Monday 18 November 2019

Declarations of War, the State, and Parliament — The Second World War (part two)

I do promise that one day I will blog about something else (I have a bumper one on dissolution proclamations planned, but I keep finding more, which whilst normally the academic's blessing is quite the curse when you're not being paid to do it). Until then, we continue where we left off in part one [1]. There, war had just begun with Italy, which made almost no difference in France [2] but was quite a nuisance elsewhere [3]. Now we move forwards to December 1941. But not that war.

War with Finland, Hungary, and Romania

Finland had fought (and lost) the brief Winter War [4] with the USSR in 1939-40, and took the opportunity to resume hostilities [5] when Germany invaded the USSR [6]. Meanwhile, Hungary and Romania [7] joined the invasion [8] of Russia too. As it happens, Romania's participation preceded Hungary by a few days, but exactly why is unimportant.

This obviously presented a quandary for His Majesty's Government. Since the Molotov–Ribbentrop_Pact [9] [10] the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were not best of friends, but as we all know the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So, Britain moved to support Russia. This necessitated resolving the question of the three powers involved in Barbarossa with whom His Majesty was officially neutral (and, in the case of the Fins, HM Government had, at least in form if not in substance, supported in 1939!). 

The Third Supplement to the London Gazette of Friday, 5th December 1941 (printed on Monday, 7th December, war with these powers clearly not rising to the level as to require a special weekend printing) [11] reports it thus.

The first, and most obvious, difference to spot here is the varying causas bellorum [12] cited. For Hungary and Romania, the government simply present an ultimatum to cease hostilities with Russia; for Finland things are more nuanced. It would obviously have been untenable for the United Kingdom to recognise any Russian claim to parts of Finland, so the ultimatum is presented in such a way as to allow the Finns to continue any hostilities required to re-capture or defend parts of Finland, but no more.

We also see that in all three cases the notes had to be delivered by the Ministers-Resident of the United States in each power, obviously the exigencies of war had long made a British diplomatic presence untenable. Interestingly, the Finnish Government at least replied saying, in terms 'no'; Hungary and Romania simply ignored the message.

As it happens, these declarations made very little difference in practice. The first mention of them in the Commons is not until 12th December [13] (although, given what also happened on the 7th, there were more pressing affairs at hand), and even then it is very brief:

For reasons that will become apparent later, we will deal with the usual proclamation extending the prohibition on 'contraband of war' to Hungary et al. further down.


First, a minor diversion. On Friday 5th December the Government Gazette included this notice [14] 

This is effectively a recognition that, after invading on 2nd May 1941, by June the British had made Iraq into effectively a protectorate (again). [16]

Unlike last time, there is no note from the Prime Minister in the Gazette, simply the proclamation declaring a state of war (and thus activating emergency legislation, in the very limited sense it would have been necessary) [16]

Again, and the Australians seem to make a habit of this (although, to be fair, it was not unusual for sittings of Parliament to be much less frequent than modern times), Parliament was adjourned. Parliament was of course recalled, but to deal with a much more serious matter, of which we will treat of momentarily.


As before, the proclamation in Canada was issued under the prerogative not pursuant to a statute, the Canadians, however, choosing to publish on a Sunday. [17]

The Governor-General, the Earl of Athlone, has a wonderful set of titles I think [18].

New Zealand, who definitely did declare war on Hungary et al. the same weekend, are omitted because once again I can't find their records online.

War with Japan

By unhappy coincidence, the British declarations of war above taking effect on the 7th December also coincided with an even more marked event. I can't put it any better than Churchill's famous letter, which the Gazette reports verbatim. [19]

It isn't abundantly clear why it took so long to publish this letter, since it was written and delivered on the 8th. As an interesting historical curio, the United Kingdom made this declaration slightly sooner than the United States since Congress needed to approve the latter. In any case, it mattered very little since by an Imperial Rescript Japan had declared war the previous day (albeit not before engaging in any conflict as required by the Third Hague Convention)

On Tuesday, 9th December the necessary proclamations were issued for sorting out war contraband and so on for both Hungary, Romania, and Finland and also Japan. Whereas some alacrity could be expected in the latter case, given the limited attention paid even in Parliament to the former I don't think it is surprising it took slightly longer. [20]

Astute observers will notice this issue of the Gazette precedes the supplement mentioned above. Very astute observers will notice that on the 7th (relatively late in the evening as news arrived) Parliament was summoned to meet early. At the time, the Commons had a regular wartime sitting pattern of three days a week (the arrangements for which given the security situation could conceivably be an article of their own) so to discuss the Japanese situation on Monday a recall would be required. [21]

Later in his speech, Churchill notes that "I do not yet know what part Siam, or Thailand, will be called upon to play in this fresh war". Park that thought, we will be coming back to it.

No emergency legislation was necessary - by 1941 the legislative infrastructure needed to prosecute the war was already in place.

Proceedings in the dominions broadly followed the usual practice, although I take the opportunity to point out the issue of the Australian Government Gazette recalling Parliament [22]

Given their proximity, war with Japan is obviously even more consequential to them that the United Kingdom.

The next few sections will speed things up a little so this article actually ends.

War with Bulgaria

Before I begin, whilst discussing this with a co-conspirator, this was described as a 'diplomatic sub-tweet', hence I have christened it the 'Bulgarian sub-tweet'. Saturday, 27th December, this notice appeared in a supplement to the London Gazette [23]

It seems the Bulgarians declared war, and didn't actually bother to tell anyone. Which is very much not how things are done in diplomacy. I also take the opportunity here to compare this with the declaration of war on Bulgaria in 1915 (see the First World War post). In the latter, the declaration was explicitly between the two Kings, here it is between two countries. How diplomacy had already begun to change!

(What actually happened was that Germany was pressuring Bulgaria to join the war — which it hadn't done despite being an Axis power [24] — so the Bulgarians did the bare minimum possible. Didn't stop them being bombed though [25] )

Although the Australian Parliament's own website [26] notes Australia declared war on 6th January, it seems they never bothered to Gazette this (and believe me, I read every Government Gazette for December 1941 to the end of January 1942...). Indeed, you strongly get the impression from here and elsewhere that they didn't care all that much about this minor change in affairs. Google tells me Canada and New Zealand declared war and/or noted a state of war existed at about the same time as the United Kingdom. I will leave that as an exercise for the reader.

The Australian Government did find time to requisition binoculars [27], however.

War with Thailand

This really is the last one (the Second World War truly was a 'World War'!). In the 6th February 1942 London Gazette, this appears [28]

Thailand had declared war, partly prompted by allied bombing of Bangkok [29], and partly as with Bulgaria due to allied pressure: in this case from Japan [29bis]. And thus we now know what part Thailand was to play in the war, as alluded to by Churchill. Meanwhile, on the 28th January a question was asked in the Commons which is, arguably, a little bit prescient [30]

(Later that day a two day confidence debate begun. As an interesting bit of trivia, the final vote was ayes, 464 —No, 1. The solitary no was the Independent Labour Party MP James Maxton, and his colleagues in the ILP Rev. Campbell Stephen and John McGovern stood tellers)

Mostly because I give you best for reading this far, I think I'll leave Thailand here (and also because the next reference I can find to Thailand in Hansard is in the Autumn of 1942)

That concludes the tour of declarations of war.


Victory in Europe Day was 8th May 1945. This, like in the First World War, elicited no specific notice in the Gazette. However, the Commons was suitably relieved — or at least it would be but the volume of Hansard for the early part of May 1945 is missing online!

We do have Victory in Japan Day, however. This was just after both Houses had reassembled after the election, and, exceptionally, something quite exceptional occurred: [31] 


The House had just gone to the Lords to hear the King's Speech, and had done a little switch-around with their Chamber [32], and now, exceptionally, they went immediately to St. Margaret's. And even more exceptionally, Hansard records the service verbatim [33] [34] 

(the Speaker also notes an interesting, and slightly spooky, curio: [35]


And that concludes 'part two of part two'. In a future edition, probably when I've fixed all the broken footnotes, we will go back in time to wars before the 20th century.


The London Gazette is licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0; Hansard and the Journals are licensed under the Open Parliament License; the historic Commons Journals can be found online (for which I am eternally grateful). Australian Government Gazette entries are sourced from the Federal Register of Legislation, which is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

[1] you should also read the first article in this series (I suppose that makes the said 'part one' really part one of part two, but let's not go there)
[2] Italian invasion of France, Wikipedia, (as at 6.16 p.m. 2019-11-11)
[3] Battle of the Mediterranean, Wikipedia (as at 6.19 p.m. 2019-11-11)
[4] Winter War, Wikipedia (as at 6.43 p.m. 2019-11-11)
[5] Continuation War, Wikipedia (as at 6.44 p.m. 2019-11-11)
[6] Operation Barbarossa, you can Google that one yourself!
[7] I'm going to exclusively adopt the modern spelling without the 'u' here.
[8] So did Italy, but since the British Empire was already at war with her we will gloss over that
[9] Molotov–Ribbentrop_Pact, Wikipedia (as at 6.48 p.m. 2019-11-11)
[10] The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was once the tie break question in a pub quiz I attended; unfortunately my team came last so my encyclopedic knowledge of it wasn't able to be deployed.
[12] Yes I wrote this sentence just to get the genitive plural in there...
[13] House of Commons Debates, volume 376, column 1502 (1941-12-12)
[14] Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 1941, No. 249, p. 2719
[15] I suspect there are more examples of this sort of thing, but I refuse to trawl through old Gazettes to find them, so it is an exercise for the reader!
[16] Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 1941, No. 251, p. 2725
[17] The Canada Gazette, volume LXXV, no. 99, 7th December 1941
[18] And, yes, he was the King's uncle, he was born Prince Alexander of Teck and had previously been Governor-General of South Africa.
[19] London Gazette, issue 35374, page 7035, 8th December 1941
[20] London Gazette, issue 35373, page 6989
[21] House of Commons Debates, volume 376, column 1358, 8th December 1941
[22] Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 1941, number 253, page 2729
[23] Fixme
[24] Indeed, it seems to have maintained diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. until ca. 1944!
[25] Bombing of Sofia in the Second World War, Wikipedia (as at 7.40 p.m. 2019-11-18)
[26] Parliamentary involvement in declaring war and deploying forces overseas, Parliament of Australia (accessed 7.50 p.m. 2019-11-18), (scroll down, a lot)
[27] Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 1941, number [something because Ben forgot what it is...]
[28] London Gazette, issue 35447, page 643, 6th February 1942
[29] Bombing of Bangkok in World War II, Wikipedia (as at 8.42 p.m., 2019-11-18)
[29bis] (I didn't want to renumber), in effect Japan had invaded.
[30] House of Commons Debates, volume 377, column 692 (28th January 1942)
[31] House of Commons Debates, volume 413, column 49, 15th August 1945
[32] For another day, we might discuss the procedures involved with a State Opening sans a Commons Chamber...
[33] ibid. column 51 et seq.
[34] As verbatim as Hansard ever is.
[35] ibid. column 50

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