Later Than They Thought… Britain in 1939: Part One; January – June.   Leave a comment



11 Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Liverpool 4-1 in the FA Cup, in front of 61,000 at Molineux (a club record attendance).

25  First Anderson shelters distributed in London.008

28  Britain recognised the Franco regime in Spain.


10  Sir Samuel Hoare announced his recovery from ill-health and made a speech expressing the view that a new era of peace and prosperity was about to begin.

14/15  German troops invaded Czechoslovakia, occupying Prague and annexing Bohemia and Moravia.

17   Neville Chamberlain made a speech in his home city of Birmingham.

22  Lithuania surrendered the former German city of Memel to Hitler, following an ultimatum.

23  Germany annexed Memel.

24  British guarantee given to Poland.

31  Chamberlain’s speech on Poland in the House of Commons.


1   Britain and France gave guarantees of protection to Poland.

3   Hitler instructed armed forces to be ready to attack Poland at any time after 1 September 1939.

5    Italian planes began bombing Albanian towns without warning; King Zog fled to the West.

7    Italy invaded and occupied Albania.

13  Britain and France gave guarantees to Greece and Romania.

16  Soviet Russia proposed alliance with Britain and France (negotiations continued until August).

26  British Call-up of all men 20 and 21 for military training announced.

28   Hitler repudiated German-Polish non-aggression pact of 1934 and Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 1935.


22  German-Italian ten-year alliance; Pact of Steel.


30   The Danzig Crisis.

Significant cultural events:

Radio: First broadcast of ITMA (‘It’s That Man Again’)

Sport: Sir Malcolm Campbell achieved world water speed record of 141.74 mph.

Stage-show: The Dancing Years by Ivor Novello

Play: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Films: The Citadel with Robert Donat and Ralph Richardson, Pygmalion with Wendy Hillier, Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, Pinocchio by Walt Disney.

Popular Songs: Begin the Beguine, Run Rabbit Run, Wish me Luck as you Wave me Goodbye, We’ll Meet Again, There’ll Always Be an England.


Economy, Society, and Culture:

For many who viewed the Borough of Merthyr Tydfil from the outside in the early months of 1939, it did not seem economically viable. It still had 40% of its working population idle and was costing central government a pound per family per week. Some even went so far as to  advocate that the whole town should be abandoned and its population transported wholesale to the coast. The reaction of The Merthyr Express was that such a suggestion was ‘fantastic’ and the ‘arch-druid’ of the Valleys, Tom Jones, parodied this view by suggesting that the entire population of south Wales should be transferred out of the region so that the valleys could then be flooded, used as an industrial museum or serve as an ideal location for bombing practice.

However, by the outbreak of war the economy of the south Wales region was slowly being transformed, a process aided by the siting of Royal Ordnance factories at Bridgend and elsewhere. When the Royal Commission on the Distribution of the Population finally produced its Report at the end of  1939, it laid the foundations for a more planned and even distribution of population throughout Britain:

001A reasonable balance of industry and population throughout the country should be a main feature of national policy during the coming years. It is not in the national interest, economically, socially or strategically, that a quarter, or even a large proportion of the population of Great Britain should be concentrated within twenty to thirty miles or so of Central London.

On the other hand, a policy:

(i)   of balanced distribution of industry and the industrial population so far as possible throughout the different areas or regions in Great Britain.

(ii) by appropriate diversification of industries in those areas or regions;

would tend to make the best national use of resources of the country, and at the same time would go far to secure for each region or area… some safeguard against severe and persistent depression, such as attacks an area dependent mainly on one industry when that industry is struck by bad times.

Unemployed in Wigan, 1939

However, while such concepts had become well-established in government attitudes by 1939, it would be incorrect to assume that this change in emphasis brought about an immediate end to the policy of Industrial Transference. The ‘Special Areas’ continued to occupy a dominant place in British political discourse in the late 1930s, despite the overshadowing effect of the gathering storm clouds of international conflict. Rearmament was swallowing up more and more labour into shadow factories in England, and protests were still heard from some Welsh Nationalists, who compared the continuing operation of the Transference policy to Hitler’s swallowing up of the Czech lands, characterising it as just another Fascist way of murdering a small defenceless nation without going to war about it. Welsh MPs, civil servants and officials were denounced as collaborators. In reality, the official Transference scheme had long ceased to be effective by March 1939, and most of those leaving Wales were attracted to the English cities not just by the secure jobs in the shadow industries, but also by the high wages they could earn. In Coventry, at the beginning of 1939, earnings were two and a half old pence per hour over the national average for day work and four and a half pence over the average for piece work. With such high earnings available, workers did not need to be frog-marched out of the valleys. Added to this, a new economic base was being established in south Wales by this time, and many other natives were returning, possibly as many as one in five of those who had left in the previous decade. A General Review of the Industrial Transference Scheme conducted by the Ministry of Labour in 1938-9  found that a significant proportion of migrants had left Wales simply because they wanted a change and not with any intention of settling.


Overshadowing the problems of unemployment, transference and migration by the middle of the year, was the threat of war. From 1938, the government had already begun the distribution of thirty eight million gas masks to the civilian population. In an endeavour to persuade children to don the claustrophobic, rubber-smelling objects, an imaginative ‘Mickey-Mouse’ adaptation of the adult mask was designed, using red rubber for the face and blue for the eye-rims and nosepiece. The lesson of the fascist bombing of Guernica in 1937 was not entirely ignored by the Chamberlain government, despite their acquiescence in the fall of the Spanish Republic and their recognition of the Franco régime at the end of February. Cities were vulnerable to air bombardment and the civilian population would be a prime target of any Nazi attack. By the summer of 1939, the government had published plans for the evacuation of two million from London and the southern cities. As the threat of war grew in the summer months, evacuation began, and more than three and a half million people had been moved to safe areas by September, a full year before the Blitz on London began. The social effects on all sections of the community were traumatic. By comparison, the migration of labour from the depressed areas into the cities looked insignificant, though it still continued apace. There were still more than a million unemployed at the outbreak of war.


Billeting arrangements were often chaotic. One ten year old girl, exhausted and travel-dirty after a slow train journey to Stafford, recalled being driven from house to house, the billeting officer asking, ‘do you want an evacuee?’ When the residents were told ‘it’ was a girl, they declined, or remarked ‘How much?’ ‘Ten and six a week!’ Sarah Blackshaw, a cockney mum with a baby, recalled being left unchosen from a line of evacuees on the platform of Ipswich station as farmers took their pick as though selecting cattle, their first preference being for strong lads who would be of most help on the farm. Elsewhere, middle class families recoiled as billeting officers attempted to place poorly dressed and underfed kids into their genteel homes full of oak biscuit barrels and fretwork-cased radiograms. However, there were, happily,  many among them who took in and treated the city refugees as their own children and formed deep relationships which survived the war. The picture below shows schoolchildren from Walthamstow, London, on their way to Blackhorse Road Station for evacuation.





Due partly to the seasonal nature of much of their new employment in the Midlands, the adult immigrants’ links with their homeland were well-maintained through summer holidays. The Welsh in the Holbrooks area of Coventry each paid fifteen shillings and hired a bus between them every Easter and August Bank Holiday. At Whitsun 1939 the Coventry Evening Telegraph reported that the number of buses leaving Pool Meadow bus station for Wales was surprisingly large. One company had to use another’s vehicles to accommodate the extra bookings, several of these vehicles being brought in from Nuneaton. These holidays provided the opportunity for information about the quality of life in Coventry to be passed to those considering migration. In particular, those already involved in sporting teams, choirs and musical societies were keen that people ‘at home’ with talents should join them. Welsh members of the GEC (General Electric Company) Orchestra recruited members of the Cory Brothers’ Band and violinists who accompanied the silent pictures in Rhondda workmens’ halls. In these cases, musicianship became the main qualification needed to get a job at the GEC.

The Welsh migrants were also attracted to the chapels which hosted Welsh choirs and ‘Glee Parties’. These gave the immigrants a respectable image among their hosts. At Queens’ Road Baptist Church in Coventry, Rev Howard Ingli James, from Barry in south Wales, they also found an affirmation of the society and culture from which they had come. He continually referred to the miners in his sermons, and his unashamed championing of working class causes and politics sometimes brought him into conflict with the established professional Coventrians in the congregation:

Ingli James was a great preacher, very down to earth, and a pacifist. He was a strong Labour man and he upset quite a few people because he just said what he felt – he was true to himself, he would not say one thing and mean another, or say something to please people… I always remember once when he talked about the miners he said, ‘I had a load of coal and paid for it the other day – did I say Paid for it? No, never, when I think what those men had to go through to get the coal for me to enjoy – and then I say paid for it – no money would pay for what they did!’ I can see him now in that pulpit.

So powerful a projection of so positive an image from the pulpit had a solidifying effect on the growing Welsh community in Coventry, where Welsh working class culture was able to locate itself within a broad, dominant working class and immigrant culture in the city. Coventry was a working class city, in which miners and immigrants were not strangers. There were many Durham miners among them, with whom the the Welsh felt they shared common characteristics, and who were at the same level at work. However, relations with the management of the shadow factories were not always cordial. In July a strike broke out in the polishing shop of the Rootes shadow factory in Stoke Aldermoor over piecework and the operation of the ‘gang’ system. There were ‘further bickerings’ throughout the summer and autumn. Mr Booth of Rootes told the Employers’ Association that there was one particular trouble-making gang of forty-eight who were ‘almost entirely recruited from the distressed areas and have not even as much engineering knowledge as labourers in the shop’. When the gang refused to do certain jobs they were dismissed by the company. However, when an escalation of the dispute was threatened, the Company settled instead for breaking the gang up.

In Coventry, both engineers and their employers showed little interest in the general politics of the city; those engaged in the economic field were noticeably disengaged when it came to civic affairs. Trades unionists and left-wing activists built on the older syndicalist tradition in the factories, while leading employers, despite repeated appeals, refused involvement in local politics. In May 1939, The Midland Daily Telegraph pointed to what it described as:

…a most amazing reluctance on the part of leading citizens to offer themselves as candidates… The outlook seems to be like that of Artemus Ward, when invited to run for the American legislative. ‘My friends’, he said, ‘doestest think I’d stoop to that there?’…

Hence, unlike in neigbouring Birmingham, where the Chamberlains and Cadburys exerted considerable power and patronage, the domination of of the political life of Coventry was left up to a group largely comprised of small businessmen and professionals who called themselves ‘The Progressive Party’, a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals. Their loss of supremacy in the late 1930s was attributed by The Telegraph, to the rapid drift of population from the depressed areas which had introduced into the city a steady stream of left-wing supporters. Such adherents to the Socialist ’cause’ in the city, were characterised as importers of an alien ideology, disruptive of  Coventrian civic conventions. This, at least, was the view from the top, though The Telegraph claimed that there was ‘a general realisation’ that this was taking place.

In Oxford, there was more concern about the sexual morality of the migrants. It was said of Welsh men that they had loose morals and would marry a girl only after they had impregnated her. One researcher calculated that Welshmen in Oxford were 5% more likely to cause conception before marriage than they were in their home areas, whereas Oxford natives were 10% less likely to cause premarital conception. Welsh women were also accused of being ‘highly-sexed’ with one American writer observing that it was undoubtedly true that they were more feminine than their English cousins. They were certainly more content to accept the traditional roles as maidservants, housewives and mothers that most of them had known in the valleys, since both documentary and oral evidence suggests that very few of  them entered insurable employment in Oxford or Coventry before the war, and that those who did were nurses or elementary teachers. This was a marked difference with both immigrant women from Lancashire and local Oxonion women. However, Welsh females did not have larger families in Oxford than native Oxonions. The research conducted in 1939 showed that whilst the fertility of married migrants in Oxford differed little from that of the south Wales population, the fertility of both these groups was less than that of Oxford natives. The degree of concern over sexual morality shown by social service enquirers in Oxford is revealed by the following extract from an out-worker’s report to the Moral Welfare Committee, made shortly after the outbreak of war:

The “black-out”… constitutes a moral problem, especially when standards are relaxed by the excitement of war.  In time of war, moral standards are lowered, and a slackening of control and restraint is evident.

A more positive stereotype of the Welsh immigrants was applied to their abilities on the sports fields. In May 1939 a meeting was held at the Railway Hotel, Foleshill, Coventry, to discuss the formation of a Coventry Welsh Rugby Club. When it came into existence, the Club became the cradle for the City of Coventry Rugby Club and many of the latter’s post-war players were first nurtured by the Coventry Welsh Club.


The greatest Midland (and perhaps British) sporting team in 1939 was Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. They finished second in the Football League in three successive seasons and were also beaten finalists in the 1939 FA Cup. It also had a newly-completed stadium, Molineux, which ranked alongside Anfield, Liverpool, and Villa Park, Birmingham, as one of the finest in Britain. Their legendary manager, Major Frank Buckley, had produced a team with a reputation for fast, attacking football. Match attendances rose with Wolves’ continuing success, culminating in the record attendance of 61,315 for the Cup-tie with Liverpool on 11 February, which Wolves won 4-1. Unfortunately, they also lost 4-1 in the final, to lowly Portsmouth, when, according to every knowledgeable pundit, all they had to do was turn up to claim the cup. The outbreak of war halted their run of success (it was to be another decade before they finished so high in the first division), which foreshadowed their ‘glory days’ of the fifties, in which they were crowned champions four times in six seasons.

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In 1938, MGM had made the film The Citadel, and it became one of the most popular films of 1939 (see above for the others). Several British critics thought that it was one of the best British films ever and comments were made about the emergence of Robert Donat as a Hollywood star and the way in which the film offered a real sense of London and south Wales. The writer of the novel, A.J. Cronin, was very keen for his story about the ideals and ambitions of a young doctor to be filmed. He could never have foreseen that the film would be so well made; there were some early location sequences which rooted the story in the south Wales that the documentary-makers had discovered, there was first-class acting from Donat, Richardson and Emlyn Williams, who had also contributed some authentic Welsh dialogue, and there was also a convincingly detailed denunciation of private medicine. Britain was ripe for a socially mature film, and its director, King Vidor, was well known in Hollywood for making social problem films: he was very much for the common man and very much against corporate interests.

The Citadel offered a fuller view of south Wales than any other previous feature film, but it was essentially using the area for its own purposes, which were largely determined by the demands of a melodramatic narrative.  There was no room in this for organised protest or trade unions, and the miners are depicted as stupidly allowing themselves to be held back by the Aberalaw Medical Aid Society, which was used to illustrate all the evils associated with any guild or syndicate of workers. At one point, the doctor’s wife comments, Did anyone ever try to help the people and the people not object?

Interpretation: How Militant were the Migrants?

Clearly, the immigrant workers in the Coventry factories had learnt quickly how to use traditional shop-floor organisation for their own ends and did not lack militancy in doing so. They were amenable to trade union organisaton, even though many of them may not have been members of trade unions in their ‘home’ areas. Trade unionism was so much a part of the culture of the communities from which they came that it is irrelevant to argue, as some historians have, that those who had not themselves experienced work in the mines or shipyards would therefore not have shown the same level of commitment to the concept of workplace solidarity. However, the retention and re-enactment of such traditions did depend, to some extent, on the potential for collective action in the new industrial context, and on the level of support and encouragement that the immigrant workers could expect from trade union officials. In Coventry, the gang system and the relatively well-organised nature of the trade unions on the shop floor provided the fertile ground in which these traditions could re-establish themselves. At the same time, the immigrants were becoming skilled engineers within comparatively short periods.

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In Cowley, Oxford, the Pressed Steel Factory had become known as the ‘Red Factory’ by 1939, because of the reputation of the TGWU’s 5/60 branch for militancy and unofficial action since its inception in the 1934 Strike, led by former ‘DA’ men. The growth of trade unionism there was the result of a combination of factors. Whilst the particular conditions which prevailed in the factory in the summer of 1934 acted as the catalyst, it would be wrong to see the establishment of effective trade unionism simply as a knee-jerk response. There is a significant body of evidence to support the view that the retention of a trade union ‘complex’ by the immigrant workers from the ‘Distressed Areas’ and its reinterpretation in the new industrial context through secret organisation followed by concerted action at the critical mom, was the vital long-term factor in the equation. Thus, the settled immigrant community which was contiguous to the works provided an important support system for the development of trade unionism within it. In fact, the small, unofficial and largely underground movement which grew gradually in Morris’s factories from 1935 to ’39 was largely the product of community struggles in Cowley through which a small group of immigrant workers came into contact with AEU members. However, it took war-time conditions to bring about the recognition of trade unions at Morris’s. Workers from the depressed areas, some of whom moved from Pressed Steel to Morris Radiators in the late thirties, helped to form the unofficial union cell which enabled this transition. The failure of the unions to gain any official recognition was partly due to William Morris’ anti-union stance. However, the American management at Pressed Steel was equally hostile to the unions and organisers continued to be victimised throughout the latter part of the decade. Nevertheless, the existence of a union at Pressed Steel for semi-skilled and unskilled workers meant that wages were more stable and generally better than at the Morris in early 1939. The latter paid mainly by piece work, and wages were subject to significant rate cuts at times. It was therefore difficult to earn more than two pounds per week, whereas a night shift worker at Pressed Steel could earn as much as five pounds. Most of the contemporary evidence confirms the view that the reason for the contrasting conditions was the fact that most of the Pressed Steel workers came from depressed areas, whereas the Oxonions at the Morris Works lacked the motivation to form a union, and were of ‘a different outlook’. The Pressed Steel workers were more ‘clannish’ because they had all suffered common experiences in the depression years, which helped to unite them in their ‘fight-back’.

There is thus a strong case to be made for the primacy of general social and cultural factors in the growth of trade unionism in Cowley, if not in Coventry; the sense of heritage and solidarity among immigrant workers provided a powerful motivation to organisation in the Pressed Steel, and infused a quiescent trade union movement with militancy. This is not to support the contemporary stereotype of the Welsh workers held by Oxonions, that they were ‘nearly all “Reds”, ‘ any more than they could be characterised in other towns as job-stealers and wage-cutters. Nevertheless, those who were thrust into the leadership of the trade union movement in the wider City of Oxford, soon found themselves in leading positions in left-wing politics too. Before the Nazi-Soviet Pact, this also meant that many of them were carrying two party cards, one for membership of the Labour Party, and another for the Communist Party.

International Events (Summary):


Although there were no major international events to record at the beginning of the year, Europe showed no signs of settling down in the early months of 1939. Justified or not, rumours of another German advance abounded. However, just six months after the Munich conference, it was again the situation in Czechoslovakia which held the headlines. By March  1939, Slovak separatists felt secure enough to break away from the rump of the Czech lands and proclaim an independent Slovakia under German protection. By the middle of the month, Hitler had marched his troops into what remained of the independent Czech lands, occupying Prague. Under its new name, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the remainder of the Czech lands as well as the Lithuanian port of Memel and its surrounds were absorbed into the German Reich. Poland seized Teschen and Hungary obtained parts of southern Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, which had substantial Hungarian minorities and had belonged to its Crown lands before 1918.


Only Chamberlain seemed surprised by the swallowing up of the defenceless remains of Czechoslovakia and by the now obviously-established fact that Hitler could no longer be considered a man of his word.  Is this an attempt to dominate the world by force? Chamberlain asked. Britain and France had promised the Czech representatives that they would defend the remnants of their state. Now they said that no such guarantees could apply to a state which no longer existed. However, alerted at last by the occupation of non-German speaking territories to the real dangers posed by Germany, Britain and France pledged to defend Poland, Greece and Romania from similar Nazi aggression and embarked on a crash programme of military spending.

Political Reaction at Home:

By April Britain was prepared to fight, but was in a worse position to do so than it had been in the summer of 1938. The subjugation of Czechoslovakia had robbed the Allies of the Czech Army, consisting of twenty-one regular divisions, fifteen or sixteen second-line divisions of which had already been mobilised, and also their mountain fortress line, which in the days before and during the Munich meetings had required the deployment of thirty German divisions, the main strength of the mobile and fully-trained German Army. According to Generals Halder and Jodl, there were only thirteen German divisions, of which only five were composed of front-line troops, left in the West at the time of the Agreement. The Allies had suffered a loss of some thirty-five divisions in total, plus the Skoda works, the second most important arsenal in central Europe, the production of which was equivalent to the total British armament output between August 1938 and September 1939. For over a year, even before the outbreak of war, it was in enemy hands.

Harold Nicolson’s reaction was sharp. All of Chamberlain’s theories had ‘collapsed’, as far as he was concerned. What remains of his prestige? he asked. We do not know where they will strike next. Hitler was already master of central Europe, with further designs on eastern Europe and the Balkans. He would reduce us to the status of dependent parasites. He ridiculed the guarantee system that Chamberlain had set up, referring to the pacts of mutual assistance to Poland, Greece and Romania. For Nicolson, Russia provided the key to any remaining security. He advocated an ‘encirclement’ policy, an Anglo-French-Soviet front to rein in Germany, another name for the ‘Grand Alliance’ strategy advocated by Churchill. However, he doubted Chamberlain’s ability to carry it out, dependent as he was on his ‘kitchen cabinet’ – Simon, Hoare and Halifax – which inspired little faith in wider political circles.

After his Parliamentary success in the Munich debate, Nicolson’s interventions in the House of Commons had not attracted the same degree of interest. After the Prague coup he called again for a policy of encirclement, but his parliamentary appearances, although fluent in language, lacked sparkle, perhaps a measure of the weariness felt by many politicians staring at the almost certain prospect of war. All that summer the German pressure on Poland mounted steadily, terminating in the war crisis of August 1939. Eden’s group thought of initiating a press campaign to prevent another Munich over Danzig and the Polish Corridor, the focal points of German discontent and designs.

Of course, throughout these events, the USA remained peripheral. Harold Nicolson wrote in his diary on 14 June that Winston Churchill was horrified to hear that the American Ambassador in London, Jo Kennedy, thought that war was inevitable and we should be licked. This spurred him into an impromptu oration, in which he remarked:

It may..well be true that this country at the outset of this coming and to my friend almost inevitable war be exposed to dire peril and fierce ordeals. It may be true that steel and fire will rain down upon us day and night scattering death and destruction far and wide. It may be true that our sea-communications will be imperilled and our food supplies placed in jeopardy. Yet these trials and disasters…will but serve to steel the resolution of the British people and to enhance our will to victory.

Churchill was prophetically right in this. Already, the bad news of the Ides of March had seemed to put new steel into the British people. Pacifist attitudes and Popular Fronts were already beside the point. As René Cutforth later commented, they were like a man on the scaffold deciding to mount a ‘No More Hanging’ movement. The illusions of the Thirties gradually melted away, he went on, and there had been many. The last illusions to go were those about the power of the British Empire. Britain itself might just survive, but that was all. As if to underline that the whole world had gone mad, the news broke in August that the Soviet Russians had signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. Black-out practices were held and works of art were hidden in the caves of Derbyshire and the mine shafts of south Wales. The collieries, for so long idle, at last found a useful purpose, though the wheels were also soon turning again to meet the real needs of war. Stained glass was evacuated from Canterbury and other cathedrals and children were evacuated from all the great cities.

Is War Inevitable? Harold Nicolson asked in a Penguin pamphlet that same month. The only hope for peace, he wrote, is to convince the Axis Powers by a tremendous military and diplomatic effort (I should almost call it an offensive) that we are determined on resistance; and at the same time to issue a manifesto of peace terms comparable to the Fourteen Points of President Wilson as will indicate to the world that we are definitely prepared to meet all reasonable aspirations. However, he knew that it was doubtful whether such a strategy would work, as it depended on a fanatical fűhrer with a superhuman capacity for hatred. Yet, he pondered for his readers, war might be almost inevitable, but while there might be a tiny window of hope it was worth looking out of it.


A. The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, speaking at Birmingham, 17th  March 1939:

….Nothing that we could have done, nothing that France would have done, or Russia could have done could possibly have saved Czechoslovakia from invasion and destruction. Even if we had subsequently gone to war to punish Germany for her actions, and if after frightful losses which would have been inflicted upon all partakers in the war we had been victorious in the end, never could we have reconstructed Czechoslovakia as she was framed by the Treaty of Versailles.

When I came back after my second visit I told the House of Commons of a conversation I had had with Herr Hitler, of which I said that, speaking with great earnestness, he repeated what he had already said at Berchtesgaden – namely, that this was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe, and that he had no wish to include in the Reich people of other races than German… 

How can these events this week be reconciled with those assurances which I have read out to you? Surely, as a joint signatory of the Munich Agreement, I was entitled…to that consultation which is provided for in the Munich declaration… Before even the Czech President was received, and confronted with demands which he had no power to resist, the German troops were on the move and within a few hours they were in the Czech capital.

According to the Proclamation which was read out in Prague yesterday, Bohemia and Moravia have been annexed to the German Reich. Non-German inhabitants, who, of course, include the Czechs, are placed under the German Protectorate. They are to be subject to the political, military and economic needs of the Reich.

…the events which have taken place this week in complete disregard of the principles laid down by the German Government itself… must cause us all to be asking ourselves, ‘Is this the end of an old adventure, or the beginning of a new?’

I feel bound to repeat that, while I am not prepared to engage this country by new unspecified commitments operating under conditions which cannot now be foreseen, yet no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that, because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, that this nation has lost its fibre that it will not take part in resisting such a challenge if ever it were made.

B. Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons (fifth series), vol 345 col 2421 (1939):

31st March 1939: The Prime Minister, Mr Neville Chamberlain’s statement on Polish-German Relations:

The Right Hon. Gentleman, the leader of the Opposition asked me this morning whether I could make a statement as to the European situation… His Majesty’s Government has no official confirmation of the rumours of any projected attack on Poland… in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government assurance to this effect… the French Government… stand in the same position in this matter as do His Majesty’s Government.

C. Telegraphic: British Consul in Danzig, Mr G Shepherd, to Viscount Halifax:

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30th June 1939:

… For the last few nights the two great shipyards here which normally work all night were closed under strict guard and all workmen evacuated from them.

… As from tonight Danzig and suburbs were to be blacked out until further notice, and, in case of air raid alarm, all inhabitants were ordered to take refuge in the cellars or public shelters.

… Former local barracks are now occupied by large numbers of young men with obvious military training who wear uniforms similar to Danzig SS but without deathshead emblem on the right collar and ‘Heimwehr Danzig’ on sleeves. Courtyard is occupied by about fifteen military motor lorries (some with trailers) with East Prussia licences and covered with Tarpaulins, also by about forty field kitchens.

… My personal impression is that the extensive military preparations which are being pressed forward so feverishly are part of large-scale operations but not intended for use before August, unless unexpected developments precipitate matters and that emergency measures… may be due to fear lest those preparations should cause the Poles to substitute a sudden offensive for defensive measures which they have hitherto adopted.


Chandler, A.J. (1988), The Re-Making of a Working Class: Migration from the South Wales Coalfield to the New Industry Areas of the Midlands, c 1920-40. Cardiff: Unpublished PhD thesis.

Cutforth, René ( 1976), Later Than We Thought: A Portrait of the Thirties. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

Smith, Dai (1984), Wales! Wales? London: George Allen & Unwin.

Almond, Bereznay & Black (et. al)(2003), The Times History of Europe. London: Times Books (HarperCollins).

Briggs, Morrill (, ed.) (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History. London: Penguin Books.

Marwick, A. & Adamthwaite, A. (1973), Between Two Wars. Bletchley: The Open University.

Overy, R. (1996), The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Gorman, J. (1980), To Build Jerusalem: A Photographic Remembrance of British Working Class Life, 1875-1950. London: Scorpion.

Shipley, J. (2003), Wolves Against the World. Stroud: Tempus.

Clark, M. & Teed, P. (eds.)(1972), Portraits and Documents: The Twentieth Century, 1906-1960. London: Hutchinson Educational.

Rose, N. (2006), Harold Nicolson. London: Pimlico.

Peter Stead (1986), Wales in the Movies, in Wales: The Imagined Nation; Studies in Cultural and National Identity. Cardiff: Poetry of Wales Press.

Posted February 11, 2014 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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