When Britain declared war on Germany, in 1939, the government announced a civilian evacuation, particularly for children, to make sure they were in areas not likely to be bombed by Germany. In this image, released by the Imperial War Museum, we see children, from London’s East End, carrying their evacuation belongings (including gas masks) as they begin their journey away from the city.
America joined the war in Europe more than two years after it began in Poland (on September 1st, 1939). When Hitler refused to back down from his Polish invasion (six months after he took control of Czechoslovakia), Britain was dragged into the conflict.
On September 3, Neville Chamberlain (then the British prime minister who, one year before, thought he'd negotiated a "peace for our time"), announced that a state of war existed between Britain and Germany. France made a similar pronouncement.
Later that day, Britain's King George VI (with preparatory help from his speech therapist, Lionel Logue) delivered a moving speech "to my people at home and my peoples across the seas." Urging everyone to "stand calm, firm, and united in this time of trial," the King warned of "dark days ahead." He also stated his belief that "we shall prevail."
Within the week, British school children were evacuated to the countryside in anticipation of bombing attacks on the nation's towns and cities. Despite Britain's hope that the United States would formally step in to help, America did not declare war on Germany until after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
During the war in Europe, three Allied leaders - Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin - periodically met, in person, to discuss defeating the Nazis. Although the men were from different countries, and had different political philosophies, they developed a working relationship and were united in their belief that Hitler’s regime could be defeated.
The last Allied meeting - before Potsdam - was in the Crimean town of Yalta during February of 1945. On the agenda were potential occupation zones for post-war Germany and end-of-hostilities control over Eastern-European governments.
Anyone who saw FDR at Yalta would have observed a man worn down by war and twelve years as president. Briefing the American congress, after his return to the States, Roosevelt was obviously tired and weak as he discussed the Yalta Agreements.
Not only did he remain seated during his presentation - highly unusual for him - he also acknowledged - for the first time - that he wore braces on his legs. Polio had long-since paralyzed him, from the waist down, but he never allowed his physical condition to interfere with public duties.
Recognizing he needed a rest, FDR told Harry Truman - his new vice president - that he planned to spend a few weeks at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia. On the 12th of April, just before a one o’clock lunch at “The Little White House,” FDR suddenly developed “a terrific headache.” With a skyrocketing blood pressure of 300/190, the unconscious president would die within two-and-a-half hours.
He went out the door [of his meeting room] alone . . . Then he began to run . . . to his office - to get his hat . . . At the White House . . . two ushers were waiting at the door. They took his hat and escorted him to . . . the second floor . . . Mrs. Roosevelt was waiting.
Because he never publicly shared his thoughts of the moment, we are left to wonder if he suspected what the news would be:
Mrs. Roosevelt stepped forward and gently put her arm on Truman’s shoulder.
“Harry, the President is dead.”
Truman was unable to speak.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he said at last.
“Is there anything we can do for you,” she said. “For you are the one in trouble now.” (McCullough, pages 424-5.)
FDR was not the only missing leader at the Potsdam Conference.
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