Not satisfied with only Austria, Hitler began demanding parts of Czechoslovakia, too. In September 1938, with war against Germany seeming increasingly likely, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich (according to a British Pathe newsreel, his first trip in an aeroplane), to meet the German leader. His aim of this ‘mission of peace’ was to secure a guarantee that there’d be no further German aggression.
The British people had high hopes; Churchill was very sceptical. Click here to see Chamberlain’s airline ticket for 29 September 1938, discovered among a British Airways official’s papers years later. Chamberlain returned to near-unanimous congratulations. Churchill, however, was one of the few who spoke against him.
He saw the Munich Pact as a ‘total and unmitigated defeat’. Overtly opposed to the appeasement policy and very sceptical of Hitler’s promises, he spoke out in the House of Commons with a damning speech. Churchill then broadcast directly to the people of the US, pleading for their help and support. They could no longer ignore what was happening in Europe and Churchill made it clear he felt they could stand together against dictatorship.
Immediately after his speech against Chamberlain – and what he saw as humiliating concessions to Germany – Churchill found himself more isolated than ever. His words of warning were unwelcome when the rest of the country were relieved that war had been averted. But Churchill’s prophecies about the dangers of Nazi Germany were seen to be coming true when Hitler went against the Munich settlements by occupying the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. It was a devastating blow to appeasement. Hitler clearly didn’t keep his word and Chamberlain’s promise of ‘peace in our time’ seemed foolishly naïve and weak. Churchill’s very isolation – and all those years spent in the ‘wilderness’ – helped Churchill back into power. He’d been warning the country about the ‘gathering storm’ for years and it was his dissociation from the appeasement fiasco – and the failings of his colleagues who hadn’t appreciated the dangers – that smoothed his path back to rehabilitation and his return to power.
As war beckoned over the course of the spring and summer of 1939, becoming increasingly likely as the months passed, Churchill’s standing with the public – and his political colleagues – rose with every passing day.