Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister of Britain on 28th May, 1937. Over the next two years Chamberlain's Conservative government became associated with the foreign policy that later became known as appeasement. Chamberlain believed that Germany had been badly treated by the Allies after it was defeated in the First World War. He therefore thought that the German government had genuine grievances and that these needed to be addressed. He also thought that by agreeing to some of the demands being made by Adolf Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy, he could avoid a European war.
Joachim von Ribbentrop was ambassador to London in August, 1936. His main objective was to persuade the British government not to get involved in Germany territorial disputes and to work together against the the communist government in the Soviet Union. According to Christopher Andrew, the author of Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5 (2010) MI5 were receiving information from a diplomat by the name of Wolfgang zu Putliz, who was working in the German Embassy in London. Putliz told MI5 that "He (Ribbentrop) regarded Mr Chamberlain as pro-German and said he would be his own Foreign Minister. While he would not dismiss Mr Eden he would deprive him of his influence at the Foreign Office. Mr Eden was regarded as an enemy of Germany."
Putz constantly provided clear warnings that negotiations with Hitler and Rippentrop were likely to be fruitless and the only way to deal with Nazi Germany was to stand firm. Putliz told MI5 that her policy of appeasement was "letting the trump cards fall out of her hands. If she had adopted, or even now adopted, a firm attitude and threatened war, Hitler would not succeed in this kind of bluff" (MI5's Putlitz Dossier).
MI5 were very opposed to appeasement and supplied Neville Chamberlain with a document from a spy close to Hitler quoting him as saying: "If I were Chamberlain I would not delay for a minute to prepare my country in the most drastic way for a total war... It is astounding how easy the democracies make it for us to reach our goal....If the information which has proved generally reliable and accurate in the past is to be believed, Germany is at the beginning of a Napoleonic era and her rulers contemplate a great expansion of German power."
Anthony Eden, Chamberlain's foreign secretary, did not agree with the policy of appeasement and resigned in February, 1938. Eden was replaced by Lord Halifax who fully supported this policy. Halifax had already developed a good relationship with the German government. After his first visit to Nazi Germany he told his friend, Henry (Chips) Channon: "He (Halifax) told me he liked all the Nazi leaders, even Goebbels, and he was much impressed, interested and amused by the visit. He thinks the regime absolutely fantastic."
In November, 1937, Neville Chamberlain sent Lord Halifax to meet Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering in Germany. In his diary, Lord Halifax records how he told Hitler: "Although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he (Hitler) had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping Communism out of his country." This was a reference to the fact that Hitler had banned the Communist Party (KPD) in Germany and placed its leaders in Concentration Camps.
In February, 1938, Adolf Hitler invited Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, to meet him at Berchtesgarden. Hitler demanded concessions for the Austrian Nazi Party. Schuschnigg refused and after resigning was replaced by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the leader of the Austrian Nazi Party. On 13th March, Seyss-Inquart invited the German Army to occupy Austria and proclaimed union with Germany.
The union of Germany and Austria (Anschluss) had been specifically forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Some members of the House of Commons, including Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill, now called on Neville Chamberlain to take action against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi government.
Hugh Christie an MI6 agent working based in Berlin, met with Hermann Goering on 3rd February 1937. He immediately reported his conversation with Goering and included information that Germany intended to take control of Austria and Czechoslovakia. He also told Christie that Germany mainly wanted "a free hand in Eastern Europe."
In April 1938, Sudeten Nazis, led by Konrad Henlein, began agitating for autonomy. Chamberlain, faced with the danger of a German invasion, warned Hitler that Britain might have to intervene. In August, Neville Chamberlain, sent Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia in order to see if he could obtain a settlement between the Czechoslovak government and the Germans in the Sudetenland.
In March Hugh Christie told the British government that Adolf Hitler would be ousted by the military if Britain joined forces with Czechoslovakia against Germany. Christie warned that the "crucial question is 'How soon will the next step against Czechoslovakia be tried?' ... The probability is that the delay will not exceed two or three months at most, unless France and England provide the deterrent, for which cooler heads in Germany are praying."
Adolf Hitler had given Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe the magnificent palace, Schloss Leopoldskron, that had been confiscated from Max Reinhardt, who had fled from Austria in 1937 after criticising the Nazi government. Hitler wanted her to use it as a home and a "political salon". One of the first people she tried to entertain in the palace was Lord Runciman. As Martha Schad, the author of Hitler's Spy Princess (2002): "In the summer of 1938 he (Lord Runciman) was sent to the Sudetenland to sound out sentiments there, and it was suggested to Princess Stephanie – probably by Wiedemann – that she should invite him to Leopoldskron as well. The groundwork was laid and Runciman spent several delightful days at the Schloss." Schad believes that Princess Stephanie did a good job as Runciman reported to the British government that "Sudetenland is longing to be taken over by Germany , and the Sudeten Germans want to return to their homeland".
Hitler wanted to march into Czechoslovakia but his generals warned him that with its strong army and good mountain defences Czechoslovakia would be a difficult country to overcome. They also added that if Britain, France or the Soviet Union joined in on the side of Czechoslovakia, Germany would probably be badly defeated. One group of senior generals even made plans to overthrow Hitler if he ignored their advice and declared war on Czechoslovakia. In March 1938 Hugh Christie told the British government that Hitler would be ousted by the military if Britain joined forces with Czechoslovakia against Germany. Christie warned that the "crucial question is 'How soon will the next step against Czechoslovakia be tried?' ... The probability is that the delay will not exceed two or three months at most, unless France and England provide the deterrent, for which cooler heads in Germany are praying."
Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden on 15th September. Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported Germany's plans to takeover the Sudetenland . After discussing the issue with the Edouard Daladier (France) and Eduard Benes (Czechoslovakia), Chamberlain informed Hitler that his proposals were unacceptable. Hitler was in a difficult situation but he also knew that Britain and France were unwilling to go to war. He also thought it unlikely that these two countries would be keen to join up with the Soviet Union, whose communist system the western democracies hated more that Hitler's fascist dictatorship.
Benito Mussolini suggested to Hitler that one way of solving this issue was to hold a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. This would exclude both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and therefore increasing the possibility of reaching an agreement and undermine the solidarity that was developing against Germany.
The meeting took place in Munich on 29th September, 1938. Desperate to avoid war, and anxious to avoid an alliance with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe. The meeting ended with Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini signing the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany.
Lord Rothermere immediately sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler: "My dear Fuhrer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher."
The Munich Agreement was popular with most people in Britain because it appeared to have prevented a war with Germany. However, some politicians, including Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, attacked the agreement. These critics pointed out that no only had the British government behaved dishonorably, but it had lost the support of Czech Army, one of the best in Europe.
A.J.P. Taylor was a young historian teaching at the Manchester University in 1938. He felt so strongly about it that he made several public speeches on the subject: "It was worth a try, particularly as Chamberlain was so obviously working on Hitler's side. I suppose I addressed half a dozen meetings on the theme of "Stand up to Hitler". They were terrible. I tried every argument: national honour, anti-Fascism, Hitler's weakness and the certainty he would climb down." Taylor admitted that the crowd always responded in the same way: "What you are advocating means war. We want peace."
Members of the Cliveden Set were delighted with the Munich Agreement. According to Lord Lothian, "Chamberlain had pulled off a masterly coup". He told Waldorf Astor: "Nobody else could have done the trick and I've no doubt prayer helped the result. He'll be the darling of the Western world - a most unexpected position - for a while." Lothian predicted "some nasty moments as the Germans march into the Sudenten territory and the worthless Czechs and Social Democrats flee before them." Lothian was now convinced that Hitler would not now go to war: "My own impression is that Europe, including the Nazis, have now turned their back on world war, if only because a general war means letting Russia loose in Europe, and trust a final settlement, including disarmament, may be possible if Neville's lead is followed up."
One staunch critic of appeasement was the journalist Vernon Bartlett. He was approached by Richard Acland to stand as an anti-Chamberlain candidate at a by-election in Bridgwater. Bartlett agreed and in November, 1938, surprisingly won the previously safe Tory seat. Henry (Chips) Channon, a junior member of the government wrote in his diary: "This is the worst blow the Government has had since 1935".
In March, 1939, the German Army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. In taking this action Adolf Hitler had broken the Munich Agreement. The British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, now realized that Hitler could not be trusted and his appeasement policy now came to an end.
I had a long conversation with Lord Halifax about Germany and his recent visit. He described Hitler's appearance, his khaki shirt, black breeches and patent leather evening shoes. He told me he liked all the Nazi leaders, even Goebbels, and he was much impressed, interested and amused by the visit. He thinks the regime absolutely fantastic, perhaps even too fantastic to be taken seriously. But he is very glad that he went, and thinks good may come of it. I was rivetted by all he said, and reluctant to let him go.
I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure. I am certain in my own mind that progress depends above all on the temper of the nation, and that temper must find expression in a firm spirit. This spirit I am confident is there. Not to give voice it is I believe fair neither to this country nor to the world.
The resignation of the late Foreign Secretary may well be a milestone in history. Great quarrels, it has been well said, arise from small occasions but seldom from small causes. The late Foreign Secretary adhered to the old policy which we have all forgotten for so long. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have entered upon another and a new policy. The old policy was an effort to establish the rule of law in Europe, and build up through the League of Nations effective deterrents against the aggressor. Is it the new policy to come to terms with the totalitarian Powers in the hope that by great and far-reaching acts of submission, not merely in sentiment and pride, but in material factors, peace may be preserved.
A firm stand by France and Britain, under the authority of the League of Nations, would have been followed by the immediate evacuation of the Rhineland without the shedding of a drop of blood; and the effects of that might have enabled the more prudent elements of the German Army to gain their proper position, and would not have given to the political head of Germany the enormous ascendancy which has enabled him to move forward. Austria has now been laid in thrall, and we do not know whether Czechoslovakia will not suffer a similar attack.
The advent of Hitler to power in 1933 had coincided with a high tide of wholly irrational pacifist sentiment in Britain, which caused profound damage both at home and abroad. At home it immensely aggravated the difficulty, great in any case as it was bound to be, of bringing the British people to appreciate and face up to the new situation which Hitler was creating; abroad it doubtless served to tempt him and others to suppose that in shaping their policies this country need not be too seriously regarded.
It is no exaggeration to say that many prominent representatives of the Conservative Party, speaking for powerful landed and financial interests in the country, would welcome Hitler and the German Army if they believed that such was the only alternative to the establishment of Socialism in this country.
Their blatant and noisy approval of German and Italian ferocity and frightfulness in Spain, and their utter lack of concern for the sinking of British ships and the sacrifice of British lives, provides abundant proof of this contention.
The Nazis knew that in all capitalist countries there were men such as these ready to betray their own people, if by that means they could save their own property and privilege.
The first indication we got of the policy that led to Munich was in a speech by a young gentleman named Lennox-Boyd, M. P. for Mid-Bedfordshire. Until his elevation to Ministerial office, Mr. Lennox-Boyd had been a member of the notorious pro-Franco propaganda organisation, the Friends of National Spain.
This gentleman had been one of Mr. Chamberlain's first Back Bench selections for a Government post. The only reason anyone could see for his appointment as assistant to the Minister of Labour was his ferocious
hatred of the democratic. Government of Spain and his open expression of brutal glee at every advance of its
German, Italian and Franco enemies. He was chosen because he had all the qualities and all the connections of a good fifth-column supporter. It was from this pro-fascist junior Minister we got the first statement of policy on Czechoslovakia. In a speech delivered at Biggleswade, to the local Conservative organisation, he informed his audience and the country as a whole that the Prime Minister had no intention of doing anything to defend Czechoslovakia.
This declaration of policy created a sensation in the Press and in the country and was immediately made the subject of a question in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister smilingly said that his young friend had probably allowed his feelings to carry him away, but that he was only stating his own opinion and was not claiming to put the policy of the Government.
He treated the matter in the most casual manner, and unfortunately, after Mr. Lennox-Boyd had made an apology for what he claimed was an "indiscretion," the House of Commons allowed the matter to drop.
Reflecting the mood of the country, the Conservative Party was rotten at the core. The only thing they cared about was their property and their cash. The only thing they feared was that one day those nasty Communists would come and take it. The Labour and Liberal Parties were no better. With the exception of Hugh Dalton (and even he, speaking from the Front Opposition bench, announced that they would give no support of any kind to resistance to Hitler's military occupation of the Rhineland), they made violent, pacifist speeches; and voted steadily against the miserable Defence Estimates for the years 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938.
I asked the General straight out "What is Germany's aim in Europe today?" Goering replied "We want a free hand in Eastern Europe. We want to establish the unity of the German peoples (Grossdeutschegemeinschaft)'. I said "Do you mean to get Austria?" Reply "Yes". I said "Do you mean to get Czechoslovakia?" Reply "Yes".
The crucial question is How soon will the next step against Czechoslovakia be tried? ... The probability is that the delay will not exceed two or three months at most, unless France and England provide the deterrent, for which cooler heads in Germany are praying.
An unbelievable day, in which two things occurred. Hitler took Vienna and I fell in love with the Prime Minister. The morning was calm, the PM enchanting. I am in and out of his room constantly now. Early on, there were messages announcing mysterious movements of troops in Bavaria with the usual denials from Berlin. Then there was a grand luncheon party at 10 Downing Street at which, the Chamberlains entertained the Ribbentrops, the Halifaxes, Winston Churchills, etc. By then the news had reached the FO that the Germans had invaded Austria, and from 5 to 7 p.m. reports poured in. I was in Halifax's room at 7.30 when the telephone rang 'The Germans are in Vienna', and five minutes later 'The skies are black with Nazi planes'. We stood breathless in the Secretary of State's room, wondering what would happen next. All night messages flowed in; by midnight Austria was a German province. Rab Butler was dining with the Speaker, and as he was already late, I drove him there. Later Peter Loxley and I called on him about midnight and told him the latest news; he was still in his Minister's dress and we sat, an unreal trio, in the Butlers' flat in Little College Street, discussing the event. It is certainly a set-back for the Chamberlain Government. Will my adorable Austria become Nazified?
The Insurgents: Winston Churchill, Leo Amery, Duncan Sandys, Harold Nicolson, Godfrey Nicholson, Leonard Ropner, Derrick Gunston, Ronnie Cartland, Ronnie Tree, the Duchess of Atholl, Paul Emiys-Evans, Vyvyan Adams, Louis Spears, Bob Boothby, Victor Cazalet, Brendan Bracken and Jack Macnamara.
This Government has never commanded my respect: I support it because the alternative would be infinitely worse. But our record, especially of late, is none too good. Halifax and Chamberlain are doubtless very great men, who dwarf their colleagues; they are the greatest Englishmen alive, certainly; but aside from them we have a mediocre crew; I fear that England is on the decline, and that we shall dwindle for a generation or so. We are a tired race and our genius seems dead.
The continued state of tension in Europe which has caused such grave concern throughout the world has in no way been relieved, and in some ways been aggravated by the speech delivered at Nuremberg last night by Herr Hitler. Your Majesty's Ministers are examining the position in the light of his speech, and with the firm desire to ensure, if this is at all possible, that peace may be restored.
On the one hand, reports are daily received in great numbers, not only from official sources but from all manner of individuals who claim to have special and unchangeable sources of information. Many of these (and of such authority as to make it impossible to dismiss them as unworthy of attention) declare positively that Herr Hitler has made up his mind to attack Czechoslovakia and then to proceed further East. He is convinced that the operation can be effected so rapidly that it will be all over before France or Great Britain could move.
On the other hand, Your Majesty's representative in Berlin has steadily maintained that Herr Hitler has not yet made up his mind to violence. He means to have a solution soon - this month - and if that solution, which must be satisfactory to himself, can be obtained peacefully, well and good. If not, he is ready to march.
In these circumstances I have been considering the possibility of a sudden and dramatic step which might change the whole situation. The plan is that I should inform Herr Hitler that I propose at once to go over to Germany to see him. If he assents, and it would be difficult for him to refuse, I should hope to persuade him that he had an unequalled opportunity of raising his own prestige and fulfilling what he has so often declared to be his aim, namely the establishment of an Anglo-German understanding, preceded by a settlement of the Czechoslovakian question.
Of course I should not be able to guarantee that Dr. Benes would accept this solution, but I should undertake to put all possible pressure on him to do so. The Government of France have already said that they would accept any plan approved by Your Majesty's Government or by Lord Runciman.
Towards the end of the Banquet came the news, the great world stirring news, that Neville (Chamberlain), on his own initiative, seeing war coming closer and closer, had telegraphed to Hitler that he wanted to see him, and asked him to name an immediate rendezvous. The German Government surprised and flattered, had instantly accepted and so Neville, at the age of 69, for the first time in his life, gets into an aeroplane tomorrow morning and flies to Berchtesgarten! It is one of the finest, most inspiring acts of all history. The company rose to their feet electrified, as all the world must be, and drank his health. History must be ransacked to find a parallel. Of course a way out will now be found. Neville by his imagination and practical good sense, has saved the world.
I am sending this letter to meet you on your return, as I had no opportunity of telling you before you left how much I admired your courage and wisdom in going to see Hitler in person. You must have been pleased by the universal approval with which your action was received. I am naturally very anxious to hear the result of your talk, and to be assured that there is a prospect of a peaceful solution on terms which admit of general acceptance. I realize how fatigued you must be after these two very strenuous days, but if it is possible for you to come and see me either this evening or tomorrow morning, at any time convenient to yourself, I need hardly say that I shall greatly welcome the opportunity of hearing your news.
The Chamberlain-Hitler meeting seems to have been a huge success. Neville is returning to London today to lay Hitler's propositions before the Cabinet, though I gather from a private source that Duff, Walter Elliot, Winterton and, of course, that gloomy Oliver Stanley - 'Snow White' as we all call him - are likely to be troublesome.
This morning I stole away from the meeting of the Assembly and drove Rab to the far side of the lake where we lunched and talked for two hours. He was charming. He thought aloud; told me his creed, displayed his civil service cunning, his way of handling men, his theory that the man in possession when challenged must eventually inevitably part with something though, as he said, it is better to postpone the challenge as long as possible. That is what these harebrained Edenites do not understand. As we talked, the lake lapped the shores, and I came to the conclusion that there would be no war, no matter what people said. Rab, too, has implicit faith in Halifax and Chamberlain and agreed with me that both were linked together by an understanding. Either would do an even dishonest deed to reach a high goal. The ultimate object was all that counted.
At the Cabinet meeting Runciman was present and described his experiences in Czechoslovakia. It was interesting, of course, but quite unhelpful, as he was unable to suggest any plan or policy.
The Prime Minister then then told us the story of his visit to Berchtesgaden. Looking back upon what he said, the curious thing seems to me now to have been that he recounted his experiences with some satisfaction. Although he said that at first sight Hitler struck him as "the commonest little dog" he had ever seen, without one sign of distinction, nevertheless he was obviously pleased at the reports he had subsequently received of the good impression that he himself had made. He told us with obvious satisfaction how Hitler had said to someone that he had felt that he, Chamberlain, was "a man."
But the bare facts of the interview were frightful. None of the elaborate schemes which had been so carefully worked out, and which the Prime Minister had intended to put forward, had ever been mentioned. He had felt that the atmosphere did not allow of them. After ranting and raving at him, Hitler had talked about self-determination and asked the Prime Minister whether he accepted the principle. The Prime Minister had replied that he must consult his colleagues. From beginning to end Hitler had not shown the slightest sign of yielding on a single point. The Prime Minister seemed to expect us all to accept that principle without further discussion because the time was getting on. The French, we heard, were getting restive. Not a word had been said to them since the Prime Minister left England, and one of the dangers which I had feared seemed to be materialising, namely trouble with the French. I thought we must have further time for discussion and that it would be better to take no decision until discussions with the French had taken place, lest they should be in a position to say that we had sold the pass without ever consulting them
We met again that afternoon. I then argued that the main interest of this country had always been to prevent any one Power from obtaining undue predominance in Europe; but we were now faced with probably the most formidable Power that had ever dominated Europe, and resistance to that Power was quite obviously a British interest. If I thought surrender would bring lasting peace I should be in favour of surrender, but I did not believe there would ever be peace in Europe so long as Nazism ruled in Germany. The next act of aggression might be one that it would be far harder for us to resist. Supposing it was an attack on one of our Colonies. We shouldn't have a friend in Europe to assist us, nor even the sympathy of the United States which we had today. We certainly shouldn't catch up the Germans in rearmament. On the contrary, they would increase their lead. However, despite all the arguments in favour of taking a strong stand now, which would almost certainly lead to war, I was so impressed by the fearful responsibility of incurring a war that might possibly be avoided, that I thought it worth while to postpone it in the very faint hope that some internal event might bring about the fall of the Nazi regime. But there were limits to the humiliation I was prepared to accept. If Hitler were willing to agree to a plebiscite being carried out under fair conditions with international control, I thought we could agree to it and insist upon the Czechs accepting it. At present we had no indication that Hitler was prepared to go so far. We reached no conclusion and separated at about 5.30.
The Cabinet met that evening. The Prime Minister looked none the worse for his experiences. He spoke for over an hour. He told us that Hitler had adopted a certain position from the start and had refused to budge an inch from it. Many of the most important points seemed hardly to have arisen during their discussion, notably the international guarantee. Having said that he had informed Hitler that he was creating an impossible situation, having admitted that he had "snorted" with indignation when he read the German terms, the Prime Minister concluded, to my astonishment, by saying that he considered that we should accept those terms and that we should advise the Czechs to do so.
It was then suggested that the Cabinet should adjourn, in order to give members time to read the terms and sleep on them, and that we should meet again the following morning. I protested against this. I said that from what the Prime Minister had told us it appeared to me that the Germans were still convinced that under no circumstances would we fight, that there still existed one method, and one method only, of persuading them to the contrary, and that was by instantly declaring full mobilisation. I said that I was sure popular opinion would eventually compel us to go to the assistance of the Czechs; that hitherto we had been faced with the unpleasant alternatives of peace with dishonour or war. I now saw a third possibility, namely war with dishonour, by which I meant being kicked into the war by the boot of public opinion when those for whom we were fighting had already been defeated. I pointed out that the Chiefs of Staff had reported on the previous day that immediate mobilisation was of urgent and vital importance, and I suggested that we might one day have to explain why we had disregarded their advice. This angered the Prime Minister. He said that I had omitted to say that this advice was given only on the assumption that there was a danger of war with Germany within the next few days. I said I thought it would be difficult to deny that such a danger existed.
The PM at last came in, and was cheered frantically by members in all parts of the House. Everyone appreciates the great efforts he has made... I sat immediately behind him, Lord Halifax and Lord Baldwin were in the front row of the gallery by the clock, immediately over it was the Duke of Kent. . . The PM rose, and in measured, stately English began the breathless tale of his negotiations with Hitler, with the accounts of his flights to Germany, of Lord Runciman's report, etc. He was calm, deliberate, good-tempered and patient. . . My eyes stole up to Mrs Fitzroy's gallery and I saw Mrs Chamberlain listening intently. A lovely figure sitting by her made me- a gesture of recognition and half-waved; it was the Duchess of Kent. Behind her was a dark, black figure, and I looked again and recognised Queen Mary, who never before, in my recollection has been to the House of Commons - the Ambassadors' Gallery was full. I was next to that ass, Anthony Crossley, the MP for Stratford, and whenever there was any remark deprecating the Germans he cheered lustily, 'That's the way to treat them' - once when the tide was going with him, he turned scoffingly to me, and said 'Why don't you cheer ?' -again he asked 'How are your friends the Huns now?' - I sensed a feeling of unpopularity.
The great speech continued for an hour, and gradually the House settled back prepared for an announcement that must, although perhaps not for several days, lead to War. Hitler has decreed that his mobilisation will begin today at two o'clock... magnificently, the PM led up to his peroration - but before he got to it, I suddenly saw the FO officials in the box signalling frantically to me; I could not get to them, as it meant climbing over 20 PPS's, so Dunglass fetched a bit of paper from them which he handed to Sir John Simon, who glanced at it, and I tried to read it over his shoulder, but there was not time, as he suddenly, and excitedly tugged at the PM's coat; Chamberlain turned from the box on which he was leaning, and there was a second's consultation - 'Shall I tell them?' I heard him whisper. 'Yes', Simon, Sam Hoare and David Margesson all nodded, and I think Kingsley Wood did likewise - I am not sure about that, the excitement was so intense - and the conference 'in full divan' was only of a moment's duration. The PM cleared his throat, and resumed his speech, with just a suggestion of a smile. Then he told how he had telegraphed to both Hitler and Mussolini this morning; he had sought Mussolini's eleventh hour help and intervention, and how the Duce had not let him down, but had acted promptly. How foolish the anti-Italians now looked, and Anthony Eden's face - I watched it - twitched, and he seemed discomforted.
The House shifted with relief-there might yet be a respite - the Fuhrer had agreed to postpone negotiations for another 24 hours - and then the PM played his trump ace, and read the message that had been handed to me - 'That is not all. I have something further to say to the House,' and he told how Hitler had invited him to Munich tomorrow morning, that Mussolini had accepted the same invitation, that M. Daladier in all probability would do so too - every heart throbbed and there was born in many, in me, at least, a gratitude, an admiration for the PM which will be eternal. I felt sick with enthusiasm, longed to clutch him - he continued for a word or two and then the House rose and in a scene of riotous delight, cheered, bellowed their approval. We stood on our benches, waved our order papers, shouted - until we were hoarse - a scene of indescribable enthusiasm - Peace must now be saved, and with it the world.
Everyone I meet, mostly not of your party, wonders what you are thinking about the Government's attitude and whether you do not favour a more plain-spoken warning to Hitler. Hearing nothing, we are left wondering whether you too believe that our military position is too weak for us to venture on that. Hitherto only the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party have spoken out in a way calculated to make Hitler believe that England may possibly mean business. If you did feel able to say anything of the same sort and especially if Mr. Eden did so too, I believe it would rally opinion in the country as nothing else would. There is a great longing for leadership and even those who are far apart from you in general politics realize that you are the one man who has combined full realization of the dangers of our military position with belief in collective international action against aggression. And if we fail again, will there ever be another chance?
Along with men and women of all parties I deplored the irresolution and tardiness of a Government which never made clear to Germany where this country was prepared to take a stand look with the deepest misgiving at the prospect before us ... all of us passionately desire a lasting peace, but we want a sense of security, a life worth living for ourselves and our children: not a breathing space to prepare for the next war.
Then there was the confusion of policy. Both candidates were for: the League of Nations; re-armament; peace; democracy; unity against war. At least, they said so. Underlying everything was a simple unpolitical moral issue, whether or no we had gained peace with honour. But barrister Hogg scored one of the big laughs when he said :
"The issue in this election is going to be very clear. I am standing for a definite policy. Peace by negotiation. Mr. Lindsay is standing for no definite policy that he can name. He stands for national division against national unity. His policy is a policy of two left feet walking backward!"
But Lindsay, lemonade-loving Presbyterian son of a Theology Professor, had a unique line of approach, remote from the usual thumping. In his very first speech, he read part of the lesson for the previous Sunday, to illustrate his argument. It went across - for he was sincere. He got headlines when a man asked him : "Now that our prayers have succeeded in bringing peace from the Munich agreement, is it not ungrateful to doubt and to question that peace?"
Lindsay answered like this: "Suppose you had a child desperately ill. All night long you pray without ceasing, and in the morning she seems better. You thank God that your prayers have been answered. Then, later on it is discovered that owing to some error in the doctor's treatment, she is going to be disabled for the rest of her life. Would your gratitude to God for saving your daughter's life prevent you from calling in a better doctor who might restore your daughter to health? That is how I feel about our present very precarious peace. I am sure that Mr. Chamberlain did his best, but I know that it was also he who brought us very near to war. I am sure that it is owing to his policy that we are now in such a very dangerous situation. That is why I oppose him"
Hitler has entered Prague, apparently, and Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist. No balder, bolder departure from the written bond has ever been committed in history. The manner of it surpassed comprehension and his callous desertion of the Prime Minister is stupefying. I can never forgive him. It is a great day for the Socialists and for the Edenites. The PM must be discouraged and horrified. He acceded to the demand of the Opposition for a debate and the business of the House was altered. Then he rose, and calmly, but I am sure with a broken heart made a frank statement of the facts as he knew them. The reports were largely unconfirmed and based on press reports; consequently the PM was obliged to be cool and so was accused of being unmoved by events. I thought he looked miserable. His whole policy of appeasement is in ruins. Munich is a torn-up episode. Yet never has he been proved more abundantly right for he gave us six months of peace in which we re-armed, and he was right to try appeasement. I was relieved at how little personal criticism there was of the Apostle of Peace, and Grenfell who opened for the Opposition, was more impressive than Attlee he was saner, more manly, more eloquent and he held the attention and regard of the House.
When, with Austria in his possession. Hitler opened his campaign against Czechoslovakia in the late spring of 1938 I was much concerned. I had many friends among the Czech socialists and I also knew Dr. Benes and Jan Masaryk very well. Czechoslovakia was the only real democracy among the Succession States.
I did not believe that Hitler could be argued out of his plan to absorb this key strategic State in the German Reich. We in our Party were violently opposed to Fascism. We had seen with horror the persecution of the Jews and the socialists in Germany.
Chamberlain informed me of his intention to fly to Germany to see Hitler, which he thought was a possible way of averting war. I told him that I had little faith in the venture, but I could not oppose his action provided that he stood firm on principle. He informed the House of his intention just when we were about to debate Foreign Affairs. I said that no chance should be neglected of preserving peace without sacrifice of principle. But it was just this sacrifice which was made. On his return from Munich with a piece of paper we realised that the pass had been sold and we sat silent while the majority of the Tories stood up and cheered.
It was on the 3rd October, 1938, that Chamberlain reported to the House of Commons on his visit to Munich. I recall that before the Prime Minister made his statement. Duff Cooper (later Lord Norwich) made a personal explanation of the reasons that had led him to resign from the Government the previous day. Following immediately after Chamberlain, I spoke at some length and perhaps the line I took can be summed up in a couple of sentences early in my speech: "The events of these last few days constitute one of the greatest defeats that this country and France have ever sustained. There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler."
How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing! I would not hesitate to pay even a third visit to Germany, if I thought it would do any good.
Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination, life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living; but war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are stake.
We, the German Führer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe.
We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as Symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries.
I returned to London on the evening on Monday 26th September, and felt the tense calm of the London streets as people braced themselves for the seemingly inevitable war.
Then came Chamberlain's return with his pathetic scrap of paper and his "Peace in our time" speech. I was as angry as a cat which has just been robbed of its mouse. Those who felt like that were a minority among the almost hysterical majority who thought that Chamberlain had done a great thing.
On 15th March Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia and on 7th April Mussolini had taken over Albania. The treachery of the Munich Agreement was as last obvious, even to Chamberlain; he now gave a guarantee to Poland, and so all would depend on whether the Germans would be satisfied with their present gains.
For the French Government to leave her faithful ally Czechoslovakia to her fate was a melancholy lapse from which flowed terrible consequences. Not only wise and fair policy, but chivalry, honour, and sympathy for a small threatened people made an overwhelming concentration. Great Britain, who would certainly have fought if bound by treaty obligations, was nevertheless now deeply involved, and it must be recorded with regret that the British Government not only acquiesced but encouraged the French Government in a fatal course.
Prague, a sorrowing Prague, yesterday had its first day of German rule - a day in which the Czechs learned of the details of their subjection to Germany, and in which the Germans began their measures against the Jews and against those people who have "opened their mouths too wide." Prague's streets were jammed with silent pedestrians wandering about, looking out of the corners of their eyes at German soldiers carrying guns, at armoured cars, and at other military precautions. Some Czechs were seen turning up their noses at the Germans. Germans were everywhere. Bridges were occupied by troops and each bridge-head had a heavy machine-gun mounted on a tripod and pointing to the sky. Every twenty yards along the pavement two machine-guns were mounted facing each other.
Suicides have begun. The fears of the Jews grow. The funds of the Jewish community have been seized, stopping Jewish relief work. The Prague Bar Council has ordered all its "non-Aryan" members to stop practicing at once. The organisation for Jewish emigration has been closed. Hundreds of people stood outside the British Consulate shouting: "We want to get away!" This is only the beginning. According to an official spokesman of the German Foreign Office in Berlin last night, the Gestapo (secret police) will have rounded up hundreds of "harmful characters" within the next few days. So far about fifty to a hundred men have been put in local gaols. "There are certain centres of resistance which need to be cleaned up," said the spokesman. "Also some people open their mouths too wide. Some of them neglected to get out in time. They may total several thousand before we are through. Remember that Prague was a breeding-place for opposition to National Socialism." The head of the Gestapo in Prague is reported to have been more definite: "We have 10,000 arrests to carry out." Already, say Reuter's correspondent, everyone seems to have an acquaintance who has disappeared.
The mood of the German officials when it was announced that the Prime Minister would not see the Chancellor again was one almost of panic. This meant either war or a Hitler surrender. The crowds that applauded Chamberlain as he drove along the Rhine consisted not so much of ardent nationalists, delighted that a foreign statesman had come to make obeisance to their Fuehrer, as of ordinary human beings who wanted to be kept out of war, Since history cannot - thank God - repeat itself, one cannot produce proof to support one's opinions, but I am firmly convinced that, had Chamberlain stood firm at Godesberg, Hitler would either have climbed down or would have begun war with far less support from his own people than he had a year later. The British forces, one is told, were scandalously unprepared, and were able to make good some of their defects during that year. But meanwhile the Western Allies lost the Czechoslovak Army - one of the best on the Continent - defending a country from which the German armies could be out-flanked. Was it not Bismarck who claimed that whoever controlled Bohemia controlled Europe?
All the press welcomed the Munich agreement as preferable to war with the solitary exception of Reynolds News, a Left-wing Socialist Sunday newspaper of small circulation (and, of course, the Communist Daily Worker). Duff Cooper, first lord of the admiralty, resigned and declared that Great Britain should have gone to war, not to save Czechoslovakia, but to prevent one country dominating the continent 'by brute force'. No one else took this line in the prolonged Commons debate (3-6 October). Many lamented British humiliation and weakness. All acquiesced. Some thirty Conservatives abstained when Labour divided the house against the motion approving the Munich agreement; none voted against the government. The overwhelming majority of ordinary people, according to contemporary estimates, approved of what Chamberlain had done.
Those of us who had supported Eden were certain that Hitler would not keep to the Munich Agreement and that Chamberlain had embarked on an immensely dangerous course which would end in failure, with a European war and all its consequences. These fears were expressed most eloquently by Churchill, in the Commons debate on the agreement held on 5 October. Exposing with devastating acuity the weaknesses of Munich, which he described as a 'disaster of the first magnitude', he called for 'a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour'. He was right: we had to prepare for war. At Oxford, Munich had to be the subject of the Union's first debate of term and, on Thursday 13 October 1938, I proposed the motion 'That this House deplores the Government's policy of Peace without Honour'. The motion was opposed by Jerry Kerruish, another former president of OUCA, and I was supported by Christopher Mayhew, an ex president of the Union who was to become a Labour minister in Attlee's government, but who later found socialism unsustainable and forsook Labour for the Liberal Party.
The debate was a stormy one. Deriding the Munich Agreement as 'the peace which passeth all understanding', I attacked Chamberlain for a 'policy which brought us to the brink of war, that pulled us out at such a terrible cost and that points at we know not what future tragedies'. I also accused Chamberlain of 'turning all four cheeks to Hitler at once', a comment which earned me some criticism. There was immense interest in the debate and we won by 320 votes to 266, with Roy Jenkins numbered among our many supporters on the Labour side.
Seldom can any British prime minister have suffered such a sense of desolation and disaster as Chamberlain did in the summer days of 1940. It was impossible not to feel a certain sympathy for such an end to a long career of an ambitious man and a member of a family which had served its country over the years. Perhaps fate was kind in making him a person with few feelings.
Neville Chamberlain was a sad and to me pathetic man. He appeared to have but little love for his fellow men. The coldness of his character encompassed him like an aura. If he had little heart he certainly had a brain. He was a first-class administrator, probably one of the most capable Ministers of Health of this century. When he became prime minister his personal tragedy was that he was genuinely aghast at the possibility of war and he adopted the role of a man of peace because he was convinced that he had the political acumen to achieve it. But he hadn't. He would not drive for collective security which could have held Hitler, and Hitler would not make a genuine peace.
I believe that in 1938 and 1939 he genuinely felt that God had sent him into this world to obtain peace. That he failed may or may not be due to the inevitable ambition of Hitler to dominate the world, but there can be little doubt that in his mental attitude Chamberlain went the wrong way about it. He decided in the early stages of his discussions to treat Hitler as a normal human being and an important human being at that. At the time of the Munich crisis I said extremely critical things in public speeches about the German Chancellor with the result that I was approached by one of Chamberlain's more important ministers who asked whether I would be good enough to desist, as the prime minister had been informed that Hitler resented it.
Back home, I watched in utter despondency as the British government persisted in its policy of appeasement and the prospect of victory in Spain receded fast as Hitler and Mussolini gave Franco a steadily increasing preponderance in weapons and troops. The sellout in Munich in 1938 plunged me into despair; it seemed to me that Chamberlain and his sinister Foreign Secretary Halifax were intent on making England a junior partner of Hitler's Drittes Reich. A meeting with a young American woman whom I had met at Cambridge some years before but with whom I now fell in love changed my life, not least because when after Munich she yielded to her parents' anxious insistence that she come home, she persuaded me to apply for an immigration visa, come to America and marry her. Which I did early in 1939.