Harold Nicolson: End-of-year excerpts from Diaries & Letters: 1939-45


Harold Nicolson (1886 - 1968)

A few end-of-year excerpts from Diaries & Letters: 1939 - 45

Diary: 31 December, 1939

Cyril Joad* expounds pacifism after dinner. His line is that the ordinary person in England would be less unhappy after a Nazi victory than if he or she lost their sons, lovers or husbands. He thinks only of the greatest unhappiness of the greatest number, and accuses me of national and spiritual pride. It is a pleasure talking to him. He stirs up the mind. He is extremely imaginative about physical pain, and the picture of young men being gored by bayonets is so terrible to him that he would prefer sacrificing liberty to prevent it happening.

I do not stay to watch the New Year in or the Old Year out. I write this diary at 11.45 and shall not wait. The old year is foul and the new year terrifying. I think, as I go to bed, of Nigel and Ben, Ben and Nigel. How stupid life is. Not evil, only stupid. What shall I have to record this time net year?

* The author and philosopher. He was an old friend of H.N., with whom he had been associated during the days of the New Party in 1931. He was a leading pacifist at the beginning of the Second World War as he was in the First. 

Letter from H.N. to V.S.W.:  31 December, 1940
(In the train from Bristol to Cardiff)

I have found a new pleasure in life - travelling with a Private Secretary. One just walks about in a fur coat and things get done. Moreover, he keeps the purse and gives such tips as I should never dare to give. But it is at him the porters scowl, not me. I just walk away and gaze at the show-cases in the hall. 

I lunched with the Regional Commissioner yesterday to meet Alexander, the C. in C. of Southern Command. He thinks the Battle of England has already began - Coventry, Southampton, Bristol, the City. They will burn and destroy them one by one. 'Archie Wavell', he says, 'mops up 40,000 Libyans and we claim a victory. In two hours the Germans destroy 500 years of  our history.' I do think we are going through a hellish time.

Diary: 31 December, 1941

Read Rebecca West's book about Yugoslavia.*  Feed the famished swans. We stay up late listening to the wireless and hearing Maisky, Wellington Koo and John Winant exchanging polite messages. Then there is a Scottish service, in the middle of which Big Ben strikes and 1941 is finished. Not a year on which |I shall look back with any pleasure. I shall say no more about it than that. It has been a sad and horrible year.

* Black Lamb and Grey Falcon 

Diary: 31 December, 1942

Our present worry is (a) the U-boat campaign. It is very serious indeed. We can lose the war by this; (b) the badness of our Army. The cream of our officers and men have been drained off by the R.A.F. and the Commandos. What remains is pretty poor. With good troops we ought to have brought off the dash to Tunis.   As it is ...

I go down to the House to fire watch. I sit in the map-room feeling pretty glum. I hear Big Ben strike out the old year. There are distant shouts of Auld Lang Syne, sung with an American accent. Then the snoring in my dormitory resumes its sway.