Neville Chamberlain in WW2: Quotes, Biography & Facts

Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

In this lesson, you'll learn about Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who wanted avoid war but found himself leading his country into World War II. Read quotes from and about Chamberlain, and find out more about his role in World War II.

Chamberlain's Approach to Avoid Conflict

Neville Chamberlain was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940 and oversaw Britain's path and entry into World War II. Chamberlain believed that he could solve conflicts through negotiation.

Prior to his political career, he had a stint as a plantation manager in the Bahamas, and later worked in manufacturing management; he entered politics in 1915. Sir John Simon once wrote that Chamberlain would 'listen in a business-like fashion to what one had to say, and then state his conclusions with the finality of a general manager conducting his company's affairs.' His style was not bombastic. Reflecting his business background, he sought consensus through listening to other people.

Portrait of Neville Chamberlain

Appeasement At Munich

Chamberlain pursued a policy of appeasement leading up to World War II. He felt that appeasing Adolf Hitler today would prevent aggression tomorrow. Chamberlain openly negotiated with Hitler, seeing him as a man with whom he could 'do business.' He believed that the promises both of them would be binding.

Chamberlain and Hitler set to do business at Munich

Chamberlain's defining moment came in 1938 at the Munich Conference. Upon obtaining Hitler's promise of no war between England and Germany in exchange for tacit approval of Germany taking the Sudetenland, Chamberlain came home to an adoring public and proclaimed 'peace in our time.' However, Hitler's intentions were evident when he later told one of his generals, 'Our enemies are small worms. I saw them at Munich.' Hitler manipulated Chamberlain for his own purposes, something that Chamberlain did not immediately recognize.

Chamberlain's Indecisiveness After Munich

The direction of Chamberlain's agenda after Munich was not very decisive. He oversaw an increase towards war production, saying to the House of Commons, 'It would be madness for the country to stop rearming until we were convinced that other countries would act in the same way.' However, because of fear of German perception, he did not favor a complete increase in industrial war production.

Many believed that Chamberlain lacked a clear vision for England. His policy of appeasement was not working, as Hitler grew his army upon acquiring Czechoslovakia. British citizens became outraged upon reading about Kristallnacht (or Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938, an intense, 2-day period of organized destruction and violence against the Jewish people of Germany, and their homes, businesses, and synagogues. Hearing of such atrocities, the British people questioned appeasement.

While little else was clear, Hitler's desire for Poland was lucid. In January 1939, Chamberlain countered the move with speech affirming peace over war. Hoping to cause Hitler to rethink his aggressiveness, he took specific steps to strengthen his nation's defense.

On March 31, Chamberlain pledged total British support to Poland. Leading up to autumn, Chamberlain attempted back-channel negotiations with Nazi Germany. However, on September 1, Nazi troops invaded Poland. Within hours, Chamberlain declared that the United Kingdom was at war with Germany. His radio address reflected the broken dreams that defined his foreign policy towards the Nazis when he said, 'we have done all that any country could do to establish peace.' In saying that no word by Germany's ruler could be trusted, Chamberlain seemed to echo what so many were thinking.

Later that day, to a subdued House of Commons, Chamberlain said, 'Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins... I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been re-established.' Chamberlain was hurt that his dream for peace died as he led his country, England, into World War II.

Chamberlain During World War II

Chamberlain created a War Ministry and gave a seat to harsh critic Winston Churchill as the war began. The two men did not get along as Churchill's direct style often proved challenging to the demure Chamberlain.

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