It was left to less well-known men like Duff Cooper, Leo Amery, Robert Cartland, Harold Nicholson, future Prime Minister Harold MacMillian and a handful of other "rebels" to step up and, in Amery's words, "Speak for England!"
It is men like Amery and Cartland, not Churchill or Anthony Eden, that stood defiant against their party Whips and the Cabinet at several critical moments, risking their careers. Men liked Cartland were not afraid to call Chamberlain a dictator to his face; Amery evoked some devastating words from England's history against his government during open debate in the House of Commons after the Fall of Norway (and the disasters of British ships and men in the subarctic ports in May of 1940) with scorn:
"I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation:
"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go".
The story of Britain's change of government in 1940 after the fall of Norway in the Spring of that year is well-known and oft-dramatized. But was less-known (to me at least) was how little a role Winston Churchill ultimately had in hastening the departure of the discredited Neville Chamberlain.
Churchill was in fact already in the government as First Lord of the Navy by September 1939, and had no voice in deposing his boss. He was loyal, too loyal to those who recalled those days in Ms. Olson's books. The Chamberlain government--outside the Admiralty--seemed daunted by the prospect of actually carrying out a war, much less mounting a land offensive. The Prime Minister's letters to his sister reveal Chamberlain's acute depression at the sight of pillboxes, barbed wire and armaments. He was, as one critic put it at the time, "a civilian to the core." Not an evil man, but the wrong leader for his time.
Even after war was declared, conscription of men ages 20-41 was slow to happen. As Hitler's fifty divisions on active duty strengthened, the British could manage five or six. Those who volunteered for the RAF or the Army or Territorials were often joining units that had no uniforms for them to wear, much less heavy weaponry. Over a million and a half men were still unemployed by the end of 1939, an alarming statistic given the national emergency.
And those "Tommies" at the Belgian Front and those sent half-prepared to Norway, ahead of the looming German air-sea advancement, were hardly equipped to fight. Few units had any machine guns, for instance. Basic anti-aircraft equipment was equally hard to come by.
When visiting the Belgian front in December of 1939, Chamberlain startled one of commanders in the field, Bernard Montgomery, by stating in a meeting, "I don't think the Germans have any intention of attacking us here, do you?"
Montgomery told his boss otherwise, but, like so many others, he paid little heed.
Chamberlain, nicknamed "The Coroner" by his detractors, clearly had to go.
The problem was the Conservative had a huge 200-seat majority from the last General Election in 1936. The Labour and Liberal parties could not mount a serious challenge. Any vote of no confidence had to garner a major amount of Conservative supporters. It was here that men like Amery and Duff Cooper--who turned down the offer of Foreign Secretary to remain an independent critic--had to sway their reluctant party stalwarts to cross over and vote "NO" on a confidence vote to bring Chamberlain down. And that movement had to be successful; to fail at bringing down Chamberlain would mean he could hold unto power well into the future.
Chamberlain and his men tapped the phones of Conservatives who met in private to plan strategy. That hurt the cause, as did the fact that the rebels were disunited between pro-Anthony Eden and pro-Churchill groups. Sending out feelers to opposition leaders like Clement Attlee and his Labour Deputy Arthur Greenwood was considered the height of betrayal by a leader who short changed his troops in the field. Chamberlain was content to know "sub rosa" what groups like "The Vigilantes" and other internecine groups were doing.
This is the part of the book I found most interesting; how Neville Chamberlain, like Richard Nixon thirty-odd years later, viewed all attacks on his government as an attack on him personally and could brook no dissent in his inner circle, thus filling important posts with syncopates and second-raters. Perhaps his worse move was getting rid of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden over the Czech Crisis in October, 1938. It was clear more voices needed to be heard in the Cabinet if Hitler was to be successfully defeated. Stripped of office but not prestige, the Young Mr. Eden remained a dithering disappointment to his followers; Churchill emerged as the man of the hour.
The question of rebellion was totally anathema to many of these men who were all educated at strict schools like Harrow and Eton where loyalty and bowing to seniority was everything. Many had served in the ranks of regiments in the First World War together, makes their effort to depose there former superiors in some cases all the more improbable.
Some 'Young Men" (like MacMillian) were moderate men who saw the changing times and tried to adapt to them; others, like Leo Amery, who hidebound imperialists in the Churchill mold. Addingto their natural conservatism, there were great personal differences: the most juicy being that that MacMillian made common cause with one of the "young men" (Robert Boothby) who had cuckolded him, carrying on a decades long affair with his wife Dorothy. But work together they somehow did, saving their nation against their own senior leadership.
Note: not all the "Troublesome Young Men" were men. Women such as Violet Bonham Carter, the daughter of Prime Minister Asquith, also played a role in drumming up anti- appeasement support. And the case of Katherine Scott-Murray, Duchess of Atholl ib Scotland and one of the few female MPs of that era, deserves an entry from Wikipedia:
"She was the Scottish Unionist Party Member of Parliament for Kinross and West Perthshire from 1923 to 1938, and served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education from 1924 to 1929, the first woman to serve in a Conservative government. She resigned the Conservative whip first in 1935 over the India Bill and the "socialist tendency" of the government's domestic policy. Resuming the Whip she resigned it again in 1937 over the Anglo-Italian Agreement. Finally she resigned her seat in parliament in 1938 in opposition to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler. To permit her resignation (technically proscribed by law), she was named Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds on 28 November 1938. She stood in the subsequent by-election as an Independent but lost her seat.
"According to her autobiography Working Partnership (1958) it was at the prompting of Ellen Wilkinson that in April 1937 she, Eleanor Rathbone, and Wilkinson, went to Spain to observe the effects of the Spanish Civil War. In Valencia , Barcelona and Madrid she saw the impact of Luftwaffe bombing on behalf of the Nationalists, visited prisoners of war held by the Republicans and considered the impact of the conflict on women and children in particular. Her book Searchlight on Spain resulted from this involvement, and her support for the Republican side in the conflict led to her being nicknamed by some the 'Red Duchess'. Her opposition to the British policy of non-intervention in Spain epitomised her attitudes and actions."
None of the male Tory "rebels" came to her direct aid during that bi-election. The best Churchill could offer in 1938 to "The Red Duchess" (who was no more a socialist than Donald Duck) was a letter of support, and a lukewarm one at that.
The following is an interview with Lynne Olson from a Canadian broadcast.
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