Arthur Neville Chamberlain (Birmingham, March 18, 1869-Heckfield, November 9, 1940) was a British Conservative politician, who served as Prime Minister between May 28, 1937 and May 10, 1940. He is famous for his policy of appeasement towards the Third Reich, as well as for his signing of the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938, granting that country the Sudeten German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia. After the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which marked the beginning of World War II, he announced the declaration of war on Germany two days later and led the United Kingdom during the first eight months of the war until his resignation.
After working in business and local government and following a brief stint as director of National Service in 1916 and 1917, at the age of 49 he followed in the footsteps of his father Joseph Chamberlain and older half-brother Austen to contest the 1918 general election and be elected Member of Parliament for the new Birmingham Ladywood constituency. He declined a sub-ministerial post, remaining without government office until 1922. He was quickly promoted in 1923 to Minister of Health and then Chancellor of the Exchequer. After a short-lived Labor-led government, he returned as Minister of Health, introducing a series of reform measures between 1924 and 1929. He was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in the National Government in 1931.
He succeeded Stanley Baldwin as prime minister on May 28, 1937. His premiership was dominated by the question of foreign policy towards an increasingly aggressive Germany and his actions in Munich were very popular with the British at the time. In response to Adolf Hitler”s continued aggression, Chamberlain committed the country to defend Poland”s independence in the event of an attack, an alliance that brought the United Kingdom into the war after the German occupation. The failure of the Allied forces to prevent the German invasion of Norway prompted the House of Commons to hold the historic Norway Debate in May 1940. His conduct towards the war was sharply criticized by members of all parties and, in a motion of confidence, his majority government was considerably reduced. Recognizing that a national government supported by all major parties was crucial, he resigned from office because Labour and the Liberals would no longer participate under his leadership. Although he still led the Conservative Party, his colleague Winston Churchill succeeded him in office. He continued to serve in government and was an important member of the War Cabinet as Lord President of the Council, leading the country in Churchill”s absence, until ill health forced him to resign on September 22. He died of cancer at the age of 71 on November 9, six months after stepping down as prime minister.
His reputation remains controversial among historians, as the great initial respect he had was eroded by books such as Guilty men (1940), which blamed him and his colleagues for the Munich Agreement and for allegedly failing to prepare the country for war. Most historians of the generation after his death held similar views, led by Churchill in The Gathering Storm (1948). Some later historians have taken a more favorable view of him and his policies, citing government documents published under the “thirty-year rule” and arguing that going to war against Germany in 1938 would have been disastrous, as the United Kingdom was unprepared. Nevertheless, Chamberlain continues to be rated unfavorably among British prime ministers.
He was born on March 18, 1869 in a house called Southbourne in the Edgbaston district of Birmingham, the only child of the second marriage of Joseph Chamberlain, who later became mayor of Birmingham and a minister in the British government. His mother was Florence Kenrick, cousin of William Kenrick MP; she died when he was a small child. His father had had another son, Austen, from his first marriage. Neville was educated at home by his older sister Beatrice and later at Rugby School. His father then sent him to Mason College, now Birmingham University. He had little interest in his studies there and, in 1889, his father apprenticed him to a firm of accountants. Within six months he was a salaried employee.
In an effort to restore the family fortune, his father sent him to establish a sisal plantation on the island of Andros in the Bahamas.He spent six years there, but the plantation was a failure; his father lost £50 000.On his return to England, he entered the business world, acquiring – with the help of his family – Hoskins & Company, a manufacturer of metal boat moorings.He was managing director of the company for seventeen years, during which time the company prospered.He also became involved in civic activities in Birmingham. In 1906, as governor of Birmingham General Hospital and along with “not more than fifteen” other dignitaries, he was a founding member of the National United Hospital Committee of the British Medical Association.
In his forties, he expected to remain a bachelor, but in 1910 he fell in love with Anne de Vere Cole, a distant relative by marriage, and married her the following year. They had met through his aunt Lilian, a Canadian-born widow of Joseph Chamberlain”s brother Herbert, who in 1907 had married Anne”s uncle Alfred Clayton Cole, a director of the Bank of England. Anne Cole encouraged and supported her husband”s entry into local politics and was his constant aide and trusted companion, sharing fully in his interests in real estate and other political and social activities after his election as a member of Parliament. The couple had a son and a daughter.
He initially showed little interest in politics, although his father and half-brother Austen were in Parliament. During the 1900 general election he made speeches in support of his father”s Liberal Unionists. This party allied with the Conservatives and then merged with them under the name Unionist Party, which in 1925 became known as the Conservative and Unionist Party. In 1911, Chamberlain ran as a Liberal Unionist for Birmingham City Council for the ward of All Saints, located within his father”s parliamentary constituency.
He was appointed chairman of the City Planning Committee. Under his leadership, Birmingham soon adopted one of the first city development plans in the country. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 prevented the realization of his plans. In 1915, he became mayor of Birmingham. In addition to his father, five of his uncles had also attained the chief civic dignity of Birmingham: Richard Chamberlain – Joseph”s brother -, William and George Kenrick, Charles Beale – a four-time mayor – and Thomas Martineau. As wartime mayor, he had a heavy workload and insisted that his aldermen and officials work equally hard. He halved the mayor”s expense allowance and the number of civic duties attached to the office. In 1915, he was appointed to the Central Liquor Traffic Control Board.
In December 1916, Prime Minister David Lloyd George offered him the new post of director of National Service, with responsibility for coordinating compulsory military service and ensuring that essential war industries could operate with sufficient manpower. His tenure was marked by conflict with Lloyd George; in August 1917, having received little support from the prime minister, he resigned. The relationship between Chamberlain and Lloyd George would thereafter be one of mutual hatred.
Legislator without position
Once elected, he threw himself into parliamentary work, regretting the times when he could not attend debates and spending much of his time on committee work. He was chairman of the National Committee on Unhealthy Areas (1919-1921) and, in that capacity, visited the slums of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and Cardiff. Consequently, in March 1920, Bonar Law offered him a junior post in the Ministry of Health on behalf of the prime minister, but Chamberlain was unwilling to serve in Lloyd George”s government and was offered no further nominations during that term of office. When Law resigned as leader of the Unionist party, Austen Chamberlain took his place as leader of the Unionists in Parliament. The Unionist hierarchs were willing to contest the 1922 election in coalition with Lloyd George”s Liberals but, on October 19, Unionist MPs held a meeting at the Carlton Club at which they voted against going into the election in coalition with Lloyd George. Lloyd George resigned, as did Austen Chamberlain, and Law returned from retirement to lead the Unionists as Prime Minister in coalition with the Conservatives.
Many senior Unionists refused to form a government with Law for the benefit of Chamberlain, who in the course of ten months went from backbencher – parliamentarian without a government position – to Chancellor of the Exchequer. Law had initially appointed him Postmaster General and was subsequently inducted into the Privy Council. When Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, Minister of Health, lost his seat in the 1922 election and was defeated in an extraordinary election in March 1923 by future Home Secretary James Chuter Ede, Law offered the post of Minister of Health to Chamberlain. Two months later, Law was diagnosed with advanced terminal throat cancer. He immediately resigned and was replaced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Stanley Baldwin. In August 1923, Baldwin promoted Chamberlain to Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He served only five months in office before the Conservatives were defeated in the 1923 general election. Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour prime minister, but his government fell within months, forcing another general election. By a margin of only seventy-seven votes, Chamberlain narrowly defeated Labour candidate Oswald Mosley, who later led the British Union of Fascists. Thinking he would lose if he stood again for Birmingham Ladywood, he arranged to be a candidate for Birmingham Edgbaston, the district of the city where he was born and which was a much safer seat, which he would hold for the rest of his life. The Unionists won the election, but Chamberlain refused to return to the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer, preferring his former post as Minister of Health.
Two weeks after his appointment as minister of health, he submitted to the council of ministers an agenda containing twenty-five laws that he hoped to see enacted. Before he left office in 1929, twenty-one of the twenty-five bills had been passed. He sought the abolition of the poor law boards of guardians which administered assistance to the homeless; they were elected by suffrage and which in some areas were responsible for taxation. Many of the boards were in the hands of Labor and had defied the government by distributing relief funds to the able-bodied unemployed. In 1929, his Local Government Act 1929 was passed which abolished the poor law boards altogether. He had defended his proposal before parliamentarians for two and a half hours at the second reading of the bill and, when he concluded, was applauded by all parties.
Although he struck a conciliatory note during the 1926 general strike, he usually had poor relations with the Labour opposition. Future Labour prime minister Clement Attlee complained that he “always treated us like dirt” and, in April 1927, Chamberlain wrote: “I feel more and more contempt for your pitiful stupidity.” His poor relations with the Labour Party later played a major role in his coming downfall as prime minister.
In opposition and debate on the war
Baldwin called a general election for May 30, 1929, which resulted in a hung Parliament in which Labour held the majority of seats. Baldwin and his government resigned and Labour, under MacDonald, again took power. In 1931, the MacDonald government faced a serious crisis when the “May Report” revealed that the budget was not balanced, with a projected deficit of £120 million. The Labour government resigned on August 24 and MacDonald formed a government of national unity supported by the majority of the Conservatives. Chamberlain once again took over the Ministry of Health.
He hoped that a cancellation of the war debt could be negotiated with the United States. In June 1933, the United Kingdom hosted the World Monetary and Economic Conference, which came to nothing when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent word that he would not consider any remission of the war debt. In 1934, Chamberlain was able to declare a budget surplus and reverse many of the cuts in unemployment pensions and civil service wages that he had made after taking office. Addressing the full House he said, “We have finished the story of the desolate House and are sitting down this afternoon to enjoy the first chapter of Great Expectations.”
Social and military expenses
The Unemployed Assistance Board (UAB), established by the Unemployment Act 1934, was largely a creation of Chamberlain, who wished to see the issue of unemployment assistance removed from the party”s political argument. Moreover, he “saw the importance of “providing some interest in life for the large number of men who would probably never get work” and from this realization arose the responsibility of the UAB for the “welfare”, as well as the support, of the unemployed.”
Defense spending had been reduced considerably in his early budgets. By 1935, faced with Germany”s military resurgence under Hitler”s leadership, he was convinced of the need for rearmament. He urged especially the strengthening of the Royal Air Force, realizing that the country”s historic bulwark, the English Channel, was no defense against air power.
In 1935, MacDonald retired and Baldwin became Prime Minister for a third time. In the 1935 general election, the Conservative-dominated National Government lost ninety seats from its large majority of 1931, but still retained an overwhelming 255 MPs in the House of Commons. During the campaign, Labour deputy leader Arthur Greenwood had attacked Chamberlain for spending money on rearmament and that such a policy was “plain scaremongering; disgraceful in a statesman of Mr. Chamberlain”s responsible position, for suggesting that more millions in armaments money were needed.”
Role in the abdication crisis
There is speculation about his important role in the abdication crisis of 1936. He wrote in his diary that Wallis Simpson, the future wife of Edward VIII, was “a woman utterly unscrupulous, who is not in love with the king, but is exploiting him for her own ends. She has already ruined him in money and jewels Like the rest of the Cabinet, except Duff Cooper, he agreed with Baldwin that the king should abdicate if he married Simpson and, on December 6, both insisted that Edward VIII had to make his decision before Christmas; according to one account, he believed the uncertainty was “damaging the Christmas trade.” The king abdicated on December 10, four days after the meeting.
Shortly after the event, Baldwin announced that he would continue as Prime Minister until shortly after the coronation of George VI and his consort. On May 28, 1937, two weeks after the ceremony, Baldwin resigned and advised the king to appoint Neville Chamberlain. Austen did not live to see the final “climb to the top of the Wedge,” as he had died two months earlier.
After his ascension, he considered calling a general election, but, with three and a half years remaining in the legislature, he decided to wait. At 68, he was the second oldest person in the 20th century – behind Henry Campbell-Bannerman – to become prime minister for the first time and was seen by most as a caretaker who would lead the Conservative Party until the next election and who would favour a younger candidate, with foreign minister Anthony Eden as a possible successor. Since the beginning of his tenure, several contenders were rumored to be vying for the post.
He disliked what he considered Baldwin”s and MacDonald”s overly sentimental approach to cabinet appointments and reshuffles. Although he had worked closely with the president of the Board of Trade, Walter Runciman, on the tariff issue, he dismissed him rather than offer him the token position of lord of the Privy Seal, which Runciman already angrily declined. Chamberlain thought Runciman, a member of the National Liberal Party, was careless. Soon after taking office, he ordered his ministers to prepare two-year policy programs. These reports were to be integrated with the intention of coordinating the passage of legislation through the current Parliament, the deadline for which was to expire in November 1940.
At the time he took office, his personality was not well known to the public, although there were six years of recordings of him presenting the annual budget. According to his biographer, Robert Self, these recordings seemed relaxed and modern, showing his ability to speak directly to the chamber. Chamberlain had few friends among his parliamentary colleagues; an attempt by his private secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, to get him into the smoking room of the House of Commons to socialize with his colleagues ended in embarrassed silence. He compensated for these shortcomings by devising the most sophisticated press management system employed by a prime minister up to that time, with officials at Number 10, led by his press chief George Steward, who tried to convince journalists that they were colleagues who shared power and privileged information and should adhere to the government line.
He saw his ascent to the prime ministership of state as the crowning glory of a career as a national reformer, not realizing that he would be remembered for foreign policy decisions. One reason he sought quick fixes to European problems was the hope that it would allow him to concentrate on domestic affairs.
Shortly after becoming prime minister, he won passage of the Factories Act 1937, which aimed to improve working conditions in manufacturing and placed limits on the working hours of women and children. In 1938, Parliament enacted the Coal Act 1938, which allowed for the nationalization of coal deposits. Another important law passed that year was the Holidays with Pay Act 1938, which, although it only recommended that employers give workers a week off with pay, led to a great expansion of vacation camps and other leisure accommodation for the working classes. The Housing Act 1938 (Housing Act 1938) provided subsidies intended to encourage slum clearance and maintained rent control. Its plans for local government reform were shelved due to the outbreak of war in 1939. Similarly, the increase in the compulsory school age to fifteen, scheduled for implementation on September 1, 1939, did not go into effect.
Relations with Ireland
Relations between the United Kingdom and the Irish Free State had been strained since the appointment in 1932 of Éamon de Valera as president of the Executive Council. The Anglo-Irish trade war (1932-1938), triggered by the withholding of cash that Ireland had agreed to pay to the United Kingdom, had caused economic losses in both nations, which were anxious for a settlement. Valera”s government also sought to sever the remaining ties between Ireland and the United Kingdom, such as abrogating the king”s status as Irish head of state. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Chamberlain had taken a hard-line stance against concessions to the Irish, but as prime minister he sought an agreement with them, convinced that the strained ties were affecting relations with other dominions.
The talks had been suspended by the Baldwin government in 1936, but were resumed in November 1937. Valera sought not only to alter Ireland”s constitutional status, but also to revoke other aspects of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, especially the partition issue, as well as to gain full control of the three “Treaty Ports”, namely Berehaven, Queenstown (Cobh) and Swilly Firth, which had remained under British sovereignty. On the other hand, the United Kingdom wished to retain these ports, at least in time of war, and to obtain the money Ireland had agreed to pay.
The Irish proved to be very difficult negotiators, so much so that Chamberlain complained that one of Valera”s offers had “presented the British ministers with a three-leaf clover, none of which had any advantages for the United Kingdom.” With the talks at an impasse, he made the Irish a final offer in March 1938, in which he acceded to many of their positions, although he was confident that he had “only given up the little things,” so the agreements could be signed on April 25, 1938. The partition issue was not resolved, but the Irish agreed to pay £10 million to the British. There was no provision in the treaties for British access to those ports in time of war, but Chamberlain accepted Valera”s verbal assurance that in the event of war the British would have access. Conservative backbencher Winston Churchill attacked the agreements in Parliament for surrendering the Treaty ports, which he described as the “sentry towers of the western approaches.” When war came, Valera denied the United Kingdom access to the Treaty ports by invoking Irish neutrality. Churchill criticized these treaties in The Gathering Storm, stating that he “never saw the House of Commons so completely misled” and that he “made members feel very differently when our existence hung in the balance during the Battle of the Atlantic.” Chamberlain believed that the Treaty ports were useless if Ireland was hostile and considered it worthwhile to secure friendly relations with Dublin.
Policy towards the continent
He sought to conciliate with the Third Reich and to make the Nazi state a partner in a stable Europe. He believed that Germany might be satisfied with the restoration of some of its colonies and, during the Rhineland crisis of March 1936, had declared that “if we were within sight of a general agreement, the British Government should consider the question” of colonial restoration. The new prime minister”s attempts to secure such an agreement were frustrated because Germany was in no hurry to talk with the United Kingdom. Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath was due to visit London in July 1937, but canceled his visit. Edward Wood, Lord President of the Council, visited Germany privately in November and met with Adolf Hitler and other German officials. Both Chamberlain and the British ambassador in Berlin, Nevile Henderson, declared the visit a success. Foreign Office officials complained that Wood”s trip publicly hinted that the British government was too eager for talks; moreover, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden felt he had been ignored.
Chamberlain also circumvented Eden, while the latter was on vacation, by opening direct talks with Italy, internationally isolated by its invasion and conquest of Ethiopia. At a Cabinet meeting on September 8, he indicated that he saw “the lessening of tension between this country and Italy as a most valuable contribution toward the pacification and appeasement of Europe” that would “weaken the Rome-Berlin axis.” The prime minister also established a private line of communication with Duce Benito Mussolini, through Italian Ambassador Dino Grandi.
In February 1938, Hitler began pressuring the Austrian government to accept the Anschluß or political union between Germany and Austria. Chamberlain believed it was essential to strengthen relations with Italy in the hope that an Anglo-Italian alliance would prevent Hitler from imposing his regime on Austria. Eden believed that the prime minister was being too hasty in talking to Italy and the possibility of recognizing de jure the conquest of Ethiopia by the Italians. Chamberlain concluded that the foreign secretary had to accept his policy or resign. The Cabinet listened to the two, but decided unanimously to support the prime minister and, despite the efforts of other Cabinet members to prevent it, Eden resigned. In later years, Eden tried to portray his resignation as a stand against appeasement-Churchill described him in The Second World War as “a strong young figure facing long and depressing tides of drift and surrender”-and parliamentarians believed there was nothing at stake worth resigning for. Chamberlain appointed Wood as Foreign Secretary to replace Eden.
In March 1938, Austria was annexed into Germany by means of the Anschluß. Although the besieged Austrians requested help from the United Kingdom, they received no response. London sent Berlin a stern note of protest. Addressing the Cabinet shortly after German forces crossed the border, Chamberlain blamed both Germany and Austria.
Es perfectamente evidente ahora que la fuerza es el único argumento que Alemania entiende y que la “seguridad colectiva” no puede ofrecer ninguna perspectiva de prevenir tales acontecimientos hasta que pueda mostrar una fuerza visible de abrumadora potencia respaldada por la determinación de utilizarla. … El cielo sabe que no quiero volver a las alianzas, pero si Alemania sigue comportándose como lo ha hecho últimamente puede llevarnos a ello.Ahora es evidente que la fuerza es el único argumento que Alemania entiende y que la “seguridad colectiva” no puede ofrecer ninguna posibilidad de impedir tales acontecimientos hasta que pueda mostrar una fuerza visible de poder abrumador respaldada por la determinación de utilizarla. Dios sabe que no quiero volver a las alianzas, pero si Alemania sigue comportándose como lo ha hecho últimamente puede llevarnos a eso.
On March 14, the day after the Anschluß, he addressed the House of Commons and strongly condemned the methods used by the Germans in the seizure of Austria. His speech won the support of the House.
With Austria absorbed into Germany, attention turned to Hitler”s next obvious target: the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. With three million ethnic Germans, the Sudetenland represented the largest German population outside the “Reich,” and Hitler was pressing for the region”s union with Germany. Czechoslovakia had no military agreements with the United Kingdom, but it had a mutual assistance pact with France, and both the French and Czechoslovaks also had an alliance with the Soviet Union. After the fall of Austria, the Cabinet Foreign Policy Committee considered seeking a “grand alliance” to thwart Germany or alternatively a guarantee of aid to France if France went to war. Instead, the committee chose to advocate that Czechoslovakia be urged to try to get on the best possible terms with Germany. The Cabinet agreed with the committee”s recommendation, influenced by a report of the Chiefs of Staff which stated that there was little that could be done to help the Czechs in the event of a German invasion. Chamberlain informed the House that he was responsible for being unwilling to limit his government”s discretion by giving undertakings.
Italy and the United Kingdom signed an agreement in April 1938. In exchange for de jure recognition of the Italian conquest of Ethiopia, Rome agreed to withdraw some Italian “volunteers” from the Nationalist (Francoist) side in the Spanish Civil War. At this point, the Nationalists had a great advantage in that conflict and consummated their victory the following year, in April 1939. Also in April 1938, the new French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier went to London for talks with Chamberlain and it was agreed to follow the British position on Czechoslovakia.
In May, Czech border guards fired on two Sudeten German farmers attempting to cross the border from Germany into Czechoslovakia without stopping for checkpoints. This incident caused unrest among Sudeten Germans and it was later rumored that Germany was moving troops to the border line. In response to the report, Prague sent forces to the German border. Edward Wood sent a note to Berlin warning that if France intervened in the crisis on behalf of Czechoslovakia, London might support Paris. Tensions seemed to ease and Chamberlain and Wood were hailed for their “masterful” handling of the crisis. Although it was not known at the time, it later became clear that Germany had no plans for an invasion of Czechoslovakia in May. Nevertheless, the British Government received a strong and almost unanimous endorsement from the London press.
Negotiations between the Czech Government and the Sudeten Germans lasted until mid-1938. They achieved little result; Sudeten leader Konrad Henlein was secretly instructed by Hitler not to reach an agreement. On August 3, Walter Runciman traveled to Prague as a mediator sent by the British government. Over the next two weeks, Runciman met separately with Henlein, Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš, and other leaders, but the talks made no progress. On August 30, Chamberlain met with his cabinet and Ambassador Henderson and secured their backing, although First Lord of the Admiralty Duff Cooper dissented against the prime minister”s policy of pressing Czechoslovakia for concessions on the grounds that the United Kingdom was in no position to back any threat to go to war.
Chamberlain realized that Hitler would probably signal his intentions in his September 12 speech at the annual congress in Nuremberg, so the prime minister discussed with his advisors the possible response if war seemed imminent. In consultation with his close advisor, Horace Wilson, he laid out the so-called “Plan Z”: if war seemed inevitable, he would fly to Germany to negotiate directly with Hitler.
Runciman continued his work, trying to pressure the Czechoslovak government to make concessions. On September 7, there was an altercation involving Sudeten members of the Czechoslovak Parliament in the town of Ostrava (Mährisch-Ostrau in German) in northern Moravia. The Germans made much of the incident, although the Prague tried to conciliate them by firing the policeman who had been involved. As the tension escalated, Runciman concluded that there was no point in attempting further negotiations until after Hitler”s speech. The mission was never resumed.
There was a lot of political pressure in the last days before Hitler”s speech on the last day of the congress, as the United Kingdom, France and Czechoslovakia partially mobilized their troops. Thousands gathered in front of 10 Downing Street on the night of the speech. Finally, Hitler addressed his passionate supporters.
La condición de los alemanes de los Sudetes es indescriptible. Se busca aniquilarlos. Como seres humanos son oprimidos y escandalosamente tratados de manera intolerable … Hay que poner fin a la privación de los derechos de estas personas. … He declarado que el “Reich” no tolerará más opresión de estos tres millones y medio de alemanes, y pido a los estadistas de los países extranjeros que se convenzan de que esto no es una mera forma de palabras.La condición de los alemanes de los Sudetes es indescriptible. Se busca aniquilarlos. Como seres humanos, son oprimidos y tratados escandalosamente de una manera intolerable La privación de estas personas de sus derechos debe llegar a su fin. He declarado que el Reich no tolerará más opresión de estos tres millones y medio de alemanes y pedirá a los estadistas de países extranjeros que se convenzan de que esto no es una simple composición de palabras.
The next morning, September 13, Secret Service sources informed Chamberlain and the Cabinet that all German embassies had been notified that Czechoslovakia would be invaded on September 25. Convinced that the French would not enter the conflict-Daladier privately proposed a three-power summit to resolve the Sudeten question-he decided to implement his “Plan Z” and sent a message to Hitler that he was prepared to go to Germany to negotiate. His proposal being accepted, he left by plane on the morning of September 15; this was the first time, except for a brief excursion to an industrial fair, that he had traveled by air. He flew to Munich and then traveled by train to Hitler”s refuge in Berchtesgaden.
The face-to-face meeting lasted about three hours. Hitler demanded the annexation of the Sudetenland and, upon questioning, Chamberlain was able to obtain assurances that Germany had no plans for the remainder of Czechoslovakia or in the areas of Eastern Europe where there were German minorities. At the conclusion of the meeting, he returned to London believing that he had obtained leeway with which an agreement could be reached and peace preserved. According to the proposals made at Berchtesgaden, Germany would annex the Sudetenland if a plebiscite favored the plan. Czechoslovakia would receive international guarantees of its independence that would replace existing treaty obligations, mainly the French promise to the Czechoslovaks, and the French accepted the requirements. The French agreed to the requirements. Under considerable pressure, the Czechoslovaks also allowed this, which led to the fall of the Czechoslovak government.
Chamberlain returned to Germany and met Hitler at Bad Godesberg (Bonn) on September 22. Hitler dismissed the proposals of the previous meeting, claiming that “that will no longer do”, and demanded the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland, as well as taking into account Polish and Hungarian territorial claims to Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain objected strenuously and replied that he had worked to bring the French and Czechoslovaks into line with German demands, so much so that he was accused of caving in to dictators and had been booed on his departure that morning. Hitler was unmoved. That evening, Chamberlain told Wood that the “meeting with Herr Hitler had been most unsatisfactory.” The next day, Hitler kept him waiting until mid-afternoon, when he sent him a five-page letter, in German, detailing the demands he had made orally the day before. He wrote back offering to act as intermediary with the Czechoslovaks and suggested that he put his demands in a memorandum that could be distributed to the French and Czechoslovaks.
The leaders met again later in the evening of September 23, a discussion that lasted until the early hours of the morning. Hitler demanded that Czechs fleeing the areas to be annexed take nothing with them. He extended the deadline for the occupation of the Sudetenland to October 1, a date he had long before secretly set for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The meeting ended amicably, and the British prime minister confided his hopes to the Führer that they could solve other problems in Europe in the same spirit. Hitler hinted that the Sudetenland fulfilled his territorial ambitions in Europe. Chamberlain flew back to London and said, “Now it is up to the Czechs.”
Hitler”s proposals were met with resistance not only from the French and Czechoslovaks, but also from some members of Chamberlain”s Cabinet. With no agreement in sight, war seemed inevitable. The Prime Minister issued a press release calling on Berlin to abandon the threat to use force in return for assistance from the British Government in obtaining the concessions he sought. On the evening of September 27, he addressed the nation by radio and, after thanking those who wrote to him, declared.
Qué horrible, fantástico e increíble que estemos cavando trincheras y probando máscaras de gas aquí por una disputa en un país lejano entre gente de la que no sabemos nada. Parece aún más imposible que una disputa ya resuelta en principio sea objeto de guerra.Qué horrible, fantástico e increíble que estemos cavando trincheras y probándolos máscaras de gas aquí debido a una disputa en un país lejano entre gente de la que no sabemos nada. Parece aún más imposible que una pelea que ya se haya resuelto en principio sea objeto de guerra.
On September 28, he asked Hitler to invite him back to Germany to seek a solution through a summit involving the British, French, Germans, and Italians. He received a favorable response, and the news reached him as he was concluding a speech in the House of Commons, which took for granted a grim anticipation of war. Chamberlain reported the response to the House in his speech, which drew a passionate reaction from the public, with MPs cheerfully cheering the prime minister and even diplomats in the galleries applauding. Alec Douglas-Home later commented, “There were many appeasers in Parliament that day.”
On the morning of September 29, he took off from Heston Airfield – east of today”s Heathrow Airport – for his third and final visit to Germany. On arrival in Munich, the British delegation was taken directly to the Führerbau, where Daladier, Benito Mussolini and Hitler soon arrived. The four leaders and their interpreters held an informal meeting; the Führer said he intended to invade Czechoslovakia on October 1. Mussolini gave a proposal similar to Hitler”s position at Bad Godesberg, which, in fact, had been prepared by German officials and transmitted to Rome the day before. The four discussed the draft and Chamberlain raised the question of compensation for the Czechoslovak Government and citizens, but Hitler refused to consider it.
The leaders joined the advisors after lunch and spent hours discussing every clause of the draft “Italian” agreement. Later that evening, the British and French left for their hotels, on the grounds that they had to seek the advice of their respective governments. Meanwhile, the Germans and Italians enjoyed the party that Hitler had intended for the participants. During this break, the Prime Minister”s adviser, Horace Wilson, met with the Czechoslovaks; he briefed them on the draft agreement and asked which districts were particularly important to them. The conference resumed at about 10 p. m. and was mainly in the hands of a small drafting committee. By 1:30 a.m., the Munich Agreements were ready, although the signing ceremony was delayed when Hitler discovered that the ornate inkwell on his desk was empty.
Chamberlain and Daladier returned to their hotel and informed the Czechoslovaks of the agreement. Both urged that Czechoslovakia quickly second the agreement, as the evacuation of the Czechs was to begin the next day. At 12:30 p. m., the Czechoslovak Government opposed the decision, but agreed to its terms.
Before leaving the Führerbau, he requested a private conference with Hitler, who agreed and they agreed to meet at his host”s Munich apartment later that morning. There, Chamberlain urged restraint in implementing the agreement and requested that the Germans not bomb Prague if the Czechs resisted, to which Hitler seemed to agree. He pulled from his pocket a paper entitled “Anglo-German Agreement,” which contained three paragraphs and a statement that the two nations considered the Munich Agreements “a symbol of the desire of our two peoples never to return to war.” According to Chamberlain, when it was read to him Hitler interjected with a “Yes, yes!” (They both signed that paper on the spot.) That day, when German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop protested to the Führer for signing it, the Führer replied, “Oh, don”t take it so seriously. That piece of paper is no longer of any importance.” On the other hand, Chamberlain patted his breast pocket when he returned to his hotel for lunch and said, “I”ve got it!” News of the outcome of the meetings leaked out before his return to London, causing satisfaction among many, but sadness among Churchill and his supporters.
He returned triumphantly to London. Great crowds thronged Heston, where he was received by George Villiers, Lord Chamberlain, who handed him a letter from George VI expressing the lasting gratitude of the Empire and summoning him to go directly to Buckingham Palace to report. The streets were so full of cheers that it took him an hour and a half to walk the 14 km from Heston to the palace. After reporting to the king, Chamberlain and his wife appeared on the palace balcony with the king and queen. He then went to Downing Street; both the street and the lobby of No. 10 were crowded. As he climbed the stairs to address the crowd from a first-floor window, someone called out to him, “Neville, go up to the window and say ”Peace for our time””; he turned and replied, “No, I don”t do that sort of thing.” In his statement to the crowd, however, he recalled some words of his predecessor, Benjamin Disraeli, on the latter”s return from the Berlin Congress.
Mis buenos amigos, esta es la segunda vez que vuelve de Alemania a Downing Street la paz con honor. Creo que es la paz de nuestro tiempo. Se lo agradecemos de todo corazón. Ahora os recomiendo que os vayáis a casa y durmáis tranquilos en vuestras camas.Mis buenos amigos, esta es la segunda vez que regresa de Alemania a Downing Street la paz con honor. Creo que es paz para nuestro tiempo. Os agradecemos desde el fondo de nuestros corazones. Ahora os recomiendo volved a vuestras casas y dormid tranquilamente en vuestras camas.
The House of Commons discussed the Munich Agreement on October 3. Although Cooper opened the debate by stating the reasons for his resignation and Churchill charged harshly against the pact, no Conservative voted against the government. Some twenty-thirty abstained, including Churchill, Eden, Cooper and Harold Macmillan.
On January 24, 1939, twelve members of the Swedish Riksdag nominated Chamberlain for the Nobel Peace Prize for his “successful attempt to prevent the outbreak of a general war in Europe. Erik Gottfrid Christian Brandt, a Swedish Social Democratic parliamentarian, also nominated Hitler for the prize, apparently without intending the proposal to be taken seriously, since it was a “satirical criticism” of the Chamberlain nomination because he was skeptical of the pacts reached. In the end, the 1939 Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded.
In the wake of the conference, he continued to pursue a cautious rearmament course. He told the Cabinet in early October 1938: “It would be folly for the country to stop rearming until we were convinced that other countries would act in the same way. So, for the present, we must not relax any particle of effort until our deficiencies have been remedied.” Later in October, he resisted calls to put industry on a war footing, convinced that such action would show Hitler that the prime minister had decided to abandon the agreement. Chamberlain hoped that the pact with Germany would lead to a general settlement of European disputes, but Hitler expressed no public interest in following up the agreement. After considering a general election immediately after the conference, he decided to reshuffle his cabinet. By the end of the year, public concerns caused him to conclude that “getting rid of this uncomfortable and disgruntled House of Commons by a general election” would be “suicidal.”
Despite the Führer”s relative quiet when the Sudetenland was absorbed into the “Reich,” foreign policy concerns continued to preoccupy Chamberlain. He made trips to Paris and Rome, hoping to persuade the French to speed up their rearmament and that Mussolini would be a positive influence on Hitler. Several of his cabinet members, led by Foreign Secretary Edward Wood, began to move away from the policy of appeasement. Wood was already convinced that the pact, although “better than a European war,” had been “a horrible and humiliating business. Public revulsion over the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9 made any attempt at “rapprochement” with Hitler unacceptable, although Chamberlain did not abandon his hopes.
Still confident of reconciliation with Germany, he made a major speech at Birmingham on January 28, 1939, in which he expressed his desire for international peace, and sent an advance copy to Hitler at Berchtesgaden. He apparently gave his reply; in his Reichstag speech on January 30, he declared that he wanted a “long peace.” Chamberlain believed that improvements in British defense since the conference would bring the German dictator to the negotiating table. This assumption was reinforced by the conciliatory speech of a Nazi official welcoming Ambassador Henderson back to Berlin after an absence for medical treatment in the United Kingdom. Chamberlain responded with a rally at Blackburn on February 22, optimistic that the nations would resolve their differences through trade, and was gratified when his remarks were reported in German newspapers. As the situation seemed to improve, Chamberlain”s rule over the House of Commons remained firm and convinced that he would “play at home” in an election in late 1939.
On March 15, Germany invaded the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as Prague. Although Chamberlain”s initial parliamentary response was, according to biographer Nick Smart, “feeble,” forty-eight hours later he was speaking more forcefully against German aggression. In another speech in Birmingham on March 17, he warned that “there is no greater mistake than to suppose that, because war was believed to be a senseless and cruel thing, the nation has so lost its character that it will not take some of its power to the utmost to resist such a challenge, if ever it was made.” He questioned whether the invasion of Czechoslovakia was “the end of an old adventure or the beginning of a new one” and whether it was “a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force.” According to Secretary for the Colonies Malcolm MacDonald, “once the Prime Minister was a strong advocate of peace, whereas now he has definitely turned the point of view of war.” The speech was met with widespread approval in the country and recruitment for the military services rose sharply.
Chamberlain set out to construct a series of defense pacts among the remaining European countries as a means of deterring Hitler from war. He sought an agreement with France, the Soviet Union, and Poland whereby the great powers would come to the aid of the Poles if their independence was threatened, but Warsaw”s distrust of Moscow caused the negotiations to fail. Instead, on March 31, he informed the House of Commons that he had approved British and French guarantees that they would give Poland every possible assistance in the event of any action threatening its independence. In the debate that followed, Eden declared that the nation was now united behind the government; even Churchill and Lloyd George praised the Chamberlain government for issuing the guarantee to the Poles.
He continued to take other measures to dissuade Hitler from aggression. He doubled the size of the Territorial Army, created a Ministry of Supply to speed up the supply of equipment to the armed forces, and instituted peacetime conscription. The Italian invasion of Albania on April 7 gave way to guarantees for Greece and Romania. On June 17, aircraft manufacturer Handley Page received an order for two hundred Hampden medium twin-engine bombers, and by September 3, the chain of radar stations encircling the British coast (Chain Home) was fully operational.
He was reluctant to seek a military alliance with the Soviet Union; he was ideologically suspicious of the dictator Iósif Stalin and felt he had little to gain from a pact, given the recent mass purges in the Red Army. Much of his cabinet favored such an alliance, and when Poland withdrew its objection to an Anglo-Soviet alliance, he had no choice but to proceed. Talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, to which London sent a low-level delegation, dragged on for several months and finally broke down on August 14 when Poland and Romania refused to allow Soviet troops to be stationed on their territories. A week after the setback of these negotiations, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, pledging not to attack each other. Secret clauses agreed to divide Poland, among other countries, in the event of war. Chamberlain had ignored rumors of a Soviet-Nazi “rapprochement” and scorned the publicly announced pact, claiming that it in no way affected British obligations to Poland. On August 23, he requested that Henderson deliver a letter to Hitler notifying him that the United Kingdom was fully prepared to honor its assurances to the Poles. Hitler ordered his generals to prepare for an invasion of Poland: “Our enemies are little worms. I saw them in Munich.
Germany invaded Poland in the early hours of September 1, 1939. The British Cabinet met late in the morning and issued a warning to Berlin that unless it withdrew from Polish territory, London would fulfill its obligations to Poland. When the House of Commons convened at 6:00 p. m., the Prime Minister and Labour deputy leader Arthur Greenwood, deputizing for the ailing Clement Attlee, were greeted with cheers from the floor. Chamberlain emotionally addressed the audience and blamed the conflict on Hitler.
No formal declaration of war was made immediately. French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet declared that Paris could do nothing until its parliament met on the evening of September 2. Bonnet was trying to rally support for a Munich-style summit, proposed by the Italians, to be held on September 5. The British Cabinet demanded that Hitler be given an ultimatum immediately and that, if the troops were not withdrawn by September 2, war would be declared. Chamberlain and Wood were convinced by Bonnet”s pleas that France needed more time for mobilization and evacuation, so they postponed the expiration of the ultimatum, which in fact had not yet been delivered. In a long statement to the House of Commons he made no mention of any ultimatum, so it was poorly received by parliamentarians. When Greenwood stood up to “speak for the working classes,” Conservative backbencher Leo Amery urged him to “Speak for England, Arthur,” implying that the prime minister was not doing so. Chamberlain replied that telephone difficulties made communication with Paris difficult and tried to allay fears that the French were weakening. He had little success; many parliamentarians knew of Bonnet”s efforts. Labour”s Harold Nicolson wrote some time later, “In those few minutes he shed his reputation. “The apparent delay gave rise to fears that Chamberlain would again seek a deal with Hitler.Chamberlain”s last peacetime cabinet met at 11:30 p. m., with a thunderstorm outside, and determined that the ultimatum would be presented in Berlin at 9 a. m. the next day with a two-hour expiration, before the House of Commons met at noon. At 11:15 a. m., he addressed the nation by radio, announcing that the United Kingdom was going to war with Germany.
Me dirijo a ustedes desde la sala del gabinete en el número 10 de Downing Street. Esta mañana, el embajador británico en Berlín entregó al gobierno alemán una nota final en la que afirmaba que, a menos que tuviéramos noticias de ellos antes de las 11 de la mañana de que estaban dispuestos a retirar sus tropas de Polonia, existiría un estado de guerra entre nosotros. Tengo que decirles ahora que no se ha recibido tal compromiso, y que en consecuencia este país está en guerra con Alemania. … Tenemos la conciencia tranquila, hemos hecho todo lo que cualquier país podría hacer para establecer la paz, pero una situación en la que no se podía confiar en ninguna palabra dada por el gobernante de Alemania, y ningún pueblo o país podía sentirse seguro se había vuelto intolerable … Que Dios os bendiga a todos y que defienda el derecho. Porque son las cosas malas contra las que vamos a luchar, la fuerza bruta, la mala fe, la injusticia, la opresión y la persecución. Y contra ellas estoy seguro de que el derecho prevalecerá.Os hablo desde la sala del Gabinete en el 10 de Downing Street. Esta mañana, el embajador británico en Berlín entregó al Gobierno alemán una nota final que manifestaba que, a menos que escuchemos respuesta de ellos a más tardar a las 11 en punto de que estaban preparados de inmediato para retirar sus tropas de Polonia, existiría un estado de guerra entre nosotros. Debo deciros ahora que no se ha recibido tal compromiso y que, en consecuencia, este país está en guerra con Alemania. Tenemos la conciencia tranquila, hemos hecho todo lo que cualquier país podría hacer para establecer la paz, pero se había vuelto intolerable una situación en la que no se podía confiar en ninguna palabra dada por el gobernante de Alemania y en la que ninguna persona o país podía sentirse seguro. Que Dios os bendiga a todos y que Él defienda lo correcto. Porque lucharemos contra las cosas malvadas, la fuerza bruta, la mala fe, la injusticia, la opresión y la persecución. Y contra estas estoy seguro de que prevalecerá lo correcto.
That afternoon, he addressed the first Sunday session of the House of Commons in over one hundred and twenty years. Before a hushed full house, he made a statement that even opponents called “moderate and therefore effective.”
Todo por lo que he trabajado, todo lo que he esperado, todo en lo que he creído durante mi vida pública se ha estrellado. Sólo me queda una cosa por hacer: dedicar la fuerza y el poder que tengo a impulsar la victoria de la causa por la que tanto hemos sacrificado.Todo por lo que he trabajado, todo lo que he tenido fe, todo en lo que he creído durante mi vida pública se ha desmoronado en ruinas. Solo me queda una cosa por hacer: dedicar la fuerza y el poder que tengo para llevar a la victoria la causa por la que hemos sacrificado tanto.
Some time later, in the midst of World War II, Churchill, who opposed the Munich Agreements when they were signed, determined that the terms of the pact would not be fulfilled after the war and that the Sudeten territories should be returned to post-war Czechoslovakia, considering the treaty “dead”. In September 1942, the French National Committee headed by Charles de Gaulle proclaimed the pact void ab initio; on August 17, 1944, the French Government ratified this decision. After the fall of Mussolini, the Italian Government also ruled the pact null and void.
He instituted a war cabinet and invited the Labor and Liberal parties to join his government, but they refused. He restored Churchill to the Cabinet as first lord of the Admiralty, with a seat in the war cabinet. He also gave Eden a government post (secretary of Dominions), though not a seat in the small war cabinet. In his new position, Churchill proved to be a difficult colleague in the Cabinet, overwhelming the prime minister with lengthy memoranda. Chamberlain chastised him for sending so many messages, as the two met in the War Cabinet every day. He suspected, as later proved after the war, that “these letters are intended to be quoted in the book he will write later.” He also dissuaded some of Churchill”s more extreme plans, such as “Operation Catherine,” which would have sent three heavily armored battleships to the Baltic Sea, with an aircraft carrier and other support vessels, as a means of stopping iron ore shipments to Germany. With naval warfare the only significant front involving the British in the early months of the conflict, the First Lord”s desire to wage a ruthless and victorious war established him as a leader-in-waiting in the public consciousness and among parliamentary colleagues.
In early 1940, the Allies approved a naval campaign (Plan R 4) designed to seize the northern region of neutral Norway, where the key port of Narvik is located, and possibly also the occupation of the iron ore mines at Gällivare in northern Sweden, from which Germany obtained much of its mineral resources. When the Baltic froze in winter, the iron ore was shipped south by boat from Narvik. The Allies planned to mine Norwegian waters (Operation Wilfred), thus provoking a German reaction in Norway, and would then occupy much of the country. Foreseen by the Allies, Germany had also planned to invade Norway, and on April 9 German troops occupied Denmark and launched the invasion of Norway in Operation Weserübung. German forces quickly occupied much of the country. The Allies sent troops into Norway, but had little success, and, on April 26, the War Cabinet ordered a withdrawal. The prime minister”s opponents decided to turn the debate of adjournment for the Whitsun recess into a challenge to Chamberlain, who soon learned of the plan. After the initial fury, he decided to show his face.
What became known as the Norway Debate opened on May 7 and lasted two days. The first speeches, like Chamberlain”s, were insipid, but Fleet Admiral Roger Keyes, representing Portsmouth North, in full uniform, launched a withering attack on the conduct of the Norway campaign, although he excluded Churchill from the criticism. Leo Amery then delivered a speech that concluded by recalling Oliver Cromwell”s words on dissolving the “long parliament”: “You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Go away, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go away!” When Labour announced that it would call for a division of the House of Commons, Chamberlain called on his “friends, for I still have some friends in this House, to support the Government tonight.” Because the use of the word friends was a conventional term for referring to party colleagues and, according to biographer Robert Self, many parliamentarians took it that way, it was an “error of judgment” to refer to the loyalty of his co-religionists “when the gravity of the war situation called for national unity.” Lloyd George joined the attackers and Churchill ended the debate with a vigorous speech in support of the Government. When the division took place, the Government, which had an average majority of over two hundred MPs, prevailed with only eighty-one; thirty-eight MPs from the party”s disciplinary group voted against and there were between twenty and twenty-five abstentions.
He spent much of May 9 in meetings with his Cabinet colleagues. Many Conservatives, in addition to those who voted against his government, indicated on that day and the following days that they did not want Chamberlain to leave, but sought to rebuild their government. However, he decided to resign unless the Labor Party was willing to join his government, so he met with Attlee that same day, who was unwilling, but agreed to consult the National Executive Committee and then meet in Bournemouth. Chamberlain gave his support to Wood as the next prime minister, but Wood was reluctant to put forward his own demands, so Churchill emerged as another option. The next day, Germany invaded the Netherlands and Chamberlain considered remaining in office. Attlee confirmed that Labour would not serve under him, although they were willing to serve under someone else. Consequently, Chamberlain went to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation and advise the king to send for Churchill. The latter later expressed his gratitude to him for not advising the king to appoint Wood, who would have received the support of the majority of parliamentarians in the government. In a resignation issued that night, addressing the nation he said.
Porque ha llegado la hora de que se nos ponga a prueba, como ya se está poniendo a prueba al pueblo inocente de Holanda, Bélgica y Francia. Y vosotros y yo debemos unirnos detrás de nuestro nuevo líder, y con nuestra fuerza unida, y con un valor inquebrantable luchar, y trabajar hasta que esta bestia salvaje, que ha salido de su guarida sobre nosotros, haya sido finalmente desarmada y derrocada.Ha llegado la hora en que se nos pondrá a prueba, ya que los inocentes de los Países Bajos, Bélgica y Francia ya están siendo probados. Y vosotros y yo debemos unirnos detrás de nuestro nuevo líder, con nuestras fuerzas unidas y con una valentía inquebrantable luchar y trabajar hasta que esta bestia salvaje, que ha surgido de su guarida sobre nosotros, finalmente haya sido desarmada y derribada.
Queen Elizabeth told him that her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, wept when she heard the broadcast. Churchill sent him a letter expressing his thanks for her willingness to support him in the country”s hour of need; former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Chamberlain”s predecessor, wrote, “You have gone through the fire since we were talking together only a fortnight ago and you have made yourself pure gold.”
In a departure from usual practice, he did not request any honors from the list for outgoing prime ministers.With Chamberlain as leader of the Conservative Party and with many parliamentarians still supporting him and distrustful of the new premier, Churchill refrained from any purge of his predecessor”s loyalists.Churchill wanted Chamberlain to return to the Chancellorship of the Exchequer, but declined the offer, convinced that this would lead to difficulties with the Labor Party.Instead, he accepted the position of lord president of the Council, with a seat in the small five-member war Cabinet.When he entered the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, for the first time, he resigned as lord president of the Council, with a seat in the small five-member war Cabinet. Instead, he accepted the position of Lord President of the Council, with a seat in the small five-member War Cabinet. When he entered the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, for the first time since his resignation, “the parliamentarians lost their heads, shouted, cheered, waved their papers, and their reception was a regular ovation.” The House received Churchill coolly; some of his great speeches there, such as “We shall fight on the beaches,” were met with half-hearted enthusiasm.
His fall from power left him deeply depressed; he wrote: “Few men can have known such a reversal of fortune in so short a time.” He especially mourned the loss of Chequers as “a place where I have been so happy,” although after a farewell visit from the Chamberlain family on June 19, he wrote: “I am glad now of what I have done and will put Chequers out of my mind.” As lord president, he assumed vast responsibilities for domestic affairs and chaired the war cabinet during Churchill”s numerous absences. Attlee later remembered him as “free from any rancor he might have felt against us. He worked very hard and well: a good chairman, a good committee member, always very earnest.” As head of the Lord President”s Committee, he exercised great influence over the wartime economy. Wood reported to the war cabinet on May 26, with the Netherlands conquered and French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud warning that his country might have to sign an armistice, diplomatic contacts with a still-neutral Italy offered the possibility of a negotiated peace. Wood urged to follow through and see if a worthwhile offer could be obtained. Disputes over the course of action in the War Cabinet lasted three days; Chamberlain”s statement on the last day that an acceptable offer was unlikely and that the matter should not be taken up at that time convinced the War Cabinet to reject negotiations.
On two occasions that same month, Churchill broached the subject of bringing Lloyd George into the government. Chamberlain indicated that, because of his long-standing antipathy, he would withdraw immediately if Lloyd George was appointed minister. Churchill did not appoint him, but raised the issue again with Chamberlain in early June. This time, he agreed to Lloyd George”s appointment, provided he gave him a personal guarantee to put aside the enmity. In the end, Lloyd George refused to serve in Churchill”s government.
Chamberlain worked to align his party behind Churchill, working with the party”s chief whip, David Margesson, to overcome members” suspicions and aversions against the prime minister. On July 4, after the British attack on the French fleet, Churchill was greeted in the House with a standing ovation by the Conservative MPs who supported him and Chamberlain and was almost overwhelmed with emotion at the first cheer he had received from the other MPs of his own party, which they had not done since May. Churchill reciprocated the loyalty and refused to consider Labour and Liberal attempts to oust the Lord President from the government. When Chamberlain”s criticisms appeared in the press and when he learned that Labour intended to use an upcoming secret session of Parliament as a platform to attack him, he told Churchill that he could only defend himself by attacking the Labour Party. The prime minister intervened with Labour and the press and the criticism stopped, Chamberlain said, “like turning off a tap.”
In July 1940, “Cato,” a pseudonym for three journalists – future Labour leader Michael Foot, former Liberal MP Frank Owen and Conservative Peter Howard – published the controversial book Guilty men to attack the record of the National Government, claiming that it had failed to prepare adequately for war. He called for the removal of Chamberlain and other ministers who had allegedly contributed to the British disasters of the early part of the war. It sold over 200,000 copies, many of which were passed from one hand to another, and reached twenty-seven editions in the first few months, despite not being distributed by several major bookstores. According to historian David Dutton, “its impact on Chamberlain”s reputation, both in the general public and in the academic world, was truly profound.”
He had long enjoyed excellent health, except for occasional attacks of gout, but in that month he was in almost constant pain. He sought treatment and later entered the hospital for surgery. Doctors discovered he was suffering from terminal bowel cancer, but kept it from him and told him he would not need further surgery. He resumed work in mid-August and returned to his office on September 9, but the pain returned, aggravated by the night bombing of London that forced him to go to an air raid shelter. Lacking sleep and energy, he left London for the last time on September 19, returning to Highfield Park in Heckfield. He offered his resignation to Churchill on September 22, 1940, who was initially reluctant to accept, but, when they both realized that he would never work again, finally allowed him to resign. Churchill asked him if he would accept the highest order of British chivalry, the Order of the Garter, of which his brother had been a member. Chamberlain refused and said he would “prefer to die simply as ”Mr Chamberlain” like my father rather than myself, without any title.” The City of London awarded him the title of Citizen of Honor in 1940, but he died before acceptance; his widow received the scroll the following year.
In what little time he had left, he was infuriated by the “short, cold and mostly contemptuous” press comments about his retirement, “without the slightest hint of sympathy for the man or even any understanding that there might be a human tragedy at the bottom.” The King and Queen drove from Windsor to visit the dying man on October 14. Chamberlain received hundreds of letters of sympathy from friends and supporters. He wrote to John Simon, who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer in his government.
a esperanza de hacer algo para mejorar las condiciones de vida de la gente más pobre fue lo que me llevó a la política cuando ya había pasado la mitad de mi vida, y me satisface haber podido llevar a cabo una parte de mi ambición, aunque su permanencia pueda ser cuestionada por la destrucción de la guerra. Por lo demás, no me arrepiento de nada de lo que he hecho y no veo que se haya dejado de hacer nada de lo que debería haber hecho. Por lo tanto, me contento con aceptar el destino que me ha alcanzado tan repentinamente.ue la esperanza de hacer algo para mejorar las condiciones de vida de las personas más pobres lo que me llevó a la política en la mitad de mi vida y es una satisfacción para mí que pude llevar a cabo parte de mi ambición, a pesar de que su permanencia pudiera ser desafiada por la destrucción de la guerra. Por lo demás, no me arrepiento de nada de lo que he hecho y no veo nada de lo que debería haber hecho. Por ello, estoy contento de aceptar el destino que tan repentinamente me ha sobrepasado.
He died of bowel cancer on November 9, 1940 at the age of 71. A funeral was held at Westminster Abbey; due to wartime security concerns, the date and time were not widely publicized. After cremation, his ashes were interred in the abbey alongside those of Andrew Bonar Law. Churchill eulogized him in the House of Commons three days after the death.
Independientemente de lo que la historia pueda o no decir sobre estos terribles y tremendos años, podemos estar seguros de que Neville Chamberlain actuó con perfecta sinceridad de acuerdo con sus luces y se esforzó al máximo de su capacidad y autoridad, que eran poderosas, para salvar al mundo de la horrible y devastadora lucha en la que ahora estamos inmersos. Sólo esto le hará valer lo que se llama el veredicto de la historia. Independientemente de lo que la historia pueda o no decir sobre estos terribles y tremendos años, podemos estar seguros de que Neville Chamberlain actuó con perfecta sinceridad de acuerdo con sus pareceres y se esforzó al máximo de su capacidad y autoridad, que eran poderosas, para salvar al mundo de la horrible y devastadora lucha en la que ahora estamos comprometidos. Esto lo mantendrá en buena posición en lo que respecta al llamado veredicto de la historia.
Although some of Chamberlain”s supporters found this oratory to be false flattery to the late prime minister, Churchill added privately, “What am I to do without poor Neville? Trusting that he would look after the home front for me.” Among others paying tribute in the House of Commons and House of Lords on November 12 were Foreign Secretary Edward Wood, Labour Party leader Clement Attlee, and Liberal Party leader and Air Minister Archibald Sinclair. Lloyd George, the only remaining former prime minister in the House, was expected to speak but was absent from the proceedings. Always close to his family, the executors of his will were his cousins, Wilfred Byng Kenrick and Sir Wilfrid Martineau, who were also former mayors of Birmingham.
A few days before his death, he wrote.
Por lo que respecta a mi reputación personal, no me preocupa en absoluto. Las cartas que sigo recibiendo en grandes cantidades insisten unánimemente en el mismo punto, a saber, que sin Múnich la guerra se habría perdido y el Imperio habría sido destruido en 1938… No creo que la opinión contraria… tenga posibilidades de sobrevivir. Incluso si no se publicara nada más que diera la verdadera historia interna de los últimos dos años, no debería temer el veredicto del historiador.En lo que respecta a mi reputación personal, no me preocupa en lo más mínimo. Las cartas que sigo recibiendo en cantidades tan grandes, por unanimidad, se centran en el mismo punto, es decir, sin Múnich, la guerra se habría perdido y el Imperio destruido en 1938. había posibilidades de sobrevivir. Incluso si no se publicara nada más sobre la verdadera historia interna de los últimos dos años, no debería temer el veredicto del historiador.
Guilty men was not the only World War II book to damage his reputation. We were not all wrong, published in 1941, took a similar tack to Guilty men, arguing that Liberal and Labour MPs, as well as a small number of Conservatives, had fought against his appeasement policies. The author, Liberal MP Geoffrey Mander, voted against conscription in 1939. Another book against Conservative policies was Why not trust the Tories, written in 1944 by “Gracchus,” later discovered to be future Labour minister Aneurin Bevan, who castigated the Conservatives for the foreign policy decisions of Baldwin and Chamberlain. Although at the end of the war some Conservatives gave their own versions of events, notably Quintin Hogg in his 1945 book The left was never right, there was a firmly established public belief that Chamberlain was guilty of serious diplomatic and military misjudgments, which almost caused the defeat of the United Kingdom.
His reputation was devastated by these attacks from the left. In 1948, with the publication of The Gathering Storm, the first of six volumes in Churchill”s series, The Second World War, he suffered an even more serious blow from the right. While Churchill privately declared “this is not history, this is my case,” his series was far more influential; it portrayed him as well-meaning but weak, blind to the threat posed by Hitler and oblivious to the fact that, he believed, the German dictator could have been removed from power by a grand coalition of European states. Churchill suggested that the year”s delay between the Munich Agreements and the war worsened the British position and criticized Chamberlain for peacetime and wartime decisions. In the years after the books were published, few historians questioned Churchill”s judgment. Anne de Vere Cole, Chamberlain”s widow, suggested that the series was full of matters that “are not true inaccuracies which could easily be corrected, but systematic omissions and assumptions that certain things are now recognized as facts when in fact they had no such status.”
In 1974, many of his family letters and his extensive personal papers were bequeathed by his family to the University of Birmingham Archives. During the war, the Chamberlain family had commissioned historian Keith Feiling to produce an official biography and he was given access to diaries and private papers. Although Feiling had a right of access to official documents as the official biographer of a recently deceased person, he may not have been aware of the legal provisions and the Cabinet Secretariat denied his requests for access. Although Feiling produced what David Dutton described in 2001 as “the most impressive and persuasive single-volume biography” of Chamberlain, completed during the war and published in 1946, he was unable to repair the damage already done to the former prime minister”s reputation.
A 1961 biography of Chamberlain by Conservative MP Iain Macleod was the first to highlight a revisionist school of thought. The same year, A. J. P. Taylor, in his book The origins of the Second World War, found that Chamberlain had adequately rearmed the country for its defense, although a rearmament designed to defeat Germany would have required massive additional resources, and described the Munich Agreements as “a triumph for all that was best and most enlightened in British life for those who bravely denounced the harshness and short-sightedness of Versailles.”
The adoption of the “thirty-year rule” in 1967 made available many of his government”s papers over the next three years, helping to explain why Chamberlain acted as he did. The resulting works largely fed the revisionist school, although they also included books that strongly criticized him, such as Keith Middlemas”s 1972 Diplomacy of illusion, which portrayed him as a seasoned politician with strategic blindness when it came to Germany. Published documents indicated that, contrary to claims made in Guilty men, Chamberlain had not ignored Foreign Office advice or disregarded or run roughshod over his cabinet. Other files showed that he had considered seeking a grand coalition between European governments, such as the one later proposed by Churchill, but rejected the plan because the division of Europe into two camps would make war more likely, not the reverse. They also showed that Chamberlain had been informed that the dominions, pursuing independent foreign policies under the 1931 Statute of Westminster, warned that the British Government could not depend on their help in the event of a continental war. The Chiefs of Staff report, which indicated that the United Kingdom could not forcibly prevent Germany from conquering Czechoslovakia, became publicly known in these declassifications. In reaction to the revisionist school of thought regarding Chamberlain”s mandate, a post-revisionist school emerged beginning in the 1990s that used the published documents to justify the initial conclusions of Guilty men. The Oxford historian R. A. C. Parker argued that Chamberlain had the opportunity to forge a close alliance with France after the Anschluß in early 1938 and initiate a policy of containment of Germany under the auspices of the League of Nations. While many revisionist writers suggested that Chamberlain had little or no choice in his actions, Parker argued that the prime minister and his colleagues chose appeasement over other viable policies. In his two volumes, Chamberlain and appeasement (1993) and Churchill and appeasement (2000), Parker stated that the prime minister, because of his “powerful and obstinate personality” and his debating skills, caused the United Kingdom to adopt appeasement over effective deterrence. Parker also suggested that had Churchill held high office in the second half of the 1930s he would have built a series of alliances that would have deterred Hitler and possibly caused domestic opponents of the Nazis to seek his ouster.
Dutton noted that Chamberlain”s reputation, for better or worse, will probably always be closely tied to the assessment of his policy toward Germany.
Whatever else may be said of Chamberlain”s public life his reputation will in the last resort depend upon assessments of this moment. This was the case when he left office in 1940 and it remains so sixty years later. To expect otherwise is rather like hoping that Pontius Pilate will one day be judged as a successful provincial administrator of the Roman Empire.Whatever else may be said of Chamberlain”s public life his reputation will in the last resort depend upon assessments of this moment and this policy . This was the case when he left office in 1940 and remains so sixty years later. To expect otherwise is like waiting for Pontius Pilate to be judged one day as a successful provincial administrator of the Roman Empire.