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The Second World war: A brief History

World War 2 was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945.  It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million people serving in military units. Marked by the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it resulted in over 60 million fatalities and remains the by far the deadliest conflict in all of human history.

It was fought in Europe, Russia, North Africa and Asia between the majority of the worlds nations.  On one side were the Axis Powers, including Germany, Italy and Japan. On the other side were the Allies, which included Britain, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, the Soviet Union, China and the United States of America.

Poona, India 20.03.44

Britain received help from Commonwealth nations, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well as countries in the British Empire such as India. Some countries stayed neutral and did not join the war, including Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland.

World War 2 is generally said to have begun on 1 September 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and Britain. Whilst Hitler wanted Germany to control Europe, Japan wanted to control Asia and the Pacific and was already at war with the Republic of China from 1937.

North West frontier

By the summer of 1940 the Nazi forces had conquered Holland, Belgium, France, Denmark and Norway. Enemy planes dropped bombs on cities in Britain and Allied ships were sunk by submarines. Hilter wished to invade Britain as quickly as he had taken France but this proved difficult. Germany, unlike Britain, was not a sea power and the Channel was a formidable obstacle. In July 1940, German planes started bombing British coastal towns, defences and ships in the English Channel in order to gain control of the skies in the South of England. By mid-September 1940, after many battles, Germany postponed their planned land invasion of Britain as the RAF effectively fought off the German Luftwaffe during the The Battle of Britain.


In 1941 the Soviet Union (Russia) was attacked by Germany. In 1941 America also joined the war, after Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

By 1943 the Allies were winning. One reason was that Allied factories were building thousands of tanks, ships and planes. In 1944, a huge Allied army crossed from Britain to liberate France. Then Allied armies invaded Germany. The war in Europe ended with the capture of Berlin by Soviet and Polish troops and the subsequent German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. The war in Europe was over.

Body on cart

The Pacific war went on until August 1945. There was fierce fighting on Pacific islands and big naval battles at sea. The Allies used their nuclear weapons and dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima on 6 August, and Nagasaki on 9 August. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan by invading Manchuria on the 9th August 1945. In the wake of the use of nuclear weapons on Japan, and with an invasion imminent, the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. World War 2 had ended.



India was a key allied nation for Britain during the Second World War.  At this time India had been occupied by Britain since 1858 and formed part of the British Empire.  The undivided are included India, Pakistan and Bangledesh.

India was ruled during this time by the British Raj, which was made up of two types of territory: British India and the Princely States. The princely states did not form a part of British India (i.e. the presidencies and provinces) as they were not directly under British rule. However, the princely states were ruled by individual rulers under the paramountcy of the British Crown.
The budget of the Raj covered municipal affairs, the police, the Indian Civil Service that ran government operations, and the Indian Army. Within the princely states external affairs, defence and most communications were under British control. 

Two-fifths of the sub-continent continued to be independently governed by over 560 large and small principalities, with whom the British Raj entered into treaties of mutual cooperation.

The Provinces of British India, being colonies of the United Kingdom, were by default a part of the Allied Nations. Thus India officially declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939.

Apart from the provinces directly ruled by the British there were a large number of Princely States within the British Raj that provided sizable donations to the Allies to combat the threat of Nazism and Fascism . The Indian Army during World War II was one of the largest Allied forces contingents which took part in the North and East African Campaign, Western Desert Campaign and the Italian Campaign. At the height of the World War, more than 2.5 million Indian troops were fighting Axis forces around the globe.

Despite the popular resentment against the British Raj, Indian participation in the Allied campaign remained strong. The financial, industrial and military assistance of India formed a crucial component of the British campaign against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. India's strategic location at the tip of the Indian Ocean, its massive production of armaments, and its huge armed forces played a decisive role in halting the progress of Imperial Japan in  South-East Asia.

After the end of the World War, India emerged as the world's fourth largest industrial power and its increased political, economic and military influence paved the way for its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947.

DIARY 1941

RAF Book Release authorisation

Diary 1941

India 1941-42-43-44
The Land of the 4 P's!

Lahore (1941)
Karachi (Sand Dessert)
Delhi. Old
Delhi. New
Murree Hills
Lower Topa
Upper Topa
Chakrata Hill station
Poona (1944)

The gang at Karaghi January 1942

JANUARY 20th 1941

(Arthur and Olive Wedding day)

At Cardington, Bedford. Went to Bridgnorth to be drilled, also posted to Bridgnorth.
Wife came down there to live, in which we enjoyed ourselves very much.
Then was put on a overseas draft in which wife went back to London.

JULY 8th 1941

(Arthur Cannell)
I was sent to West Kirby 8th July and there received tropic kit, and was kept there one week. 

Left West Kirby July 24th and arrived at King George Dock Scotland.

JULY 25th 1941

Windsor Castle

I was on the Windsor Castle. 20,000 tons.

Left for Greenock which was two hours journey, and waited there for Convoy July 30th.

AUGUST 2nd 1941


And still waiting for convoy.

Left Scotland August 2nd 8.30.

Very large Convoy. Approx 50,000 troops.

AUGUST 3rd 1941


1st Day out to Sea and the first Depth charge was dropped by a Destroyer.

The sea is very rough and not far from being sea sick.

Winsor Castle is head of Convoy.


Rough Seas

2nd Day at Sea

The weather is very misty and we cannot see destroyers.

We have travelled (APPROX) 800 miles.

We have 13 Destroyers and Cruisers surround our Convoy.

The Convoy is now going (ICELAND WAY).

The ship is tossing up and down, and nearly all of us are being sea sick.

The Captain is sea sick.

AUGUST 5th 1941


3rd Day at Sea

The sea is much better today.

The weather is still misty.

Now going north of Iceland.

AUGUST 6th 1941

Warwick Castle

4th Day at Sea

We have had a thick fog all day.

The weather is getting very hot.

I am on duty from 9 o'clock for 24 hours.

The fog is still THICK.

At 9.05 another ship crashes into our side (THE WARWICK CASTLE) and all the bells go everybody was to get on deck and be ready to abandon the ship.  All the rest of the convoy did not stop, so we had our lights on for 12 hours in dangerous waters, also shipping water.

AUGUST 7th 1941


5th Day at Sea

The Warwick Castle which crashed into us was badly damaged for you could see the sleeping berths, also taking water.

The Warwick Castle was carrying 400 H.TS girls so it turned round and went back to England with two Destroyers, and left us in the middle of the ATLANTIC.

They looked at our damage, we had holes below sea level but decided to try and catch Convoy up.

The code of the convoy is not to stop for anyone, so there we was all by ourselves.

We lost six of our life boats.

We are now trying to catch up to Convoy.  The Winsor Castle is the fastest ship in the convoy so may have a good chance.



We are in dangerous waters

Sighted two whales today.

AUGUST 8th 1941

6th Day at Sea
A sea plane flew round our ship today and signal to us it was a WALRUS. 1926 and it came off one of the Cruisers in Convoy.
Everybody feeling much better now.
This is the 2nd day we have been alone and was glad when one of the destroyers dropped back for us.  No sooner than we was with destroyer a submarine was located and dropped several depth charges. The submarine had been following us all day long.  We are going full speed trying to catch Convoy up.
Another submarine spotted by sea plane.  Sea plane dropped two 500 lb bombs on it and that was the end of that sub.
I think it was a good job the Cruiser found us otherwise the Winsor Castle might not have been here.

AUGUST 9th 1941

HMS Sveia

7th Day at Sea
Lovely day at sea, only 16 ships left on convoy.
Cannot see no Cruisers of Destroyers in sight. The sea plane is still flying.  We are just passing the AZORES.
Otherwise all is well.  We have to carry our life belts everywhere we go.
No mail received yet, be glad to hear from home.
The crew are making some new rafts from barrels.

AUGUST 10th 1941

8th Day at sea
Sunday morning - only time we can tell that we have egg and bacon?
Captains wife is in Cape Town so he decided to carry on. If she had been in England would he have turned back?

AUGUST 11th 1941

HMS Windsor Castle menu
HMS Windsor Castle menu

9th Day at Sea
We believed to have sank 4 submarines.  One sub. which was under convoy.  They rammed it.  Dead bodies were seen floating in the sea.

AUGUST 12th 1941



10th Day at Sea
Able to wear tropic clothes for the weather is very hot.
Plenty of flying fish in the sea.
Convoy heading for Dakar.
There are five of us sleeping in one cabin, one on the floor.  There is not much air as we are on lower deck so sleep up on deck.

AUGUST 13th 1941


11th Day at Sea
The Warwick Castle which crashed on us arrived back safe.
There was a death in one of the other ships. Buried during night.  
Nothing much to do only be about.

AUGUST 14th 1941

12th Day at Sea
We have just passed DAKAR but still in dangerous waters.  Six more destroyers and cruisers came to join convoy.
Able to post mail at FREETOWN WEST AFRICA (600 miles).  Sunderland flying boat patrolling Convoy.

AUGUST 16th 1941

George, Bill and Wally

14th day at Sea
Raining hard but lot cooler. A Cruiser sunk another submarine.  
Will soon be into Freetown.  
Plenty of fruit and chocolate we can buy on ship.

AUGUST 17th 1941

South Africa

15th Day at Sea
Just going into Freetown West Africa.  All the niggers in the rowing boats coming round the ship.  Give you anything for old cloths.  They go crazy for an old rope.  Got pair of slippers and basket.

AUGUST 18th 1941

Nobby - Louie

16th Day at Sea
There is no black out in Freetown, all the ships with lights on.  Having plenty of rain here.

AUGUST 19th 1941

17th Day at Sea
With all the rain at Freetown the weather is very hot.
We have some hurricanes flying all around the Convoy, giving the boys a treat.
They are mending or patching up the damage.  There is a hole below sea level that two men could crawl through.
It makes a change to see some land even if we cannot tread on it.

AUGUST 20th 1941

18th day at Sea
It is still raining, never seen so much rain in all my life.
Will be leaving Freetown very soon as soon as they fill us up with oil, water.

AUGUST 21st 1941

19th Day at Sea
We had four new life boats come on board.
It is raining so hard that the boys are using it as a shower.
Left Freetown 3 o'clock August 21st.
Been on duty all night.

AUGUST 22nd 1941

20th Day at Sea
Our first pay day we received 10 pounds.
We have a submarine following us.
We are now in dangerous waters.
But the Navy boys soon got rid of that submarine.
We had a baising match today.
One of the boys tripped up owing to holes in the baising ring and hit his head, taken to hospital.

AUGUST 23rd 1941

21 Days at Sea
The weather is very warm.
We are now on way to Cape Town and only one Cruiser with the Convoy.

AUGUST 24th 1941

22nd Day at Sea
We passed the EQUATOR LINE 1 o'clock this morning and being Sunday today we are going to have the ceremony of Crossing the line tomorrow.

AUGUST 25th 1941

23rd Day at Sea
They are getting the court ready and all dressing up.
The first real good laugh I have had since I left home.  Nearly all the officers got ducked.
We have three women on board which are matrons.  We never see them, the officers keep them busy.
There are there decks and the officers have two of them.  1200 men share the other one.

AUGUST 26th 1941

24th Day at Sea
The weather  is turning cold, and we must wear our blue clothes tomorrow.
Able to send mail at Cape Town.

AUGUST 27th 1941

25th Day at Sea
Have been on the Winsor Castle 33 days.
We had a concert today which was very good.
The boys make a concert between there selves.

AUGUST 29th 1941

27th Day at Sea
Will be appearing in Cape Town in few days.
The sea is getting very rough.
We are now out of danger waters and able to leave life belts off.

AUGUST 30th 1941

28th day at Sea
We had a in town tonight which I was in.  Only it was called on board tonight.

AUGUST 31st 1941

29th Day at Sea
Just been to Church.  The weather is very cold and the ship is tossing up and down but are used to the sea by now.

SEPTEMBER 2nd 1941

31st Day at Sea
Just pull into Cape Town Docks.
The ship is rolling about, and job to stand up.
We had hardly any sleep last night.
We had shore leave tonight 6-12.  There is no black out and the first thing we did was to have a good meal.

SEPTEMBER 3rd 1941

32nd Day at Sea
Today the war has been on two years.
September 3rd
Our troops was most welcomed in Cape.  They begged you to go out in their cars.  Went for a 100 mile tour all round the mountains and it was the most lovely sights I have ever seen.
The Table Mountain is a wonderful sight.  Only wish I was staying here for duration.

SEPTEMBER 4th 1941

1943 South Africa 

33rd Day at Sea
Been on shore again today and had another good meal, steak, eggs, chips, tomatoes.
There are free dances for us, and they throw oranges at you.  Do not pay fares on buses.
People invite you to dinner just like being in heaven and will be sorry to leave.
Bought present for wife.
Cape Town is very much like London (but give me London).

Olive Cannell

SEPTEMBER 6th 1941

35th Day at Sea
We are now pulling out of harbour and waiting for rest of convoy.  Taking last look at Cape Town.
We are now off to sea once again.  40 of our army boys was dropped off at Cape.
The Captain of the Winsor Castle was taken ill at Cape.  His wife lives there.  I would be ill myself if my wife was there.
We have now a new Captain, and do we know it.

SEPTEMBER 7th 1941

36th Day at Sea
The Convoy seems to be going faster.
We are now going round Cape Town.  It is about four days to DURBIN S.H.

SEPTEMBER 8th 1941

37th Day at Sea
We have now only 8 ships in Convoy and one armed merchant vessel (KANIVIN CASTLE) speed 32 knots.  One of our boys never came back, don’t blame him. One got himself married, and one engaged.

SEPTEMBER 9th 1941

38th Day at Sea
The red tape on this ship is terrible, treat us like school children.
Cape Town Government gave us three hundred cases of oranges and plenty of bananas.