Greg Lance – Watkins
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unlike Peter Hitchens I would incline to the opinion that far from an ambition for war, which Churchill would seem to have had, it is far more likely that Chamberlain was well aware of the inevitability of war and as we were without a viable fighter command in the RAF at the time his action in delaying war provided the time to arm for war, which led to the outcome whereby eventually we won!
Had Churchill had his way there is little doubt that for all his ability as a Wartime Leader his utter ineptitude as a Prime Minister would have lost us the war within 10 days! Few at the time saw in him the abilities required of a Prime Minister, hence despite his success and popularity as a War Leader he was soon removed by the electorate after the war!
Was Neville Chamberlain just as set on war as Churchill?
I’d like to share this fascinating story told in last weekend’s ‘Sunday Telegraph’ by my friend Christopher Booker. It has many enjoyable elements, being one of these doorways into the recent past which illuminate , for a brief moment, the truth about the present.
‘My friend Greg Lance-Watkins recalled how, in 1967, as a young officer cadet at Sandhurst, he boarded a packed train from London to Inverness, on which the only unoccupied seat was in the dining car. Seeing his uniform, the chap in the seat opposite invited him to sit down, and Greg recognised him as the former Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home.’
It is rather wonderful to recall that there was a time when a former Prime Minister could travel unaccompanied on a train, and when members of the armed forces were still allowed to wear their uniforms in public, not to mention a time when there were still dining cars on trains from London to Scotland.
Mr Lance-Watkins knew his history. He knew that Home had, long ago, been Neville Chamberlain’s Parliamentary Private Secretary and so present at one of the most important events of modern history, the Munich talks.
Christopher Booker writes: ‘Greg quizzed him about the moment when Chamberlain, after leaving the aircraft at Heston Aerodrome, waved a piece of paper (which no one was allowed to see) and was greeted with cheers from the waiting crowd.
‘After hours without food in the unheated aircraft, the party then rushed back to Downing Street where, according to Home’s account, as Chamberlain was still taking off his coat, he said to senior colleagues who had gathered to greet him: “Gentlemen, prepare for war.” According to this story at least, far from being fooled by Hitler, Chamberlain had become just as aware of his true intentions as Churchill. By pretending otherwise, he bought another year for Britain to step up preparations for a war he now realised was inevitable.’
Well, that’s the way Christopher Booker puts it. I would go further. If Mr Lance-Watkins recollection was accurate, and if Home’s account is true, it tends to confirm my view, expressed in my book ‘The Phoney Victory’, that Chamberlain planned for and in fact sought war with Germany, and that our promise to come to Poland’s aid was a deliberate trigger to bring such a war about, and a device to prevent Poland from making a deal with Hitler over Danzig.
What it completely explodes is the view commonly held ( and one which I used to hold myself) that Chamberlain was fooled by Hitler at Munich. Though of course it makes perfect sense, if Chamberlain (rightly) grasped that Britain was in no state to fight any sort of war in September 1938, and nor was France, that he would be wise to keep his warlike ambitions as secret as possible.
What I would really like is some further confirmation of this.
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