The sixth, and critical, winter of war settled upon Europe with chilling rains, hunger and uncertainty. It was different from any winter since 1939, for the focus of despair had shifted from German-occupied countries to Germany. But retreating Nazis left chaotic disruption, vital shortages, and something more portentous. Liberated Europe was like a sea bottom from which the ebbing of a foul tide had exposed strange, unfamiliar, disturbing formsthe forces of the social war of which World War II was a military expression.
Round 1. In Western Europe liberation had been a joyful binge. Now Europe had a hangover. In Brussels, as in Paris, there was still an afterglow of liberation gaietybut it was forced. Belgians needed food, clothing, fuel. Transport was paralyzed. This week the Allied High Command began diverting 200 tons of food daily for 20 days, to help meet Belgian needs. It would bolster, it might save Premier Hubert Pierlot's Government. But in Belgium, as in France, Communism had grown and hardened under the Nazis. Belgian Communists sternly charged Pierlot's Government with inefficiency. Said London's New Statesman and Nation: "This is the opening round in the struggle between new revolutionary forces ... and groups wishing to return to prewar politics and economy."
In the liberated Netherlands too there was distress. Citizens were rationed to 1,040 calories of food daily, less than half enough. Schools were closed. Hospitals were critically short of personnel and medicines. To Queen Wilhelmina's Government in London a Dutch underground leader reported: Communism had gained no converts in Holland but old conservative parties were being radicalized. From Dutchmen in Holland, Dutchmen in exile did not know what to expect.
Disciplined Britain. Similar conditions bred similar forces in Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy. The sixth winter of war was hard on Britain, too. In London, thousands still slept in shelters and subways because they had no homes, while 100,000 workers from all Britain rushed repairs on 800,000 bomb-damaged houses. In Parliament, Tories demanded greater speed, more money for repairs. Said one: "We've got to the stage where Londoners are asking why the devil they should go on taking it."
Tightly rationed Britons were promised special food bonusesduring Christmas week each person would receive an extra half-pound of meat, sugar, margarine.
Britain's hardship was organized, disciplined. For themselves, Britons saw no prospect of a violent swing in any direction. But Britons themselves knew that what happened in continental Europe would one day affect Britain. Said the News Chronicle's editor Gerald Barry: This has become the common man's war. Man is trying to find the equation between individual liberty and economic order. Communal control . . . without too great a sacrifice of personal freedom seems to be the common denominator of all resistance movements.