Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 16 November 1940
Death of Neville Chamberlain – The Victor of Godesberg
The “Chamberlain controversy” has been hushed by the death of its subject and victim. Though nothing became him in office more than the manner of his leaving it, history will do him justice and will show how well and truly he served the nation and sought to serve the world, in the frightful emergency which confronted him at Munich.
He knew, far better than his shallow critics and detractors, how deadly was the peril in which war must involve us; he knew how ill prepared was this country for the struggle he sought to avert; he knew how weak and unstable was his one ally; he knew the power of the Nazi, and the weakness, confusion, and timidity of the democracies cowering around Germany. His best hope—justified in the event—was that Hitler, for all his uncanny insight, would, over-rate the immediate as well as the ultimate strength of the British Commonwealth. Therefore, though he thrice flew to Germany with the wings of a dove, he went not as a suppliant for peace but as a stern upholder of moral order.
After his meeting with Hitler at Godesberg, hope must have died within him. There he summoned his whole moral, force and met, calm and unafraid, the browbeating and bluster of an evil tyrant backed by murderous legions of the skies. He realised for the first time that he was come to answer a stony adversary,
. . . an inhuman wretch.
Uncapable of pity, void and empty
From any dram of mercy.
He returned from Godesberg convinced that the cause of peace was lost, and that to “curb this cruel devil of his will” would cost the world untold anguish. But though he despaired, he did not flinch. He had matched the iron will’ of Hitler, he had impressed the Nazi leaders with a confidence he did not feel, and though in the end tricked and betrayed by this bloodthirsty and cruel man, he gained precious time for the nation on whom the sole burden of the fight was ultimately to fall, and he gained much else. He established beyond doubt; the war guilt of Hitler and forced him to reveal his black heart for the whole world to read.
Mr. Churchill has said this week that in the end Mr. Chamberlain was cheated and deceived by a wicked man. We doubt if history will confirm that judgment. When’ Mr. Chamberlain returned’ from Munich with Hitler’s, ‘written agreement to abjure war with Britain, and said he; believed it meant peace in our time, he had no illusions as to the character of Hitler or of the worthlessness of his word. He was tragically deceived, not in Hitler but in the German people, whom he believed to be inveterately opposed to war and courageous enough to compel their leader into the path of peace opened up for him at Munich. There indeed was his tragic error.
Nevertheless Godesberg had been his victory and Hitler’s defeat, for Mr Chamberlain’s firmness induced a doubt and compelled a hesitation – the first and most vital of Hitler’s errors. It may well prove that the world was saved by the 12 months of respite which enabled Britain to put itself into a posture of defence. If France’s user time equally well, they would have been no second Sedan and the war, if not avoided, would have taken a different course.
But without the time gained at Munich it is doubtful whether Britain could have survived the first onslaught of the German Air Force. Now it is certain that after great tribulation we shall overcome and destroy Hitler and all that he stands for; but that the bare possibility of survival’s most first for those at Godesberg by a man with an umbrella which Hitler believed to conceal a sword stick. Cunning was overcome by simplicity; the German legend of Mr Chamberlain’s hypocrisy has at least this justification, that the steely courage of the man convinced Hitler that Britain was far more ready for war than in fact she was. With the perversion natural to him, Hitler afterwards declared himself deceived by Mr Chamber’s pacific professions; in reality he was deceived by Mr Chamberlain’s bold front.
Mr Chamberlain had been denied the mortal satisfaction of witnessing the overthrow of Hitler and German people, but he lived to see his country pass safely through great perils and he died happy in the knowledge that the “corner had been turned” and that the cause in which he had spent his last remaining strength was on the road to trial. He was a great statesman and a great gentleman. In the realm of peace much of his work is bearing fruit; for the improvement of the social and health services alone, his name deserves to be held in honour and his memory cherished.
He was not the least noble member of a noble family.