- Contributed by
- Roy Cartwright
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 03 November 2005
I was just about old enough to be aware of the mood of the people around me, family, neighbours and teachers, at the time of the Munich conference in 1938 and how it changed during 1939.
With the memory of the First World War still fresh and aware of our failure to rearm (for which Baldwin, not Chamberlain was responsible), the country was mentally and materially unprepared for war. So Chamberlain was cheered when he declared ‘peace in our time’. But in most minds there was a nagging question: ‘How much time?’ When he spoke of ‘Herr Hitler’s signature’ on the treaty the question was ‘What is that worth?’
Munich was seen not as ‘appeasement’, but as a final warning, which we hoped would be heeded while preparing for it not to be.
Under Neville Chamberlain’s leadership the people of Britain were braced for the courageous decision to declare war in September 1939 when Hitler continued his aggression. Meanwhile the physical preparations for war were intensely pursued.
Factories and shipyards worked all hours turning out munitions, planes, tanks and ships. Personnel were enlisted — my young uncle volunteered for the army (by volunteering and not waiting for conscription he could choose the branch of service he joined) and my father underwent training to serve as an Air Raid Warden.
We all collected our gasmasks and were shown how to use them; plans for evacuation were put in place; we were told and helped to prepare for blackout. At the same time an army was being formed for service in France.
My father’s job was the maintenance of a fleet of cargo ships crossing the Atlantic, and he was busy preparing them for the likelihood of war; arrangements and instructions were in hand for forming convoys to sail with naval escorts.
During 1939 I had a trip on the last leg of one of their voyages from London to Liverpool, and I remember how much the crew were speaking of war preparations. I also remember the aircraft fuselage being carried on the deck, the rest of it being in the hold.
In the year after Munich the country was put on a war footing, because we had few illusions about Hitler’s intentions. In September 1939 we still didn’t want war, but we were ready for it.
All this was achieved under Neville Chamberlain’s leadership, because the majority of people trusted him as they would not have trusted Churchill, for instance at that time.
The aircrews who flew in the Battle of Britain were recruited, trained and equipped under Chamberlain; their planes were built and the stations from which they flew wee established while he was Prime Minister.
In the short time left to him after his resignation loyalty to his country and its new leader prevented him fro speaking up. Had he survived to publish his memoirs and have his period in office properly appraised he might now be ranked with the great Prime Ministers. Perhaps one day he will.
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