On this day in 1937, Arthur Neville Chamberlain becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Born on the 18th of March 1869, in Heckfield, Hampshire, England, Chamberlain became Prime Minister as leader of the Conservative Party, succeeding the also Conservative Stanley Baldwin who had stood down.
Chamberlain is arguably most famed for his ‘appeasement’ foreign policy, in which he attempted to avoid war with then leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, who was rapidly exceeding the restrictions placed on the nation under the Treaty of Versailles signed in June of 1919. More contemporary historians argue that this was a tactical effort, due to the fact that, at that time, Hitler’s Wehrmacht and other armed forces were bounds ahead that of Britain’s own capability, who were still recovering from WWI, and with the Radar system still under development until 1939. It is argued that until the Radar system was operational across the Eastern and Southern coasts of Britain, victory would have been impossible, and so appeasement was the only sensible option available. However, older historians favour the opinion that this was a weak move on Chamberlain’s part, and had he been firmer with Hitler, WWII may have been avoided altogether, as stated in ‘Guilty Men’ of 1940. This is questionable due to the fact that it seemed the Soviets would be less than co-operative with the British, and it could not face the war on its own, purely due to the incapacity to do so, as it lacked resources, arms and men.
Guilty Men, by three journalists: Michael Foot (a future Leader of the Labour Party), Frank Owen (a former Liberal MP), and Peter Howard (a Conservative).
One prime example of this ‘appeasement’ was the signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the Sudetenland of then Czechoslovakia. But, all would change when Britain vowed to defend Poland from the Nazis, and Hitler invaded in September of 1939, forcing Chamberlain into action. From then Chamberlain guided Britain during the first eight months of the conflict, until he resigned as Prime Minister after Allied forces were pushed out of Norway, believing a government supported by all parties was essential but the Labour Party and the Liberal Party would not back him.
Succeeded by Winston Churchill, famed for his leadership during the majority of WWII, but still a controversial figure among many. Neville however, remained a prominent member of Churchill’s War Cabinet, even so much as to head it in Churchill’s absence. Neville soon had to leave office however, and died, six months after resigning as PM, of bowel cancer on November 9th of 1940.
Churchill's War Cabinet
Why not read more about Winston Churchill from our earlier articles from Ben Roberts or either of Oliver Brown's: March 5th or February 26th?