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Addresses By Neville Chamberlain

September 1939

1) Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, in the House
of Commons, September 1, 1939

(2) Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, in the House
of Commons, September 3, 1939.

(3) Radio Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister,
September 3, 1939.

Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, in the House
of Commons, September 1, 1939.

I do not propose to say many word to-night. The time has come
when action rather than speech is required. Eighteen months ago
in this House I prayed that the responsibility might not fall
upon me to ask this country to accept the awful arbitrament of
war. I fear that I may not be able to avoid that
responsibility. But, at any rate, I cannot wish for conditions
in which such a burden should fall upon me in which I should
feel clearer than I do to-day as to where my duty lies. No man
can say that the Government could have done more to try to keep
open the way for an honorable and equitable settlement of the
dispute between Germany and Poland. Nor have we neglected any
means of making it crystal clear to the German Government that
if they insisted on using force again in the manner in which
they had used it in the past we were resolved to oppose them by
force. Now that all the relevant documents are being made
public we shall stand at the bar of history knowing that the
responsibility for this terrible catastrophe lies on the
shoulders of one man - the German Chancellor, who has not
hesitated to plunge the world into misery in order to serve his
own senseless ambitions.

I would like to thank the House for the forbearance which they
have shown on two recent occasions for not demanding from me
information which they recognized I could not give while these
negotiations were still in progress. I have now had all the
correspondence with the German Government put into the form of a
White Paper. On account of mechanical difficulties I am afraid
there are still but a few copies available, but I understand
that they will be coming in in relays while the House is
sitting. I do no think it necessary for me to refer in detail
now to these documents, which are already past history. They
make it perfectly clear that our object has been to try and
bring about discussions of the Polish-German dispute between the
two countries themselves on terms of equality, the settlement to
be one which safeguards the independence of Poland and of which
the due observance would be secured by international guarantees.
There is just one passage from a recent communication, which is
dated the 30th August, which I should like to quote, because it
show how easily the final clash might have been avoided had
there been the least desire on the part of the German Government
to arrive at a peaceful settlement. In this document we said:

"His Majesty's Government fully recognize the need for speed in
the initiation of discussions and they share the apprehensions
of the Chancellor arising from the proximity of two mobilized
armies standing face to face. They would accordingly most
strongly urge that both parties should undertake that during the
negotiations no aggressive military movements should take place.
His Majesty's Government feel confident that they could obtain
such an undertaking from the Polish Government if the German
Government would give similar assurances."

That telegram, which was repeated in Poland, brought an
instantaneous reply from the Polish Government, dated the 31st
August, in which they said: -

"The Polish Government are also prepared on a reciprocal basis
to give a formal guarantee in the event of negotiations taking
place that Polish troops will not violate the frontiers of the
German Reich provided a corresponding guarantee is given
regarding the non-violation of the frontiers of Poland by troops
of the German Reich."

We never had a reply from the German Government to that
suggestion, one which, if it had been followed, might have saved
the catastrophe which took place this morning. In the German
broadcast last night, which recited the 16 points of the
proposals which they have put forward, there occurred this
sentence: -

"In these circumstances the Reich Government considers its
proposals rejected."

I must examine that statement. I must tell the House what are
the circumstances. To begin with let me say that the text of
these proposals has never been communicated by Germany to Poland
at all. The history of the matter is this. On Tuesday, the
29th August, in replying to a Note which we had sent to them,
the German Government said, among other things, that they would
immediately draw up proposals for a solution acceptable to
themselves and

"...will, if possible, place these at the disposal of the
British Government before the arrival of the Polish negotiator."

It will be seen by examination of the White Paper that the
German Government had stated that they counted upon the arrival
of a plenipotentiary from Poland in Berlin on the 30th that is
to say, on the following day. In the meantime, of course, we
were awaiting these proposals. The next evening, when our
Ambassador saw Herr von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign
Secretary, he urged upon the latter that when these proposals
were ready - for we had heard no more about them - he should
invite the Polish Ambassador to call and should hand him the
proposals for transmission to his Government. Thereupon,
reports our Ambassador, in the most violent terms Herr von
Ribbentrop said he would never ask the Ambassador to visit him.
He hinted that if the Polish Ambassador asked him for an
interview it might be different.

The House will see that this was on Wednesday night, which
according to the German Statement of last night, is now claimed
to be the final date after which no negotiation with Poland was
acceptable. It is plain, therefore, that Germany claims to
treat Poland as in the wrong because she had not by Wednesday
night entered upon discussions with Germany about a set of
proposals of which she had never heard.

Now what of ourselves? On that Wednesday night, at the
interview to which I have just referred, Herr von Ribbentrop
produced a lengthy document which he read out in German aloud,
at top speed. Naturally, after this reading our Ambassador
asked for a copy of the document, but the reply was that it was
now too late, as the Polish representative had not arrived in
Berlin by midnight. And so, Sir, we never got a copy of those
proposals, and the first time we heard them - WE heard them -
was on the broadcast last night. Well, Sir, those are the
circumstances in which the German Government said that they
would consider that their negotiations were rejected. Is it not
clear that their conception of a negotiation was that on almost
instantaneous demand a Polish plenipotentiary should go to
Berlin - where others had been before him - and should there
receive a statement of demands to be accepted in their entirety
or refused? I am not pronouncing any opinion upon the terms
themselves, for I do not feel called upon to do so. The proper
course, in our view - in the view of all of us - was that these
proposals should have been put before the Poles, who should have
been given time to consider them and to say whether, in their
opinion, they did or did not infringe those vital interests of
Poland which Germany had assured us on a previous occasion she
intended to respect. Only last night the Polish Ambassador did
see the German Foreign Secretary, Herr von Ribbentrop. Once
again he expressed to him what, indeed, the Polish Government
had already said publicly, that they were willing to negotiate
with Germany about their disputes on an equal basis. What was
the reply of the German Government? The reply was that without
another word the German troops crossed the Polish frontier this
morning at dawn and are since reported to be bombing open towns.
In these circumstances there is only one course open to us. His
Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin and the French Ambassador have
been instructed to hand to the German Government the following
document: -

"Early this morning the German Chancellor issued a proclamation
to the German Army which indicated that he was about to attack
Poland. Information which has reached His Majesty's Government
in the United Kingdom and the French Government indicates that
attacks upon Polish towns are proceeding. In these
circumstances it appears to the Governments of the United
Kingdom and France that by their action the German Government
have created conditions, namely, an aggressive act of force
against Poland threatening the independence of Poland, which
call for the implementation by the Government of the United
Kingdom and France of the undertaking to Poland to come to her
assistance. I am accordingly to inform your Excellency that
unless the German Government are prepared to give His Majesty's
Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government
have suspended all aggressive action against Poland and are
prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish
territory, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will
without hesitation fulfill their obligations to Poland."

If a reply to this last warning is unfavorable, and I do not
suggest that it is likely to be otherwise, His Majesty's
Ambassador is instructed to ask for his passports. In that case
we are ready. Yesterday, we took further steps towards the
completion of our defensive preparation. This morning we
ordered complete mobilization of the whole of the Royal Navy,
Army and Royal Air Force. We have also taken an number of other
measures, both at home and abroad, which the House will not
perhaps expect me to specify in detail. Briefly, they represent
the final steps in accordance with pre-arranged plans. These
last can be put into force rapidly, and are of such a nature
that they can be deferred until war seems inevitable. Steps
have also been taken under the powers conferred by the House
last week to safeguard the position in regard to stocks of
commodities of various kinds.

The thoughts of many of us must at this moment inevitably be
turning back to 1914, and to a comparison of our position now
with that which existed then. How do we stand this time? The
answer is that all three Services are ready, and that the
situation in all directions is far more favorable and reassuring
than in 1914, while behind the fighting Services we have built
up a vast organization of Civil Defense under our scheme of Air
Raid Precautions. As regards the immediate man-power
requirements, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Air Force are in
the fortunate position of having almost as many men as they can
conveniently handle at this moment. There are, however, certain
categories of service in which men are immediately required,
both for Military and Civil Defense. These will be announced in
detail through the Press and the B.B.C. The main and most
satisfactory point to observe is that there is today no need to
make an appeal in a general way for recruits such as was issued
by Lord Kitchener 25 years ago. That appeal has been
anticipated by many months, and the men are already available.

So much for the immediate present. Now we must look to the
future. It is essential in the face of the tremendous task
which confronts us, more especially in view of our pat
experiences in this matter, to organize our man-power this time
upon as methodical, equitable and economical a basis as
possible. We, therefore, propose immediately to introduce
legislation directed to that end. A Bill will be laid before
you which for all practical purposes will amount to an expansion
of the Military Training Act. Under its operation all fit men
between the ages of 18 and 41 will be rendered liable to
military service if and when called upon. It is not intended at
the outset that any considerable number of men other than those
already liable shall be called up, and steps will be taken to
ensure that the man-power essentially required by industry shall
not be taken away.

There is one other allusion which I should like to make before I
end my speech, and that is to record my satisfaction of His
Majesty's Government, that throughout these last days of crisis
Signor Mussolini also has been doing his best to reach a

It now only remains for us to set our teeth and to enter upon
this struggle, which we ourselves earnestly endeavored to avoid,
with determination to see it through to the end. We shall enter
it with a clear conscience, with the support of the Dominions
and the British Empire, and the moral approval of the greater
part of the world. We have no quarrel with the German people,
except that they allow themselves to be governed by a Nazi
Government. As long as that Government exists and pursues the
methods it has so persistently followed during the last two
years, there will be no peace in Europe. We shall merely pass
from one crisis to another, and see one country after another
attacked by methods which have now become familiar to us in
their sickening technique. We are resolved that these methods
must come to an end. If out of the struggle we again re-
establish in the world the rules of good faith and the
renunciation of force, why, then even the sacrifices that will
be entailed upon us will find their fullest justification.

Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister, in the House
of Commons, September 3, 1939.

When I spoke last night to the House I could not but be aware
that in some parts of the House there were doubts and some
bewilderment as to whether there had been any weakening,
hesitation or vacillation on the part of His Majesty's
Government. In the circumstances, I make no reproach, for if I
had been in the same position as hon. members not sitting on
this Bench and not in possession of all the information we have,
I should very likely have felt the same. The statement which I
have to make this morning will show that there were no grounds
for doubt. We were in consultation all day yesterday with the
French Government and we felt that the intensified action which
the Germans were taking against Poland allowed no delay in
making our own position clear. Accordingly, we decided to send
our Ambassador in Berlin instructions which he was to hand at 9
o'clock this morning to the German Foreign Secretary and which
read as follows: -


"In the communication which I had the honour to make to you on
the 1st September, I informed you, on the instructions of his
Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that
unless the German Government were prepared to give His Majesty's
Government in the United Kingdom satisfactory assurances that
the German Government had suspended all aggressive action
against Polish territory, His Majesty's Government is the United
Kingdom would, without hesitation, fulfill their obligation to

"Although this communication was made more than twenty-four
hours ago, no reply has been received but German attacks upon
Poland have been continued and intensified. I have accordingly
the honour to inform you that, unless not later than 11 A.M.,
British Summer Time, to-day 3rd September, satisfactory
assurances to the above effect have been given by the German
Government and have reached His Majesty's Government in London,
a state of war will exist between the two countries as from that

That was the final Note. No such undertaking was received by
the time stipulated, and, consequently, this country is at war
with Germany. I am in a position to inform the House that,
according to arrangements made between the British and French
Governments, the French Ambassador in Berlin is at this moment
making a similar demarche, accompanied also by a definite time
limit. The House has already been made aware of our plans. As
I said the other day, we are ready.

This is a sad day for all of us, and to none is it sadder than
to me. Everything that I have worked for, everything that I
have hoped for, everything that I believed in during my public
life, has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for
me to do; that is, to devote what strength and powers I have to
forwarding the victory of the cause for which we have to
sacrifice so much. I cannot tell what part I may be allowed to
ply myself; I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has
been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been reestablished.

(3) Radio Address by Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister,
September 3, 1939.

I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10, Downing

This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German
Government a final Note stating that unless we heard from them
by 11 0'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their
troops from Poland a state of war would exist between us. I
have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received,
and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.

You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long
struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that
there is anything more or anything different that I could have
done and that would have been more successful.

Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have
arranged a peaceful and honourable settlement between Germany
and Poland. But Hitler would not have it. He had evidently
made up his mind to attack Poland whatever happened, and
although he now says he put forward reasonable proposals which
were rejected by the Poles, that is not a true statement.

The proposals were never shown to the Poles, nor to us, and,
though they were announced in a German broadcast on Thursday
night, Hitler did not wait to hear comments on them, but ordered
his troops to cross the Polish frontier. His action shows
convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man
will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will.
He can only be stopped by force.

We and France are to-day, in fulfillment of our obligations,
going to the aid of Poland, who is so bravely resisting this
wicked and unprovoked attack upon her people. We have a clear
conscience. We have done all that any country could do to
establish peace, but a situation in which no word given by
Germany's ruler could be trusted and no people or country could
feel themselves safe had become intolerable. And now that we
have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your
part with calmness and courage.

As such a moment as this the assurances of support that we have
received from the Empire are a source of profound encouragement
to us.

...Now may God bless you all and may He defend the right. For
it is evil things that we shall be fighting against, brute
force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution. And
against them I am certain that the right will prevail.