30th September 1938. What would ‘We’ have Done?
‘Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain are great men who dwarf their colleagues’: by 1940 they had become the ‘Guilty Men’, and forever attached to appeasement.(1)
However Chamberlain was only reflecting 1930s’ thinking, when the London Times and others, thought a deal could be made with Hitler.
Many were admirers for a strong politician, who had attempted to rebuild the country after World War I.
Churchill ‘admired men who stood up for their country’; Lloyd-George called him ‘the greatest living German…who wished nothing but the best for the British Empire’.
Left wing historian Arnold Toynbee said: ‘Hitler was indistinguishable from Gandhi’. Press baron, Lord Rothermere swore he was a ‘perfect gentleman’. ‘Big business’, though not openly pro-Nazi were closet Appeasers.
However, as the decade wore on, it was obvious to people like Churchill that Hitler would pose a threat to the security of Europe, particularly after his 1938 pact with the USSR, and his designs on the largely German, Sudentenland, part of Czechoslovakia.
Now, in a leading article, The Times was suggesting that Czechoslovakia might benefit from losing the territory.(2)
This was the time when Chamberlain began his three visits to see Hitler, in as many weeks, confidently reporting that ‘Hitler was entirely at my disposal’ and the Fuhrer’s, ‘would not Mrs Chamberlain come too’?
As an essentially decent man, he couldn’t see through Hitler’s deceit, which to history has looked grovelling, and to culminate in the Nemesis of Munich.
However back at Heston Airport Today on 30th September, he received a hero’s welcome, and seen by Gaumont British Newsreel, as the man who with pledges had: ‘saved us from the greatest war of all’.
Streets were packed by cheering crowds on returning to Downing Street; ‘I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep’, addressing a crowd from the window of No 10.
He later appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony, the first Prime Minister to do so.
The Times in purple prose said: ‘No conqueror returning from a victory on the battlefield has come home adorned with nobler laurels than Mr. Chamberlain from Munich yesterday’.
The Daily Telegraph headlined, the next day: ‘London’s Great Reception for the Prime Minister’, this whilst air-raid trenches were dug in Hyde Park and children were evacuated from London.
In reality Chamberlain had been ‘fobbed-off’, with a last hurried, signed scrap of paper declaring Hitler didn’t want war. He and his entourage, was later dismissed by Hitler: ‘I always have to deal with nonentities’, and ‘our enemy are worms I saw them at Munich’.
Austria and Sudetenland were annexed: what was left was our commitment, with the French, to Poland, which was invaded on 1st September 1939, this time our commitment was honoured. War was declared on the 3rd.
A Millennium Poll in 1999 by BBC Radio 4, ranked Chamberlain 18th out of the nineteen, 20thc Prime Ministers.
History only rewards winners.
(1) Henry ‘Chips’ Channon Diaries 12th May 1938.
(2) Chamberlain told a lie to the Commons in late July when he claimed Viscount Runciman’s mission to arbitrate the claims of the Sudentans, had been undertaken at the request of the Czech government instead of being imposed by Britain.
Ref: airminded.org/Pic Images.