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Communiqué No. 19b by Paul Rowntree
sent from London during the first WW2 blitz
18 Dec 1940
As far as communiqués are concerned there is very little to write about except that we are not getting any raids worth speaking of. We do sometimes get a warning and then perhaps an all clear in 10 minutes but usually if there is a warning, it is all clear by about 11 or so (pm). So I have slept at the posts some nights as it didn’t seem worth risking the possibility of having to turn out again if I went back with some of the others to Barts. In actual fact the warning has only once ( I believe) gone again. We do not get the warning during the day now.
The weather is mostly cold but we have had warm damp spells of mildness. We can always see at least some of the stars at night and the moon as you know has been full. Perhaps they’re saving up for a Xmas blitz – perhaps not.
Bunks are really appearing at least in some of the tubes (notably Covent Garden) and the L.P.T.B. are doing their best with twinkling coloured lights and “Merry Xmas” in large letters. But I believe they are trying to avoid decorations or attractions which collect a crowd and slow down the passengers.
Even so many of the shelters have a very gay reflective air.
The tunnel no longer has a few pathetic streamers but a whole barrage of coloured paper ( which defies any description a “pathetic”).
So the London war front ( on which I feel compelled to write although I think of it little) is very uneventful, but London itself is very much “London Itself” so instead, I will write of:
Tuesday 17 December 1940
I was having breakfast at 9.15 and had not yet shaved (after 30 hours) when George “Silent” Binns asked if I was coming to see the Gt Dictator. They were going to all meet in the square at 9.30am., as it was Scower’s MOP’s I had nothing else to do. I remarked politely that I hadn’t shaved – “oh that alright - you won’t be seen in the dark and you can sit between two Gentlemen” so I gulped my breakfast and we set off for the Gaumont Haymarket ( which is one of the 3 places that the Gt Dictator is showing).
We arrived at 5 to 10 and joining a short rapidly moving queue, we paid 1/10 (for the stalls) and sat down towards the front in two rows. Two other Barts students arrived at 10 past 10 and had gt. difficulty in getting in. when we came out the cinema was surrounded by a queue.
We watched the news and an amusing “How to keep your (Anderson) shelter in winter” and a Walt Disney “Bone Trouble” which is about Pluto and is one of the best I have seen (though not so subtly funny as some) his adventures in a mirror side show were rather nice.
And then came the much publicised “Great Dictator”.
I think perhaps it may depend on who you go with and whether you like Chaplin or are expecting a gloriously funny knock about.
Because I don’t think Chaplin is knockabout. A lot of people were very disappointed in the film ( perhaps because they’d heard so much about it) but most of our party when we were back at lunch spread over different tables could talk about nothing else but all the funny parts to the intense boredom and annoyed resignation of those who had yet to see the film.
I personally thought it was an extraordinarily good film and that a lot of the critics were just rather short sighted. Although it was a long film I was very surprised when I realised we were coming to the end. Some people think parts of it drag, but I didn’t. Some think the film is jerky –consisting of many incident – good in themselves- well it didn’t worry me.
And then the ending when the little barber mistaken for the Fuhrer (or Phooey as he is called) gives his revolutionary speech calling to the soldiers to be individuals not part of the state.
This is out of “time” with the rest of the film but not so much as I expected. Chaplin is here doing a straight part. Before this he is ridiculing and making ridiculous the dictator system and the dictators, but here it is as if he feels the audience is still not sufficiently against nazism and so he faces them straight (and close up) and pleads and shouts to them ( almost as much as the man he has been ridiculing) and though he is obviously sincere and means everything he says ,he says it in a medium which is foreign to him.
As he is unable to be empathetic and convincing by straight speech making, he over does it so that it rings a little hollow. But to me it seemed, that although it was bad artistically, it was what Chaplin really thought, and fought for, and wants to express and so it did not seem artificial. Chaplin has written and directed the film and the film was directly his. Paulette Goddard too seemed to have more screen than she should, but here again, I imagine myself seeing it though Chaplin’s eyes and she (who is his wife) would naturally take a large and symbolical place in the film which if not his greatest is certainly his most heartfelt.
But he is at home in his own medium in most of the film and with his pleasant voice and little mannerisms he is quietly and with ease, is very funny. Jack Oakie’s more robust and “vulgar” clowning as Mussolini rather puts him in the shade but I much prefer his expression after he held the baby – his quiet calls for “Capitaine” when he’s lost in a mist in the 1914 war ( and finds himself walking with the Tommies). His superb ballet when he dreams of being world conqueror, his inimitable run along the pavement and gutter after he’s been hit in the head, and his working of the A.A. gun.
It is a real Chaplin film and you should see it ( and if possible not read or listen to criticisms of it before you see it.)
You may be disappointed with it, but even so I think it is a film to see.
Wed 18 Dec 1940 Rehearsals ( Temps )
Thurs 19 Dec 1940
Was “on duty in the tunnel”.
There was an F.A.U man [Friends Ambulance Unit] there (named Goff ?). He is one of the 150 or so who are now in London (some will be going to China.)