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William L. Shirer - who later wrote "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" - was the CBS correspondent in Berlin. From 1938 onwards he broadcast almost daily radio reports to the U.S.A. whilst his colleague in London, Ed Murrow, was presenting the other side of the coin to the American people (Murrow to the left, Shirer to the right in the adjoining picture). Shirer remained in Berlin during the Polish and Norwegian campaigns, the victories in the West and the Battle of Britain. He was then of course, and would remain for more than a further year, a citizen of an officially neutral country.

Initially, despite heavy censorship, he was able to give his audience some glimmer of the truth. But by the second half of 1940 he had lost all scope for irony, nuance and colloquialisms in his reports and he increasingly found himself, to his frustration, little more than a mouthpiece for news issued by Goebbels's Ministerium für Propaganda und Volksaufklärung (Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment). These restrictions on his reporting and a growing suspicion of his activities by the Gestapo led to his departure from Berlin in late 1940.

On July 24th 1940 he reported the official Nazi attitude to the Home Guard. This is what he told the American public:

This is Berlin.

Germany today gave warning that it would treat members of that Home Guard which the British are forming as franc-tireurs (guerillas). And the German short-wave station broadcast in English the following warning:

"German official quarters once more warn the misled British people and remind them of the fate of Polish franc-tireurs and gangs of murderers. Civilians who take up arms against a German soldier are, in accordance with international law, no better than base murderers, whether they be priests or bank clerks. British people, you would do well to heed our warning!"

This was what the German short-wave radio said.

Since the people in Britain are permitted to listen to foreign radio stations, I suppose quite a few Britons heard that German warning. It would be interesting to hear from Mr. Murrow some time as to their reaction.

(Do we know if Ed Murrow ever broadcast a reaction?)

The above extract is © William L. Shirer Literary Trust 1999 and appears within "This Is Berlin" published in 2000 by Arrow Books, London SW1V 2SA - ISBN 0 09 940517 2


This matter was taken very seriously by those responsible for the Home Guard at the time.

There was of course no reason whatsoever to trust the Nazis in their behaviour in the event of an invasion, especially in view of what was already known about the experience of the unfortunate Poles. Nevertheless the possibility of Home Guards being regarded as falling outside the protection of the Geneval Convention because of the semi-civilian nature of the service, and, earlier on, the lack of a formal uniform, was clearly one which exercised attention.

This press cutting gives an indication of this concern, even after everyone had received an official uniform.

(Grateful acknowledgement to Matt Felkin)