When appeasement finally failed, my grandfather and his countrymen found out what happens when politicians let the people down. He was with the 8th Engineers trying to stop the Nazi invasion of Poland alongside other soldiers, awaiting help that never came from their allies in Britain and France.
When Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich waving a piece of paper declaring ‘peace in our time’, having already sold Czechoslovakia down river, it was stated that the disaster of Munich 1938 saved war for a year, as it meant rearmament could take place. A plausible argument if it were not for those who supported appeasement who repeated this line often and sometimes take as a historical fact. Reading this book, you will find that in 1938 Germany was also not ready for war, and if the British and French had attacked Germany things may have been different. But we will never know.
In this excellent debut, historian Tim Bourverie sets out his argument in a fine and very readable book. Any student who manages to graduate with a degree in Modern History, will tell you most books on appeasement are as dry as a bone. This is one of the most engaging history books I have read in a very long time. What Bourverie has done is written a vivid, detailed and fascinating investigation of what should bring shame on all those politicians that took part in the machinations of the 1930s.
Although ‘Cato’ published The Guilty Men back in 1940 and drew up a list of guilty men, Bourverie’s list is far longer. Showing that no stone has been left unturned, there are some surprising inclusions, including the lengths they would go to support appeasement and Germany. How the editors of both The Times and the Daily Mail were pro-Hitler and pro-appeasement. How the director-general of the BBC offered to fly the Swastika from the roof of Broadcasting House! I will also add Nancy Astor, the first female to take her seat in the House, who was an avid fan of Nazi Germany along with the rest of her Cliveden set.
Bourverie also records the heroes, not just Churchill, and how the Foreign Office was often in despair at Lord Halifax and the cohort around Chamberlain. What this book does remind us is that it is easy to point out the guilty when we look back at distance. People have forgotten that appeasement was a popular policy in the country as a whole. People could remember the Great War and what that had been delivered on many families across the country. Appeasement did not start with Chamberlain, but he was the most intransigent supporter of the policy.
What I do like is that Bourverie puts the case clearly against those who say that when Chamberlain allowed Britain to rearm, the only real thing he had managed was to unit the country in preparation for war. By 1939, Germany was in a more powerful position than it had been the year before, and Hitler got the war he wanted. Sometimes Bouverie offers too much hindsight, but I would argue that is his journalistic tendencies breaking through, as he grows as a historian, he will offer up less of the Monday Quarterback and more analysis.
This is an exceptional debut that will be on university reading lists very shortly It is a brilliant addition to the appeasement canon.
Paul Diggett 5/5
Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War by Tim Bouverie
Bodley Head 9781847924407 hbk Apr 2019