Mr. Chamberlain brings us the good news from Munich 1938.
I can honestly say that despite my tender years I was aware of the Second World War. My war was however coloured somewhat by the daily dose of propaganda on the radio or wireless as we knew it then and the daily papers. This information or misinformation had been served up to the masses daily from well before the war began. Quite by chance some sixty or more years later I had given me a British weekly magazine called Picture Post. It was the edition that celebrated the return from Munich of Mr. Chamberlain the Prime Minister of Great Britain, who had achieved what he thought was meaningful negotiations with Herr Hitler the Chancellor of Germany, over the Czechoslovakia problem. Czechoslovakia was a small, made up nation formed at the end of the First World War in 1919 from part of the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Chunks of the losing nations were joined together to create a composite of nationalities in the border region between Germany and Hungary. There were Czechs and Slovaks of course, but within the boundaries there were minorities of other peoples. I won’t use the term ‘race’ in case you think me racist. There were Poles and Magyars and Gypsies (or Romany) and not the least, Germans.
Czechoslovakia was an excellent example of peaceful coexistence of differing nationalities. It was comparatively rich in minerals and had a well developed industry. The Skoda motor works being a case in point.
Happiness and contentment are all very well in themselves but never let anyone know you feel this way. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he looked around Europe to see if anyone was happy and he noticed that the Czech people were looking pretty pleased with themselves. So he thought he would put a stop to that by demanding that the happy Germans living in Czechoslovakia should have the right to be happy Germans in Germany, so long as they stayed where they were and where they lived became part of Germany.
These thoughts of Hitler’s clearly became a crisis in the minds of those ‘good’ nations such as Britain and France that wanted to keep everything in Europe and the world for that matter just as it was. They needed to discuss the problem with Hitler. So the leaders of France and Britain decided the fate of little Czechoslovakia at a meeting in Munich and agreed to slices of that country being handed to Germany. This was the Sudetenland.
Incidentally no one invited the Czech prime minister to the talks but those that did take part emerged with smiles on their faces. The Czech government wisely accepted that they had no control over their own country. War had been averted. In hindsight this was patent nonsense. It had given Hitler a chance to assess the resolve of the Western powers and they proved to be lacking in this regard. Hitler marched into the Sudetenland and occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in a very short time to the silence of the Western ‘powers’.
I was blissfully unaware of this crisis, as my advisors had left me woefully ill-informed. Like the rest of Europe, except for the Czechs that is, I slept peacefully in my cot and was mindless of the dragon that had been unleashed.