24th July 1940 (continued)
Return to Gloucester and then to Hereford. I’m busy with the Poles, and they are great guys. Full of life and desperate for battle. Admirable bravery. I remember them from France, always on the attack. According to a report they are “fighting mad”.
(After the fall of Poland, pilots continued fighting with the French Air Force and then escaped to Britain after the fall of France. They had amassed a healthy combat tally against the Luftwaffe, despite being outmatched in the quality of planes)
Moved again, and at the beginning of March, I go to London to the Air Ministry. Very interesting work, but long hours and I am no longer used to working in an office. I have been here for two days, and again on an enormous bombing raid. The next day I take two hours to get to work; what damage. Houses destroyed or on fire. Plaster dust catches your eyes and throat. Glass and rubble all over the streets and buses still trying to get to their destinations. London and the Londoners are incredible. They work when the bombs fall and are even able to sleep through it. Those affected by the bombing without homes or any money sleep in the underground platforms. At work, I no longer travel.
Stark and Bramwell are old friends. Stark is security, Bramwell does propaganda for the French on the radio, and also looks after the Polish pilots in England. I am in a large office and an assistant to Col. Wells, Col. Biles and Major Green. Very interesting work to do with all the Allies in England; Polish, Czechs, French, Norwegians, Danes, Belgians, etc. I leave Slough at 7:40, catch the train at 7:55 and arrive at the office 8:50. Leave evening 1900-2000 hours
In the last few days, Russia has been attacked and I put all my hope in a British Victory concerning this campaign. I have bought a large map of this new front and follow all the movements of this enormous battle. From our reports, France is having a tough time, what with the bombings and lack of food.
The other day, we bombed Berek, Le Touquet, Lille, Dreux, Comines, Boulogne, Brest, Le Bourget and I believe four other factories in occupied France, without counting Germany, Belgium and Holland. Our RAF is becoming dangerous to the Huns (sic). Lt. Col. Wells has gone on inspection duties, and I am alone with the Major, so am taking an opportunity to write to you. To my joy General Crowe’s new secretary is a very old friend from France, Miss Pearl Witherington and has just arrived from France, after a seven month trip from Paris with her mother and sisters, via Marseille, Vichy, Madrid, Lisbon and London. This evening I’m going to meet Cpl. George Starr, whose wife and children are in Spain. George is the brother of Jack Starr that you’ve met. He escaped from Belgium, and is now in charge of the messenger pigeons. He sometimes catches wild ones, which are good with peas.
(Pearl Witherington went on to become Southgate’s second in command in the SOE in France and took over command of his circuit after his capture. It is believed that she was the inspiration for the Sebastian Faulks novel Charlotte Gray, which was later made into a film starring Cate Blanchett, 2001.)
(George and Jack Starr were later Southgate’s compatriots in the SOE, Jack or John became the subject of criticism over information he gave under interrogation to the Germans)
Maurice Southgate’s words
Translated by Parade Antiques