has directed that the flower-beds surrounding the Queen Victoria Memorial at Buckingham Palace are not to present this year the customary blaze of scarlet geraniums, but what is more appropriate, in the national situation, the sight of potatoes, cabbages, parsnips and carrots all a-blooming.
There is extensive vegetable-growing also in the Royal Parks. In Kew Gardens, for instance, two hundred acres have been set aside for the purpose. [. . .] My heart filled with satisfaction on visiting the Commons in my own neighbourhood, Clapham, Tooting and Wandsworth, and also Battersea Park - all under the London County Council - where I saw hundreds of men and women cheerfully and healthily employed on their plots, making the potato and the cabbage grow where only the grass grew before in London’s open spaces.
The Land Army in Hyde Park
20 April 1918
To-day I was brought into contact with the most important of women’s War activities next to the munition-workers - the girls of the Land Army. They had a recruiting procession in London and a meeting in Hyde Park. Before the War there were not more than 90,000 women employed on the land; there are now 260,000. [. . .] The stretch of grass in Hyde Park where the meeting was held was like a farmyard there were so many pens with lambs, pigs, ducks and hens.
11 May 1918
The Stars and Stripes were to be seen everywhere in London to-day. [. . .] A regiment of the United States Army are to be reviewed by the King at Buckingham Palace and march through London on their way to France.
Fireplaces suspended as if in mid-air
20 May 1918
When I got this morning to the place where bombs were dropped, close to the Bricklayer’s Arms, Old Kent Road, I saw an army officer in khaki, accompanied by a lady, standing amid the ruins of shattered homesteads talking to a group of women, children and men. They were the King and Queen on a round of visits to the bombarded districts. As their Majesties left in their motor-car the people raised no cheers. Surely cheers would have been out of place in the circumstances. The people clapped their hands, the more fitting way of expressing their feelings.
The scene was appalling in its frightful confusion. [. . .] A row of about twelve fairly good-class houses were reduced to hideous piles of wreckage. Brick walls were crumbled. Doors were wrenched from their hinges. Window-frames were torn from their settings. The wallpaper of upper bedrooms was flapping in the wind. Fireplaces were suspended as if in mid-air. The iron railings of the little front gardens were thrown down and smashed. Paving-stones were torn up. Furniture was shattered to bits, or tossed about the road in a tangled litter. Even the houses which escaped demolition had scarcely a window left intact. Here was to be seen the abomination of desolation! Six people were killed in the house that received directly the full destructive force of the bomb.
Monster petition two miles long
24 August 1918
A monster petition to the Government forthwith to intern every enemy alien without distinction of any kind, and take drastic steps to eradicate all German influence in Government circles and society, was adopted at a meeting in Hyde Park this afternoon, which I reported, and was brought to 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s house. The petition had 1,250,000 signatures. It was over two miles in length. Rolled up like a big drum it was carried from Hyde Park to Downing Street in a lorry decorated with the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, the French Tricolour and the flags of other allied nations. It was escorted by a procession with bands and banners almost as long as itself and of so diversified a composition as to be possible only in London in War-time.
London’s ingrained respect for order
31 August 1918
The London police, Metropolitain and City, are on strike. About 14,000 constables “came out” last night! Not a single policeman is on beat duty, and only a few on point duty controlling traffic! This is the amazing news of the day. The incredible, the inconceivable, the fantastic, certainly the unparalleled, has happened. Yet London, on the whole, is taking it quietly, so thin has our sense of surprise and astonishment been worn by the shocks of four years of war. [. . .] The men have gone on strike for three things - higher pay to meet the increased cost of living; official recognition of their Union; reinstatement of a constable who has been dismissed for this activity as an organiser of the Union. [. . .]
Drivers were free to go as they pleased, [. . .] There was an occasional tangle of omnibuses, taxicabs, motor-cars, carts and drays, but it quickly unwound itself, so desirous did every driver appear to be to give way to his fellows rather than to push ahead himself.
The centre of interest was Downing Street, where, at No 10, Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, was closeted with the leaders of the strike, endeavouring to reach a settlement. Many thousands of constables, all in civilian clothes, were assembled in Parliament Street and Whitehall awaiting the result. They had marched four abreast form the different police divisions. The traffic held itself up to let them pass. [. . .] In the long wait for the result of the conference, the temper of the crowd, strikers and spectators alike, was rising in antagonism. Not even the singing of popular songs by a striker with a fine voice, who was perched on the garden wall of 10 Downing Street, and the selection of airs played by two pipers of the Police Union were altogether successful in soothing this bad temper. [. . .]
The strike lasted just twenty-fours hours [Lloyd George agreed an increase in pay, and the reinstatement of the constable]. A queer business altogether. But it should have a lasting place in the social annals of the country for one reason, if no other - the proof it afforded of London’s ingrained respect for order and decorum. An outbreak of lawlessness had been feared. Not even a single shop was pillaged.
Feed the guns with War Bonds
16 October 1918
I ventured out to-day for the first time since my accident [six weeks earlier he had been run over by an omnibus and suffered serious injuries] to see the transformation of Trafalgar Square into a shell-shattered French village. The exhibition is intended to advertise what is called the Feed the Guns Campaign - “Feed the guns with War Bonds and War Saving Certificates and help to end the War.” That is its slogan.
The scene depicted in the Square meets the eye, it is said, everywhere at the Front. In the dry basin of the ornamental fountain to the east is a ruined farmhouse riddled with shell-holes, and its garden turned into a horrid mess. The Gordon statue in the centre of the Square is hidden in the ruined tower of the village church. Close by are the trunks of old trees, hollowed by age, which are being used as “look-outs” or posts for watching the enemy. Standing in the basin of the west fountain is a windmill with sails. The village is surrounded by trenches constructed of sandbags. The whole thing is very well done and is attracting tens of thousands of visitors who are liberally emptying their purses for the good cause. Guns are ranged along the north side of the Square below the National Gallery. Every War Bond purchased is stamped with a device fitted within each gun for the purpose. Hence “Feed the Guns.” This is the ninth and last day of the exhibition. The amount obtained is £31,461,969. But Nelson is uninterested.
Hark to those silvery bugle-blasts
11 November 1918
This morning at eleven o’clock I was startled by the booming of maroons, fired from police and fire-brigade stations, the loud reports of those near at hand being faintly re-echoed by others far off. [. . .] I rushed out and inquired what was the matter. “The Armistice!” they exclaimed. “The War is over!” [. . .]
Hardly anybody can have been the same after as they had been before the maroons heralded, not blasts from Hell, as hitherto, but airs from Heaven. London, in fact, lost all control of itself. I hastened to Westminster, feeling assured that the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace would this day, more than ever, be the centres of interesting happenings. The tramcar was packed, all the passengers obviously deeply moved, whether they were chattering and laughing or self-absorbed and silent. The children were let loose from all the schools. As we were passing an elementary school in Kennington Road near “The Horns” the boys and girls came rushing out, yelling and jumping like mad. There were also many signs that business was being suspended. Shops were being closed and shuttered as on Sundays. Who, indeed, could settle down to work on such a day.
Hark to those loud and silvery bugle-blasts! Boy scouts on bicycles dashed past us sounding the “All Clear,” as they had so often done after an air raid. We all laughed heartily. [. . .] At Westminster Bridge Underground Station I saw an evening newspaper bill. It was the first I had seen for years, their use having been prohibited owing to the shortage of paper; and therefore it was a heartening sign of London’s return to normal life. And what news it proclaimed! “Fighting has ceased on all Fronts!” Hurrah! [. . .]
I had heard Big Ben proclaim War; I was now to hear him welcoming Peace [after four years of silence]. [. . .] When the hands of the dial pointed to XII Big Ben struck the hour, booming it in his deep and solemn tones, so old and so familiar. It was a most dramatic moment. The crowd that had assembled in Parliament Square stood silent and still until the last stroke of the clock, when they burst into shouts and exultation.