Eighty years ago, Britain confronts the threat of Unity Mitford and chemical attack on bare, Highland legs




The British government finally reacted to the huge surge in road deaths caused by the remorselessly enforced black-out. In the first four months of the war 2,657 pedestrians had died as a result of road accidents-an increase of 117% over the previous year. It was announced in the House of commons that the speed limit in built-up areas was being cut to 20mph from 30mph. Fortunately for the government no-one raised the embarrassing fact that there had been negligible Luftwaffe activity over mainland Britain even by daytime and certainly not by night.


The same session of the House was confronted with further proof of the gravity of the war situation. So as to save precious resources (money) soldiers in the Scottish Highland regiments of the army were no longer to be issued with kilts. The current inventory was to be withheld so that kilts would be available for ceremonial purposes once peace returned. The reason given publicly that this was in connection with the risk of gas warfare, although no detail was given of the German gas weapons which attacked the genitals or naked skin. An exception was to be made for pipers and drummers.


The Paramount film company came under severe attack for items in two newsreel items. One accompanied the news that Unity Mitford, the near lunatic Hitler fan girl, was being returned to Britain from Germany after her unsuccessful suicide attempt provoked by the outbreak of war. It showed immense displays of military might including battleships as well as masses of police, with the quite false implication that these measures had been taken to protect – or to protect Britain against -  Mitford whose physical state was now not much better than her mental state. The government had been forced to deny to the House that any special security measures had been undertakenThe other item was more directly political and criticised the removal from the War Ministry of Leslie Hore-Belisha, hinting that he was the victim of a plot.


The Vatican radio launched a clear condemnation of the German occupation of Poland which was widely ascribed directly to the Pope. It focused on the maltreatment of the Catholic Church in Poland and alluded to the departure of the apostolic counsellor to Angers in France, the seat of the Polish government in exile. The broadcast spoke of Poland suffering a martyr’s fate. It made no specific mention of the fate of Poland’s Jews, who were already being singled out for persecution.

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