New Year’s Eve 1943: the end of a year spent at war… and the beginning of another!

On 31st December 1943, Deputy Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee broadcast a New Year’s message to the nation. He spoke to a country that had suffered a heavy year of fighting, but was starting to feel that it might be possible to see the Axis powers defeated. Nineteen-forty-four was not to bring World War Two to a close, but colossal efforts and acts of bravery by the Allies that year would see them poised for victory by New Year’s Eve. In the meantime, they saw the Siege of Leningrad end, the Russians entering Romania and surging through the Crimea, the Gustav Line in Italy penetrated, the Great Escape crushed, the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day, the first V1 and V2 Flying Bombs hitting Britain, the failure of Operations Epson and Market Garden and the successes of Operations Goodwood, Cobra and Dragoon, an attempt on Hitler’s life, the crushing of the Warsaw Uprising, the breaking of the Siegfried Line, the liberations of Paris, Brussels and Belgrade, the sinking of the Tirpitz, US landings in the Philippines, the failure of the German counter-attack at Antwerp and the end of the Home Guard. Quite a year! But back to Attlee's speech on New Year’s Eve 1943:

“I suppose that most of us, on New Year’s Eve, look back on the old year and count our blessings, and look forward to the New Year with hope. If we are wise, we also note our failings and resolve to correct them. Every one of us has had his or her particular losses and gains in 1943, but as a nation we can say thanks to the Old Year as it departs. Let me just in retrospect recall some of its features: the expulsion of the enemy from Africa; the invasion of Europe and the surrender of Italy; the growing strength of our Allied offensive; the brilliant victories of the Russian armies.

“This year, for the first time, instead of Russian winter successes being followed by a German advance in the summer, the Russian attack has moved on successfully throughout the whole year. In the Far East, the Japanese advance has been halted, and month by month her outer ring of defences on the islands of the Pacific has been penetrated. In the Battle of the Atlantic, after the difficult months at the beginning of the year, the anti-U-boat war has gone in our favour and Allied shipping resources have been steadily growing. On the continent of Europe the activity of resistance groups increasingly embarrassed the enemy, and tied down forces which he urgently needs elsewhere.

“Cold and dark is the outlook for Hitler and the Nazis. The passing year has been for their forces one of continued retreat and of failure by land, sea and air. The Germans have felt the weight of a bombing weapon which they used so ruthlessly and so light-heartedly against defenceless victims in the day of their strength. The hour of reckoning has come, and they know that 1944 will mean for them only heavier attacks. They still fight hard and skilfully, but the hope of victory is dead in them, though some trust that a secret weapon may enable them to postpone the inevitable.

“We can therefore close this year in a spirit of thankfulness for the past and of hope and confidence for the future, but we must not translate hope into relaxation or confidence into complacency. We cannot tell what unsuspected trials may lie ahead of us: a war is full of surprises. We do know that in 1944 the war will blaze up into greater intensity than ever before, and that we must be prepared to face heavier casualties. Nineteen-forty-four may be the victory year; it will only be so if we continue to put forward our utmost efforts, and if we allow nothing to divert us from our main purpose.

“As I read in the lists of awards of the deeds of quiet heroism performed by so many men and women in various walks of life, whether as members of the fighting services, the mercantile marine, the A.R.P services, or in industry or as ordinary citizens, knowing also that these are only a few of those who deserve recognition, I think what a great people it is that I am privileged to serve. I think what nobility resides in the ordinary man and woman. From this springs a great hope for the future.

“May I wish you all health, happiness and victory in the New Year.”

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