Thomas Graham’s Diary – 27th September 1939

Thomas begins this dairy entry with a reference to Stalin, a man he clearly has no time for, referring to him as ‘a smelly white slug, writhing about in the eye cavities of the skulls of his murdered friends’. This rather graphic image refers to what is called the Great Purge, the show trials and murders of thousands of people that Stalin inflicted on his fellow countrymen between 1936 and 1938 on the grounds that they were supposedly counter-revolutionary traitors to the Soviet Union. It is estimated that between 680,000 and 1,200,000 people were killed owing to Stalinist repression in this period. Many of those killed were former friends and political allies of Stalin, disposed of because of his rising paranoia and megalomania.

Von Ribbontrop was in Moscow to sign the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty, which duly took place on the 28th of September. This treaty added to the existing provisions of the Ribbontrop-Molotov Pact and was created to make further agreements about the division of Eastern Europe between the two powers after the invasion of Poland.

The ‘submarine business’ referred to in this entry relates to the high number of shipping losses inflicted on Britain by German U-Boats in this early phase of the war. There was continuous action against British shipping from 1939 onwards. On the 25th of September, the British began laying anti-submarine mines in the Strait of Dover as an attempt to stop the U-Boat incursions into the narrowest part of the English Channel. It is likely to be a reference to this that Thomas found reassuring in one of Churchill’s speeches.

Thomas reports the fall of Warsaw, which happened formally with its surrender on the 28th of September after 20 days of siege. The city was utterly devastated and this signalled the end of the Polish armed opposition to their Nazi invaders. The Polish Government in Exile was established in Paris on the 30th September.

The ‘Knickerbocker’ that Thomas refers to in this dairy entry is the American journalist Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker. Knickerbocker was reporting regularly from Berlin up to 1933 when he was deported because of his vehemently anti-Nazi views.