Seventy-seven years ago today, the nation found itself at war with Nazi Germany. It was a gloriously sunny Sunday morning when Chamberlain made his famous broadcast confirming the sorry fact. Three years earlier, a film of H.G. Wells's The Shape of Things to Come had shown his predicted war beginning with waves of bombers immediately appearing and dropping gas bombs onto a helpless population. This horrific scenario had lingered in the popular imagination and it was widely expected that something of the sort would play out in the skies over England. When air-raid sirens began to sound in London shortly after the declaration of war, many feared that events were about to unfold along the lines predicted by Wells. Many others, however, being English, remained calm, suspecting that this was most likely a false alarm. And so it was. What's more, the feared 'gas bombs' were never employed against this country. As so often before and since, the new war was being envisaged in terms of the previous one - even by the supposed futurologist Wells.
In a typically English process of deflation, 'the day war broke out' was soon to become a comic catchphrase.