Alex Massie

Tweeting the Second World War

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It's good to talk about something other than the election and its aftermath. So let me recommend this: the National Archives are tweeting the Second World War. Day by day and several times a day and with a 140 character limit they bring you the news as it was in 1940. It's a strangely effective ploy. Consider these tweets from [sic] May 13th 1940:

War Cabinet to meet at 1830 BST. New Prime Minister Winston Churchill to make statement to House of Commons at around 1400 BST.

Germans advancing in Holland, Belgium. RAF has lost 76 aircraft in 48 hours. UK forces continuing to retreat in Norway

Members of new War Cabinet formally announced to House of Commons. Leader of Opposition Clement Attlee to join coalition as Lord Privy Seal.

Former PM Neville Chamberlain to remain in War Cabinet. Lord Halifax to remain Foreign Secretary. Prime Minister Churchill rising to speak.

PM: "I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this Government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."

PM Churchill pledges “victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road.”

Situation in Holland “very precarious”. German tanks advancing along whole western front. French forces being pushed back.

War Secretary Anthony Eden reports plans for repelling invasion of UK by German paratroops. Corps of “local defence volunteers” to be formed.

Lord Halifax warns of “fresh outburst of Italian animosity”. He is now “less confident” that Mussolini will not go to war.

Prime Minister to send personal message to President Roosevelt to attempt to gain more American support.

Air Staff estimate that 60 fighter squadrons required for adequate defence of the UK. RAF has 39 squadrons.

Prime Minister postpones attack on German industrial and military targets to conserve aircraft.

In this sense and providing you have sufficient reserves of imagination, twitter can be, however improbably, a means of transporting one back through time and helping ask the questions: What would I have felt? What would I have thought? What would I do? 

Though I don't want to overstate this, one could* use this twitter feed as a way of imagining onself back to 1940 and hearing the latest news on a crackling and unreliable wireless. And if nothing else these tweets demonstrate the extremity and ghastliness of the situation the country was in...

Hindsight makes it easy to mock or scoff at some of the decisions that were made or to pillory some of those that made them. But hindsight is often simplistic and unfair. And, again, I think these updates, 140 characters at a time, help explain why that is the case and should remind us that whatever our very real current difficulties we have survived worse in the past...

Again, you can follow ukwarcabinet here.

*If I were a teacher I would use this resource.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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