The Outbreak of War . . .

The Observer

Second world war

Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war

At 11am on 3 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain announced in a radio broadcast that the country was at war

Declaration of war: Chamberlain’s radio broadcast, 3 September 1939, 11am

“I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.

You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more, or anything different, that I could have done and that would have been more successful. Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful and honourable settlement between Germany and Poland. But Hitler would not have it. He had evidently made up his mind to attack Poland whatever happened, and although he now says he put forward reasonable proposals which were rejected by the Poles, that is not a true statement. The proposals were never shown to the Poles, nor to us, and though they were announced in the German broadcast on Thursday night, Hitler did not wait to hear comments on them, but ordered his troops to cross the Polish frontier the next morning.

His action shows convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.

We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace. But the situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted, and no people or country could feel itself safe, had become intolerable. And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.”

 

The first paragraph of Mr. Chamberlain’s speech I can remember almost word for word. I was only 5 years old* at the time but I knew what was going on, I knew about the Munich Crisis and I fully understood what was being said and the implications of it all. Being a Sunday my father was at home, and both my parents referred back to the First World War which has ended just over 20 years before. “I just hope to God there’s not another Somme”, was one of her sayings, whereas my father said many times in those years that we should have rearmed earlier and better. Both of them said repeatedly that Churchill had been right all along, and I think many other people felt the same way, so that when Churchill became Prime Minister in the next year (10 May 1940) there was a palpable sense of relief all round. I don’t think we necessarily thought we would win the war (Hitler seemed absolutely unstoppable), but if we didn’t it wouldn’t be for want of trying.

* 5 years, 8 months and 25 days to be exact !

About Ian

Retired Clergyman, and former RAF person. Lives in SW Scotland. One wife. Two children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren scattered across UK, Europe and the USA.
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