This Day in History: 1939-09-03

Shortly after 11 am, the BBC interrupted its radio programmes and announcer Alvar Liddell said: “At 11.15, that is, in about two minutes, the Prime Minister will broadcast to the nation. Please stand by.”

Exactly 2 minutes later, speaking live from the Cabinet Room in No 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the nation: “This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note, stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently, this country is at war with Germany.”

For Britain, World War II had begun. It would be the most destructive and deadly war in the history of mankind, involving over 100 million people in 30 countries, including all of the great powers. By the time it ended, nearly 5 years later, somewhere between 70 and 85 million people (no-one knows the true figure) would be dead.