Friday, 16 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 after Chamberlain's sudden departure for Germany yesterday comes his equally sudden return to Britain. As the above headlines (from The Times, p. 12) hint, it had been expected that he would be gone for several days in order to talk to Hitler. It's unclear what conclusions, if any, were actually reached, but we do have an account of the tea party Hitler hosted for Chamberlain:

The conversation over the tea table was on non-political lines. Mr. Chamberlain was able to say to Herr Hitler that he had enjoyed very much his first experience of air travel.1

He mentioned that he had been much impressed by the beauty of the scenery, although to-day clouds and mists spoiled the prospect, and his surprise that cars could climb so easily the precipitous road leading from Berchtesgaden to the Berghof.

Even given the lack of positive developments -- the Czech government has ordered the arrest of Henlein, the Sudeten leader, who is now demanding the cession of the Sudetenland to Germany -- it seems that people are breathing easier today. The Times reports (p. 12) that Whitehall is 'more like its normal self', and that the markets are recovering (Guinness is up 3/6 on yesterday's close, though still down on its price two days ago, before the market jitters began). For the first time since 6 September, The Times hasn't devoted a leading article to the crisis. For the Daily Mail (p. 10), Chamberlain's flight has already prevented war:

Mr. Chamberlain's magnificent bid for peace throws into greater prominence the mad folly of the alternative that might have been -- war. Already it seems incredible that until yesterday Europe was on the verge of devastating conflict over the reshaping of the Constitution of Czecho-Slovakia.

A feature article on the same page reassuringly notes previous crises which did not result in wars: the Congress of Berlin (1878), Agadir (1911), Chanak (1922), Fashoda (1898) and Venezuela (1895). (Far away in Marrakech, George Orwell can detect 'no belief in war being imminent'.)

But it seems that not everybody has got the message. The Manchester Guardian reports (p. 11) that the Manchester Borough Labour Party has called for a special meeting of the Manchester City Council. The reason for this is that, according to Labour's statement, 'Manchester is apparently in a state of almost complete unpreparedness against air attack.'

We consider that a state of emergency has really existed in the last few days, and that authority should have shown some sign of being aware of it. Even our gas masks have not been issued, and they will take some days to distribute. What sort of position would we be in if war suddenly came?

A letter (p. 18) from A. R. Warden of Heaten Moor in Manchester, backs up this point of view. (That would be a pseudonym -- Air Raid Warden, get it?)

In view of the possibility of this country being drawn into a devastating war, I suggest that now is the time to look into the question of what provision has actually been made for the protection of civilians from air raids.

Where are the gas masks? What are employers doing to protect their workers?

Could not the Government employ the unemployed (nearly 2,000,000) on constructing "shelters".

Wembley, at least, is getting its gas masks: according to the The Times (p. 17), 100,000 have been transferred there from the government's depot. All schools in Wembley are going to be open until 9pm for the next week, so that residents can get their masks fitted. A Wembley ARP official claimed that this measure was entirely routine, and 'in no way due to the European situation'.

Finally, a poem which appeared in The Times (p. 13):


As Priam to Achilles for his Son,
So you, into the night, divinely led,
To ask that young men's bodies, not yet dead,
Be given from the battle not begun.

It's by John Masefield, the Poet Laureate.

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  1. It's certainly widely believed that this was Chamberlain's first flight. However, recent authors have claimed that it was only his first international flight, and that he had flown domestically on political or ministerial business. But no actual evidence is offered, and it's hard to think where he would have needed to go that he couldn't have got to just as easily by train. []

7 thoughts on “Friday, 16 September 1938

  1. Erik Lund

    Though speed can be an issue, too, as in Ramsay MacDonald's unfortunate flight down from Glasgow in 1931, which clearly left him vulnerable to mind-control rays from C. G. Grey --or at least SABAC.
    And having said that, MacDonald's flight was controversial because he took an RAF plane. There was controversy at the time, IIRC (or, more accurately, _Flight_ complained), because Chamberlain used an American-made commercial plane rather than one of the odd duck British types in the King's Flight.

  2. Post author

    I didn't know about MacDonald's flight -- why was he in a rush? Something to do with the formation of the National Government?

    I was just looking at the Flight thing yesterday, actually -- to be pedantic, it was a reader who complained; a leading article (well, paragraph) defended the choice of an American aircraft as the best available in the circumstances, and doubted that the Germans were going to think any less of British airpower as a result! See here.

  3. Erik Lund

    I think it was just before the election was called... but I was running through _Flight_ pretty fast at the time, and mainly registered the controversy. So there is some sense in which the flight did mark MacDonald going over to the "dark side."
    As for the letter versus leader thing, something is percolating through my thick skull, and anyway it is in Poulsen's character to defend the PM on something like this. I'm almost tempted to look up _The Aeroplane_'s take. Except that it would too insane and vicious to be much good for my mental health.
    Anyway, Poulsen _is_ going to start complaining in the next few months, and won't be back in the government's camp until sometime in December...

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