Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Calls World War II ‘the war for liberty, justice and freedom”

By June 1940 he shows he well knew was at stake, and was giving the war policy of Prime Minister Winston Churchill his full support

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Like many in Britain who had lived through World War One, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was determined to avert another war. His policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini culminated in the Munich Agreement in which Britain and France accepted that the Czech region of the Sudetenland should be ceded...

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Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Calls World War II ‘the war for liberty, justice and freedom”

By June 1940 he shows he well knew was at stake, and was giving the war policy of Prime Minister Winston Churchill his full support

Like many in Britain who had lived through World War One, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was determined to avert another war. His policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini culminated in the Munich Agreement in which Britain and France accepted that the Czech region of the Sudetenland should be ceded to Germany. Chamberlain left Munich believing that by appeasing Hitler he had assured ‘peace for our time’. However, in March 1939 Hitler annexed the rest of the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, with Slovakia becoming a puppet state of Germany. Five months later in September 1939 Hitler’s forces invaded Poland. Chamberlain responded with a British declaration of war on Germany. In April 1940 the Germans invaded Norway and Denmark, and a British plan to come to Norway’s aid was a disaster. On May 10, 1940, the German invasion of France and the Low Countries commenced. The Germans cut through these nations with ease; there was one debacle after another.

It was clear that Britain was in mortal danger, that it could itself be invaded, and that a coalition government to put aside domestic policy disagreements and win the war was imperative. The Labour Party refused to serve so long as Chamberlain remained prime minister, and after the Norwegian fiasco it forced a vote of no confidence in Parliament. Chamberlain and his Conservatives had a big majority, but many Conservatives were uneasy. A respected Conservative backbencher, Leopold Amery, rose and addressed to Chamberlain the words that Cromwell had said to the Long Parliament 300 years before: ”You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go!” Forty Conservatives voted against Chamberlain, and another 60 abstained, a silent show of non-support. Three days later, on May 10, as German tanks and planes attacked France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became prime minister. Chamberlain served loyally in Churchill’s cabinet as Lord President of the Privy Council. But he was in pain and was diagnosed with cancer soon after. He was compelled to resign on September 22, and died on November 9, 1940.

Typed letter signed, on his Privy Council letterhead, June 20, 1940, just days before the surrender of France to the Germans, to Charles E. Hood of Sydney, Australia, who donated funds on a number of occasions to aid the war effort, showing he well understood what was at stake in the war. “I write at once to acknowledge, with many thanks, your generous gift of One Hundred Guineas to the Exchequer in aid of war expenditure. which I have received today with your letter of 30th of April, 1940. I have passed your cheque to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I have no doubt, will send you a formal acknowledgment in due course. May I also take this opportunity of thanking you for your expression of confidence in His Majesty’s Government here and in the successful outcome of our efforts. It is most heartening to have such evidence as your letter brings of the active support and sympathy of the sister states of the Commonwealth and of the Empire as a whole, in what you truly call ‘the war for liberty, justice and freedom.’” War date letters of Chamberlain are rare, this being our first ever.

If anyone wonders whether Chamberlain’s heart was really in the war, or if he appreciated the dangers and stakes involved, this letter is a complete answer. Having done all he humanly could to avoid the war, he now saw the situation clearly, and determined that “liberty, justice and freedom” should prevail.

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