There has been much discussion and focus upon World War One this year – indeed, I am speaking in Guildford tonight on exactly that topic – but today in 1939, Neville Chamberlain made an unforgettable radio broadcast as prime minister of the United Kingdom:
‘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 that no such understanding has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.’
This announcement marked the beginning of World War Two. Chamberlain had initially followed a policy of appeasement, recognising Germany’s claim to the Sudetenland (a region of what was then Czechoslovakia) set out by the Munich Agreement, signed in September 1938. This Agreement was famously described by Chamberlain as achieving ‘peace for our time‘.
However in March 1939, Hitler’s troops occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia, and on 1 September they invaded Poland, a country that the UK and France had pledged to support. Two days later, the ‘peace’ was in tatters and his nation at war.