Neville Chamberlain, the only son of Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) and his second wife Florence Kenrick (1847–1875) on 18th March, 1869 at Edgbaston, Birmingham. His father's first wife, Harriet Kenrick, had died while giving birth to Neville's elder half-brother, Austen Chamberlain, in 1863, and he married her cousin, in 1868. (1)
Chamberlain grew up in an atmosphere of fervent Unitarianism, within a happy family surrounded by cousins. However, his mother died in 1875 after the birth of her fourth child. "This unquestionably left its mark on Joseph Chamberlain and imposed a certain strain on his relations with his children." (2)
Joseph had two children by his first wife: Beatrice and Austin and four children by his second wife: Neville, Ida, Hilda and Ethel. Joseph became mayor of Birmingham in 1873 and the following year he sold the family business for £120,000. He invested heavily in South America and lived off the interest. A member of the Liberal Party he was elected to the House of Commons to represent Birmingham on 17th June, 1876. (3)
Neville Chamberlain hated his time at Rugby School where he was badly bullied by a boy whom Austen had beaten when he was a school prefect. As a result he became somewhat shy and withdrawn and was a reluctant participant in school debates. When asked why this was he referred to the unpleasant atmosphere in the house when his father was preparing to make an important speech. It has been suggested that this probably reflected his "adolescent resentment against a dominant father". (4)
At the end of 1886 Neville left school, but there was no question of his following Austen to Cambridge University. Austen had been sent there by his father and thence on an extensive tour of Europe as preparation for a career in politics. Joseph Chamberlain admitted that Neville was "the really clever one" but thought it would be better to send him to study metallurgy and engineering at Mason Science College. (5)
Andrew J. Crozier pointed out: "Although but a university education was deemed an unnecessary expense for a career in business. In this Joseph Chamberlain, although unintentionally, did Neville a great disservice. A university education would in all probability have made him a better integrated, more self-confident, and poised personality, with a capacity to project his inner warmth beyond the confines of the family and intimate friends and an ability to appreciate that there were points of view as intellectually sound as his own." (6)
In 1890 there was a massive slump in the Argentinean economy, which threatened the Chamberlain family with financial meltdown. Joseph Chamberlain, who at that time was the Colonial Secretary, had a conversation with Ambrose Shea, the Governor of the Bahamas, persuaded him that he could recoup his losses by growing sisal, a plant with stiff purple leaves from which high-quality hemp could be made. Joseph sent Neville to Nassau to investigate the prospect of what promised to be a 30 per cent return on his investment. (7)
In May 1891, Neville was given the responsibility of setting up the venture on the remote Bahamian island of Andros. The following month he was able to write: "It is with the deepest satisfaction that I am able to inform you today that the first part of my business is satisfactorily concluded. I have pitched on a tract of land in Andros Island and made an agreement with the governor... on the whole it is of excellent quality, very level, and unbroken... I am confident that I have secured the best site available in the Bahamas." (8)
It was a lonely existence.with his nearest neighbour, was only three miles away but it was a difficult journey that would take up most of the day. Knowles, his white overseer was poorly educated and was not a good "mental companion". He did enjoy talking to his wife but she died and he wrote: "What little social life I had is gone absolutely, and I see myself condemned to a life of total solitude, mentally if not physically." He therefore had to depend on a chance visit from a passing sponge merchant, or the mission priest from Fresh Creek, twenty miles to the south. His main excitement was the letters he received every fortnight. (9)
Joseph Chamberlain encouraged his son to stay on this remote island: "I feel that this experience, whatever its ultimate result on our fortunes, will have had a beneficial and formative effect on your character. At times, in spite of all the hardships and annoyances you have to bear, I am inclined to envy you the opportunity you are having to show your manhood. Remember, however, now and always that I value your health more than anything, and that you must not run any unnecessary risks either by land or sea." (10)
Neville Chamberlain's initial optimism was misplaced. Sisal plants did not grow successfully on the island and warned his father that the venture might fail. His father replied that "you seem to contemplate as a possibility the entire abandonment of the undertaking in which I shall have invested altogether (with the liabilities I have accepted) about £50,000. This would indeed be a catastrophe." (11)
In April 1896, after five years of hard toil Neville accepted defeat: "I no longer see any chance of making the investment pay. I cannot blame myself too much for my want of judgment. You and Austen have had to rely solely on my reports but I have been here all the time and no doubt a sharper man would have seen long ago what the ultimate result was likely to be... I should be much more than willing to spend another ten years here, if by so doing I could make a success out of the business in which I have failed." (12)
Chamberlain arrived back in England in 1897. Two wealthy uncles, both prominent Midlands industrialists, arranged for him to be appointed director of Elliott's Metals Company. Family connections enabled him to be appointed to the board of the Birmingham Small Arms Company. He also took control of Hoskins & Sons, manufacturers of ships berths. "It was Hoskins' that he gave most of his time, and he found a deep satisfaction in proving that on his own he could survive." (13)
Chamberlain was considered to be a good employer. "He was accessible to his workers and solicitous of their welfare to the extent of encouraging trade union membership, in which he was considerably in advance of his contemporaries. At Elliott's, Chamberlain introduced a surgery and welfare supervisors... At Hoskins he was equally innovative in welfare and reform, devising a 5 per cent bonus on production and a pension plan. When business was slack he was reluctant to lay men off. Indeed, for his time he was an exemplary employer and could justifiably take pride in the fact that he never experienced a strike." (14)
In 1911, aged 41, Neville Chamberlain married Anne Cole de Vere (1882-1967), after a brief courtship. It was described as a strange relationship, "he precise and meticulous, she impulsive and emotionally volatile" and yet their marriage was a long and happy one. After their marriage the couple moved to Westbourne, Edgbaston, which was to be their home for the remainder of their lives. Later that year she bore him a daughter, Dorothy and in 1913 a son named Frank. (15)
Chamberlain began to take an interest in politics. His father had left the Liberal Party over the issue of Irish Home Rule, and his small group of so-called Liberal Unionists and subsequently allied themselves to the Conservative Party. His brother, Austen Chamberlain, followed the same route and was MP for East Worcestershire. In 1911, Neville Chamberlain successfully stood as a Liberal Unionist for Birmingham City Council for the All Saints' Ward, located within his father's parliamentary constituency. During the campaign he stressed the need for town planning and open spaces. He also argued for the extension of the canal system. (16)
Within three years he became an alderman, and the following year he became Lord Mayor. Chamberlain held very progressive views and it was said that he acted like a member of the Labour Party. In fact, "several times he voted with his party opponents against deferment of an increase in teachers' salaries or a delay in extending technical schools." He also got the support of the Labour members in his dealing with the problems of health, housing and town planning. As he pointed out, the death-rate was 24 per thousand in working-class areas but only 9 in the suburbs. (17)
Chamberlain had genuine concern for the lives of working-class people. After reading The Town Labourer: 1760-1832 by Barbara Hammond and John Lawrence Hammond Chamberlain wrote in his diary: "It is extraordinarily interesting and, being written avowedly from the point of view of the labourer, so excites one's sympathy that one feels rebellion would have been more than justified over and over again in the face of such gross injustice and such brutal and inhuman oppression." (18)
Chamberlain explained the problems that Birmingham faced: "A large proportion of the poor in Birmingham are living under conditions of housing detrimental both to their health and morals" and the landlords were blind to "their moral obligations" and the tenants indifferent "to the laws of God or man". He urged the building of new estates in the surrounding countryside where life could "be made better with air and gardens" and "where town planning could prevent the making of new slums". Hopefully, these houses for the working-classes could be built by private companies but in "the last resort, if private enterprise failed, the corporation must step in". (19) Chamberlain spoke of the need to move "the working classes from their hideous and depressing surroundings to cleaner, brighter and more wholesome dwellings in the still uncontaminated country which lay within the city's boundaries". (20)
Chamberlain's achievements in Birmingham came to the attention of David Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions. During the First World War the country had a major problem in producing enough weapons and ammunition to defeat Germany. In June 1915, Lloyd George invited Chamberlain to serve on the liquor control board, set up to minimize the impact of alcohol consumption on arms production. He wrote in his diary: "I have been appointed a member of the Central Control Board to control liquor in munitions and transport areas. It is but one aspect of the great labour problem. The frantic competition among employers for labour has led to extravagant wages, relaxation of discipline, and bad timekeeping." (21)
In a letter he wrote to his mother he expressed his thoughts on the relationship between the workers and the employers: "I feel that National Service is the only solution of the present situation, which is rapidly becoming intolerable. It must, however, be accompanied by either a surtax on, or a limitation of profits for all, because workmen will never consent to restrictions which would have the effect of putting money into their employers' pockets. Personally I hate the idea of making profits out of the war when so many are giving their lives and limbs, and I hope and pray that the new government will have the courage and the imagination to deal with the situation promptly and properly." (22)
In 1916 Chamberlain was appointed Director of National Service. The scheme involved securing the voluntary recruitment of men and women for essential war work. Over the next seven months Chamberlain was constantly obstructed by the War Ministry, the Minister of Labour and the Unemployment Exchanges in his efforts to secure the transfer of industrial workers. "So complete was the failure that by the time of Chamberlain's resignation (in August 1917) just 3,000 volunteers for essential war work had been placed in employment." (23)
Chamberlain thought that this disaster would have a long-term impact on his political career. He wrote in his diary: "My career is broken. How can a man of nearly 50, entering the House with this stigma upon him, hope to achieve anything? The fate I foresee is that after mooning about for a year or two I shall find myself making no progress... I shall perhaps be defeated in an election, or else shall retire, and that will be the end. I would not attempt to re-enter public life if it were not war-time. But I can't be satisfied with a purely selfish attention to business for the rest of my life." (24)
Chamberlain could now concentrate on local matters and established the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He felt that a city of Birmingham's stature should be endowed with an orchestra of a high standard and that it should be funded partly from the rates. "There was, though, an additional agenda: such an orchestra, located in a large concert hall, would, through cheaper seats, make music both accessible to a wider audience and simultaneously more self-financing. In 1919 an annual grant from the rates was voted and made possible the creation of the city orchestra." (25)
During the war the government sought to persuade its reluctant citizens to invest their wages in war loans. Chamberlain believed that this could be achieved through municipal savings associations, which would encourage people to save (their contribution being deducted from their wages at source) but which, in return for guaranteed interest, forbade them from withdrawing their savings until the end of hostilities, released this money for use as a war loan. The Birmingham Municipal Bank was established in 1916 and was made permanent by an act of parliament in 1919 with the additional power to advance mortgages to depositors. (26)
Chamberlain was devastated by the death of his cousin, Norman Chamberlain, aged 27, in December, 1917, while fighting on the Western Front. He served with Norman on the city council and claimed he was "the most intimate friend I had." After leaving university Norman had dedicated his life to helping "boys who were victims of our urban civilisation". At his "own cost had emigrated many to Canada, crossed the sea to visit them". Neville wrote in his diary: "Somehow I had always associated Norman with anything I might do in the future. He was like a younger brother to me." (27) "His life was devoted to others, and I feel a despicable thing beside him." (28)
In the 1918 General Election Chamberlain was the Conservative candidate for Ladywood. During the campaign he declared that the reconstruction of the country after the war called for the setting aside of party. "I have repeatedly stated my conviction that we could best show our gratitude to those who have fought and died for England by making it a better place to live in. My sole reason for wishing to enter parliament is my desire to assist in bringing about this transformation." Chamberlain won the seat by obtaining 9,405 votes, against 2,572 (Labour) and 1,552 (Liberal). (29)
In his diary he made clear that he was on the left of the Conservative Party. "Many people have been sceptical about the suggestion that there was to be a new England, and many others have never intended that it should be very different from the old, if they could help it. If they had had their way, I think we might have drifted into a revolution." However, he was convinced the government could prevent rebellion by being in favour of social reform: "Whether it will be nationalisation in the sense that the State owns and works the collieries, or whether, as is more likely and I think more practical, some State control will be exercised, the workmen having a voice in the direction and a share of the profits." (30)
Chamberlain refused office under David Lloyd George and instead remained a backbencher where he argued for progressive reform. He suggested that the "best monument to the war dead would be social improvement that embraced proper pension provision, a minimum wage where necessary, shorter working hours, and a programme of state-aided housing construction". Using his example of being a good employer who never experienced his workers going on strike he urged the government to encourage a partnership between unions and employers. He also suggested that workers should be represented on the boards of directors, and he keenly advocated steadiness of employment. Neville's radicalism brought about a clash with his brother, Austen Chamberlain, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the government. Whereas Austen thought Neville's ideas "wild", Neville thought Austen views "unprogressive and prejudiced". (31)
At a meeting on 14th October, 1922, two younger members of the government, Stanley Baldwin and Leo Amery, urged the Conservative Party to remove Lloyd George from power. Andrew Bonar Law disagreed as he believed that he should remain loyal to the Prime Minister. In the next few days Bonar Law was visited by a series of influential Tories - all of whom pleaded with him to break with Lloyd George. This message was reinforced by the result of the Newport by-election where the independent Conservative won with a majority of 2,000, the coalition Conservative came in a bad third. (32)
Another meeting took place on 18th October. Austen Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour both defended the coalition. However, it was a passionate speech by Baldwin: "The Prime Minister was described this morning in The Times, in the words of a distinguished aristocrat, as a live wire. He was described to me and others in more stately language by the Lord Chancellor as a dynamic force. I accept those words. He is a dynamic force and it is from that very fact that our troubles, in our opinion, arise. A dynamic force is a terrible thing. It may crush you but it is not necessarily right." The motion to withdraw from the coalition was carried by 187 votes to 87. (33)
David Lloyd George was forced to resign and his party only won 127 seats in the 1922 General Election. The Conservative Party won 344 seats and formed the next government. The Labour Party promised to nationalise the mines and railways, a massive house building programme and to revise the peace treaties, went from 57 to 142 seats, whereas the Liberal Party increased their vote and went from 36 to 62 seats. (34)
Bonar Law appointed Chamberlain as Postmaster General. Stanley Baldwin was very impressed with Chamberlain and stated that he had done "extraordinarily well in his new post". On 17th May, 1923, Bonar Law was told he was suffering from cancer of the throat, and gave him six months to live. Five days later he resigned and was replaced by Baldwin. One of his first actions was to appoint Chamberlain as his Chancellor of the Exchequer. The two men got on very well and had a great deal in common. Both came from a business background and were excellent managers. (35)
It was a difficult time for the government and it was faced with growing economic problems. This included a high-level of unemployment. Baldwin and Chamberlain both believed that protectionist tariffs would revive industry and employment. However, Bonar Law had pledged in 1922 that there would be no changes in tariffs in the present parliament. Baldwin came to the conclusion that he needed a General Election to unite his party behind this new policy. On 12th November, Baldwin asked the king to dissolve parliament. (36)
During the election campaign, Baldwin made it clear that he intended to impose tariffs on some imported goods: "What we propose to do for the assistance of employment in industry, if the nation approves, is to impose duties on imported manufactured goods, with the following objects: (i) to raise revenue by methods less unfair to our own home production which at present bears the whole burden of local and national taxation, including the cost of relieving unemployment; (ii) to give special assistance to industries which are suffering under unfair foreign competition; (iii) to utilise these duties in order to negotiate for a reduction of foreign tariffs in those directions which would most benefit our export trade; (iv) to give substantial preference to the Empire on the whole range of our duties with a view to promoting the continued extension of the principle of mutual preference which has already done so much for the expansion of our trade, and the development, in co-operation with the other Governments of the Empire, of the boundless resources of our common heritage." (37)
In the 1923 General Election, the Labour Party won 191 seats. Although the Conservative Party had 258 seats, Herbert Asquith announced that the Liberal Party would not keep the Tories in office. If a Labour Government were ever to be tried in Britain, he declared, "it could hardly be tried under safer conditions". On 22nd January, 1924 Baldwin resigned. At midday, the 57 year-old, Ramsay MacDonald went to Buckingham Palace to be appointed prime minister. He later recalled how George V complained about the singing of the Red Flag and the La Marseilles, at the Labour Party meeting in the Albert Hall a few days before. MacDonald apologized but claimed that there would have been a riot if he had tried to stop it. (38)
Baldwin returned to power following the 1924 General Election. Baldwin wanted to appoint Chamberlain as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Chamberlain, however, believed that whereas he might make a great Minister of Health he would only ever be a second-rate Chancellor and requested a move to the Department of Health. Baldwin accepted his arguments and appointed Winston Churchill as Chancellor. Chamberlain immediately embarked upon an ambitious programme of social reform in the areas of housing, health, local government, the extension of national insurance and widows' pensions. Over the next five years he proposed 25 pieces of progressive legislation, 21 of which became law. Graham Stewart argued that "under his guidance, the confused and complicated patchwork of local government was entirely rationalised by 1929 with a commanding sweep which - put to a different goal - would have been the envy of any totalitarian planner." (39)
Chamberlain often came into conflict with Churchill over economic issues. Despite the problem of low Government revenues Churchill was determined not to increase personal taxes. In 1925 the majority of people did not pay income tax - only 2½ million people were liable and just 90,000 paid super-tax. The standard rate of income tax was reduced from four shillings and sixpence to four shillings in the pound. The super-tax was reduced by £10 million, which was substantial in relation to the total yield of the tax at £60 million: "This was of substantial benefit to the rich, not only as individual taxpayers but also in the capacity of many of them as shareholders, for income tax was then the principal form of company taxation." (40)
In a letter to James Gascoyne-Cecil, 4th Marquess of Salisbury, the leader of the House of Lords, he argued that "the rich, whether idle or not, are already taxed in this country to the very highest point compatible with the accumulation of capital for further production." (41) In a second letter he stated that cutting taxes was a "class measure" that was designed "to help the comfortably off and the rich." (42)
Churchill's social conservatism was also apparent during discussions within the Government over changes to unemployment insurance. The scheme that the Liberal government had introduced in 1911 had collapsed after the war because of large-scale structural unemployment, particularly among trades that were not covered by the scheme. A benefit (the dole) was first introduced for unemployed ex-servicemen, later extended to others and then made subject to a means test in 1922. Churchill thought that far too many people were drawing the "dole". (43)
Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons of the "growing up of a habit of qualifying for unemployment relief" and the need for an enquiry. (44) Three weeks later he told Thomas Jones, the Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet, that "there should be an immediate stiffening of the administration, and the position should be made much more difficult for young unmarried men living with relatives, wives with husbands at work, aliens, etc." (45)
Churchill wrote to Arthur Steel-Maitland, the Minister of Labour, to explain his ideas. He suggested that when the legislation to pay for the dole expired in 1926, rather than reduce the benefit, as most of his colleagues wanted to do, they should abolish it altogether. Churchill said: "It is profoundly injurious to the state that this system should continue; it is demoralising to the whole working class population... it is charitable relief; and charitable relief should never be enjoyed as a right." Churchill told Steel-Maitland that the huge number of unemployed families would have to depend on private charity once their insurance benefits were exhausted. The Government might make some donations to charities but money would only be given to "deserving cases" and that "by proceeding on the present lines we are rotting the youth of the country and rupturing the mainsprings of its energies". (46)
Churchill attempted to get his ideas supported by Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister: "I am thinking less about saving the exchequer than about saving the moral fibre of our working classes." (47) Churchill did not get his way. The other members of the Government, including Neville Chamberlain, regardless of any possible moral consequences, could not face the political impact of ending the ‘dole' at a time when over a million people were out of work. (48)
Despite his progressive views, Chamberlain did not always create the right impression in the House of Commons. Another member of the Cabinet, Oliver Stanley, who shared his progressive political views, complained about the way he dealt with members of the Labour Party. He wrote in his diary: "Stanley begged me to remember that I was addressing a meeting of gentlemen. I always gave him the impression, he said, when I spoke in the House of Commons, that I looked on the Labour Party as dirt." (49)
Chamberlain also urged caution in the build-up to the General Strike. He pointed out in his diary: "My own view was that a stoppage of such magnitude and accompanied by such bitterness would inflict incalculable and irreparable damage on the country; that this was not an occasion when such damage could be accepted as a necessary evil... that public opinion was uncertain about rights and wrongs... but inclined to believe that the owners at any rate were wrong." (50)
Winston Churchill, along with Frederick Smith, Lord Birkenhead, were members of the government who saw the strike as "an enemy to be destroyed." Lord Beaverbrook described him as being full of the "old Gallipoli spirit" and in "one of his fits of vainglory and excessive excitement". Thomas Jones attempted to develop a plan that would bring the dispute to an end. Churchill was furious and said that the government should reject a negotiated settlement. Jones described Churchill as a "cataract of boiling eloquence" and told him that "we are at war" and the battle should continue until the government won. (51)
John C. Davidson, the chairman of the Conservative Party, commented that Churchill was "the sort of man whom, if I wanted a mountain to be moved, I should send for at one. I think, however, that I should not consult him after he had moved the mountain if I wanted to know where to put it." (52) Neville Chamberlain found Churchill's approach unacceptable and wrote in his diary that he was acting in the same way as he had done at the beginning of the First World War: "He (Churchill) simply revels in this affair, which he will continually treat and talk of as if it were 1914." (53)
After the defeat of the miners Churchill urged the passing of anti-trade union legislation. As the bill emerged, its principal clauses stiffened the law against intimidation, inverted the process of the political levy by laying the weight on "contracting in", forbade local authorities to force trade unionism on their employees, and civil servants to affiliate themselves with a political party, defined and prohibited a general strike. Chamberlain argued against these measures, which he thought merely aimed at popularity, and thought that the government should be more conciliatory and more constructive. (54)
In 1927 the British Government passed the Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act. This act made all sympathetic strikes illegal, ensured the trade union members had to voluntarily 'contract in' to pay the political levy to the Labour Party, forbade Civil Service unions to affiliate to the TUC, and made mass picketing illegal. As A. J. P. Taylor has pointed out: "The attack on Labour party finance came ill from the Conservatives who depended on secret donations from rich men." (55)
The legislation defined all sympathetic strikes as illegal, confining the right to strike to "the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged". The funds of any union engaging in an illegal strike was liable in respect of civil damages. It also limited the right to picket, in terms so vague that almost any form of picketing might be liable to prosecution. As Julian Symons has pointed out: "More than any other single measure, the Trade Disputes Act caused hatred of Baldwin and his Government among organized trade unionists." (56)
Chamberlain became concerned about the growth of unemployment and suggested that the government needed to provide state help for certain industries. Stanley Baldwin agreed and according to an entry in Chamberlain's diary: "Last night I dined alone with the P.M.... He could not help feeling that if we had protected steel, we should not now be faced with the problem of 150,000 unemployable miners. But he did not know how the Chancellor would take such a proposal." (57)
In January 1929, 1,433,000 people in Britain were out of work. Churchill was widely blamed for the poor state of the economy. However, he refused to take action to reduce the problem. He told Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, that unemployment was not a political issue for the Conservatives: "Unemployment was confined to certain areas, which would go against the Government anyhow, but it was not sufficiently spread to have a universal damaging influence all over the country." (58)
Churchill resisted attempts by his colleagues who suggested he took action to reduce unemployment. In his opinion the British economic position was sound and that there was "a more contented people and a better standard of living for the wage earners than at any other time in our own history". He thought the Government should not allow itself to be "disparaged abroad and demoralised at home" by the unemployment figures". This was because they did not represent genuine unemployment,only "a special culture developed by the post-war extensions of the original Unemployment Insurance Act." He told the Cabinet that "it is to be hoped that we shall not let ourselves be drawn by panic or electioneering into unsound schemes to cure unemployment". (59)
Baldwin was urged to take measures that would protect the depressed iron and steel industry. Baldwin ruled this out owing to the pledge against protection which had been made at the 1924 election. Agriculture was in an even worse condition, and here again the government could offer little assistance without reopening the dangerous tariff issue. Baldwin was considered to be a popular prime minister and he fully expected to win the general election that was to take place on 30th May, 1929. (60)
At the 1929 General Election Chamberlain moved to the safe Conservative constituency of Edgbaston. He won his seat easily but there was an overall anti-government swing. The Conservatives won 8,656,000 votes (38%), the Labour Party 8,309,000 (37%) and the Liberals 5,309,000 (23%). However, the bias of the system worked in Labour's favour, and in the House of Commons the party won 287 seats, the Conservatives 261 and the Liberals 59. The Conservatives lost 150 seats and became for the first time a smaller parliamentary party than Labour. (61)
Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary that he blamed Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, and Winston Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for not spending enough money to reduce unemployment. "The election has come and gone in disaster. We are out and Ramsay MacDonald has formed his second Cabinet... I thought perhaps the general respect and affection with which he (Baldwin) is regarded would have overborne everything else, but it was not so." However, he welcomed the decline in popularity of David Lloyd George and the Liberal Party: "His efforts to revive his party has failed, thank Heaven, and we may hope that the process of disintegration will now continue until it is absorbed by others."
Chamberlain thought it a good idea that Ramsay MacDonald should form a minority government. "There is no conversion to Socialism. It is merely the present discontents showing themselves in a desire for change... Socialists themselves have not a clear majority… what has happened is perhaps the best thing for the country that could have occurred. MacDonald's game is clear enough. Keep very moderate, and quite suspicions and fears for two years. Then say to the proletariat, if we have not been able to do all you like, that is because we have not had a majority. Here is a budget which really offers you a good taste of the millennium, and all the expense of the rich. I think it quite possible that he may succeed. In that case we are out for 7 years, and if then we come back I shall be 67 if I were alive, and I daresay politics will have ceased to interest me." (62)
In March 1930, Neville Chamberlain was asked to become the head of a new Conservative Party Research Department, Three months later he became chairman of the Conservative Party. Other leading figures in the party thought that Chamberlain should replace Baldwin as leader. Andrew J. Crozier has argued: "Baldwin's temperament and style were not suited to opposition, and Chamberlain himself was forced to alert him to the discontent at his lack of drive." (63)
The two main press barons, Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook, joined forces in an attempt to remove Baldwin as leader. According to one source: "Rothermere's feelings amounted to hatred. He had backed Baldwin strongly in 1924, and his subsequent disenchantment was thought to be connected with Baldwin's unaccountable failure to reward him with an earldom and his son Esmond, an MP, with a post in the government. By 1929 Rothermere, a man of pessimistic temperament, had come to believe that with the socialists in power the world was nearing its end; and Baldwin was doing nothing to save it. He was especially disturbed by the independence movement in India, to which he thought both the government and Baldwin were almost criminally indulgent." (64)
Rothermere and Beaverbrook wanted Neville Chamberlain to replace Baldwin. They entered into negotiations with Chamberlain who expressed concerns about the long-term consequences of this attack on the Conservative Party. He was especially worried about the cartoons by David Low, that were appearing in the Evening Standard. Chamberlain argued that before a deal could be arranged: "Beaverbrook must call off his attacks on Baldwin and the Party, cease to include offensive cartoons and paragraphs in the Evening Standard, and stop inviting Conservatives to direct subscriptions to him in order that they might be used to run candidates against official Conservatives." (65)
Chamberlain remained loyal to Baldwin and refused to undermine his leader. He wrote in his diary: "The question of leadership is again growing acute… I am getting letters and communications from all over the country… I cannot see my way out. I am the only person who might bring about Stanley Baldwin's retirement, but I cannot act when my action might put me in his place." (66)
However, Peter Neville, the author of Neville Chamberlain (1992), has argued that there is evidence that Chamberlain spread information amongst fellow members of the Cabinet that undermined Baldwin: "Chamberlain's behaviour during the leadership crisis was not as disinterested as he subsequently maintained. This in itself was not particularly shocking. Politicians are ambitious, and Neville Chamberlain would in 1931 have attained a position which neither his father nor his half-brother had ever achieved - leadership of the Conservative Party." (67)
In July, 1931, the George May Committee produced (the two trade unionists refused to sign the document) its report that presented a picture of Great Britain on the verge of financial disaster. It proposed cutting £96,000,000 off the national expenditure. Of this total £66,500,000 was to be saved by cutting unemployment benefits by 20 per cent and imposing a means test on applicants for transitional benefit. Another £13,000,000 was to be saved by cutting teachers' salaries and grants in aid of them, another £3,500,000 by cutting service and police pay, another £8,000,000 by reducing public works expenditure for the maintenance of employment. "Apart from the direct effects of these proposed cuts, they would of course have given the signal for a general campaign to reduce wages; and this was doubtless a part of the Committee's intention." (68)
The five rich men on the committee recommended, not surprisingly, that only £24 million of this deficit should be met by increased taxation. As David W. Howell has pointed out: "A committee majority of actuaries, accountants, and bankers produced a report urging drastic economies; Latham and Pugh wrote a minority report that largely reflected the thinking of the TUC and its research department. Although they accepted the majority's contentious estimate of the budget deficit as £120 million and endorsed some economies, they considered the underlying economic difficulties not to be the result of excessive public expenditure, but of post-war deflation, the return to the gold standard, and the fall in world prices. An equitable solution should include taxation of holders of fixed-interest securities who had benefited from the fall in prices." (69)
The May Report had been intended to be used as a weapon to use against those Labour MPs calling for increased public expenditure. What it did in fact was to create abroad a belief in the insolvency of Britain and in the insecurity of the British currency, and thus to start a run on sterling, vast amounts of which were held by foreigners who had exchanged their own currencies for it in the belief that it was "as good as gold". This foreign-owned sterling was now exchanged into gold or dollars and soon began to threaten the stability of the pound. (70)
Philip Snowden, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented his recommendations to the Cabinet on 20th August. It included the plan to raise approximately £90 million from increased taxation and to cut expenditure by £99 million. £67 million was to come from unemployment insurance, £12 million from education and the rest from the armed services, roads and a variety of smaller programmes. Most members of the Cabinet rejected the idea of the proposed cut in unemployment benefit and the meeting ended without any decisions being made. Clement Attlee, who was a supporter of John Maynard Keynes, condemned Snowden for his "misplaced fidelity to laissez-faire economics". (71)
Arthur Henderson argued that rather do what the bankers wanted, Labour should had over responsibility to the Conservatives and Liberals and leave office as a united party. The following day MacDonald and Snowden had a private meeting with Neville Chamberlain, Samuel Hoare, Herbert Samuel and Donald MacLean to discuss the plans to cut government expenditure. Chamberlain argued against the increase in taxation and called for further cuts in unemployment benefit. (72)
Chamberlain wrote about the meeting in his diary: "I opened first and intimated: (1) that if these were the final proposals… we should turn them out immediately the House met: (2) that before then we anticipated that the financial crash must come: (3) that we considered that it was the P.M.'s bounden duty to avoid that crash: and (4) that we were ready to give him any support in our power for that purpose, either with his present, or in a reconstructed government. Herbert Samuel (leader of the Liberal Party) followed on exactly the same lines… The P.M. began by drawing a touching picture of his own position (a thing he loves to do)… He did not think resignation would help. He would remain P.M. and invite his colleagues to support him, and tell those who would not that they might go when they liked." (73)
At another meeting on 23rd August, 1931, nine members (Arthur Henderson, George Lansbury, John R. Clynes, William Graham, Albert Alexander, Arthur Greenwood, Tom Johnson, William Adamson and Christopher Addison) of the Cabinet stated that they would resign rather than accept the unemployment cuts. A. J. P. Taylor has argued: "The other eleven were presumably ready to go along with MacDonald. Six of these had a middle-class or upper-class background; of the minority only one (Addison)... Clearly the government could not go on. Nine members were too many to lose." (74)
On 24th August 1931 King George V had a meeting with the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties. Herbert Samuel later recorded that he told the king that MacDonald should be maintained in office "in view of the fact that the necessary economies would prove most unpalatable to the working class". He added that MacDonald was "the ruling class's ideal candidate for imposing a balanced budget at the expense of the working class." (75)
Later that day Ramsay MacDonald returned to the palace and told the King that he had the Cabinet's resignation in his pocket. The King replied that he hoped that MacDonald "would help in the formation of a National Government." He added that by "remaining at his post, his position and reputation would be much more enhanced than if he surrendered the Government of the country at such a crisis." Eventually, he agreed to form a National Government. (76)
Ramsay MacDonald was only able to persuade three other members of the Labour Party to serve in the National Government: Philip Snowden (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Jimmy Thomas (Colonial Secretary) and John Sankey (Lord Chancellor). The Conservatives had four places and the Liberals two: Neville Chamberlain (Minister of Health), Stanley Baldwin (Lord President), Samuel Hoare (Secretary for India), Herbert Samuel (Home Secretary), Lord Reading (Foreign Secretary) and Philip Cunliffe-Lister (President of the Board of Trade). (77)
Chamberlain was successful in "impaling Labour on a series of ever more difficult hooks of financial policy, forcing Snowden to adopt the large-scale fiscal reforms demanded by the Conservatives and the City, whilst preventing a rise in the level of direct taxation, which would disproportionately affect the rich, the natural constituency". This enabled the Conservatives to promote the image that it was a Labour prime minister who was punishing the unemployment and to deflect unpalatable accusations that an "upper class" government was foisting "economies" on the most vulnerable sectors of society. (78)
The 1931 General Election was held on 27th October, 1931. MacDonald led an anti-Labour alliance made up of Conservatives and National Liberals. It was a disaster for the Labour Party with several leading Labour figures, including Arthur Henderson, John R. Clynes, Arthur Greenwood, Charles Trevelyan, Herbert Morrison, Emanuel Shinwell, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Hastings Lees-Smith, Hugh Dalton, Susan Lawrence, William Wedgwood Benn, Tom Shaw and Margaret Bondfield losing their seats. The Labour Party polled 30.5% of the vote reflecting the loss of two million votes, a huge withdrawal of support. The only significant concentration of Labour victories occurred in South Wales where eleven seats were retained, many by large majorities. (79)
MacDonald, now had 556 pro-National Government MPs and had no difficulty pursuing the policies suggested by Sir George May. Chamberlain was appointed as the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. He continued with Snowden's austerity-minded measures and in his first budget speech he argued: "Nothing could be more harmful to the ultimate material recovery of this country or to its present moral fibre… hard work, strict economy, firm courage, unfailing patience, these are the qualifications that are required of us, and with them we shall not fail." (80)
Chamberlain was convinced that he needed to balance the budget. He therefore took the controversial decision to protect the home market by introducing tariff duties on foreign goods. This measure was opposed by several members of the Cabinet. This included the Liberal leader, Herbert Samuel, who later recalled: "Neville Chamberlain... was always ready to take the lead, particularly on economic questions which then held the field and which had always been his special province. His ideas were positive and clearcut; he was tenacious in pursuit of them... Courteous and agreeable in manner, Chamberlain was willing to listen to arguments with a friendly spirit - but a closed mind." (81)
Chamberlain's tariff were put before the House of Commons on 4th February 1932, the day which he called "the great day of my life".This was because his father, Joseph Chamberlain, had failed to get this measure accepted by Parliament. To emphasize the point he took along his father's battered old despatch box from the days when he had been Colonial Secretary. In his speech, Chamberlain explained the need for the general tariff of 10 per cent. It would help correct the deficit in the balance of payments, and the fall in the value of the pound, as well as reducing unemployment by moving "to our own factories and fields work which is now done elsewhere". (82)
Chamberlain wrote in his diary: "The largest problem I see in front of us is what is to be the future of international trade. It has shrunk to a third of what it was in 1929. Is it going to recover, or is the spirit and practice of economic nationalism going to prevail, and each country try to live by taking in its own washing? On the answer to this problem depends our policy in agriculture, in Empire relations, and international affairs. We are now endeavouring to increase the home production of bacon, eggs, poultry, hops, cheese, etc. How far are we to carry it?" (83)
This piece of legislation was widely seen to be the realisation of his father's long cherished ambitions of imposing tariffs to help protect the British Empire. As Chamberlain pointed out: "There can have been few occasions in all our long political history when the son of a man who counted for something in his day and generation has been vouchsafed the privilege of setting the seal on the work which the father began but had perforce to leave unfinished." (84) At the end of this emotional speech, Neville's elder half-brother, Austen Chamberlain, strode from the Treasury bench to shake his half-brother's hand amidst rapturous applause. (85)
Neville Chamberlain often worked from 9.30 a.m. to 1.30 a.m. He told his sister, Ida Chamberlain, that: "Every day, one interview or committee succeeds another and in the evening there is generally a box large enough to keep me out of bed till the small hours. It is strenuous work but I suppose that I would not willingly change it now for any other." When he woke "several times in the night my thoughts rush inevitably to the problem." (86)
Chamberlain wrote in his diary: "I am more and more carrying this government on my back. The P.M. (MacDonald) is ill and tired, S. B. (Stanley Baldwin) is tired and won't apply his mind to problems. It is certainly time there was a change". (87) On 7th June 1935, MacDonald went to see King George V to tell him he was resigning as head of the National Government. The King said: "I wonder how you have stood it - especially the loss of your friends and their beastly behaviour. You have been the Prime Minister I have liked best; you have so many qualities, you have kept up the dignity of the office without using it to give you dignity." (88)
Stanley Baldwin became prime minister for the third time. Chamberlain worked much harder than Baldwin and viewed himself as an being in control of the government. He told Hilda Chamberlain that he had become "a sort of Acting PM - only without the actual power of the PM." He complained that he had to say to Baldwin, "Have you thought" or "What would you say" when it would be quicker to say "This is what you must do." (89) In another letter he complained: "You would be astounded if you knew how impossible it is to get any decision taken unless I see that it is done myself and sometimes I wonder what would happen to this government if I were to be smashed up in a taxi collision." (90)
In February 1934, the Defence Requirements Committee (DRC) chaired by Sir Maurice Hankey, which reported to Cabinet that Germany was now Britain's "ultimate potential enemy". It was decided that Chamberlain should be put in charge of defence expenditure. Graham Macklin has pointed out that Chamberlain now "became the supreme arbiter of the nation's defences, holding the purse strings and thus dictating the parameters of the debate surrounding the scale and direction of the rearmament drive. Chamberlain was not inclined either by temperament or desire, particularly in the aftermath of the Wall Street crash, to embark on a vast spending spree. Indeed, his first act was to present Treasury figures for defence estimates lower than at any time since the First World War." (91)
The DRC suggested that the government needed to spend £85 million on defence to deal with the threat of Germany. Chamberlain rejected this figure and told the DRC that he believed that financial stability was far more important than increasing spending on defence. "Today financial and economic risks are by far the most serious and urgent that the country has to face, and that other risks have to be run until the country has had time and opportunity to recuperate and our financial situation to improve." (92) It has been argued that in 1935 Britain had spent 3 per cent of her Gross National Product on defence compared with Germany's 8 per cent. In 1936 the figures had been 4 per cent for Britain against 13 per cent for Germany. (93)
Some members of the Conservative Party began attacking Chamberlain for his unwillingness to rapidly increase spending on defence. At that year's party conference, Chamberlain admitted that defence spending had reached a dangerous low level, but blamed successive Governments for the last eight and a half years, which, he pointedly reminded his audience, included his most vociferous critic, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill. (94)
Peter Neville, the author of Neville Chamberlain (1992), argues that Chamberlain's views on rearmament was influenced by his belief in social reform: "Chamberlain... worried about the cost of rearmament, and the way the arms race was affecting the programme of domestic reform in which he so much believed... If, Chamberlain reasoned, diplomacy could bring about an understanding profoundly worth striving for... His belief was that if the burden of arms spending became so heavy that it endangered Britain's economic recovery (still at a delicate stage after the Depression), then a diplomatic situation had to be found." (95)
In March 1936, Chamberlain, gave permission for an increase in the frontline strength of the Royal Air Force from 1,500 to 1,750 first-line planes. In his diary he wrote: "I am pretty satisfied now that, if we can keep out of war for a few years, we shall have an air force of such striking power that no one will care to run risks with it. I cannot believe that the next war, if it ever comes, will be like the last one, and I believe our resources will be more profitably employed in the air, and on the sea, than in building up great armies." (96)
On 28th May, 1937, Stanley Baldwin resigned and replaced by Neville Chamberlain. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he had resisted attempts to increase defence spending. He now asked the defence policy requirements committee to look at different ways of funding this expenditure. It was suggested that £1.1 billion was financed through increased taxation and £400 million coming from increased government borrowing. It was suggested that of this sum, £80 million should be spent in air-raid precautions. Despite this, the country still did not rapidly increase defence spending. (97)
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. (98)
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. During this period Von Ribbentrop told Hitler that the British "were so lethargic and paralyzed that they would accept without complaint any aggressive moves by Nazi Germany." (99)
According to Christopher Andrew, the author of Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5 (2010) MI5 was receiving information from a diplomat by the name of Wolfgang zu Putlitz, who was working in the German Embassy in London. Putlitz 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." Putlitz 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. Putlitz 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". (100)
A few weeks before he officially became prime minister, Chamberlain arranged for Nevile Henderson to replace Eric Phipps as British ambassador to Berlin. Phipps had been warning of the dangers of Hitler and in his reports he gave ample and frequent warning of Nazi intentions to his superiors in London. He argued that Germany could only be contained "through accelerated and extensive British rearmament". (101) Chamberlain urged Henderson to "take the line of co-operation with Germany". (102)
Henderson later recalled that Chamberlain "outlined to me his views on general policy towards Germany, and I think I may honestly say that to the last and bitter end I followed the general line which he set me." (103) There was some concern in the Foreign Office about the appointment of Henderson as some saw him as a political extremist and a supporter of Hitler. Oliver Harvey wrote in his diary: "I hope we are not sending another Ribbentrop to Berlin." (104)
Before leaving for Nazi Germany, Henderson read a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. "Though it was in parts turgid and prolix and would have been more readable if it had been condensed to a third of its length, it struck me at the time as a remarkable production on the part of a man whose education and political experience appeared to have been as slight, on his own showing, as Herr Hitler's." (105)
On 1st June, 1937, Henderson attended a banquet arranged by the German-English Society of Berlin. A large number of leading Nazis were in attendance when he made a speech where he defended Adolf Hitler and urged the British people to "lay less stress on Nazi dictatorship and much more emphasis on the great social experiment which is being tried out in this country." (106)
This speech provoked an uproar and one journalist described him as "our Nazi ambassador at Berlin". However, some newspaper editors, including Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of The Times, supported this approach to Nazi Germany. In the House of Commons the Conservative Party MP, Alfred Knox offered congratulations "to HM Ambassador in Berlin on having made a real contribution to the cause of peace". (107) Richard Griffiths, the author of Fellow Travellers of the Right (1979), has pointed out that "Henderson was not just an eccentric individual, as has been suggested; he stands as an example of a whole trend in British thought at the time." (108)
Some senior figures in the intelligence services 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." (109)
Lord Halifax, the leader of the House of Lords, shared Chamberlain's belief in appeasement. In 1936 Halifax visited Nazi Germany for the first time. Halifax's friend, Henry (Chips) Channon, reported that: "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 riveted by all he said, and reluctant to let him go." (110)
Halifax later explained in his autobiography, Fullness of Days (1957): "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." (111)
Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, supported Chamberlain's appeasement policy because he believed that Britain needed time to rearm. However, as Keith Middlemas, the author of Diplomacy of Illusion: British Government and Germany, 1937-39 (1972), has pointed out: "While Eden held to the policy of keeping Germany guessing long enough to give Britain time to rearm, so that he could negotiate from a position of strength, Chamberlain, conscious of time running out, preferred to settle the outstanding accounts at once." (112)
At this stage Winston Churchill was not giving his support to those opposing the appeasement of Adolf Hitler. On 17th September, Churchill praised Hitler's domestic achievements. In an article published in The Evening Standard after highlighting Germany's achievements in the First World War he wrote: "One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations. I have on more than one occasion made my appeal in public that the Führer of Germany should now become the Hitler of peace." (113)
Churchill went further the following month. "The story of that struggle (Hitler's rise to power), cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate or overcome, all the authority or resistances which barred his path.". He then considered the way Hitler had suppressed the opposition and set up concentration camps: "Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim and even frightful methods, but who nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler." (114)
Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador to Berlin, upset Sir Robert Vansittart, his boss at the Foreign Office, by attending the annual Nuremberg Rally. (115) Henderson told Eden that he was regarded as "too pro-Nazi or pro-German". However, he believed that sometimes it was necessary to impose a dictatorship. He considered Antonio Salazar, "the present dictator of Portugal" one of the "wisest statesmen which the post-war period has produced in Europe". He argued that Hitler had probably gone too far with the Nuremberg Laws but "dictatorships are not always evil and, however anathema the principle may be to us, it is unfair to condemn a whole country, or even a whole system. because parts of it are bad." (116)
Henderson admitted in his autobiography, Failure of a Mission (1940), that his comments gave "most offence to the left wing". However, he believed that that the British people should pay more "attention to the great social experiment which was being tried out in Germany" and condemned those who suggested that "our old democracy has nothing to learn from Nazism". Henderson argued that "in fact, many things in the Nazi organisation and social institutions... which we might study and adapt to our own use with great profit both to the health and happiness of our own nation and old democracy." (117)
In November, 1937, Neville Chamberlain announced he was sending his friend, and fellow appeaser, Lord Halifax, to meet Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring in Germany. Anthony Eden was furious when he discovered this and felt he was being undermined as foreign secretary. One historian has commented: "Eden and Chamberlain seemed like two horses harnessed to a cart, both pulling in different directions." (118)
In his diary, 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. Halifax told Hitler: "On all these matters (Danzig, Austria, Czechoslovakia) ... the British government... "were not necessarily concerned to stand for the status quo as today... If reasonable settlements could be reached with... those primarily concerned we certainly had no desire to block." (119)
This story was leaked to the journalist Vladimir Poliakoff. On 13th November 1937 the Evening Standard reported the likely deal between the two countries: "Hitler is ready, if he receives the slightest encouragement, to offer to Great Britain a ten-year truce in the colonial issue... In return... Hitler would expect the British Government to leave him a free hand in Central Europe". (120)
Lord Halifax later explained that Hitler told him that Czechoslovakia "only needed to treat the Germans living within her borders well and they would be entirely happy". He also had meetings with Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Hjalmar Schacht and Werner von Blomberg. Göring informed Halifax that Germany did not intend to fight to gain colonies. Blomberg said that Anglo-German relations were more important than the "colonial question" but Germany were interested in taking territory in Central Europe. (121)
Halifax wrote to Chamberlain on 24th November, 1937: "The whole thing comes back to this. However much we may dislike the idea of Nazi beaver-like propaganda etc. in Central Europe, neither we nor the French are going to be able to stop it and it would therefore seem short-sighted to forgo the chance of a German settlement by holding out for something we are almost certainly going to find ourselves powerless to secure." (122)
Neville Chamberlain invited Konstantin von Neurath, the German foreign minister, to London. On 26th November, 1937, Chamberlain recorded his objectives in the negotiations: "It was not part of my plan that we should make, or receive, any offers. What I wanted to do was to convince Hitler of our sincerity and to ascertain what objectives he had in mind... Both Hitler and Göring said separately and emphatically that they had no desire or intention of making war and I think we may take this as correct, at any rate for the present. Of course they want to dominate Eastern Europe; they want as close a union with Austria as they can get, without incorporating her in the Reich." (123)
Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, made it clear to the prime minister that he was unwilling to force President Eduard Beneš of Czechoslovakia, to make concessions. William Strang, a senior figure in the Foreign Office, also urged caution over these negotiations: "Even if it were in our interest to strike a bargain with Germany, it would in present circumstances be impossible to do so. Public sentiment here and our existing international obligations are all against it." (124)
Nevile Henderson, who was in favour of an agreement with Hitler, warned the British government that Nazi Germany was building up its armed forces. In January 1938 he reported: "The rearmament of Germany, if it has been less spectacular because it is no longer news, has been pushed on with the same energy as in previous years. In the army, consolidation has been the order of the day, but there is clear evidence that a considerable increase is being prepared in the number of divisions and of additional tank units outside those divisions. The air force continues to expand, at an alarming rate, and one can at present see no indication of a halt. We may well soon be faced with a strength of between 4000 and 5000 first-line aircraft.... Finally, the mobilisation of the civilian population and industry for war, by means of education, propaganda, training, and administrative measures, has made further strides. Military efficiency is the god to whom everyone must offer sacrifice. It is not an army, but the whole German nation which is being prepared for war." (125)
Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, was a strong opponent of appeasement and the behaviour of Nevile Henderson. Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador in London complained about Vansittart. According to Norman Rose: "Vansittart's techniques also worked against him. His memoranda, drafted in a convoluted, epigrammatic style, faintly condescending in tone, warning of terrible dangers if his advice went unheeded, all too often irritated his political masters... In some quarters, his anti-Germanism was viewed as excessive, even paranoid." In January 1938, Vansittart was replaced by the pro-appeasement, Sir Alexander Cadogan. "Vansittart was 'kicked upstairs', assuming the high-sounding, but politically meaningless, title of chief diplomatic adviser to the government". (126)
On 4th February, 1938, Adolf Hitler sacked the moderate Konstantin von Neurath as Foreign Minister, and replaced him with the hard-line, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Eden argued that this move made it even more difficult to get an agreement with Hitler. He was also opposed to further negotiations with Benito Mussolini about withdrawing from its involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Eden stated that he completely "mistrusted" the Italian leader. (127)
At a Cabinet meeting Chamberlain made it clear that he was unwilling to back down over the issue. Anthony Eden resigned on 20th February 1938. He told the House of Commons the following day: "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." (128)
No one else in the Cabinet was willing to resign over this issue: Winston Churchill commented: "There seemed one strong young figure standing up against long, dismal, drawling tides of drift and surrender, or wrong measurements and feeble impulses. He seemed at this moment to embody the life-hope of the British nation… Now he was gone." (129) Robert Boothby, a Tory MP, commented that 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." (130)
Churchill argued in Parliament that: "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." (131)
David Low, a cartoonist who opposed appeasement, commented: "As might have been expected in such conditions, advocates of Churchill-Eden and opponents of appeasement soon found themselves labeled war-mongers and irresponsibles." Chamberlain made a speech where he attacked "the bitter cartoons of Low" in the Evening Standard and that this had upset Adolf Hitler to such an extent that it was harming negotiations with the Nazi government. (132)
On 12th March, 1938, the German Army invaded Austria. The country had been due to hold a referendum on its independence in which, it was expected, it would vote against incorporation into the Third Reich. The union with Austria was achieved by bullying and intimidation, but without a single shot being fired. Chamberlain was shocked and dismayed but felt he had to accept Anschluss. He told the cabinet that they now had to "prevent an occurrence of similar events in Czechoslovakia". (133)
Winston Churchill, like the Government and most of his fellow Conservative MPs, decided that they would have to accept the aggressive action taken by Hitler. During the debate in the House of Commons, Churchill did not advocate the use of force to remove German forces from Austria. Instead he called for was discussion between diplomats at Geneva and still continued to support the government's appeasement policy. (134)
According to John Bew, there were political reasons for this approach and why Clement Attlee led the attack on Chamberlain's decision not to take action over Austria. "Churchill could do very little on his own. The majority of his party remained firmly behind Chamberlain. In public, Churchill had in fact begun to temper his criticism of the government, in the hope that he might be brought back into office in some capacity, and be able to exert his influence from within. It was Attlee... who led the criticism of the government in Parliament." (135)
Chamberlain now appointed fellow appeaser, Lord Halifax, as his new foreign secretary. Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador in Berlin, told Chamberlain that we would lose a war with Nazi Germany. Hitler's main concern was over Czechoslovakia, a country that had been created after the allied victory in the First World War. Before the conflict it had been part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. The population consisted of Czechs (51%), Slovaks (16%), Germans (22%), Hungarians (5%) and Rusyns (4%).
Lord Halifax recommended that the British government should apply pressure on President Eduard Beneš of Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland, with its largely German-speaking population, to Germany. Henderson's biographer, Peter Neville, pointed out: "So strong was this conviction that he sometimes erred on the side of prejudice against the Czechs and their president, Beneš". (136)
In March 1938, Adolf Hitler advised Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten Germans, on his political campaign to gain independence. Hitler told him "that demands should be made by the Sudeten German Party which are unacceptable to the Czech government." Henlein later summarised the comments: "We must always demand so much that we can never be satisfied." Hitler suggested that once a crisis was established, he would be willing to send German troops into Czechoslovakia. (137)
Later that month, Hugh Christie, an MI6 agent, working in Nazi Germany, told headquarters 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." (138)
Chamberlain believed his appeasement policy was very popular with the British people. Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the highest selling newspaper in Britain told the former Canadian Prime Minister Richard B. Bennett, that Chamberlain was "the best P.M. we've had in half a century... dominating Parliament but the country has not yet taken to him." If he wished, claimed Beaverbrook, he could "be Prime Minister for the rest of his life." Chamberlain told his sister that "as for the House of Commons there can be no question that I have got the confidence of our people as Stanley Baldwin never had it." (139)
However, some members of his cabinet found him a difficult man. Philip Cunliffe-Lister (Lord Swinton), the Secretary of State for Air, criticised Chamberlain as "overly autocratic and intolerant of criticism". He became suspicious to the point of paranoia, employing Sir Joseph Ball, with the support of MI5, to gather information on the contacts and financial arrangements of his political opponents, and even to intercept their telephone calls. (140) Stanley Baldwin complained to Anthony Eden that his own work "in keeping politics national instead of party" had been rendered worthless. Eden replied that Chamberlain was attempting to "return to class warfare in its bitterest form". (141)
The Czech crisis reached the first of many dangerous points in May 1938. It was reported that two Sudeten German motorcyclists had been shot dead by the Czech police. This led to rumours of Hitler preparing to use the incident as a pretext for invasion and there were reports of German troops assembling near the Czech border. The French and Soviet governments pledged support to the Czechs. Lord Halifax sent a message to Berlin which warned that if force was used Germany "could not count upon this country being able to stand aside". At the same time he sent a diplomatic message which told the French they should not assume Britain would fight to save Czechoslovakia. (142)
On 25th May, Lord Halifax had a meeting Tomas Masaryk, the Czechoslovak minister in London, and told him the least that his country could "get away with" would be autonomy on "the Swiss model" combined with neutrality in foreign policy. Later that day Chamberlain told the Cabinet "the Sudeten Deutsch should remain in Czechoslovakia but as contented people." He made the same point that Halifax had made to Masaryk, when he said if Czechoslovakia became a neutral state "it might be possible to get a settlement in Europe." (143) Five days later, Hitler made a speech where he stated: "It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future." (144)
Winston Churchill now decided to become involved in discussions with representatives of Hitler's government in Nazi Germany in an attempt to avoid conflict between the two nations. In July, 1938, Churchill had a meeting with Albert Forster, the Nazi Gauleiter of Danzig. Forster asked Churchill whether German discriminatory legislation against the Jews would prevent an understanding with Britain. Churchill replied that he thought "it was a hindrance and an irritation, but probably not a complete obstacle to a working agreement." (145)
On the suggestion of Lord Halifax it was decided to send Lord Runciman, to Czechoslovakia to investigate the Sudeten claims for self-determination. He arrived in Prague on 4th August 1938, and over the next few days he saw all the major figures involved in the dispute within Czechoslovakia. He became extremely sympathetic to the Sudeten desire for home rule. In his report he placed the major share of the blame for the breakdown of talks on the Czech government and recommended that the Sudeten Germans be allowed the opportunity to join the Third Reich. Neville Henderson supported Runciman and told Chamberlain: "However, badly Germany behaves does not make the rights of the Sudeten any less justifiable." (146)
A group of anti-Nazi Germans, holding high office, including Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, and Carl Goerdeler, sent Major Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin to London as their emissary to warn Chamberlain of Hitler's plans to invade Czechoslovakia, and later to attack France and eventually the Soviet Union. Kleist-Schmenzin argued that only a strong Anglo-French line would force Hitler to back down. Chamberlain rejected these views because they conflicted with his own view that open threats of force would hasten the outbreak of war. (147)
On 12th September, 1938, Hitler whipped his supporters into a frenzy at the annual Nuremberg Rally by claiming the Sudeten Germans were "not alone" and would be protected by Nazi Germany. A series of demonstrations took place in the Sudeten area and on 13th September, the Czech government decided to introduce martial law in the area. Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten Germans, fled to Germany for protection. (148)
Chamberlain now sent Hitler a message requesting an immediate meeting, which was promptly granted. Hitler invited Chamberlain to see him at his home in Berchtesgaden. It would be the first visit by a British prime minister to Germany for over 60 years. The last leader to visit the country was Benjamin Disraeli when he attended the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Members of the Czech government were horrified when they heard the news as they feared Chamberlain would accept Hitler's demands for the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany. (149)
On 15th September, 1938, Chamberlain, aged sixty-nine, boarded a Lockheed Electra aircraft for a seven-hour journey to Munich, followed by a three-hour car ride up the long and winding roads to Berchtesgaden, the home of Hitler. The first meeting lasted for three hours. Hitler made it very clear that he intended to "stop the suffering" of the Sudeten Germans by force. Chamberlain asked Hitler what was required for a peaceful solution. Hitler demanded the transfer of all districts in Czechoslovakia with a 50 per cent or more German-speaking population. Chamberlain said he had nothing against the idea in principle, but would need to overcome "practical difficulties". (150)
Hitler flattered Chamberlain and this had the desired impact on him. He told his sister: "Horace Wilson heard from various people who were with Hitler after my interview that he had been very favourably impressed. I have had a conversation with a man, he said, and one with whom I can do business and he liked the rapidity with which I had grasped the essentials. In short I had established a certain confidence, which was my aim, and in spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word." (151)
Chamberlain called an emergency cabinet meeting on 17th September. Duff Cooper, First Lord of the Admiralty, recorded in his diary: "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." (152)
Neville Chamberlain told the cabinet that he was convinced "that Herr Hitler was telling the truth". Thomas Inskip, Minister for Coordination of Defence, and a loyal supporter of Chamberlain, felt uneasy by the prime minister's performance. He recorded in his diary: "The impression made by the P.M.'s story was a little painful. It was plain that Hitler had made all the running: he had in fact blackmailed the P.M." (153)
Oliver Stanley, President of the Board of Trade objected vigorously to Hitler's "ultimatum", and declared that "if the choice for the Government in the next four days is between surrender and fighting, we ought to fight". Herbrand Sackville, 9th Earl De La Warr, Lord Privy Seal, said he was "prepared to face war in order to free the world from the continual threat of ultimatums". Douglas Hogg, 1st Viscount Hailsham, attempted to rally the cabinet to Chamberlain's cause with the defeatist statement that he thought that we "had no alternative but to submit to humiliation." (154)
It was Duff Cooper who was Chamberlain's harshest critic and wrote in his diary: "I 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." (155)
Chamberlain ignored his critics and without taking a vote he insisted the Cabinet had "accepted the principle of self-determination and given him the support he had asked for." Chamberlain claimed that his policy was very popular with the public and that he would love to show his colleagues "some of the many letters which he had received in the last few days, which showed the intense feeling of relief throughout the country, and of thankfulness and gratitude for the load which had been lifted, at least temporarily." (156) He told his sister, Ida Chamberlain, that he had "finally overcome all critics, some of whom had been concerting opposition beforehand." (157)
That evening Chamberlain and Halifax received a delegation at Downing Street from leaders of the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement. This included Hugh Dalton, Herbert Morrison and Walter Citrine. In the hour-and-a-half meeting, the men were highly critical of the government. Citrine pointed out that "British prestige had been gravely lowered by Chamberlain going to see Hitler. Dalton suggested that these were unlikely to be the last of Hitler's demands. "I believe that he intends to go on and on, until he dominates first all Central and South Eastern Europe, then all Europe, then the world." (158)
After the meeting Dalton wrote a scathing assessment of Chamberlain: "The best that can be said of the P.M. is that, within the limits of his ignorance, he is rational, but I am appalled how narrow these limits are, and it is clear that Hitler produced an enormous impression on him, partly by hustling intimidation and partly by a few compliments and words of courtesy. If Hitler had been a British nobleman and Chamberlain a British working man with an inferiority complex, the thing could not have been done better." (159)
On 18th September, 1938, Chamberlain and several of his ministers, met Edouard Daladier, the prime minister of France, in order to persuade him to agree to the orderly transfer of the Sudeten areas to Germany. Chamberlain said that unless we accept Hitler's demands, "we must expect that Herr Hitler's reply would be to give the order to march." According to Sir John Simon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Daladier was overwhelmed by the emotional strain of attempting both to fulfil France's treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia, while at the same time avoiding war at any cost. (160)
Daladier admitted that the dilemma he faced was "to discover some means of preventing France from being forced into war as a result of her obligations and at the same time to preserve Czechoslovakia and save as much of that country as was humanly possible. Daladier told Chamberlain the French would agree to support Hitler's demands only in return for a British agreement to join the French alliance system in protecting other countries in eastern Europe, including guaranteeing what was left of Czechoslovakia. (161)
Chamberlain now had to sell the idea to the Cabinet. He faced a hostile reception to the idea and several members were very unhappy with the proposed guarantee to Czechoslovakia. What precise obligations did it entail? Was it to be a "joint" guarantee, to be implemented only when each and every guarantor wished to enforce it, or was it to be a "several" guarantee, meaning that in theory Britain could be called on to defend Czechoslovakia alone? Even the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, also found it difficult to defend. He conceded that he too "felt considerable misgivings about the guarantee, but... it would have been disastrous if there had been any delay in reaching agreement with the French". (162)
Leslie Hore-Belisha, Secretary of State for War, was the most vociferous in voicing his concerns, principally on the strategic grounds that Czechoslovakia could not be defended. Once the Sudeten German areas had been transferred, it would become "an unstable State economically, would be strategically unsound, and there was no means by which we could implement the guarantee. It was difficult to see how it could survive." Hore-Belisha argued the proposals offered nothing more than "a postponement of the evil day." According to Thomas Inskip, Hore-Belisha got into an acrimonious discussion with a "tired and dispirited" Chamberlain. (163)
Samuel Hoare, the Home Secretary, was given the task of persuading the newspapers to support Chamberlain's plan. He began to hold daily meetings with proprietors and editors. One of the key figures he approached was Sir Walter Layton, the chairman of the News Chronicle. Layton agreed to help and when one of his young journalists returned from Prague with a secret document which revealed the detailed timetable for the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, he arranged for the story to be suppressed. Vernon Bartlett had his articles censored and when the newspaper editor, Gerald Barry, wrote an anti-Chamberlain leader, Layton sacked him. (164)
Sir Horace Wilson, a senior civil servant who worked closely with Chamberlain, was given the task of controlling the way appeasement was reported on the BBC. A subsequent internal BBC report on the meetings between Hitler and Chamberlain in 1938, revealed that "towards the end of August, when the international situation was daily growing more critical", Wilson made a number of veiled threats. The report also confirmed that "news bulletins as a whole inevitably fell into line with Government policy at this critical juncture." (165)
Paramount News released a newsreel featuring interviews with two senior British journalists who were critical of Chamberlain. British cinema audiences greeted "with considerable applause" the warning that "Germany is marching to a diplomatic triumph... Our people have not been told the truth." Conservative Central Office complained and Lord Halifax approached Joseph Kennedy, the American ambassador based in London, and asked for the offending interviews to be removed. Kennedy brought his influence to bear on Paramount's American holding company, and the offending newsreel was quickly withdrawn. (166)
On 19th September, 1938, Clement Attlee had a meeting with Neville Chamberlain about the negotiations with Hitler and demanded the recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis. Later that day the National Council of Labour issued a statement saying that it viewed "with dismay the reported proposals of the British and French Governments for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia under the brutal threat of armed force by Nazi Germany and without prior consultation with the Czechoslovak Government. It declares that this is a shameful betrayal of a peaceful and democratic people and constitutes a dangerous precedent for the future." (167)
Some newspapers became hostile to the government's policy towards the Sudetenland. The Daily Herald commented angrily that the Czechs had been "betrayed and deserted by those who had given every assurance that there should be no dismembership of their country". (168) The News Chronicle reported that the "bewilderment is giving place to a feeling of indignation that Great Britain should be one of the instruments used to compel a small democratic country to agree to self-mutilation under the threat of force." (169) The Times, who had strongly supported appeasement, could not understand "how the Czechoslovak Government could" possibly accept the deal negotiated by Chamberlain. (170)
Conservative MPs also began to criticize the proposed deal. Anthony Eden told a constituency meeting that the "British people know that a stand must be made. They pray that it will not be made too late." (171) Leo Amery commented that the terms to which Chamberlain had signed up "amounted to nothing less than Czechoslovakia's destruction as an independent state." (172) Winston Churchill issued a statement that stated: "It is necessary that the nation should realise the magnitude of the disaster into which we are being led. The partition of Czechoslovakia under Anglo-French pressure amounts to a complete surrender by the Western Democracies to the Nazi threat of force." (173)
Chamberlain did receive support from the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, and considered someone who was pro-Nazi: "I would wish to express on behalf of the Duchess and myself, our very sincere admiration for the courageous manner in which you threw convention and precedent to the winds by seeking a personal meeting with Herr Hitler and flying to Germany. It was a bold step to take, but if I may so, one after my own heart, as I have always believed in personal contact as the best policy in a tight corner." (174)
Meanwhile the German government continuing to put pressure on Chamberlain to make a decision. Joseph Goebbels mounted a propaganda campaign against the Czech government. German newspapers claimed that women and children were mowed down by Czech armoured cars and that poison gas had been used against German-speaking demonstrators. (175) The Foreign Ministry ordered the Prague legation to instruct all "Reich-Germans in regions with Czechoslovak population, without attracting attention and only verbally, to send women and children out of the country." The following day instructions were given to military commanders concerning the invasion of Czechoslovakia. (176)
On the 19th September, 1938, President Eduard Beneš of Czechoslovakia had a meeting with his ministers and the leaders of the six coalition parties, and his military chiefs of staff. They discussed the issue for two days before issuing a statement rejecting the Anglo-French plan. Acceptance of the proposals would be unconstitutional, and would lead to the "complete mutilation of the Czechoslovak State in every respect". The statement also reminded the British and French about their own treaty obligations towards Czechoslovakia. (177)
British and French officials told President Beneš that if Czechoslovakia refused to accept the Anglo-French plan and war were to break out, then the Czech government would be held solely responsible and they would be given no military assistance. Beneš later recalled that the French official had "tears in his eyes" whereas the British official behaved coldly, shuffling uneasily and constantly looking down at the floor. "I had the impression that both of them were ashamed to the bottom of their hearts of the mission they had to discharge." (178)
President Beneš felt he had no option but to capitulate and announced that the country had been "disgracefully betrayed". He claimed that: "We had no other choice because we were left alone." One government minister stated that history would "pronounce its judgment on the events of these days. Let us have confidence in ourselves. Let us believe in the genius of our nation. We shall not surrender, we shall hold the land of our fathers." (179)
The following morning there was a general strike in Prague, and an even larger mass demonstration. Over 100,000 people demanded a military government, and a programme of national resistance. That evening the Czech government resigned. In its place President Beneš appointed a new, non-political Government of National Defence, to be headed by General Jan Syrový, the Inspector General of the army. Syrový issued a statement that night: "I guarantee that the Army stands and will stand on our frontiers to defend out liberty to the last. I may soon call upon you here to take an active part in the defence of our country in which we all going to join." (180)
Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet foreign minister, told the assembly of the United Nations that the Soviet Union intended to fulfil its obligations towards Czechoslovakia, if France would do the same. (181) This created a serious problem for the Anglo-French plan and Chamberlain announced that he was going to have another meeting with Hitler. Chamberlain arrived in Godesberg on 22nd September. At their first meeting Hitler made a series of new demands. He now wanted the immediate occupation of Sudeten areas and non-German-speakers who wished to leave would be allowed to take only a single suitcase of belongings with them. He also added to his demands certain areas with less than 50 per cent German speakers. He also raised Polish and Hungarian grievances in other areas of Czechoslovakia. (182)
At another meeting the following day Chamberlain pleaded with him to return to the terms of the previous agreement. Chamberlain pointed out that he had already risked his entire political reputation to gain the Anglo-French plan and if he marched into the Sudetenland, his political career would be destroyed. He pointed out that when he left England he had been booed by the crowd at the airport. Hitler refused to budge and restated that he would occupy the Sudeten areas on 1st October. Chamberlain decided to break-off talks and return to London. (183)
Chamberlain had been right by the changing public mood in Britain. A Mass Observation poll found that 44 per cent of those questioned expressed themselves to be "indignant" at Chamberlain's policy, while only 18 per cent were supportive. Of those men who were questioned, 67 per cent said they were willing to fight to defend Czechoslovakia. On the day that he returned to London, a crowd of over 10,000 people massed in Whitehall, shouting "Stand by the Czechs!" and "Chamberlain must go!" (184)
Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, felt that it would be impossible for the Cabinet to support Chamberlain in his efforts to do a deal with Hitler. When he read Hitler's latest memorandum which laid out his demands he thought Chamberlain would advise the Cabinet to reject it. He was shocked when he discovered that Chamberlain wanted to accept these terms. "I was completely horrified. He was quite calmly for total surrender... Hitler has evidently hypnotised him." (185)
On 24th September the Cabinet had a full-day meeting. Chamberlain told his ministers that he was "satisfied Herr Hitler would not go back on his word" and was not using the crisis as an excuse to "crush Czechoslovakia or dominate Europe." According to the Cabinet minutes: "In his view Herr Hitler had certain standards; he would not deliberately deceive a man whom he respected, and he was sure that Herr Hitler now felt some respect for him... He thought that he had now established an influence over Herr Hitler, and the latter trusted him. The Prime Minister believed that Herr Hitler was speaking the truth." (186)
Chamberlain had now lost the support of most of his Cabinet. Leslie Hore-Belisha, Secretary of State for War, rejected Hitler's proposal, and called for the army to be mobilised. It was, he contended, "the only argument Hitler would understand". He then warned that the Cabinet "would never be forgiven if there were a sudden attack on us and we had failed to take the proper steps." Herbrand Sackville, 9th Earl De La Warr, Walter Elliot, Oliver Stanley, Edward Turnour, 6th Earl Winterton, all spoke against Hitler's proposals. (187)
Duff Cooper, First Lord of the Admiralty, was the most critical of Hitler's proposals. He was always concerned that the government would achieve "peace with dishonour", now he feared "war with dishonour". Cooper pointed out the chiefs of staff had already called for mobilisation - "we might some day have to explain why we had disregarded their advice." Chamberlain responded angrily that the advice had only been given on the assumption that war was imminent. Cooper commented that it was "difficult to deny that any such danger existed". In his diary that night Cooper wrote: "Hitler has cast a spell over Neville". (188)
Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, the great supporter of appeasement, was now having doubts about the policy. He wrote to Chamberlain explaining: "It may help you if we give you some indication of what seems predominant public opinion as expressed in press and elsewhere. While mistrustful of our plan but prepared perhaps to accept it with reluctance as alternative to war, great mass of public opinion seems to be hardening in sense of feeling that we have gone to limit of concession and that it is up to Chancellor Hitler to make some contribution." (189)
Earl Winterton went to see Leo Amery, one of Chamberlain's oldest friends, and someone who was felt to have influence over the prime minister. He admitted that "at least four of five Cabinet members were seriously contemplating resignation." (190) Amery, who was against the deal wrote to Lord Halifax: "Almost everyone I have met, has been appalled by the so-called peace we have forced upon the Czechs." (191)
Amery also wrote a letter to Chamberlain, which he delivered himself. How, he asked, could Chamberlain expect the Czechs "to commit such an act of folly and cowardice?" If he failed to stand up to Hitler, he risked making Britain look "ridiculous as well as contemptible in the eyes of the world". Amery concluded the letter with the words: "If the country and the House should once suppose that you were prepared to acquiesce in or even endorse this latest demand, there would be a tremendous feeling of revulsion against you." (192)
Chamberlain's main concern was the changing views of Lord Halifax. At a Cabinet meeting on 25th September, he admitted he said that he no longer trusted Hitler: "He (Halifax) could not rid his mind of the fact that Herr Hitler had given us nothing and that he was dictating terms, just as though he had won a war but without having had to fight... he felt some uncertainty about the ultimate end which he wished to see accomplished, namely, the destruction of Nazism. So long as Nazism lasted, peace would be uncertain. For this reason he did not think it would be right to put pressure on Czechoslovakia to accept." (193)
Duff Cooper wrote in his diary that Halifax's comments "came as a great surprise to those who think as I do." (194) Leslie Hore-Belisha thanked Halifax for giving "a fine moral lead". Douglas Hogg, 1st Viscount Hailsham, previously a staunch ally of Chamberlain, produced a press cutting which listed in detail the many occasions on which Hitler had broken his word. Only two ministers supported Chamberlain, James Stanhope, the President of the Board of Education, and Kingsley Wood, the Secretary of State for Air, who argued that the prime minister's visits had "made a considerable impression in Germany and had probably done more to weaken Nazism than any other event in recent years." (195)
Neville Henderson, the British ambassador in Germany, pleaded with Chamberlain to go on negotiating with Hitler. He believed that the German claim to the Sudetenland in 1938 was a moral one, and he always reverted in his dispatches to his conviction that the Treaty of Versailles had been unfair to Germany. "At the same time, he was unsympathetic to feelers from the German opposition to Hitler seeking to enlist British support. Henderson thought, not unreasonably, that it was not the job of the British government to subvert the German government". (196)
Chamberlain also received support from Sir Eric Phipps, the British ambassador to France: "Unless German aggression were so brutal, bloody and prolonged as to infuriate French public opinion to the extent of making it lose its reason, war now would be most unpopular in France. I think therefore that His Majesty's Government should realise extreme danger of even appearing to encourage small, but noisy and corrupt, war group here. All that is best in France is against war, almost at any price." (197) Alexander Cadogan wrote a hostile reply demanding to know exactly what Phipps meant by "small, but noisy and corrupt, war group" and insisting that he should cast his net further a field in ascertaining the views of a more representative sample of French political opinion." (198)
On Sunday 25th September, Chamberlain had a meeting with Edouard Daladier, the prime minister of France. "He began with a lengthy exposition of the Godesberg discussions, liberally peppered with self-congratulatory remarks as to how he had stood up to Hitler. Daladier retorted that a meeting of his Council of Ministers that afternoon had unanimously rejected the Godesberg demands." (199) Daladier pointed out that it was now clear that Hitler's sole objective was "to destroy Czechoslovakia by force, enslaving her, and afterwards realising the domination of Europe". Chamberlain asked if this meant France would declare war on Germany? Daladier replied that "in the event of unprovoked aggression against Czechoslovakia, France would fulfil her obligations". (200)
The Czechoslovak government leaked details of the Godesberg demands to the British press. The Times included a statement from Leo Amery, attacking Chamberlain: "Are we to surrender to ruthless brutality a free people whose cause we have espoused but are now to throw to the wolves to save our own skins, or are we still able to stand up to a bully." (201) Chamberlain responded with the words: "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." (202)
Harold Macmillan, the Conservative MP, who had been a critic of the government's appeasement policy, later explained the mood of the British people at the time: "They were grimly, but quietly and soberly, making up their minds to face war. They had been told that the devastation of air attack would be beyond all imagination. They had been led to expect civilian casualties on a colossal scale. They knew, in their hearts, that our military preparations were feeble and inadequate. Yet they faced their ordeal with calm and dignity... We thought of air warfare in 1938, rather as people think of nuclear warfare today." (203)
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. On 28th September, 1938, Hitler announced he would settle the matter peacefully at a conference to be held at Munich, beginning the next day. (204)
Before they left for Munich, Chamberlain and Halifax met Tomas Masaryk, the Czechoslovak minister in London. Masaryk tried to insist that his country should be represented in these talks. However, he was told that Hitler had only agreed to the conference on condition that the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were excluded. Masaryk replied: "If you have sacrificed my nation to preserve the peace of world, I will be the first to applaud you. But if not, gentlemen, God help your souls." (205)
The meeting ended with Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini signing the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany. "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." (206)
Frank McDonough, the author of Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998) argued: "The Munich settlement, signed in the early hours of 30 September, resembled pre-1914 European diplomacy, with four major powers forcing a small nation, without the power to resist, to concede territory to a major power. The agreement deprived Czechoslovakia of its heavily fortified border defences, its rail communications were cut and a great deal of economic power was lost. The fate of the remainder of Czechoslovakia now lay at the discretion of the Nazi regime." (207)
Chamberlain and Daladier argued amongst themselves about who would tell the Czech government about the agreement. While they were doing this, the German Minister in Prague, beat them to it. He roused the Czech foreign minister, Kamil Krofta, from his bed at 5 a.m., and peremptorily presented him with a copy of the agreement just a few hours after it had been signed. The Czech government now realised that if they resisted Hitler's demands, they would have to fight the war on its own. At 12.30 p.m. Krofta made a statement: "The Government of the Czechoslovak Republic, in announcing his acceptance, declares also before the whole world its protest against the decisions which were taken unilaterally and without our participation." (208)
General Jan Syrový, announced the news at 5 p.m. "I am experiencing the gravest hour of my life. I would have been prepared to die rather than to go through this. We have had to choose between making a desperate and hopeless defence, which would have meant the sacrifice of an entire generation of our adult men, as well as of our women and children, and accepting, without a struggle and under pressure, terms which are without parallel in history for the ruthlessness. We were deserted. We stood alone." (209)
Neville Henderson defended the agreement signed at Munich and praised both Hitler and Chamberlain for reaching a compromise over Czechoslovakia: "Germany thus incorporated the Sudeten lands in the Reich without bloodshed and without firing a shot. But she had not got all that Hitler wanted and which she would have got if the arbitrament had been left to war... The humiliation of the Czechs was a tragedy, but it was solely thanks to Mr. Chamberlain's courage and pertinacity that a futile and senseless war was averted." (210)
Hitler agreed to sign what became known as the "Anglo-German declaration". It promised Britain and Germany would adopt "the method of consultation" in any future disputes and would "never go to war with one another again". Crowds cheered all along Chamberlain's route from the airport back to Buckingham Palace, where he was to brief King George VI on the incredible turn of events. He was greeted by more cheering crowds outside 10 Downing Street as he arrived home. A few minutes later, Chamberlain was persuaded to step forwards and make a speech from the first-floor window: "My good friends: this is the second time in our history that there has come back to Downing Street from Germany peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time." (211) Sir Orme Sargent, an Assistant Under-Secretary, said: "You might think that we'd won a major victory, instead of just betraying a minor country." (212)
Neville Chamberlain claimed that he received over 20,000 letters and telegrams of praise and numerous gifts from people at home and abroad. This included "countless fishing flies, salmon rods, Scottish tweed for suits, socks, innumerable umbrellas, pheasants and grouse, fine Rhine wines, lucky horseshoes, flowers from Hungary, 6000 assorted bulbs from grateful Dutch admirers and a cross from the Pope." When the Daily Sketch offered readers a free photograph of Chamberlain they received 90,000 applications. A group of French businessmen opened a fund to present him with a property in France, to reward him for persuading the French government to sign the Munich Agreement. A wealthy supporter of the Conservative Party donated £10,000 to Birmingham University to fund a scholarship in Chamberlain's name." (213)
A recorded music disc was produced at the time entitled God Bless You Mr. Chamberlain which contained the line: "We're all mightily proud of you." This reflected the overwhelming sense of relief that war had been averted. The Times reflected the mood when it reported: "No conqueror returning from victory on the battlefield had come adorned with greater laurels." (214) The Daily Telegraph commented: "The news will be hailed with a profound and universal relief." (215)
The Daily Express also supported Chamberlain: "Be glad in your hearts. Give thanks to your God. People of Britain, your children are safe. Your husbands and your sons will not march to war Peace is a victory for all mankind. If we must have a victor, let us choose Chamberlain. For the Prime Minister's conquests are mighty and enduring - millions of happy homes and hearts relieved of their burden. To him the laurels. And now let us go back to our own affairs. We have had enough of those menaces, conjured up from the Continent to confuse us." (216)
The main supporter of appeasement was the newspaper baron, Lord Rothermere, the owner of The Daily Mail, who held neo-fascist views. Adolf Hitler told George Ward Price, one of its journalists, "He (Lord Rothermere) is the only Englishman who sees clearly the magnitude of this Bolshevist danger. His paper is doing an immense amount of good." Hitler was kept informed about what British newspapers were saying about him. He was usually very pleased by what appeared in The Daily Mail. On 20th May 1937 he wrote to Lord Rothermere: "Your leading articles published within the last few weeks, which I read with great interest, contain everything that corresponds to my own thoughts as well." (217)
“Czechoslovakia is not of the remotest concern to us,” Lord Rothermere told the paper’s readers and after the meeting in Munich, the newspaper said the agreement they had struck with Germany “brings to Europe the blessed prospect of peace.” Robert Philpot has pointed out: "It is impossible to know whether Hitler regarded Rothermere as anything other than a useful idiot. Still, he did his best to appear sincere in his gratitude for the press magnate’s backing." (218) On the signing of the Munich Agreement, Lord Rothermere sent a telegram to Chamberlain: "My dear Führer 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." (219)
After the signing of the Munich Agreement, One of Hitler's senior aides, Captain Fritz Wiedemann, sent a letter to Lord Rothermere stating: "You know that the Führer greatly appreciates the work the princess did to straighten relations between our countries... it was her groundwork which made the Munich agreement possible." Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, a Nazi agent and Lord Rothermere's mistress, wrote to Hitler at the same time congratulating him on his achievement: "There are moments in life that are so great - I mean, where one feels so deeply that it is almost impossible to find the right words to express one's feelings - Herr Reich Chancellor, please believe me that I have shared with you the experience and emotion of every phase of the events of the last weeks. What none of your subjects in their wildest dreams dared hope for - you have made come true. That must be the finest thing a head of state can give to himself and to his people. I congratulate you with all my heart." (220)
Conservative Central Office suggested that Chamberlain should take advantage of his popularity by calling a general election. Lord Halifax warned against this as he regarded Hitler as "a criminal lunatic" and considered it likely that he would break the Munich Agreement that would result in the government losing popularity. Halifax suggested the forming of a National government that should include Chamberlain's critics such as Anthony Eden and Clement Attlee. Chamberlain rejected the idea saying that this political problem "would be all over in three months". (221) Neville Henderson wrote to Chamberlain and told him to ignore these comments: "Millions of mothers will be blessing your name tonight for having saved their sons from the horrors of war. Oceans of ink will flow hereafter in criticism of your action." (222)
Lord Halifax had a far more realistic view of Hitler's view of the British government. Hitler saw Chamberlain as a very weak man and was convinced that he would never stand up to him. Hitler told his generals that :"Our enemies are small worms. I saw them at Munich." (223) After the last meeting with Chamberlain he said: "This has been my first international conference, and I can assure you that it will be my last. If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella, I'll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of photographers." (224)
However, some newspapers did object to the agreement. The Manchester Guardian reported: "Politically, Czechoslovakia is rendered helpless with all that it means to the balance of forces in Eastern Europe, and Hitler will be able to advance again, when it chooses, with greatly increased force." (225) The Daily Herald, a newspaper that supported the Labour Party, argued: "Czechoslovakia, having made so many sacrifices, has had to make another one under preemptory pressure from the British and French Governments. Thousands of people (not so much Czechs as anti-Nazi Sudeten Germans) are going to suffer. They must run for their lives or face the rubber truncheons and the concentration camps." (226)
Several ministers, including Duff Cooper, Oliver Stanley, Harry Crookshank and Leslie Hore-Belisha, were very unhappy with the Munich Agreement. Cooper explained how he felt as he arrived at 10 Downing Street following the signing of the agreement: "I was caught up in the large crowd that were demonstrating their enthusiasm and were cheering, laughing, and singing; and there is no greater feeling of loneliness than to be in a crowd of happy, cheerful people and to feel that there is no occasion for oneself for gaiety or for cheering. That there was every cause for relief I was deeply aware, as much as anybody in this country, but that there was great cause for self-congratulation I was uncertain." (227)
Chamberlain pleaded with the men to stay in the government in order to give an image of unity. However, on 3rd October, Cooper resigned. After a brief interview with Chamberlain, he made his way to Buckingham Palace to hand in his seals of office. King George VI was polite but frank: "He said he could not agree with me, but he respected those who had the courage of their convictions." (228) That evening the King issued a statement: "The time of anxiety is past. After the magnificent efforts of the Prime Minister in the cause of peace it is my fervent hope that a new era of friendship and prosperity may be dawning among the peoples of the world." (229)
The debate on the Munich Agreement in the House of Commons started on 3rd October, 1938. Cooper explained why he had resigned from the government and compared the situation with the outbreak of the First World War: "I thought then (1914), and I have always felt, that in any other international crisis that should occur our first duty was to make plain exactly where we stood and what we would do. I believe that the great defect in our foreign policy during recent months and recent weeks has been that we have failed to do so. During the last four weeks we have been drifting, day by day, nearer into war with Germany, and we have never said, until the last moment, and then in most uncertain terms, that we were prepared to fight. We knew that information to the opposite effect was being poured into the ears of the head of the German State. He had been assured, reassured, and fortified in the opinion that in no case would Great Britain fight." (115)
Duff Cooper then went on to criticise Chamberlain: "The Prime Minister has believed in addressing Herr Hitler through the language of sweet reasonableness. I have believed that he was more open to the language of the mailed fist. I am glad so many people think that sweet reasonableness has prevailed, but what actually did it accomplish? The Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden with many excellent and reasonable proposals and alternatives to put before the Führer, prepared to argue and negotiate, as anybody would have gone to such a meeting. He was met by an ultimatum. So far as I am aware no suggestion of an alternative was ever put forward."
Cooper ended his speech with the words: "The Prime Minister may be right. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, with the deepest sincerity, that I hope and pray that he is right, but I cannot believe what he believes. I wish I could. Therefore, I can be of no assistance to him in his Government. I should be only a hindrance, and it is much better that I should go. I remember when we were discussing the Godesberg ultimatum that I said that if I were a party to persuading, or even to suggesting to, the Czechoslovak Government that they should accept that ultimatum, I should never be able to hold up my head again. I have forfeited a great deal. I have given up an office that I loved, work in which I was deeply interested and a staff of which any man might be proud. I have given up associations in that work with my colleagues with whom I have maintained for many years the most harmonious relations, not only as colleagues but as friends. I have given up the privilege of serving as lieutenant to a leader whom I still regard with the deepest admiration and affection. I have ruined, perhaps, my political career. But that is a little matter; I have retained something which is to me of great value - I can still walk about the world with my head erect." (230)
In his reply to Cooper's resignation speech, Neville Chamberlain, defended his policy of appeasement. However, MPs interrupted his speech with cries of "Shame" when he pleaded for a greater understanding of Hitler's position. "I would like to say a few words in respect of the various other participants, besides ourselves, in the Munich Agreement. After everything that has been said about the German Chancellor today and in the past, I do feel that the House ought to recognise the difficulty for a man in that position to take back such emphatic declarations as he had already made amidst the enthusiastic cheers of his supporters, and to recognise that in consenting, even though it were only at the last moment, to discuss with the representatives of other Powers those things which he had declared he had already decided once for all, was a real and a substantial contribution on his part." (231)
Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, made the most significant attack on the Munich Agreement. "We have felt that we are in the midst of a tragedy. We have felt humiliation. This has not been a victory for reason and humanity. It has been a victory for brute force. At every stage of the proceedings there have been time limits laid down by the owner and ruler of armed force. The terms have not been terms negotiated; they have been terms laid down as ultimata. We have seen today a gallant, civilized and democratic people betrayed and handed over to a ruthless despotism. We have seen something more. We have seen the cause of democracy, which is, in our view, the cause of civilization and humanity, receive a terrible defeat.... The events of these last few days constitute one of the greatest diplomatic defeats that this country and France have ever sustained. There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler. Without firing a shot, by the mere display of military force, he has achieved a dominating position in Europe which Germany failed to win after four years of war. He has overturned the balance of power in Europe. He has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition. He has opened his way to the food, the oil and the resources which he requires in order to consolidate his military power, and he has successfully defeated and reduced to impotence the forces that might have stood against the rule of violence." (232)
Winston Churchill now decided to break with the government over its appeasement policy and two days after Attlee's speech made his move. Churchill praised Chamberlain for his efforts: "If I do not begin this afternoon by paying the usual, and indeed almost invariable, tributes to the Prime Minister for his handling of this crisis, it is certainly not from any lack of personal regard. We have always, over a great many years, had very pleasant relations, and I have deeply understood from personal experiences of my own in a similar crisis the stress and strain he has had to bear; but I am sure it is much better to say exactly what we think about public affairs, and this is certainly not the time when it is worth anyone’s while to court political popularity."
Churchill went on to say the negotiations had been a failure: "No one has been a more resolute and uncompromising struggler for peace than the Prime Minister. Everyone knows that. Never has there been such instance and undaunted determination to maintain and secure peace. That is quite true. Nevertheless, I am not quite clear why there was so much danger of Great Britain or France being involved in a war with Germany at this juncture if, in fact, they were ready all along to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. The terms which the Prime Minister brought back with him could easily have been agreed, I believe, through the ordinary diplomatic channels at any time during the summer. And I will say this, that I believe the Czechs, left to themselves and told they were going to get no help from the Western Powers, would have been able to make better terms than they have got after all this tremendous perturbation; they could hardly have had worse."
It was now time to change course and form an alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. "After the seizure of Austria in March we faced this problem in our debates. I ventured to appeal to the Government to go a little further than the Prime Minister went, and to give a pledge that in conjunction with France and other Powers they would guarantee the security of Czechoslovakia while the Sudeten-Deutsch question was being examined either by a League of Nations Commission or some other impartial body, and I still believe that if that course had been followed events would not have fallen into this disastrous state. France and Great Britain together, especially if they had maintained a close contact with Russia, which certainly was not done, would have been able in those days in the summer, when they had the prestige, to influence many of the smaller states of Europe; and I believe they could have determined the attitude of Poland. Such a combination, prepared at a time when the German dictator was not deeply and irrevocably committed to his new adventure, would, I believe, have given strength to all those forces in Germany which resisted this departure, this new design." (233)
Despite this powerful speech Churchill did not vote against the Munich Agreement. Nor did the other Conservative MPs who had been critical of the government appeasement policy such as Duff Cooper, Anthony Eden, Leo Amery, Harold Macmillan, Harold Nicolson, Louis Spears, Robert Boothby, Ronald Cartland, Brendan Bracken, Roger Keyes, Victor Cazalet, Sidney Herbert, Duncan Sandys, Leonard Ropner, Ronald Tree, Paul Emrys-Evans, Vyvyan Adams and Jack Macnamara. The main reason why 20 Conservative MPs abstained rather than voting with the Labour Party was that Chamberlain threatened a general election if his motion was defeated. (234)
Robert Boothby, who only abstained at the time, later recalled: "The terms of the Munich Agreement turned out to be even worse than we had supposed. They amounted to unconditional surrender. Even Göring was shocked. He said afterwards that when he heard Hitler tell the conference at Munich (if such it could be called) that he proposed to occupy the Sudeten lands, including the Czech fortifications at once... But neither Chamberlain nor Daladier made a cheep of protest. Hitler did not even have to send an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain did that for him." (235)
Lord Halifax believed Chamberlain had made a "bad speech" in the Munich Agreement debate and told him afterwards about his dissatisfaction. Chamberlain later commented: "I had a message from Halifax that he did not like the speech, as he thought it laid too much emphasis on appeasement and was not stiff enough to the dictators." Richard Austen Butler, the parliamentary under-secretary for foreign affairs, suggested that the problem was caused by Chamberlain not showing the speech to Halifax beforehand. (236)
By October 1938, the company established by George H. Gallup, began testing the public's satisfaction with the Prime Minister (57% were satisfied with Neville Chamberlain and 43% dissatisfied. Another public opinion poll asked the question: "If you had to choose between Fascism and Communism, which would you choose?" Only 54% expressed an opinion and of those 51% selected Communism and 49% opted for Fascism. (237)
James P. Levy, in the book, Appeasement and Rearmament Britain (2006) argues that Neville Chamberlain crafted an active, logical and morally defensible foreign policy designed to avoid and deter a potentially devastating war and to give Britain the chance to rearm. However, because his strategy was unsuccessful, historians have been unkind to him: "Chamberlain became the collective whipping boy of a British establishment that was desperate to distance itself from what had been an overwhelmingly popular policy back in the 1930s but had failed to avert war and looked pathetic in retrospect." (238)
Anne Perkins pointed out that in "a country wanted peace and plenty, rearming promised only the threat of war and the transfer of spending from the home front to the defence industry". Perkins goes on to argue from "1930-7, spending on health and unemployment exceeded spending on defence for the only time in the 50-year period when a comparison can be made." (239)
However, as Graham Macklin has pointed out in his book, Neville Chamberlain (2006): "Interpreting Chamberlain's motives at Munich are of pivotal importance in determining his legacy. Did he genuinely believe that Munich had pacified Europe or was he merely seeking to delay Hitler from being able to deal Britain, a terrible, perhaps mortal blow, and in doing so purchasing time for further rearmament? If it were the latter and indeed lobbying for rearmament to be accelerated." (240)
This was the same point made by Duff Cooper in his resignation speech. "The Prime Minister believes that he can rely upon the good faith of Hitler" but, he added, "how are we to justify the extra burden laid upon the people of Great Britain" in increasing or accelerating rearmament "if we are told at the same time that there is no fear of war with Germany and that, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, this settlement means peace in our time?" (241)
Herbrand Sackville, the President of the Board of Education, wrote to Chamberlain about the need to accelerate rearmament. He felt strongly "that we should immediately take new and drastic steps both to strengthen our defences and - almost equally important - to make it clear to the world that we are doing so." (242) Chamberlain replied: "I do not think we are very far apart, if at all, on what we should do now, but I do not want to pledge myself to any particular programme of armaments till we have had a chance to review the situation in the light of recent events." (243)
Robert Sheppard, the author of A Class Divided: Appeasement and the Road to Munich (1988), has pointed out that Chamberlain had since becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1935 had resisted rearmament and as late as February 1938 the government, against the advice of senior figures in the military, was cutting defence spending: "The Chancellor told the Cabinet that the defence budget had to be limited because of his concern about the country’s future 'financial prosperity' and the ever mounting costs of the arms programmes... The Cabinet backed the Chancellor, and defence spending was pegged to £1570 million for the four-year period 1937-41. In consequence, little would be done to reverse the discrepancy between Britain and Germany in the resources they spent on defence – in 1935 Britain had spent 3 per cent of her Gross National Product on defence compared with Germany’s 8 per cent; in 1936 the figures had been 4 per cent for Britain against 13 per cent for Germany; in 1937, 6 per cent for Britain against 13; and in 1938 they would be 7 against 17." (244)
At a Cabinet meeting on 3rd October, 1938, Walter Elliot, Secretary of State for Scotland, argued that a "view... strongly held in certain quarters... that every effort should be made to intensify our rearmament programme". Lord Halifax, agreed and urged that ministers should not make speeches on rearmament "which would preclude consideration of the need for such intensification." (245) Chamberlain argued that if the government announced it planned to increase defence spending it would provide evidence that "Munich had made war more instead of less imminent." (246)
The Cabinet minutes records Chamberlain's attitude towards rearmament: "He (Chamberlain) had been oppressed with the sense that the burden of armaments might break our backs. This had been one of the factors which had led him to the view that it was necessary to try and resolve the causes which were responsible for the armament race. He thought that we were now in a more hopeful position, and that the contacts which had been established with the Dictator Powers opened up the possibility that we might be able to reach some agreement with them which would stop the armament race. It was clear, however, that it would be madness for the country to stop rearming until we were convinced that other countries would act in the same way... That, however, was not the same thing as to say that... we should at once embark on a great increase in our armaments programme." (247)
Anthony Eden, who had resigned as Foreign Secretary in protest against appeasement, was the strongest supporter in the Conservative Party for rearmament. In the House of Commons he called for "a national effort in the sphere of defence very much greater than anything that has been attempted hitherto... a call for a united effort by a united nation." (248) A week later Eden had a long talk with Lord Halifax, where he tried to persuade him to urge rapid rearmament. Halifax took this message to Chamberlain but it was rejected. (249)
Chamberlain's close friend, Sir George Joseph Ball, Director of the Conservative Research Department, played an important role in promoting the government's foreign policy. Ball controlled the anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi magazine, The Truth, that mounted a smear campaign against the critics of appeasement. Ball, a former member of MI5, arranged for the telephones of Churchill and Eden to be tapped. In the aftermath of Munich he dismantled the Foreign Office News Department, making 10 Downing Street the sole repository for government news. Another important figure was George Steward, Downing Street's chief press liaison officer who, MI5 discovered, had told an official at the German Embassy that Britain would "give Germany everything she asks for the next year". (250)
Ball urged Chamberlain to make use of his popularity by calling a snap election. His cabinet colleagues warned against this fearing that during the campaign Hitler would break the promises he made at Munich. Lord Halifax thought an election would be far too risky and urged Chamberlain to form a government of national unity. Halifax believed this government should include Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden and other critics of appeasement. (251)
Churchill wrote to Paul Reynaud, a French politician who was opposed to appeasement, claiming that it was the worst defeat for Britain since 1783. He claimed that the public mood was still pro-Munich for any campaign against Chamberlain's foreign policy to have an effect. Churchill even considered whether it might be best for Britain and France to do a deal with Hitler: "The question now presenting itself is: Can we make head against the Nazi domination, or ought we severally to make the best terms possible with it - while trying to rearm?" (252)
Chamberlain rejected the idea as the last thing he wanted to do was to reward those people who had made life difficult over the last few months. He pointed out that "our foreign policy was one of appeasement" with the central aim of "establishing relations with the Dictator Powers which will lead to a settlement in Europe and to a sense of stability". He said what he wanted, above all, was "more support for my policy, and not a strengthening of those who don't believe in it". (253)
Gradually, the British public began to change their mind about what had agreed at Munich. By the end of October, 1938, virtually every Czech border fortification was in German hands, and any defence of those that remained was impossible. Its capital, Prague, was less than forty miles from the new frontier. Czechoslovakia had handed over to the Reich 11,000 square miles of territory that was inhabited by 2,800,000 Sudeten Germans and 800,000 Czechs. The country's communications infrastructure had been badly damaged and the country had lost three-quarters of its industrial production. (254)
On 27th October, 1938, a by-election took place as a result of the death of Robert Croft Bourne, the sitting Conservative Party MP. The local Labour and Liberal parties decided that they would support the anti-appeasement candidate, A. D. Lindsay, who was the was vice-chancellor of Oxford University. Lindsay, the former Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, was also involved in setting up several unemployment clubs in the town. During the campaign Lindsay argued: "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." (255)
The Conservative candidate was Quintin Hogg, the son of Cabinet minister, Douglas Hogg, 1st Viscount Hailsham. Hogg argued that Lindsay was putting forward a negative message: "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!"
Lindsay replied: "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." (256)
Lindsay was defeated but reduced the Conservative majority from 6,645 to 3,434. However, soon afterwards another by-election was announced when Reginald Croom-Johnson, the sitting Conservative Party MP for Bridgwater, was appointed a High Court judge. Vernon Bartlett, a left-wing journalist, whose critical reports on Chamberlain's foreign policy had been censored by his newspaper, the News Chronicle, was persuaded to stand as an anti-appeasement candidate. The local Labour and Liberal parties decided not to put up a candidate and declared they would support Bartlett. (257)
On 18th November, 1938, Bartlett won the seat with 6,000 more votes than the combined Labour and Liberal votes at the previous election, turning an overall Conservative lead of 4,500 votes into a deficit of over 2,000. Henry Channon, the Tory MP, noted in his diary: "I am dumbfounded by the news of the Bridgewater election, where Vernon Bartlett, standing as an Independent, has had a great victory over the Government candidate. This is the worst blow the Government has had since 1935." (258)
In all the eight by-elections that followed the Munich Agreement, the Conservative Party suffered a fall in its support. Sir George Joseph Ball, Director of the Conservative Research Department, the man who had been trying to persuade Chamberlain to hold a snap General Election told him at the end of November, 1938: "The outlook is far less promising than it was a few months ago, and there are a large number of seats held by only small majorities, so that only a small turnover of votes would defeat the Government." Ball advised the election should be postponed. (259)
Winston Churchill was a strong supporter of the idea of a National Government and had a meeting with the Conservative Chief Whip, David Margesson, and told him of his "strong desire" to enter the Government and was willing to work closely with Chamberlain. An opinion poll in the News Chronicle showed fifty-six per cent wanted Churchill in the Government. However, his general popularity was still low. Anthony Eden, with thirty-eight per cent support, was the most popular choice to replace Chamberlain. Churchill was backed by only seven per cent of those interviewed. (260)
Clement Attlee had led the campaign against appeasement. This caused him problems in the Labour Party and there was a campaign to persuade Herbert Morrison to run against him for the leadership of the party. His critics thought he was being disloyal to work so closely with anti-appeasers such as Churchill and Eden. In November, 1938, Attlee made a speech where he rejected all talk of setting aside party differences because of the threat of war and pointed out that when this was done in 1931 it resulted in the "most incompetent Government in modern times." (261)
Stafford Cripps, on the left of the party, was also a critic of Attlee and in January, 1939, called for the creation of a Popular Front against fascism. This would be built of those across the political spectrum, including Churchill, who shared the desire to confront fascism and preserve democracy. Cripps also circulated it to the constituencies and as a result was expelled from the party. Nye Bevan was furious and argued: "If Sir Stafford Cripps is expelled for wanting to unite the forces of freedom and democracy, they can go on expelling others... His crime is my crime." (262)
Bevan supported Cripps and in an article in The Tribune, "Cripps was expelled because he claimed the right to tell the Party what he had already told the Executive... This is tantamount to a complete suppression of any opinion in the Party which does not agree with that held by the Executive... If every organised effort to change Party policy is to be described as an organised attack on the Party itself, then the rigidity imposed by Party discipline will soon change into rigor mortis." (263)
On 31st March 1939, Bevan, George Strauss and Charles Trevelyan were expelled from the Labour Party. Bevan continued to attack the NEC. So did other party members. David Low published a cartoon showing Colonel Blimp saying: "The Labour Party is quite right to expel all but sound Conservatives." However, they were readmitted in November 1939 after agreeing "to refrain from conducting or taking part in campaigns in opposition to the declared policy of the Party." (264)
Chamberlain believed that it was vitally important to persuade Benito Mussolini to advise Adolf Hitler not to embark on "some mad dog act". On 11th January, 1939, Chamberlain, accompanied by Halifax, arrived in Rome. Mussolini told Chamberlain that Italy desired peace but gave no promise to restrain Hitler. Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister, wrote in his diary that it was clear that the British are unwilling to fight in any future war. In private, Mussolini said of his British visitors: "These men are not made of the same stuff as Francis Drake and the other magnificent adventurers who created the Empire." (265) Chamberlain took a very different view of the meeting describing the visit as "truly wonderful" because it had "strengthened the channels of peace". (266) In a public opinion poll carried out in in February 1939, 64% answered that they would vote for the Government "if there were a general election tomorrow". (267)
On 15th March 1939, Nazi tanks entered Prague and destroyed the Munich agreement. The annexation of an area peopled by non-Germans showed that Hitler was going further than redressing the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles. At a Cabinet meeting it was agreed that the government would find a form of words in order to back out of honouring what amounted to a moral guarantee to Czechoslovakia implicit in the Munich agreement, but never formally ratified in the months which followed by Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Chamberlain refused to accept that his appeasement policy had failed: "Though we may have to suffer checks and disappointments, from time to time, the object that we have in mind is of too great significance to the happiness of mankind for us lightly to give it up." (268)
The Manchester Guardian reported: "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... 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 organization for Jewish emigration has been closed." (269)
Nevile Henderson was devastated by Hitler's action: "Hitler had staged another of his lightning coups, and once more the world was left breathless... By the occupation of Prague, Hitler put himself once for all morally and unquestionably in the wrong, and destroyed the entire arguable validity of the German case as regards the Treaty of Versailles... By his callous destruction of the hard and newly won liberty of a free and independent people, Hitler deliberately violated the Munich Agreement, which he had signed not quite six months before, and his undertaking to Mr. Chamberlain, once the Sudetenlands had been incorporated in the Reich, to respect the independence and integrity of the Czech people." (270)
David Low, one of his main critics wrote: "He wanted peace - but so did we all. No one impugned his motives, but only his judgment. That his appeasement approach to Hitler was wrong was soon demonstrated, for the ink was hardly dry on the Munich agreement before the Führer was openly and noisily preparing his next step. But devotion to Chamberlain was so strong that his friends were unwilling to admit it. Having committed themselves to a fairy-tale, they could not bring themselves to face cold reality." (271)
Newspapers that had been very supportive of Chamberlain's appeasement policy were now highly critical of the way the government was dealing with Nazi Germany. For example, The Times, the most consistent supporter of appeasement among in the national press, suggested that "German policy no longer seeks the protection of a moral case" and urged a policy of close co-operation with other nations to resist Hitler. (272) Lord Rothermere, the owner of The Daily Mail, did not have these concerns. In a letter intercepted by the British intelligence services Rothermere congratulated Hitler "on his walk into Prague" and urged him to invade Romania. (273)
Maxim Litvinov, Commissar for Foreign Affairs, denounced Hitler's decision to occupy Prague. Later that day, the British Foreign Office, asked Litvinov what would be the Soviet Union's attitude be towards Hitler if he ordered the invasion of countries such as Poland and Rumania. Joseph Stalin replied when he proposed an alliance between Britain, France and the Soviet Union, where the three powers would jointly guarantee all the countries between the Baltic and the Black Sea against aggression. (274)
On 18th March, 1939, the Cabinet met to discuss Stalin's proposal to convene a conference of Britain, France, the Soviet Union, Poland, Rumania and Turkey to find a collective means of resisting further aggression. Chamberlain did not like the idea. He wrote to a friend: "I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears." (275)
After the successful invasion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler began to make demands on the Polish government. This included a request for the return of the free city of Danzig and the amendment of the Polish corridor. Not surprisingly, Poland called on the British government for help. On 24th April, 1939, Colonel Józef Beck, the Polish foreign minister, arrived in London and proposed a secret understanding involving Britain, France and Poland. Chamberlain welcomed the suggestion as he wanted to pursue a policy of deterrence, without extreme provocation." (276)
John Charmley, the author of Chamberlain and the Lost Peace (1989) has argued: "All this was part of Chamberlain's policy of constructing a diplomatic barrier to German expansion in the east. The distrust felt by these countries for Russia had been one of the three reasons for not getting too closely involved with the Soviets... Then there was the problem of the Russian alliance; for all that the Cabinet, the Labour Party and the Adullamites (Churchill and other Conservative rebels) favoured it, Chamberlain saw that it might disrupt his peace front by frightening off Poland and Romania." (277)
The guarantee to Poland, which France joined, was officially announced on 31st March, 1939. David Lloyd George, immediately objected to the agreement. As he pointed out: "If war occurred tomorrow, you could not send a single battalion to Poland." (278) Chamberlain responded that he believed the guarantee would point "not towards war, which wins nothing or settles nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing" but would open the way towards "a more wholesome era, when reason will take place of force." (279)
On 13th April, further Anglo-French guarantees were offered to Rumania, Greece and Turkey. The following week the government introduced conscription for all males aged twenty and twenty-one. It also announced that spending limits on the army, navy and air force were abandoned and a ministry of supply to co-ordinate the supply of war materials was established. Hitler and Mussolini responded by signing a military alliance - the Pact of Steel - which added further to the idea of an inevitable war. (280)
The chiefs of staff supported the idea of an Anglo-Soviet alliance. On 16th May, Ernle Chatfield, 1st Baron Chatfield, Minister for Coordination of Defence, strongly urged the conclusion of an Anglo-Soviet agreement. He warned that if the Soviet Union stood aside in a European war it might "secure an advantage from the exhaustion of the western powers" and that if negotiations failed, a Nazi-Soviet agreement was a strong possibility. Chamberlain rejected the advice and said he preferred to "extend our guarantees" in eastern Europe rather than sign an Anglo-Soviet alliance. (281)
A debate on the subject took place in the House of Commons on 19th May, 1939. The debate was short and was "practically confined to the leaders of Parties and to prominent ex-Ministers". Chamberlain made it clear that he had severe doubts about Stalin's proposal. David Lloyd George, the former prime minister called for an alliance with the Soviet Union. Clement Attlee had been campaigning for a military alliance with the Soviet Union since September, 1938, during the crisis over Czechoslovakia. (282) Attlee argued in the House of Commons that the government should form a "firm union between Britain, France and the USSR as the nucleus of a World Alliance against aggression". The government was "dilatory and fumbling" and was in danger of letting Stalin slip out of their grasp and into Hitler's hands." (283)
Winston Churchill, made a passionate speech where he urged Chamberlain to accept Stalin's offer: "There is no means of maintaining an eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia. Russian interests are deeply concerned in preventing Herr Hitler's designs on eastern Europe. It should still be possible to range all the States and peoples from the Baltic to the Black sea in one solid front against a new outrage of invasion. Such a front, if established in good heart, and with resolute and efficient military arrangements, combined with the strength of the Western Powers, may yet confront Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Goebbels and co. with forces the German people would be reluctant to challenge." (284)
On 24th May, 1939, the Cabinet discussed whether to open negotiations for an Anglo-Soviet alliance. The Cabinet was overwhelmingly in favour of an agreement. This included Lord Halifax who feared that if Britain did not do so the Soviet Union would sign an alliance with Nazi Germany. Chamberlain conceded that "in present circumstances, it was impossible to stand out against the conclusion of an agreement" but he stressed the "question of presentation was of the utmost importance." He therefore insisted that attempts should be made to hide any agreement under the banner of the League of Nations. (285)
In June, 1939, a public opinion poll showed that 84 per cent of the British public favoured an Anglo-French-Soviet military alliance. Negotiations progressed very slowly and it has been claimed by Frank McDonough, the author of Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998), that "Chamberlain did not seem to care less whether an Anglo-Soviet agreement was signed at all, kept placing obstructions in the way of concluding an agreement swiftly." (286) Chamberlain admitted: "I am so sceptical of the value of Russian help that I should not feel that our position was greatly worsened if we had to do without them." (287)
Stalin's own interpretation of Britain's rejection of his plan for an anti-fascist alliance, was that they were involved in a plot with Germany against the Soviet Union. This belief was reinforced when Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler at Munich and gave into his demands for the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Stalin now believed that the main objective of British foreign policy was to encourage Germany to head east rather than west. Stalin now decided to develop a new foreign policy. Stalin realized that war with Germany was inevitable. However, to have any chance of victory he needed time to build up his armed forces. The only way he could obtain time was to do a deal with Hitler. Stalin was convinced that Hitler would not be foolish enough to fight a war on two fronts. If he could persuade Hitler to sign a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Germany was likely to invade Western Europe instead. (288)
Stalin was frustrated by the British approach and dismissed Maxim Litvinov, his Jewish Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Litvinov had been closely associated with the Soviet Union's policy of an anti-fascist alliance. Time Magazine reported that there were several possible reasons for the replacement of Litvinov with Vyacheslav Molotov. "Most ominous - and least likely - explanation of the change: Comrade Stalin had decided to ally himself with Führer Hitler. Obviously Comrade Litvinov, born of Jewish parents in a Polish town (then Russian), could not be expected to complete such an alliance with rabidly Aryan Nazis. More likely: the Soviet Union was going to follow an isolationist policy (almost as bad for the British and French). By turning isolationist it would let Herr Hitler know that as long as he keeps away from Russia's vast stretches he need not fear the Red Army. Russia might even supply the Nazis with needed raw materials for conquests. Comrade Stalin still hankered after an alliance with Great Britain and France and by dismissing his experienced, alliance-seeking Foreign Commissar was simply trying to scare the British and French into signing up. But the most likely explanation was that in the bluff and counter-bluff of present European diplomacy, Dictator Stalin was simply clearing the decks to be ready at a moment's notice to jump either way." (289)
Walter Krivitsky, a former NKVD agent, who had fled to America in the early months of 1939 was asked by a journalist what he thought were the reasons for Stalin's sacking of Litvinov. He replied, "Stalin has been driven to the parting of roads in his foreign policy and had to choose between the Rome-Berlin axis and the Paris-London axis... Litvinov personified the policy which brought the Soviet government into the League of Nations which raised the slogan of collective security, which raised the slogan of collective security, which claimed to seek collaboration with democratic powers. That policy has collapsed." (290)
However, despite the fact that Krivitsky knew Stalin very well, his warnings were ignored. (291) Negotiations continued between Britain and the Soviet Union. The main stumbling-block concerned the rights of the Soviets to "rescue any Baltic state from Hitler, even if it did not want to be rescued". Britain insisted that they would only cooperate with Soviet Russia if Poland were attacked and agreed to accept Soviet assistance. This deadlock could not be broken and Molotov suggested that they concentrated on military talks. However, the British representatives in the talks were instructed to "go very slowly". The negotiations finally ended in failure on 21st August. (292)
Molotov now began secret negotiations with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister. He later claimed: "To seek a settlement with Russia was my very own idea which I urged on Hitler because I sought to create a counter-weight to the West and because I wanted to ensure Russian neutrality in the event of a German-Polish conflict. After a short ceremonial welcome the four of us sat down at a table: Stalin, Molotov, Count Schulenburg and myself.... Stalin spoke - briefly, precisely, without many words; but what he said was clear and unambiguous and showed that he, too, wished to reach a settlement and understanding with Germany. Stalin used the significant phrase that although we had 'poured buckets of filth' over each other for years there was no reason why we should not make up our quarrel." (293)
On 28th August, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed in Moscow. It was reported: "Late Sunday night - not the usual time for such announcements - the Soviet Government revealed a pact, not with Great Britain, not with France, but with Germany. Germany would give the Soviet Union seven-year 5% credits amounting to 200,000,000 marks ($80.000,000) for German machinery and armaments, would buy from the Soviet Union 180,000.000 marks' worth ($72,000,000) of wheat, timber, iron ore, petroleum in the next two years". (294) Apparently, the day after the agreement was signed, Stalin told Lavrenti Beria: "Of course, it's all a game to see who can fool whom. I know what Hitler's up to. He thinks he's outsmarted me, but actually it's I who have tricked him." (295)
Under the terms of the agreement, both countries promised to remain neutral if either country became involved in a war. The cartoonist, David Low, who had long campaigned for an alliance with the Soviet Union, wrote: "Britain and France were dragged to war under such uninspiring and disadvantageous circumstances that it seemed hardly possible for them to win. What a situation! In gloomy wrath at missed opportunity and human stupidity I drew the bitterest cartoon of my life, Rendezvous, the meeting of the 'Enemy of the People' with the 'Scum of the Earth' in the smoking ruins of Poland." (296)
Walter Krivitsky, whose predictions had proved correct, argued in The New Leader: "Not only are the American people shocked, but far more the unhappy masses of Germany and Russia who have paid and will continue to pay for this triumph with their blood. Such master strokes are eloquent proof of the return by the totalitarian states to the darkest phases of secret diplomacy such as characterized the epoch of Absolutism... For the democratic world the importance of the pact lies in that it has finally ripped the mask from Stalin's face. I believe that in those countries where the free word still exists, the master stroke of diplomacy is the death stroke of Stalinism as an active force. I believe this because after nearly 20 years of service for the Soviet government, I am convinced that democracy; despite its present perilous position, is the sole path for progressive humanity." (297)
Lord Halifax argued that the Nazi-Soviet Pact did not make any difference as British policy had "always discounted Russia, so materially the position is not really changed." (298) On 22nd August, 1939, Chamberlain told the Cabinet, "It is unthinkable that we would not carry out our obligations to Poland." (299) Despite these comments he sent Hitler and unequivocal letter, approved by the Cabinet, which stated that Britain intended to stand by Poland. On 24th August, Chamberlain gained parliamentary agreement to pass the Emergency Powers Act. The following day, a formal Anglo-Polish military alliance was signed, to reinforce the British resolve not to abandon Poland. (300)
Herbert Morrison, the Labour MP, commented: "I believe that in 1938 and 1939 he (Chamberlain) 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." (301)
On 25th August, 1939, Hitler sent a letter to Chamberlain in which he demanded the Danzig and Polish corridor questions be settled immediately. In return for a settlement, Hitler offered a non-aggression pact to Britain and promised to guarantee the British Empire and to sign a treaty of disarmament. (302) Some appeasers such as Nevile Henderson, Richard Austen Butler and Horace Wilson, wanted to do a deal with Hitler. They were accused by Oliver Harvey of "working like beavers for a Polish Munich". (303)
The reply to Hitler went through several drafts, until it was finally agreed by the whole Cabinet on 28th August. In the letter, Chamberlain suggested direct Polish-German talks to settle the issue peacefully, but would not "acquiesce in a settlement which put in jeopardy the independence of the state to whom they had given their guarantee." (304) In response, Hitler demanded a Polish emissary "with full powers" go to Berlin on 30th August 1939, but the Polish government refused. (305)
On 31st August, 1939, Adolf Hitler gave the order to attack Poland. The following day fifty-seven army divisions, heavily supported by tanks and aircraft, crossed the Polish frontier, in a lightning Blitzkrieg attack. A telegram was sent to Hitler warning of the possibility of war unless he withdrew his troops from Poland. That evening Chamberlain told the House of Commons: "Eighteen months ago in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall on me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitration of war. I fear I may not be able to avoid that responsibility". (306)
At a meeting of the Cabinet on 2nd September, the Cabinet wanted the prime minister to declare war on Nazi Germany. Chamberlain refused and argued it was still possible to avoid conflict. That night he announced in the House of Commons that he was offering Hitler a conference to discuss the subject of Poland if the "Germans agreed to withdraw their forces (which was not the same as actually withdrawing them), the British government would forget everything that had happened, and diplomacy could start again." (307)
Clement Attlee was not in the House of Commons as he was recovering from a serious operation. It was acting leader, Arthur Greenwood, who replied to Chamberlain's statement. As he stood up, Leo Amery shouted "Speak for England, Arthur!". Greenwood said: "I am gravely disturbed. An act of aggression took place 38 hours ago. The moment that act of aggression took place one of the most important treaties of modern times automatically came into operation. There may be reasons why instant action was not taken. I am not prepared to say - and I have tried to play a straight game - I am not prepared to say what I would have done had I been one of those sitting on those Benches. That delay might have been justifiable, but there are many of us on all sides of this House who view with the gravest concern the fact that hours went by and news came in of bombing operations, and news today of an intensification of it, and I wonder how long we are prepared to vacillate at a time when Britain and all that Britain stands for, and human civilisation, are in peril. We must march with the French." (308)
Chamberlain had lost the support of his own MPs. He was shocked by this reaction and Lord Halifax commented that he had "never seen the Prime Minister so disturbed". Members of the Cabinet were also angry with Chamberlain's performance in the House of Commons. Several members of the Cabinet assembled in the office of John Simon. He later recalled: "The language and feelings of some of my colleagues were so strong and deep that I thought it right at once to inform the Prime Minister." The men drafted a letter that said "that our view was that in no circumstances should the expiry of the ultimatum go beyond 12 noon tomorrow, and even this extension of twelve hours beyond the Cabinet's earlier decision would only be acceptable if it was the necessary price of French co-operation". (309)
Edward Murrow was a critic of appeasement and heard rumours that Chamberlain was still trying to continue the negotiations with Hitler via Mussolini: "Some people have told me tonight that they believe a big deal is being cooked up which will make Munich and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia look like a pleasant tea party. I find it difficult to accept this thesis. I don't know what's in the mind of the government, but I do know that to Britishers their pledged word is important, and I should be very much surprised to see any government which betrayed that pledge remain long in office. And it would be equally surprising to see any settlement achieved through the mediation of Mussolini produce anything other than a temporary relaxation of the tension. Most observers here agree that this country is not in the mood to accept a temporary solution. And that's why I believe that Britain in the end of the day will stand where she is pledged to stand, by the side of Poland in a war that is now in progress. Failure to do so might produce results in this country, the end of which cannot be foreseen. Anyone who knows this little island will agree that things happen slowly here; most of you will agree that the British during the past few weeks have done everything possible in order to put the record straight. When historians come to sum up the last six months of Europe's existence, when they come to write the story of the origins of the war, or of the collapse of democracy, they will have many documents from which to work. As I said, I have no way of ascertaining the real reason for the delay, nor am I impatient for the outbreak of war." (310)
Shortly before midnight, on 2nd September, 1939, the Cabinet met for a second time. Members, led by Leslie Hore-Belisha, argued that the government must stop procrastinating and declare war or else he would be defeated in the House of Commons. It was agreed to issue an ultimatum which would be delivered by Nevile Henderson to the German government in Berlin at 9.00 a.m. on 3rd September 1939. It stated that unless Hitler made a firm promise to withdraw his troops from Poland by 11.00 a.m. then Britain would declare war. (311)
The following day Neville Chamberlain went on radio to announce: "Britain is at war with Germany" and went on to say: "This is a sad day for all of us, and to none is it sadder than to me. Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do; that is, to devote what strength and powers I have to forwarding the victory of the cause for which we have to sacrifice so much. I cannot tell what part I may be allowed to play myself; I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been re-established." (312)
Richard Lamb, the author of The Ghosts of Peace (1987) described it as a "pathetic broadcast" and "instead of promising speedy help to the ally on whose behalf Britain was going to war, he spoke of his personal grief." Although the people of Poland "expected immediate help, Britain had no intention of coming to Poland's aid." On 9th September, 1939, a Polish military mission led by General Norwid Neugebauer, arrived in London to have talks with William Ironside the Chief of the General Staff. However, all Ironside could offer was a few thousand old rifles and a few million rounds of ammunition, and he advised them to buy arms from neutral countries such as Spain and Belgium. (313)
The British declaration of war automatically brought in India and the colonies. The Dominions, however, were free to decide for themselves. The governments of Australia and New Zealand followed the British example at once without consulting their parliament. The Canadian government waited for their parliament and declared war on 10th September. In South Africa, J. M. B. Herzog, the prime minister, wished to remain neutral, but he lost the vote 80 to 67. Herzog resigned and Jan Smuts became prime minister and declared war on 6th September, 1939. (314)
In his diary Chamberlain attempted to explain what had happened. "The communications with Hitler and Goering looked rather promising at one time, but came to nothing in the end, as Hitler apparently got carried away by the prospect of a short war in Poland, and then a settlement... They gave the impression, probably with intention, that it was possible to persuade Hitler to accept a peaceful and reasonable solution of the Polish question, in order to get to an Anglo-German agreement, which he continually declared to be his greatest ambition... With such an extraordinary creature one can only speculate. But I believe he did seriously contemplate an agreement with us, and that he worked seriously at proposals which to his one-track mind seemed almost fabulously generous." (315)
On 17th September, the Soviet Red Army invaded Eastern Poland, the territory that fell into the Soviet "sphere of influence" according to the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. On 6th October, following the Polish defeat at the Battle of Kock, German and Soviet forces gained full control over Poland. Joseph Stalin now demanded not only Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as part of the Soviet sphere. He aimed both to recover the land of the Russian Empire and to secure a compact area of defence for the Soviet Union. Hitler, unwilling to fight a war on two fronts, immediately accepted these terms. (316)
On the outbreak of the Second World War Chamberlain asked Winston Churchill to join his cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill suggested that Anthony Eden and Archibald Sinclair, the Liberal Party leader, should be appointed to the War Cabinet. "Aren't we a very old team? I make out that the six you mentioned to me yesterday aggregate 386 years, or an average of over 64, only one year short of the old age Pension! If, however, you added Sinclair (49) and Eden (42), the average comes down to 57½. If the Daily Herald is right that Labour will not come in, we shall certainly have to face a constant stream of criticism, as well as the many disappointments and surprises of which war largely consists. Therefore it seems to me all the more important to have the Liberal Opposition firmly incorporated in our ranks." (317)
Eden was appointed as Secretary of State for the Dominions, but Sinclair and Clement Attlee were not invited to join Chamberlain's government. Once in office Churchill he wrote a paper where he assessed the possibility of defeating Nazi Germany. He reassured his colleagues that Germany was short "of certain vital materials, and some at least of their population was gravely disaffected... after a few months weaknesses would begin to show in the German military machine." (318)
In September 1939, public opinion polls showed that Chamberlain's popularity was 55 per cent. By December it had increased to 68 per cent. It would seem that some members of the general public saw him as the man who could negotiate Britain out of the war. Chamberlain reported on 23rd September: "All the injustices, inconveniences, hardships and uncertainties of wartime are resented more and more, because they are felt to be unnecessary... Last week 17% of my correspondence was on the theme of 'stop the war'. If I were in Hitler's shoes, I think I should let the present menacing lull go on for several weeks, and then put out a very reasonable offer." (319) A few weeks later he wrote: "In 3 days last week I had 2,450 letters, and 1,860 of them were 'stop the war' in one form or another." (320)
Members of the House of Commons saw him as an uninspiring war leader. Herbert Morrison, later recalled: "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." (321)
The Soviet Union invaded Finland on 30th November 1939 with 21 divisions, totaling 450,000 men, and bombed Helsinki, inflicting substantial damage and casualties. The following day the Soviet Union formed a puppet government, called the Finnish Democratic Republic and headed by Otto Willie Kuusinen, in the parts of the country occupied by the Red Army. (322)
The Manchester Guardian reported: "Russia invaded Finland early yesterday morning, and at once began to try to enforce submission by air attacks. The Finnish Government resigned early this morning. It is reported from Copenhagen that Dr. Tanner, the Finnish Finance Minister, who was one of the Finnish delegates to Moscow, will form a new Government to open negotiations with Russia... The invasion of Finland without any declaration of war has cause the greatest indignation throughout the world, especially in other Scandinavian countries and in the United States, Italy, and Spain." (323)
Winston Churchill later pointed out: "It is probable that the Soviet Government had counted on a walkover. Their early air-raids on Helsingfors and elsewhere, though not on a heavy scale, were expected to strike terror. The troops they used at first, though numerically much stronger, were inferior in quality and ill-trained. The effect of the air-raids and of the invasion of their land roused the Finns, who rallied to a man against the aggressor and fought with absolute determination and the utmost skill.... The country here is almost entirely pine forests, gently undulating and at the time covered with a foot of hard snow. The cold was intense. The Finns were well equipped with skis and warm clothing, of which the Russians had neither." (324)
Marshal Carl Mannerheim, the Commander-in-Chief of the Finish Army, was responsible for the construction and defence of the Mannerheim Line, that stretched across 65 miles of Finland's south-eastern frontier. Tomas Ries has pointed out: "Few at the time expected the tiny Finnish nation of 3.6 million to survive. But despite the odds Finland reacted with desperate determination. On the one hand the country was determined to fight, and the full field army of some 160,000 men had been mobilized and sent eastwards into position along the front during the fall. On the other hand Finland also was grimly prepared for the worst, and began sending her national treasure - her children - to safety in Sweden, to cover the possibility of a Soviet victory and Stalin's national extermination programmes." (325)
Although the advance of Soviet troops was halted at Kemijarvi, Suomussalmi and most spectacularly in the south at the Mannheim Line on the Karelian isthmus, was a great surprise to observers and a costly embarrassment for the Soviet forces. (326) Winston Churchill argued that the British government should send military help to Finland. This desire reflected the Conservative view that the real enemy was not Nazi Germany but the Soviet Union. Lord Halifax agreed: "One important result of the Nazi-Soviet Agreement was the danger of Bolshevism spreading to Western Europe... It was the danger however we had to face, and we had to make up our minds whether we should tackle it by drawing apart from Russia or even declaring war upon her... The alternative policy was to concentrate first on the German menace, and it was this policy which the United Kingdom Government had decided to adopt." (327)
John Boyle, 14th Earl of Cork, the director of plans at the Admiralty responsible for Scandinavia policy, told Churchill, that "British aid was perhaps the last of mobilizing the anti-Bolshevik forces of the world on our side." This reflected not only strong ideological dislike of the Soviet Union but a disdain for Soviet military strength. "The idea of attacking the Soviet Union was justified in on the grounds that it was helping Germany economically, but there may well have been the hope in ministers' minds that Germany (under another government) would still see sense and unite against the common enemy." (328)
Neville Chamberlain disagreed with this view and still thought it was possible to negotiate a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain wrote on 3rd December, 1939: "Stalin's latest performance, which seems to have provoked far more indignation than Hitler's attack on Poland, though it is no worse morally, and in its developments is likely to be much less brutal... I am as indignant as anyone at the Russians' behaviour, but I am bound to say that I don't think the Allied cause is likely to suffer thereby. It has added a great deal to the general feeling that the ways of dictators make things impossible for the rest of the world, and in particular it has infuriated the Americans, who have a sentimental regard for the Finns because they paid off their war debt. (329)
The British and French governments eventually decided to send an Anglo-French expeditionary force of 100,000 men was hastily assembled. The government wanted to show Great Britain's impartial hostility towards dictatorships, Communist and Fascist, if she took on both Soviet Russia and Germany at once. Churchill had a more subtle intention. The expeditionary force would have to cross Norway and Sweden before reaching Finland. On the way it would seize Narvik, the Norwegian port from which the iron ore was shipped to Germany, and would then go on to wreck the Swedish iron mines. In this was successful, German industry would be crippled. (330)
The British Chiefs of Staff warned that, as a military operation, the expeditionary force would not work; even mild opposition from Sweden, as now seemed likely, would make it impossible for the Anglo-French force to reach Finland in time to be of help, or even to reach the iron ore fields en route, "before a German force could get there". The government was warned that by sending aircraft to help Finland would "weaken ourselves against Germany." Hitler, aware of the danger of British involvement in the war, issued details of a plan to occupy Norway and Denmark that "would anticipate English action against Scandinavia and the Baltic, would secure our supplies of iron ore from Sweden, and would provide the Navy and Air Force with expanded bases for operations against England." (331)
Anthony Eden, prepared the way for government action with a speech on 29th February, 1940: "Not Russia only but Germany also, bears a terrible responsibility for what is happening in Finland at this hour. Hitler and Ribbentrop, these men and their policies alone made Stalin's aggression possible. Stalin is the aggressor in Finland, Hitler the abettor. It seems strange to think now how many hours I used to spend listening to the present German Foreign Secretary when he was Ambassador in London, when he used to expound to me, as indeed he did also in public many times, the dangers and horrors of Bolshevism. He was never tired of expatiating on this theme. Soviet Russia, this untouchable with whom Nazi Germany could not sit down at a conference table, this leprous thing, this cancer. Many a time the British people were taken to task because we, it was alleged, did not understand the extent of our peril. We did not appreciate, we were told, the realities of the European situation. Only Hitler could do that. He, alone, we were assured, stood as a bulwark between Britain and Red Russia." (332) .
When the government announced it had agreed to send the expeditionary force to Finland. "British expectations rose high, encouraged by confident utterances from Chamberlain and Churchill." (333) The action was criticised. According to one historian: "The motives for the projected expedition to Finland defy rational analysis. For Great Britain and France to provoke war with Soviet Russia when already at war with Germany seems the product of a madhouse, and it is tempting to suggest a more sinister plan: switching the war on to an anti-Bolshevik course, so that the war against Germany could be forgotten or even ended." (334)
On 4th March, 1940, Soviet forces launched a massive attack on the Finnish city of Vyborg. One Soviet column crossed thirty-four miles of ice, attacking the Finnish coastline in the rear of the city's defenders. Soviet artillery set up its positions offshore, bombarding Vyborg. The Finnish Government, unable to resist the renewed military onslaught, accepted the Soviet Union's offer of peace talks.As the Finns had lost more that 20 per cent of their 200,000 soldiers in three months they accepted the offer. On 12th March, Finland agreed to the Soviet demands and made peace. (335)
In a debate in the House of Commons on 7th May, 1940, Admiral Roger Keyes, the Conservative Party MP for Portsmouth North, attacked the government's military strategy including the role played by Winston Churchill as First Lord of Admiralty: "I came to the House of Commons to-day in uniform for the first time because I wish to speak for some officers and men of the fighting, sea-going Navy who are very unhappy. I want to make it perfectly clear that it is not their fault that the German warships and transports which forced their way into Norwegian ports by treachery were not followed in and destroyed as they were at Narvik. It is not the fault of those for whom I speak that the enemy have been left in undisputable possession of vulnerable ports and aerodromes for nearly a month, have been given time to pour in reinforcements by sea and air, to land tanks, heavy artillery and mechanised transport, and have been given time to develop the air offensive which has had such a devastating effect on the morale of Whitehall. If they had been more courageously and offensively employed they might have done much to prevent these unhappy happenings and much to influence unfriendly neutrals." He then went on to compare the operation with Churchill's failure at Gallipoli. (336)
Leo Amery, another Tory MP, argued in the House of Commons: "Just as our peace-time system is unsuitable for war conditions, so does it tend to breed peace-time statesmen who are not too well fitted for the conduct of war. Facility in debate, ability to state a case, caution in advancing an unpopular view, compromise and procrastination are the natural qualities - I might almost say, virtues - of a political leader in time of peace. They are fatal qualities in war. Vision, daring, swiftness and consistency of decision are the very essence of victory." Looking at Chamberlain he then went onto quote what Oliver Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go." (337)
The following day, Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party demanded a vote of no confidence in Chamberlain. The 77 year-old David Lloyd George, was one of those MPs who called on the prime minister to resign. The government defeated the Labour motion by 281 to 200 votes. But the abstention of 134 Tory MPs indicated the extent to which the government had haemorrhaged authority. It was clear that drastic changes were essential if the government was to restore its authority. Chamberlain invited Attlee to join a National Government but he refused and said he would only accept if the prime minister resigned. (338)
Chamberlain told King George VI that he had no choice but to resign. In his diary he wrote: "The Amerys, Duff Coopers, and their lot are consciously, or unconsciously, swayed by a sense of frustration because they can only look on, and finally the personal dislike of Simon and Hoare had reached a pitch which I find it difficult to understand, but which undoubtedly had a great deal to do with the rebellion. A number of those who voted against the government have since either told me, or written to me to say, that they had nothing against me except that I had the wrong people in my team." (339)
The King and Chamberlain wanted Lord Halifax to become prime minister. Halifax had the support of some Labour MPs like Hugh Dalton and Herbert Morrison, but not Attlee who wanted Churchill. The King attempted to insist on Halifax but eventually he agreed to ask Winston Churchill to become prime minister. As Clive Ponting, the author of Winston Churchill (1994) pointed out: "It was perhaps the crowning irony of his career that he should become Prime Minister because of the need to bring the Labour Party, which had so far only formed two minority governments, into a national coalition. One of the main motivating forces of his political life in the previous twenty years was his outright opposition to the claims of Labour and the trade unions, reflected in his often expressed belief that not only were they unfit to govern the country but that they were engaged in a campaign to subvert its political, economic and social institutions." (340)
Chamberlain was appointed as Lord President of the Council in Churchill's government but ill health forced him to leave office in October 1940, and died of cancer on 9th November, 1940. His official biographer, Keith Feiling, wrote in 1946: "Though he might fail to show it in public, a man different from what he was to kith and kin and friends: simple, sensitive, and selfless, arduous, just, and merciful. For a short time, measured by the long scale of history, the standards by which he marched have been cast down and trampled on by brute force. But they will be raised again." (341)
Our policy has been consistently directed to one aim - to maintain the peace of Europe by confining the war to Spain. Although it is true that intervention has been going on and is going on, in spite of the non-intervention agreement, yet it is also true that we have succeeded in achieving the object at the back of our policy, and we shall continue that object and policy as long as we feel there is reasonable hope of avoiding a spread of the conflict.
I do not believe that it is fantastic to think that we can continue this policy successfully, even to the end. The situation is serious, but it is not hopeless. Although it may be true that various countries or various Governments desire to see one side or the other side in Spain winning, there is not a country or a Government that wants to see a European war.
Since that is so, let us keep cool heads. Neither say nor do anything to precipitate a disaster which everybody really wishes to avoid.
When I think of the experience of German officers, the loss of life and the mutilation of men on the Deutschland, and the natural feelings of indignation and resentment that must have been aroused by such incidents, I must say that I think the German Government in wisely withdrawing their ships and then declaring the incident closed have shown a degree of restraint which we ought to be able to recognise.
I make an earnest appeal to those who hold responsible positions both in this country and abroad to weigh their words very carefully before they utter them on this matter, bearing in mind the consequences that may flow from some rash or thoughtless phrase. By exercising caution and patience and self-restraint we may yet be able to save the peace of Europe.
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.
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.
Developments seem very slow and I am afraid that we may have to wait another week or even more before we can speak with confidence about the issue. All the same I have a "hunch" that we shall get through this time without the use of force. Hitler cannot say that no progress is being made and the general opinion of the world would be more shocked than ever if Runciman's efforts were to be rudely interrupted before it could be established that they had failed. Even if things looked more threatening than they do at the moment I should not despair for I don't think we have fired the last shot in our locker.
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 unchallengeable 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 Czecho-Slovakia 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 Czecho-Slovakian 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.
Thousands of people are standing in Whitehall and lining Downing Street, waiting to greet the Prime Minister upon his return from Munich. Certain afternoon papers speculate concerning the possibility of the Prime Minister receiving a knighthood while in office, something that has happened only twice before in British history. Others say that he should be the next recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
International experts in London agree that Herr Hitler has scored one of the greatest diplomatic triumphs in modern history. The average Englishman, who really received his first official information concerning the crisis from Mr. Chamberlain's speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday, is relieved and grateful. Men who predicted the crisis and the lines it would follow long before it arrived did not entirely share that optimism and relief. One afternoon paper carried this headline: WORLD SHOWS
RELIEF - BUT WITH RESERVATIONS.
I feel I must send you one line to say how well I can appreciate your feelings about the recent behaviour of the German Government. Although this blow to your courageous efforts on behalf of peace and understanding in Europe must, I am afraid, cause you deep distress, I am sure that your labours have been anything but wasted, for they can have left no doubt in the minds of ordinary people all over the world of our love of peace and our readiness to discuss with any nation whatever grievances they think they have.
I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with setting everyone else by the ears.
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.
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."
The other element that gave fuel to the fires of criticism was the unhappy phrases which Neville Chamberlain under the stress of great emotion allowed himself to use. 'Peace with Honour'; 'Peace for our time' - such sentences grated harshly on the ear and thought of even those closest to him. But when all has been said, one fact remains dominant and unchallengeable. When war did come a year later it found a country and Commonwealth wholly united within itself, convinced to the foundations of soul and conscience that every conceivable effort had been made to find the way of sparing Europe the ordeal of war, and that no alternative remained. And that was the best thing that Chamberlain did.
Some people have told me tonight that they believe a big deal is being cooked up which will make Munich and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia look like a pleasant tea party. I find it difficult to accept this thesis. I don't know what's in the mind of the government, but I do know that to Britishers their pledged word is important, and I should be very much surprised to see any government which betrayed that pledge remain long in office. And it would be equally surprising to see any settlement achieved through the mediation of Mussolini produce anything other than a temporary relaxation of the tension.
Most observers here agree that this country is not in the mood to accept a temporary solution. And that's why I believe that Britain in the end of the day will stand where she is pledged to stand, by the side of Poland in a war that is now in progress. Failure to do so might produce results in this country, the end of which cannot be foreseen. Anyone who knows this little island will agree that things happen slowly here; most of you will agree that the British during the past few weeks have done everything possible in order to put the record straight. When historians come to sum up the last six months of Europe's existence, when they come to write the story of the origins of the war, or of the collapse of democracy, they will have many documents from which to work. As I said, I have no way of ascertaining the real reason for the delay, nor am I impatient for the outbreak of war.
What exactly determined the government's decision is yet to be learned. What prospects of peaceful solution the government may see is to me a mystery. You know their record. You know what action they've taken in the past, but on this occasion the little man in the bowler hat, the clerks, the bus drivers, and all the others who make up the so-called rank and file would be reckoned with. They seem to believe that they have been patient, that they have suffered insult and injury, and they certainly believe that this time they are going to solve this matter in some sort of permanent fashion. Don't think for a moment that these people here aren't conscious of what's going on, aren't sensitive to the suspicions which the delay of their government has aroused. They're a patient people, and they're perhaps prepared to wait until tomorrow for the definite word. If that word means war, the delay was not likely to have decreased the intensity or the effectiveness of Britain's effort. If it is peace, with the price being paid by Poland, this government will have to deal with the passion it has aroused during the past few weeks. If it's a five-power conference, well, we shall see.
The Prime Minister today was almost apologetic. He's a politician; he sensed the temper of the House and of the country. I have been able to find no sense of relief amongst the people with whom I've talked. On the contrary, the general attitude seems to be, "We are ready, let's quit this stalling and get on with it." As a result, I think that we'll have a decision before this time tomorrow. On the evidence produced so far, it would seem that that decision will be war. But those of us who've watched this story unroll at close range have lost the ability to be surprised.
The Prime Minister gave us a reasoned, argumentative case for our failure. It is always possible to do that after every failure. Making a case and winning a war are not the same thing. Wars are won, not by explanation after the event, but by foresight, by clear decision and by swift action. I confess that I did not feel there was one sentence in the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon which suggested that the Government either foresaw what Germany meant to do, or came to a clear decision when it knew what Germany had done, or acted swiftly or consistently throughout the whole of this lamentable affair.
The Prime Minister, both the other day and today, expressed himself as satisfied that the balance of advantage lay on our side. He laid great stress on the heaviness of the German losses and the lightness of ours. What did the Germans lose? A few thousand men, nothing to them, a score of transports, and part of a Navy which anyhow cannot match ours. What did they gain? They gained Norway, with the strategical advantages which, in their opinion at least, outweigh the whole of their naval losses. They have gained the whole of Scandinavia. What have we lost? To begin with, we have lost most of the Norwegian Army, not only such as it was but such as it might have become, if only we had been given time to rally and re-equip it.
We must have, first of all, a right organization of government. What is no less important today is that the Government shall be able to draw upon the whole abilities of the nation. It must represent all the elements of real political power in this country, whether in this House or not. The time has come when hon. and right hon. Members opposite must definitely take their share of the responsibility. The time has come when the organization, the power and influence of the Trades Union Congress cannot be left outside. It must, through one of its recognized leaders, reinforce the strength of the national effort from inside. The time has come, in other words, for a real National Government. I may be asked what is my alternative Government. That is not my concern: it is not the concern of this House. The duty of this House, and the duty that it ought to exercise, is to show unmistakably what kind of Government it wants in order to win the war. It must always be left to some individual leader, working perhaps with a few others, to express that will by selecting his colleagues so as to form a Government which will correspond to the will of the House and enjoy its confidence. So I refuse, and I hope the House will refuse, to be drawn into a discussion on personalities.
What I would say, however, is this: Just as our peace-time system is unsuitable for war conditions, so does it tend to breed peace-time statesmen who are not too well fitted for the conduct of war. Facility in debate, ability to state a case, caution in advancing an unpopular view, compromise and procrastination are the natural qualities - I might almost say, virtues - of a political leader in time of peace. They are fatal qualities in war. Vision, daring, swiftness and consistency of decision are the very essence of victory. In our normal politics, it is true, the conflict of party did encourage a certain combative spirit. In the last war we Tories found that the most perniciously aggressive of our opponents, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, was not only aggressive in words, but was a man of action. In recent years the normal weakness of our political life has been accentuated by a coalition based upon no clear political principles. It was in fact begotten of a false alarm as to the disastrous results of going off the Gold Standard. It is a coalition which has been living ever since in a twilight atmosphere between Protection and Free Trade and between unprepared collective security and unprepared isolation. Surely, for the Government of the last ten years to have bred a band of warrior statesmen would have been little short of a miracle. We have waited for eight months, and the miracle has not come to pass. Can we afford to wait any longer ?
Somehow or other we must get into the Government men who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory. Some 300 years ago, when this House found that its troops were being beaten again and again by the dash and daring of the Cavaliers, by Prince Rupert's Cavalry, Oliver Cromwell spoke to John Hampden. In one of his speeches he recounted what he said. It was this:
'I said to him, "Your troops are most of them old, decayed serving men and tapsters and such kind of fellows." You must get men of a spirit that are likely to go as far as they will go, or you will be beaten still.'
It may not be easy to find these men. They can be found only by trial and by ruthlessly discarding all who fail and have their failings discovered. We are fighting today for our life, for our liberty, for our all; we cannot go on being led as we are.
I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation:
"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go"
In April Hitler invaded Norway and Britain's attempts to come to the rescue ended disastrously. On 10 May Hitler swept through Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg and started bombing France. The House of Commons' patience with Chamberlain's dilatory war effort finally broke. His pathetic attempt to save himself by forming a national coalition government was foiled by Labour's refusal to serve under him. For a short dangerous spell it looked as if he might be succeeded by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, one of Michael Foot's "guilty men", when Attlee and Dalton told Rab Butler that they would be willing to serve under Halifax.
But when Hitler attacked France they changed their minds: Winston Churchill must be in charge. It was fortunate that they did, for there would have been an outcry in Labour's ranks if they had taken office under the hated appeaser, Halifax. Instead there was relief when Attlee, Morrison, Bevin and Arthur Greenwood entered Churchill's War Cabinet.
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.