Neville Chamberlain dies

Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938

A SS Honour Guard for a British Prime Minister. Neville Chamberlain at Munich in September 1938 with the German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop.

Neville Chamberlain died from cancer on 9th November 1940, only six months after he had resigned as Prime Minister. Although far more interested in domestic policy and social reform, his period as Prime Minister was dominated by the rising threat of Nazi Germany, and eventually the outbreak of war. He believed that when he signed the Munich agreement in September 1938 he had come to an agreement with Hitler that would ensure peace. At the time only a minority in the House of Commons and in Britain at large took the opposite view:

Winston Churchill told the Commons,

England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.

But when Chamberlain died Churchill was magnanimous – he paid tribute to him in the House of Commons on 12th November 1940:

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused?

They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour.

Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

David December 18, 2018 at 2:56 am

Neville was an arrant failure who was beyond myopic. Thank God for the witty and prescient Churchill who save the entire world, along with the polish cryptologists, from the wanton and nefarious Nazi regime.

Cristian Jimenez March 26, 2018 at 11:08 pm

It’s hard to say what we’d do if we were in Chamberlain’s place. Clearly he did not want to send UK citizens to their deaths in a land that did not belong to the UK. I think he was doing what he thought was best for the UK. He never saw his country at peace after the war started.

Mark LV February 15, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Chamberlain was a skilful and intelligent politician, but he let himself be persuaded by the scheming Lord Halifax that there should not be any more negotiations with Hitler. The result was the disastrous guarantee to Poland on 31 March 1939 which made war inevitable as the Poles had no more reasons to make any concessions over Danzig.

Martin Straka November 10, 2015 at 8:53 am

I´m Czech so it´s very hard for me to perceive him in a positive way. Picture of him exiting an aircraft and waving proudly with Munich treaty became a symbol of leaving my country behind…

Frederick C. Parker May 14, 2014 at 11:50 am

He was a dreamer who believed his dreams. He wrecked his career and life doing what he thought would keep Europe out of war. Like Churchill I don’t agree with what he did but I do respect him for risking all for peace.

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