Paths to War pp 233-268 | Cite as

‘Guilty Men’: The Case of Neville Chamberlain

  • Sidney Aster


On Friday morning, 31 May 1940, three London journalists gathered, as was their habit before the local pub opened, on the roof of Lord Beaverbrook’s Evening Standard. The topic of conversation was the unmitigated military catastrophe that had enveloped the British Expeditionary Force on the beaches of Dunkirk. Accounts of the first interviews with rescued survivors had just reached Fleet Street. The former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, already knew of the ‘terrible tales … of ships full of troops torpedoed or bombed … of thousands of men hiding in the dunes waiting to be taken off, and parched with thirst’.2 By nightfall on 2 June, almost a quarter million British and over 100 000 French troops would be evacuated. As the three journalists discussed the disaster, the idea for a book emerged. One chose the title, Guilty Men — inspired by an episode in J.B. Morton’s Saint-Just (1939), a biography of the French revolutionary leader. Another was dispatched to find a publisher, who was to be ‘a slightly hesitant’ Victor Gollancz. The task of writing the book was divided among the three. It was drafted in the course of that weekend, eight chapters from each author. The book was finished by Tuesday, 4 June and published on 5 July, the first in a new series of Left Book Club ‘Victory Books.3


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Notes and References

  1. 3.
    On the genesis of Guilty Men see Michael Foot, Debts of Honour (London, 1980) pp. 96–8; his Loyalists and Loners (London, 1986) pp. 172–5, 180–1; the introduction by Philip Wittenberg to the American edition of Guilty Men (New York, 1940) pp. v–xii; andGoogle Scholar
  2. Anne Wolrige Gordon, Peter Howard: Life and Letters (London, 1969) pp. 104–5; for additional informationGoogle Scholar
  3. see Paul Addison, The Road to 1945: British Politics and the Second World War (London, 1975) pp. 110–12;Google Scholar
  4. John Lewis, The Left Book Club: An Historical Record (London, 1970);Google Scholar
  5. William Harrington and Peter Young, The 1945 Revolution (London, 1978) pp. 55–67;Google Scholar
  6. Simon Hoggart and David Leigh, Michael Foot: A Portrait (London, 1981) pp. 79–83; andGoogle Scholar
  7. Ruth Dudley Edwards, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (London, 1987) p. 317.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan: A Biography, vol. 1, 1897–1945 (London, 1962) p. 319; Time, 30 Sept. 36(1940) p. 76;Google Scholar
  9. according to A.J.P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (London, 1972) p. 435, ‘Inspiration from Beaverbrook himself had not been lacking’.Google Scholar
  10. 5.
    Information about the authors of ‘Cato’ was derived from Foot, Loyalists and Loners, p. 157; David Farrer, G-For God Almighty: A Personal Memoir of Lord Beaverbrook (London, 1969) pp. 28–9, 103; Foot, Bevan, pp. 181–2;Google Scholar
  11. Arthur Baker, The House is Sitting (London, 1958) pp. 98–101, 155–6, 219; and Gordon, Howard, passim; Michael Foot under the pseudonym, ‘Cassius’, contributed The Trial of Mussolini (London, 1943) to the Left Book Club; Frank Owen’s critique of foreign affairs in the inter-war period can be followed in The Three Dictators: Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler (London, 1940); Peter Howard’s views on Lord Beaverbrook are in Men on Trial (London, 1945) pp. 27–32; and Beaver-brook: A Study of Max the Unknown (London, 1964); his conversion to Moral Rearmament in Innocent Men (London, 1941); his repudiation that the Oxford Group was pro-Nazi in Fighters Ever (London, 1942); he refers obliquely to Guilty Men in Fighters Ever, p. 7; and Ideas Have Legs (London, 1945) p. 62.Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    Quoted in Michael Foot, Another Heart and Other Pulses: The Alternative to the Thatcher Society (London, 1984) p. 198.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    A.L. Rowse, A Man of the Thirties (London, 1979) p. 20; and All Souls and Appeasement: A Contribution to Contemporary History (London, 1961) p. 117; see also his The End of an Epoch (London, 1947) pp. 24–89; Portraits and Views: Literary and Historical (London, 1979) pp. 186–9; Memories of Men and Women (London, 1980) pp. 35–9; and Glimpses of the Great (London, 1985) pp. 15–98.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott, The Appeasers (London, 1963);Google Scholar
  15. A.P. Adamthwaite, The Making of the Second World War (London, 1977); and his ‘War Origins Again’, Journal of Modern History, 56(1984) 100–15;Google Scholar
  16. Telford Taylor, Munich (New York, 1979);Google Scholar
  17. J.A.S. Grenville, ‘Contemporary Trends in the Study of the British “Appeasement” Policies of the 1930’s’, Internationales Jahrbuch für Geschicts- und Geographie — Unterricht, 17(1976) 236–47;Google Scholar
  18. Larry William Fuchser, Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement: A Study in the Politics of History (New York, 1982); andGoogle Scholar
  19. Williamson Murray, The Change in the European Balance of Power, 1938–1939: The Path to Ruin (Princeton, NJ, 1984).Google Scholar
  20. 14.
    Max Beloff, ‘Professor Namier and the Prelude to War’, Fortnightly, 167(1950) 235–42; and ‘Historians in a Revolutionary Age’, Foreign Affairs, 299(1951) 248–62; as the literature on appeasement is now too vast for summary citation, the student should consult relevant bibliographies such asGoogle Scholar
  21. Sidney Aster, British Foreign Policy, 1918–1945: A Guide to Research and Research Materials (Wilmington, DE, 1984).Google Scholar
  22. 15.
    Paul Kennedy, ‘Appeasement’, in Gordon Martel, ed., The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: The A.J.P. Taylor Debate after Twenty-Five Years (London, 1986) p. 154;Google Scholar
  23. Lord Swinton, Sixty Years of Power: Some Memories of the Men Who Wielded It (London, 1966) p. 122.Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    Compare Robert Skidelsky, ‘Going to War with Germany: Between Revisionism and Orthodoxy’, Encounter, 39(1972) 56–62; andGoogle Scholar
  25. D.C. Watt, ‘The Historiography of Appeasement’, in Alan Sked and Chris Cook, eds., Crisis and Controversy: Essays in Honour of A.J.P. Taylor (London, 1976) pp. 115–21.Google Scholar
  26. 22.
    On the Chamberlain archive see B.S. Benedikz, Guide to the Chamberlain Collection (Birmingham, 1978).Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    David Dilks, Neville Chamberlain, vol. 1, Pioneering and Reform, 1869–1929 (London, 1984) p. 165; NC to Hilda Chamberlain [HC], 18 May 1936, NC18/1/961; NC to Ida Chamberlain [IC], 10 Sept. 1939, NC18/1/1116; on Neville Chamberlain’s relationship with his sisters see Dilks, Chamberlain, vol. 1, pp. 57, 109, 119, 165, 258, 390.Google Scholar
  28. 25.
    Alan Beattie, ‘Neville Chamberlain’, in John P. Mackintosh, ed., British Prime Ministers of the Twentieth Century, vol. 1, Balfour to Chamberlain (London, 1977) p. 221.Google Scholar
  29. 27.
    Quoted in Keith Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain (London, 1946) pp. 319, 256; NC to IC, 28 May 1938, NC18/1/1054; NC to HC, 6 Nov. 1937, NC18/1/1027; quoted in Feiling, Chamberlain, p. 252; Feiling, Chamberlain, p. 365; NC to IC, 26 Sept. 1937, NC18/1/1022.Google Scholar
  30. 28.
    Neville Chamberlain, The Struggle for Peace (London, 1939) pp. 434, 177; NC to HC, 19 Mar. 1939, NC18/1/1090; NC to IC, 26 Mar. 1939, NC18/1/1091; NC to HC, 2 Apr. 1939, NC18/1/1092.Google Scholar
  31. 42.
    Quoted in Michael Howard, The Continental Commitment (London, 1972) p. 110; quoted in Feiling, Chamberlain, p. 314.Google Scholar
  32. 43.
    See N.H. Gibbs, Grand Strategy, vol. 1, Rearmament Policy (London, 1976) pp. 441–86.Google Scholar
  33. 51.
    ‘Cato’, Guilty Men, p. 61; Chamberlain, Struggle for Peace, pp. 302–3, 325, 346; NC to IC, 19 Sept. 1938, NC/18/1/1069; Swinton, Sixty Years of Power, p. 120; reference to ‘peace with honour’ was repeated in NC to HC, 2 Oct. 1938, NC18/1/1070; see also NC to Mary Endicott Chamberlain, 5 Nov. 1938, NC1/20/1/186; and Lord Croft, My Life of Strife (London. 1948) p. 289.Google Scholar
  34. 53.
    Feiling, Chamberlain, p. 359; quoted in Martin Gilbert, ‘Horace Wilson: Man of Munich?’ History Today, 32(1982) 6.Google Scholar
  35. 74.
    Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 2, Their Finest Hour (London, 1949) p. 9.Google Scholar
  36. 80.
    W.E. Gladstone, Political Speeches in Scotland, March and April 1880 (Edinburgh, rev. ed., 1880) pp. 30–1, 33.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sidney Aster 1989

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  • Sidney Aster

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