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Series Two: The Papers of Hugh Dalton, 1887-1962, from the British Library of Political and Economic Science

Part 1: The Complete Diaries, 1916-1960

Hugh Dalton was one of the first in a long line of Labour politicians who maintained a detailed diary of his daily life.  Inspired by Beatrice Webb, he started it in 1916 while he was still serving with the Royal Artillery in Italy.  It goes on to reveal:

  • Experiences of World War I and friendship with Rupert Brooke;
  • The evolution and impact of the Fabian Society;
  • His election as a Labour MP in 1924 and his clash with Ramsay MacDonald;
  • Life at the LSE;
  • The writing of Practical Socialism (1935), which had a major influence on Clement Attlee;
  • His appointment as Minister of Economic Warfare in 1940 and his foundation of the Special Operations Executive (SOE);
  • His 1942 promotion to the Board of Trade and his role in the War Cabinet;
  • The 1945 General Election victory by the Labour Party and his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer;
  • The 1947 economic crisis which caused his resignation;
  • The descent of the Labour Party into ideological squabbles.

The original manuscript diary is far more extensive than the printed edition.  It fills 56 volumes and well in excess of 8,000 pages.  It records every significant meeting he had as can be seen from this example:

"P.M. talks to No. 1 ministers. He has not held one of these general talks for some time. He says that the great battle in North Africa will begin this week. We have a superiority in men of more than two to one, in guns and aircraft of a good deal more. He thinks it will be a Stalingrad. Hitler has been constantly pouring in reinforcements and supplies by sea and air. We have sunk and destroyed much, but much has kept on coming in. This is Hitler's usual obstinacy. But we need not regret it. Hitler is, moreover, playing for time, and we have reason to know that he hopes we shall not start any new large land operations till 1st July. This probably means that he will by then have trained and ready the last 2,000,000 men whom he has scraped and squeezed out of German reserves of manpower. He is still immensely powerful; particularly if the Russians slow down, he could easily detach some thirty Divisions from the Eastern Front for other duties. He may still either push down through Spain or attack Turkey. If we must choose, we should prefer the former. Much thought has been given to our next move after clearing North Africa. There are practically no German troops in Italy or in the islands. The P.M. has been carrying on a double flirtation with Roosevelt and Stalin. The former has gone pretty easily. His relations with the President are most intimate and friendly. He does not want to use the direct approach on routine questions, but on questions of outstanding importance he is always pretty confident that it will work. Stalin is more difficult. But he has received two telegrams from him lately. One is thanking Churchill for the film Desert Victory. This has clearly been much appreciated. It is being shown in many parts of Russia. It demonstrates, says Stalin, how bravely and how skilfully the British are fighting. It disposes of the stories put about by those miscreants who allege that the British are not seriously in the war. The second telegram is in reply to a discouraging message about convoys. He takes the news very well, though not, of course, with pleasure. Further, Stalin always telegraphs congratulations whenever we raid Berlin. He evidently takes very great satisfaction in this. And no wonder!" 
Hugh Dalton, Diary entry for 7 Sept 1942.

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