perhaps of how formal was the age in which he lived, is his tendency to end every letter with the words: ‘Your affectionate brother, Neville Chamberlain’. There are a few surprises in these pages: twice as many soldier MPs (32) voted for Chamberlain in the Norway Debate as voted against him (16); as late as September 1940 he seriously considered that he might have ‘another premiership after the war’. A major revelation, though, is quite how much of a force he – rather than Baldwin – was behind the Government’s determination that King Edward VIII must abdicate. ‘The difficulty, as usual, is to get the Prime Minister to make a move,’ he told his sisters on 14 November 1936. ‘I have been obliged, without telling him, to make all the [constitutional and legal] enquiries necessary.’ Two days before the Abdication he wrote: ‘I have been in the middle of things all through and responsible nearly always for the initiative as well as the drafting of all papers.’ It is perhaps a necessary attribute in anyone who wishes to be Prime Minister to believe unquestioningly in one’s own brilliance, but how many of them would write – even to their own sisters – ‘It really seems as if Providence designed my speeches to be timed at the right moment to create the effect I want at that point’, as Chamberlain did on 1 April 1939? Yet in the speech referred to he reassured the trade unions that he would not introduce conscription, only to do exactly that on 26 April. And only three days later, on 29 April, he was writing with equally invincible self-satisfaction: ‘More and more I am convinced that much of the art of statesmanship lies in accurate timing, as the fisherman knows when he is trying to get a long cast out.’ (He’d caught a 16 1/2 lb salmon in Hampshire the week before.) It is hard to warm to Neville Chamberlain, even through his correspondence with his closest relatives. It also seems incredible that these letters should have been sent through the normal GPO mail, since if the press had got hold of virtually any of them, Chamberlain would have been deeply compromised, or at the very least hugely embarrassed. Others would have been too: he records how Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) had ‘left him in no doubt’ about Churchill’s unsuitability for inclusion in the Cabinet in July 1939. In fact it would have been one of the few actions Chamberlain could have taken that might have given Hitler pause for thought that fateful summer. Imagine if the Germans had somehow intercepted Chamberlain’s letter to Ida from Chequers of 10 September 1939 – a week after the outbreak of war – in which he wrote: ‘What I hope for is not a military victory – I very much doubt the possibility of that – but a collapse of the German home front.’ From that sentence alone, it is clear that Chamberlain should not have been our wartime leader. To order this book call Ashgate on 01252 331 551
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LITERARY REVIEW Dec 2005 / Jan 2006