And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

29 January

1918
Michael Macdonagh,
journalist

‘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.]

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.

The drama of London in WWI

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1918
Harvey Cushing,
neurosurgeon

‘We saw him buried this afternoon at the cemetery on the hillside at Wimereux with military honors - a tribute to Canada as well as to him. [. . .] A company of North Staffords and many Royal Army Medical Corps orderlies and Canadian sisters headed the procession - then ‘Bonfire’ [. . .] with his master’s boots reversed over the saddle - then the rest of us [. . .]. The Staffords, from their reversed arms, fix bayonets, and instead of firing over the grave, as in time of peace, stand at salute during the Last Post with its final wailing note which brings a lump to our throats - and so we leave him.’

Ether, a gorilla, and poppies

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1942
Joseph Goebbels,
politician

‘Rosenberg’s office has worked out a scheme of agrarian reform for the occupied areas which envisages the gradual elimination of the kolhose [collective community farm] and the return of land to private ownership. I expect very much from this scheme when it is brought to the attention of the broad masses of the farmers. If we should be in a position actually to give the farmers land, they would look forward to an eventual return of the Bolsheviks with decidedly mixed feelings.’

The Nuremberg ten

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1947
Denton Welch,
writer and artist

‘There were frost flowers thick all over the panes this morning and the milk was frozen. The pipes were frozen too, and the snow thicker than ever. I have not got out of bed, and will not till I hear the pipes thawing. I have been writing here, then eating chocolate as a reward. The panes are all dripping and splashing in the sunshine now. Eric has gone for a walk in the snow, and I wish I could go too. It is the most snow I think I have known in England.’

Black, dead, inhuman

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1977
Paul K. Lyons,
writer

‘Foz da Iguacu is an ugly dirty town. It lies 20-30km from the falls, and a few km from the Paraguay border. It is full of hotels and restaurants, but the streets are dug up and full of rubbish. We installed ourselves in a hotel for 30 Cr but our room was smaller and hotter than an oven. A friendly joven befriended us and promised to take us to a church where we could sleep for free, idle away the evening soaking in impressions of Brazil or listening to some Paraguay folklorico with a hand harp. In the late evening, the joven took us to a large church where he said we could sleep beneath a covered courtyard. We thanked him profusely and began to spend a night fighting the mosquitoes and the heat. It was one very terrible night. [. . .]

Wednesday was dominated by the falls of Iguacu, one of the centres of tourism of South America and truly ‘impressionante’. It is so large, so magnificent. For a kilometre or more an enormous river breaks up and falls hundreds of feet in hundreds of different falls, different levels, different widths. It is a magnificent sight, completely natural. In the distance there’s a catwalk across the still gently flowing upper river, it is the Argentine tourist route. [. . .] A peaceful gentle brown river flows above, and suddenly there is no more river bed, and it goes thrashing, thrushing, torrenting down in a brown and white froth sending out spray with the wind. Some tourists hire big yellow raincoats to get a better view of the devil’s gorge. At the top we walk into the selva a few feet and sit on a big stone that rests in the river. The selva is alive with animals. Spiders, with their 3D webs stretched between trees and bushes. Iguanas, more than a foot long, crawl softly in the undergrowth. Endless coloured butterflies, suck the wet from the stones. There are black ones with patches of phosphorescent mauve. There are small ones with red, black and white line designs on the outside. There are enormous yellow and black ones. There are orange ones and yellow ones and white ones. All so beautiful. There are mosquito eggs wiggling in stone pools. There is a snail slowly pulling itself up out of the water. There are flies and ants and the enormous river flowing by. I wonder how I can ever be impressed by a little waterfall again.

We take the bus to Curitiba through the night.

Christian is ill, he has an infection of the ear. We go to some hospitals; at one we leave him to the bureaucracy of the medical system. We arrange to meet at 11:00am in a plaza. Nene and I eventually find a tourist office. They do not see many tourists so we are overloaded with information, post cards, even a board game ‘to get to know Curitiba’. At 11 we meet Christian. We ask some policeman for some information. We stop to talk to a Brasileiro, and then the police decide to take all four of us to a police station. We are a little insulted but don't cause trouble. In the police station, we are body searched; all our possessions are removed. Laboriously long forms are filled out, and every personal item is listed. The money is counted scrupulously. The police are friendly, but we are suspects. We think we can go when they have finished, but no we have to wait while they phone headquarters. We are placed in cells. I start to ask to phone the British Consulate. After a while they try to bundle us into two police cars. They have armoured back seats. I am afraid for us. I start to protest and insist on phoning the British Consulate. They will not let me. Finally, I am forced in the car by two policemen. I have in mind untold horrible things that I know are possible. I am afraid for Nene. We are taken to the Centre of Investigations. There the same long forms are filled out again. Many policemen come and go, some with ugly greedy faces, some making jokes about how we look like terrorists. Once the forms are completed, we are locked in a room. It seems a policeman was killed by three Paraguayans yesterday, and when we spoke Spanish to the two cops in the Plaza they became suspicious. I am still afraid for us. The Brasileiro is cool and says the police do not lie. I sleep and have nightmares, and wake with a very bad headache. After three hours we are taken upstairs. Upstairs, there are secretaries, and people in suits coming and going. I am very relieved. Somebody gives me a pill for my headache. In 20 minutes we are out on the streets and very very relieved. Christian still has very bad face pain. We go finally to a hospital (to the one he had been told to go earlier in the day). He finds it is a private clinic and has to pay $20. He does not want to. We force him. A young doctor gives him a big painful injection and mountains of medicine. We play games for an hour in the shelter of the rain deciding what to do. Eventually we decide to take the bus back to Sao Paulo through the night. Nene and I kiss passionately on the bus.’

You look like terrorists

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1979
Paul K Lyons,
writer

‘Gerald Yorke enthralled me for hours. He told me tales to make the blood curdle. We took tea in the drawing room: marmalade sandwiches, biscuits and tea, no sugar. The man of means took trouble with his words but his laugh rocked me off balance. He seemed pleased that I wasn’t just another occult freak, but dismayed that I wasn’t a Thelemite. He said he had intended once to walk across to China, but found marriage better for his feet. My Aleister Crowley play project moves one step forward. Will, I ever start to write. Yorke told me that Snoo Wilson has already written a play on Crowley, a farce. I had to explain that I’d never written a play before, but that it was simply a challenge I’d set myself.’

Do what thou wilt

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In general, these diary extracts are quoted as given in the published (book or online) source referred to in the reference articles. Each extract may be all, a large part of, or a small part of the complete entry for that day. I have tried to indicate where text has been removed from within a quote by the use of trailing dots in square bracket.

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