Neville Chamberlain's Legacy
Hitler, Munich and the Path to War
by Nicholas Milton
Pub Date 31 Oct 2019
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Neville Chamberlain has gone down in history as the architect of appeasement, the Prime Minister who by sacrificing Czechoslovakia at Munich in September 1938 put Britain on an inevitable path to war. In this radical new appraisal of the most vilified politician of the twentieth century, historian Nicholas Milton claims that by placating Hitler and Mussolini, Chamberlain not only reflected the zeitgeist of the time but also brought Britain vital time to rearm when Hitler’s military machine was at its zenith. In doing so he helped create the Air Raid Precautions organisation, the Women’s Land Army and the Special Operations Executive charter. Yet Chamberlain's legacy is far more complex than just Hitler, Munich and the path to war. He was also a pioneer of the conservation movement and remains the only serving Prime Minister to have had a species named after him, the Chamberlain’s Yellow butterfly Pyrisitia chamberlaini following his time in the Bahamas as a young man. During his Downing Street years he corresponded with a birdwatcher called Gilbert Collett and visited St James Park nearly every day looking for birds. As a result birdwatching became more than just a hobby, it was Chamberlain’s way of dealing with the nightmare which was Adolf Hitler and the Second World War. His story is revealed through his own words in his diary letters to his two sisters, Hilda and Ida. They shed new light on his complex character and enable us to consider Chamberlain the private man, not just the public statesman. The letters show he helped to build houses for the poor, improved midwifery services and championed the introduction of widow’s pensions. It is a reminder that there is often more to political figures, even well-known Tory Prime Ministers, than many a quick judgment allows.