Monday, 5 September 1938

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Sudeten crisis of August-October 1938. See here for an introduction to the series, and here for a conclusion. The entire series can be downloaded as an ebook.


So, we're into the second week of the crisis (or rather, the second week for which I have newspaper sources), and as these headlines from The Times indicate (p. 12), the public still doesn't have much idea as to what's going on. Just that there have been lots of meetings over the weekend. The leading article gives a good summary (p. 13):


Discussion of the Czech-German problem in Bohemia has been actively continued during the week-end. LORD RUNCIMAN had a meeting with PRESIDENT BENESH on Saturday, and yesterday MR. ASHTON-GWATKIN conferred with HERR HENLEIN at his home near the German frontier. DR. KUNDT and HERR SEBEKOWSKY, the two other Sudeten leaders, had a four-hour talk with PRESIDENT BENESH on Friday and DR. KUNDT saw DR. HODZA, the Prime Minister, on Saturday.

But, after all that, no news, just more speculation. The leading article in the Manchester Guardian cautions (p. 8) against an optimistic reading of Friday's meeting between Hitler and Henlein, upon the (still unknown) outcome of which so much depends:

There was complete "unanimity." It is natural, so much do we all loathe the idea of war, to interpret a conventional, ambiguous phrase in three soothing propositions: that Henlein is a "moderate" attached to peace, that Hitler agreed with him, and that therefore "moderation" is to be the word. It would be equally just (and more probable) to say that Hitler is an extremist believing in force, that Henlein agreed with him (he had better), and that therefore the outlook is bad.

I suggested in the previous post that we shouldn't be too hard on those observers who still gave Hitler (and Henlein) the benefit of the doubt, but we see here that there were certainly those who had a lot of doubt. The Manchester Guardian was a liberal paper, not as radical as it had been thirty years earlier, perhaps, but still generally opposed to the use of force (or threats of force) in international affairs.

The other interesting thing today is the opening of the Trades Union Congress at Blackpool. The Manchester Guardian suggests (p. 12) that later in the week, Czechoslovakia will become a major issue, and that the TUC is likely to call for a recall of Parliament, so that Chamberlain can explain what diplomatic steps Britain is taking to resolve the crisis. A taste of unionist anger comes from John Marchbank, General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, addressing a TUC demonstration:

The step that should be taken is that Britain, France, Russia and America should make it clear to Hitler that any attempt to coerce the Czecho-Slovakian Government or to weaken in any way its democratic position will be resisted, and that the four countries should stand by her in her rights for democratic government. We have never acknowledged and never will admit the right of any single man, be he crowned the head of a State or a leader or a dictator ruling by force or by terror, to make war the instrument of his policy. Against such dictatorships we preach the divine right of revolution. Neither do we afford to any Government the authority to pursue policies which must culminate in war.

However, Marchbank did accept the need to rearm for self-defence and to restrain aggression. The attitude of trade unions was important, for in theory they had the ability to cripple the economy just as surely as a knock-out blow ... even if that didn't work so well in practice.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

8 thoughts on “Monday, 5 September 1938

  1. Jon Burne

    It seems that there are some who could for-see a very real possibility of war and warned of it (Manchester Guardian) and there others for whom it is hard to separate real concerns from anti-war rhetoric (TUC quote). The reports so far of "Many Meetings" would probably leave the average newspaper reader feeling that something is going on by they are not quite sure what.

  2. JDK

    CK - The RAF, and the rest of the British forces were wedded to .303 as they had huge stocks of the ammunition left from W.W.I. It was a scramble getting the (US) Colt Browning .300 adapted and produced as the Browning .303 - the Lewis and Vickers VGO being unsuitable for wing mounting and the (Maxim type) Vickers being at the end of development. Meanwhile on the continent, they mostly had decided on using cannon as far as possible, leapfrogging the .50.

    The British very quickly adapted the just as critical armoured glass and armoured sheet for their fighters in 1939/40, and self-sealing tanks fuel were developed, benefits (simplistically speaking) that went the other way across the Atlantic.

    Also, it was the USAAC (Corps) not Force in the 1930s, and they were stunningly weak. The USN, however, had the most powerful naval air arm in the world in the late '30s, but even that was a world away from what was needed in the war.

    What's that got to do with the crisis, by the way?

    Brett - The Guardian was originally a (UK) Labour-leaning paper - essentially still is, I believe, rather than a Liberal paper in either the general political sense or that of the then (UK) Liberal party. An important point in terms of their organised labour concept (like the TUC) and 1930s international workers outlook, I think.


  3. CK

    "What’s that got to do with the crisis, by the way?"

    Er, absolutely nothing JDK, and big ups for the info.

    'Uncertainty in Prague' - what a great band name.

  4. JDK

    No problem. Stretches the memory. I agree on the 'modern beat combo' name. Wonder what their hits would be? 'Shadow of Nuremberg blues'?

    More on topic, 'Shadow of Nuremberg' has a very different meaning, today, after the post trials, and it did after the rallies. It's interesting how these become shifting signifiers, sometimes becoming tainted beyond recovery in decades (toothbrush moustaches, swastikas) others drifting out of common understanding except for odd dictionaries - "Handley Page - a large aircraft". Well, that may have been the case in the 20s, but even by the mid '30s I think that was no longer the case except for dinosaurs like C.G.Grey. Now I'm off at a tangent!

  5. Post author


    Yes, generally speaking many on the left (including Labour) were fairly confused about such matters in the 1930s, e.g. strongly supporting collective security through the League of Nations while insisting that Britain unilaterally disarm as an example to the world, which would have made it hard to enforce collective security (though there were other methods short of force, i.e. economic sanctions). Spain started to change that, and rearmament brought welcome employment for union workers too, but the anti-war rhetoric was hard to let go of.


    The terms are a bit slippery, as their precise meanings changed over time, and it also depends on what you mean by 'originally', but I wouldn't call the Manchester Guardian a Labour paper originally, that is, in 1821. Maybe small-l labour (there was no Labour Party as yet), but more properly it was radical and non-conformist (in the religious sense). It moved about a bit in the next half century, but under its great editor and later owner-editor C. P. Scott (i.e. for the half-century up to 1930) it was staunchly liberal and (from 1907) radical. I don't know when it became Labour-leaning but throughout the period I'm looking at, it favoured the Liberals, though there was never any formal connection to the party as far as I know. I'd say that in the 1930s, it was sympathetic to the labour movement, but it also had many northern businessmen among its readers (cotton and the like): liberalism -- i.e free trade -- appealed to them but strong unions, not so much. It opposed the General Strike in 1926.

    There's a pretty good history of the paper here.

    From 1912, there was an actual Labour paper, the Daily Herald, which was part-owned by the Labour Party, though in the 1930s it was run on commercial lines.

  6. JDK

    Hi Brett,
    I stand corrected over the Guardian; thanks! I'd assumed (always a risk) it was younger and more labour orientated. We live and learn.

  7. Alan Allport

    It's not always easy to label a newspaper's party 'line.' The Times was the parish newsletter of the Establishment in the 1940s, but from 1941 to 1946 its main leader-writer was the unapologetically Stalinist E.H. Carr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *