|Birth Day:||March 18, 1869|
|Death Date:||Nov 9, 1940 (age 71)|
|Birth Place:||Birmingham, England|
|Height:||in centimeters - N/A|
|Weight:||in kg - N/A|
As per our current Database, Neville Chamberlain died on Nov 9, 1940 (age 71).
He was sent to the Bahamas to start a plantation but failed financially.
Chamberlain was born on 18 March 1869 in a house called Southbourne in the Edgbaston district of Birmingham. He was the only son of the second marriage of Joseph Chamberlain, who later became Mayor of Birmingham and a Cabinet minister. His mother was Florence Kenrick, cousin to William Kenrick MP; she died when he was a small boy. Joseph Chamberlain had had another son, Austen Chamberlain, by his first marriage. Neville Chamberlain was educated at home by his elder sister Beatrice Chamberlain and later at Rugby School. Joseph Chamberlain then sent Neville to Mason College, now University of Birmingham. Neville Chamberlain had little interest in his studies there, and in 1889 his father apprenticed him to a firm of accountants. Within six months he became a salaried employee.
On his return to England, Neville Chamberlain entered business, purchasing (with assistance from his family) Hoskins & Company, a manufacturer of metal ship berths. Chamberlain served as managing director of Hoskins for 17 years during which time the company prospered. He also involved himself in civic activities in Birmingham. In 1906, as Governor of Birmingham's General Hospital, and along with "no more than fifteen" other dignitaries, Chamberlain became a founding member of the national United Hospitals Committee of the British Medical Association.
At forty, Chamberlain was expecting to remain a bachelor, but in 1910 he fell in love with Anne Cole, a recent connection by marriage, and married her the following year. They met through his Aunt Lilian, the Canadian-born widow of Joseph Chamberlain's brother Herbert, who in 1907 had married Anne Cole's uncle Alfred Clayton Cole, a director of the Bank of England.
Chamberlain was made chairman of the Town Planning Committee. Under his direction, Birmingham soon adopted one of the first town planning schemes in Britain. The start of the First World War in 1914 prevented implementation of his plans. In 1915, Chamberlain became Lord Mayor of Birmingham. Apart from his father Joseph, five of Chamberlain's uncles had also attained the chief Birmingham civic dignity: they were Joseph's brother Richard Chamberlain, William and George Kenrick, Charles Beale, who had been four times Lord Mayor and Sir Thomas Martineau. As a Lord Mayor in wartime, Chamberlain had a huge burden of work and he insisted that his councillors and officials work equally hard. He halved the Lord Mayor's expense allowance and cut back on the number of civic functions expected of the incumbent. In 1915, Chamberlain was appointed a member of the Central Control Board on liquor traffic.
In December 1916, Prime Minister David Lloyd George offered Chamberlain the new position of Director of National Service, with responsibility for co-ordinating conscription and ensuring that essential war industries were able to function with sufficient workforces. His tenure was marked by conflict with Lloyd George; in August 1917, having received little support from the Prime Minister, Chamberlain resigned. The relationship between Chamberlain and Lloyd George would, thereafter, be one of mutual hatred.
Chamberlain threw himself into parliamentary work, begrudging the times when he was unable to attend debates and spending much time on committee work. He was chairman of the national Unhealthy Areas Committee (1919–21) and in that role, had visited the slums of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Cardiff. Consequently, in March 1920, Bonar Law offered him a junior post at the Ministry of Health on behalf of the Prime Minister, but Chamberlain was unwilling to serve under Lloyd George and was offered no further posts during Lloyd George's premiership. When Law resigned as party leader, Austen Chamberlain took his place as head of the Unionists in Parliament. Unionist leaders were willing to fight the 1922 election in coalition with the Lloyd George Liberals, but on 19 October, Unionist MPs held a meeting at which they voted to fight the election as a single party. Lloyd George resigned, as did Austen Chamberlain, and Law was recalled from retirement to lead the Unionists as Prime Minister.
Many high-ranking Unionists refused to serve under Law to the benefit of Chamberlain, who rose over the course of ten months from backbencher to Chancellor of the Exchequer. Law initially appointed Chamberlain Postmaster General and Chamberlain was sworn of the Privy Council. When Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, the Minister of Health, lost his seat in the 1922 election and was defeated in a by-election in March 1923 by future Home Secretary James Chuter Ede, Law offered the position to Chamberlain. Two months later, Law was diagnosed with advanced, terminal throat cancer. He immediately resigned and was replaced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Stanley Baldwin. In August 1923, Baldwin promoted Chamberlain to the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Chamberlain served only five months in the office before the Conservatives were defeated in the 1923 general election. Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister, but his government fell within months, necessitating another general election. By a margin of only 77 votes, Chamberlain narrowly defeated the Labour candidate, Oswald Mosley, who later led the British Union of Fascists. Believing he would lose if he stood again in Birmingham Ladywood, Chamberlain arranged to be adopted for Birmingham Edgbaston, the district of the city where he was born and which was a much safer seat, which he would hold for the rest of his life. The Unionists won the election, but Chamberlain declined to serve again as Chancellor, preferring his former position as Minister of Health.
Chamberlain initially showed little interest in politics, though his father and half-brother were in Parliament. During the "Khaki election" of 1900 he made speeches in support of Joseph Chamberlain's Liberal Unionists. The Liberal Unionists were allied with the Conservatives and later merged with them under the name "Unionist Party", which in 1925 became known as the "Conservative and Unionist Party". In 1911, Neville Chamberlain successfully stood as a Liberal Unionist for Birmingham City Council for the All Saints' Ward, located within his father's parliamentary constituency.
Though Chamberlain struck a conciliatory note during the 1926 General Strike, in general he had poor relations with the Labour opposition. Future Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee complained that Chamberlain "always treated us like dirt," and in April 1927 Chamberlain wrote: "More and more do I feel an utter contempt for their lamentable stupidity." His poor relations with the Labour Party later played a major part in his downfall as Prime Minister.
Within two weeks of his appointment as Minister of Health, Chamberlain presented the Cabinet with an agenda containing 25 pieces of legislation he hoped to see enacted. Before he left office in 1929, 21 of the 25 bills had passed into law. Chamberlain sought the abolition of the elected Poor Law Boards of Guardians which administered relief—and which in some areas were responsible for rates. Many of the Boards were controlled by Labour, and such Boards had defied the government by distributing relief funds to the able-bodied unemployed. In 1929, Chamberlain initiated the Local Government Act 1929 to abolish the Poor Law boards entirely. Chamberlain spoke in the Commons for two and a half hours on the second reading of the Bill, and when he concluded he was applauded by all parties. The Bill passed into law.
Baldwin called a general election for 30 May 1929, resulting in a hung parliament with Labour holding the most seats. Baldwin and his government resigned and Labour, under MacDonald, again took office. In 1931, the MacDonald government faced a serious crisis as the May Report revealed that the budget was unbalanced, with an expected shortfall of £120 million. The Labour government resigned on 24 August, and MacDonald formed a National Government supported by most Conservative MPs. Chamberlain once again returned to the Ministry of Health.
After the 1931 general election, in which supporters of the National Government (mostly Conservatives) won an overwhelming victory, MacDonald designated Chamberlain as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Chamberlain proposed a 10% tariff on foreign goods and lower or no tariffs on goods from the colonies and the Dominions. Joseph Chamberlain had advocated a similar policy, "Imperial Preference"; Neville Chamberlain laid his bill before the House of Commons on 4 February 1932, and concluded his address by noting the appropriateness of his seeking to enact his father's proposal. At the end of the speech, Sir Austen Chamberlain walked down from the backbenches and shook his brother's hand. The Import Duties Act 1932 passed Parliament easily.
Chamberlain presented his first budget in April 1932. He maintained the severe budget cuts that had been agreed at the inception of the National Government. Interest on the war debt was a major cost. Chamberlain reduced the annual interest rate on most of Britain's war debt from 5% to 3.5%. Between 1932 and 1938, Chamberlain halved the percentage of the budget devoted to interest on the war debt.
Chamberlain hoped that a cancellation of the war debt owed to the United States could be negotiated. In June 1933, Britain hosted the World Monetary and Economic Conference, which came to nothing as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent word that he would not consider any war debt cancellation. By 1934, Chamberlain was able to declare a budget surplus and reverse many of the cuts in unemployment compensation and civil servant salaries he had made after taking office. He told the Commons, "We have now finished the story of Bleak House and are sitting down this afternoon to enjoy the first chapter of Great Expectations."
In 1935, MacDonald stood down as Prime Minister, and Baldwin became Prime Minister for the third time. In the 1935 general election, the Conservative-dominated National Government lost 90 seats from its massive 1931 majority, but still retained an overwhelming majority of 255 in the House of Commons. During the campaign, deputy Labour leader Arthur Greenwood had attacked Chamberlain for spending money on rearmament, saying that the rearmament policy was "the merest scaremongering; disgraceful in a statesman of Mr Chamberlain's responsible position, to suggest that more millions of money needed to be spent on armaments."
Chamberlain is believed to have had a significant role in the 1936 abdication crisis. He wrote in his diary that Wallis Simpson, Edward VIII's intended wife, was "an entirely unscrupulous woman who is not in love with the King but is exploiting him for her own purposes. She has already ruined him in money and jewels ..." In common with the rest of the Cabinet, except Duff Cooper, he agreed with Baldwin that the King should abdicate if he married Simpson, and on 6 December he and Baldwin both stressed that the King should make his decision before Christmas; by one account, he believed that the uncertainty was "hurting the Christmas trade". The King abdicated on 10 December, four days after the meeting.
Talks had been suspended under Baldwin in 1936 but resumed in November 1937. De Valera sought not only to alter the constitutional status of Ireland, but to overturn other aspects of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, most notably the issue of partition, as well as obtaining full control of the three "Treaty Ports" which had remained in British control. Britain, on the other hand, wished to retain the Treaty Ports, at least in time of war, and to obtain the money that Ireland had agreed to pay.
The new Prime Minister's attempts to secure such a settlement were frustrated because Germany was in no hurry to talk to Britain. Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath was supposed to visit Britain in July 1937 but cancelled his visit. Lord Halifax, the Lord President of the Council, visited Germany privately in November and met Hitler and other German officials. Both Chamberlain and British Ambassador to Germany Nevile Henderson pronounced the visit a success. Foreign Office officials complained that the Halifax visit made it appear Britain was too eager for talks, and the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, felt that he had been bypassed.
Chamberlain also bypassed Eden while the Foreign Secretary was on holiday by opening direct talks with Italy, an international pariah for its invasion and conquest of Ethiopia. At a Cabinet meeting on 8 September 1937, Chamberlain indicated that he saw "the lessening of the tension between this country and Italy as a very valuable contribution toward the pacification and appeasement of Europe" which would "weaken the Rome–Berlin axis." The Prime Minister also set up a private line of communication with the Italian "Duce" Benito Mussolini through the Italian Ambassador, Count Dino Grandi.
Soon after attaining the premiership, Chamberlain obtained passage of the Factories Act 1937. This Act was aimed at bettering working conditions in factories, and placed limits on the working hours of women and children. In 1938, Parliament enacted the Coal Act 1938, which allowed for nationalisation of coal deposits. Another major law passed that year was the Holidays with Pay Act 1938. Though the Act only recommended that employers give workers a week off with pay, it led to a great expansion of holiday camps and other leisure accommodation for the working classes. The Housing Act 1938 provided subsidies aimed at encouraging slum clearance and maintained rent control. Chamberlain's plans for the reform of local government were shelved because of the outbreak of war in 1939. Likewise, the raising of the school-leaving age to 15, scheduled for implementation on 1 September 1939, did not go into effect.
The Irish proved very tough negotiators, so much so that Chamberlain complained that one of de Valera's offers had "presented United Kingdom ministers with a three-leafed shamrock, none of the leaves of which had any advantages for the UK." With the talks facing deadlock, Chamberlain made the Irish a final offer in March 1938 which acceded to many Irish positions, though he was confident that he had "only given up the small things," and the agreements were signed on 25 April 1938. The issue of partition was not resolved, but the Irish agreed to pay £10 million to the British. There was no provision in the treaties for British access to the Treaty Ports in time of war, but Chamberlain accepted de Valera's oral assurance that in the event of war the British would have access. Conservative backbencher Winston Churchill attacked the agreements in Parliament for surrendering the Treaty Ports, which he described as the "sentinel towers of the Western Approaches". When war came, de Valera denied Britain access to the Treaty Ports under Irish neutrality. Churchill railed against these treaties in The Gathering Storm, stating that he "never saw the House of Commons more completely misled" and that "members were made to feel very differently about it when our existence hung in the balance during the Battle of the Atlantic." Chamberlain believed that the Treaty Ports were unusable if Ireland was hostile, and deemed their loss worthwhile to assure friendly relations with Dublin.
In February 1938, Hitler began to press the Austrian government to accept "Anschluß," or union between Germany and Austria. Chamberlain believed that it was essential to cement relations with Italy in the hope that an Anglo–Italian alliance would forestall Hitler from imposing his rule over Austria. Eden believed that Chamberlain was being too hasty in talking with Italy and holding out the prospect of de jure recognition of Italy's conquest of Ethiopia. Chamberlain concluded that Eden would have to accept his policy or resign. The Cabinet heard both men out but unanimously decided for Chamberlain, and despite efforts by other Cabinet members to prevent it, Eden resigned from office. In later years, Eden tried to portray his resignation as a stand against appeasement (Churchill described him in The Second World War as "one strong young figure standing up against long, dismal, drawling tides of drift and surrender") but many ministers and MPs believed there was no issue at stake worth resignation. Chamberlain appointed Lord Halifax as Foreign Secretary in Eden's place.
In March 1938 Austria became a part of Germany in the "Anschluß". Though the beleaguered Austrians requested help from Britain, none was forthcoming. Britain did send Berlin a strong note of protest. In addressing the Cabinet shortly after German forces crossed the border, Chamberlain placed blame on both Germany and Austria. Chamberlain noted,
Britain and Italy signed an agreement in April 1938. In exchange for de jure recognition of Italy's Ethiopian conquest, Italy agreed to withdraw some Italian "volunteers" from the Nationalist (pro-Franco) side of the Spanish Civil War. By this point, the Nationalists strongly had the upper hand in that conflict, and they completed their victory the following year. Later that month, the new French Prime Minister, Édouard Daladier, came to London for talks with Chamberlain, and agreed to follow the British position on Czechoslovakia.
Despite Hitler's relative quietness as the "Reich" absorbed the Sudetenland, foreign policy concerns continued to preoccupy Chamberlain. He made trips to Paris and Rome, hoping to persuade the French to hasten their rearmament and Mussolini to be a positive influence on Hitler. Several of his Cabinet members, led by Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, began to draw away from the appeasement policy. Halifax was by now convinced that Munich, though "better than a European war," had been "a horrid business and humiliating". Public revulsion over the pogrom of Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938 made any attempt at a "rapprochement" with Hitler unacceptable, though Chamberlain did not abandon his hopes.
Still hoping for reconciliation with Germany, Chamberlain made a major speech in Birmingham on 28 January 1939, in which he expressed his desire for international peace, and had an advance copy sent to Hitler at Berchtesgaden. Hitler seemed to respond; in his "Reichstag" speech on 30 January 1939, he stated that he wanted a "long peace". Chamberlain was confident that improvements in British defence since Munich would bring the dictator to the bargaining table. This belief was reinforced by a German official's conciliatory speech welcoming Ambassador Henderson back to Berlin after an absence for medical treatment in Britain. Chamberlain responded with a speech in Blackburn on 22 February hoping that the nations would resolve their differences through trade, and was gratified when his comments were printed in German newspapers. With matters appearing to improve, Chamberlain's rule over the House of Commons was firm and he was convinced the government would "romp home" in a late 1939 election.
On 15 March 1939, Germany invaded the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, including Prague. Though Chamberlain's initial parliamentary response was, according to biographer Nick Smart, "feeble," within 48 hours he had spoken more forcefully against the German aggression. In another Birmingham speech, on 17 March, Chamberlain warned that Hitler was attempting to "dominate the world by force" and that "no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing the nation has so lost its fibre that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting such a challenge if it were ever made." The Prime Minister questioned whether the invasion of Czechoslovakia was "the end of an old adventure, or the beginning of a new" and whether it was "a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force." Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald said, "whereas the Prime Minister was once a strong advocate of peace, he has now definitely swung around to the war point of view." This speech was met with widespread approval in Britain and recruitment for the armed services increased considerably.
Chamberlain set out to build an interlocking series of defence pacts among the remaining European countries as a means of deterring Hitler from war. He sought an agreement among Britain, France, the USSR, and Poland, whereby the first three would go to the assistance of Poland if her independence were threatened, but Polish mistrust of the Soviet Union caused those negotiations to fail. Instead, on 31 March 1939, Chamberlain informed an approving House of Commons of British and French guarantees that they would lend Poland all possible aid in the event of any action which threatened Polish independence. In the ensuing debate, Eden stated that the nation was now united behind the government. Even Churchill and Lloyd George praised Chamberlain's government for issuing the guarantee to Poland.
The Prime Minister took other steps to deter Hitler from aggression. He doubled the size of the Territorial Army, created a Ministry of Supply to expedite the provision of equipment to the armed forces, and instituted peacetime conscription. The Italian invasion of Albania on 7 April 1939 led to guarantees being given to Greece and Romania. On 17 June 1939, Handley Page received an order for 200 Hampden twin-engined medium bombers, and by 3 September 1939, the chain of radar stations girdling the British coast was fully operational.
Chamberlain was reluctant to seek a military alliance with the Soviet Union; he distrusted Joseph Stalin ideologically and felt that there was little to gain, given the recent massive purges in the Red Army. Much of his Cabinet favoured such an alliance, and when Poland withdrew her objection to an Anglo–Soviet alliance, Chamberlain had little choice but to proceed. The talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, to which Britain sent only a low-level delegation, dragged on over several months and eventually foundered on 14 August 1939 when Poland and Romania refused to allow Soviet troops to be stationed on their territories. A week after the failure of these talks, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, committing the countries to non-aggression toward each other. A secret agreement divided up Poland in the event of war. Chamberlain had disregarded rumours of a Soviet–German "rapprochement" and was dismissive of the publicly announced pact, stating that it in no way affected British obligations toward Poland. On 23 August 1939, Chamberlain had Henderson deliver a letter to Hitler telling him that Britain was fully prepared to comply with its obligations to Poland. Hitler instructed his generals to prepare for an invasion of Poland, telling them, "Our enemies are small worms. I saw them at Munich."
Chamberlain had disliked what he considered to be the overly sentimental attitude of both Baldwin and MacDonald on Cabinet appointments and reshuffles. Although he had worked closely with the President of the Board of Trade, Walter Runciman, on the tariff issue, Chamberlain dismissed him from his post, instead offering him the token position of Lord Privy Seal, which an angry Runciman declined. Chamberlain thought Runciman, a member of the Liberal National Party, to be lazy. Soon after taking office Chamberlain instructed his ministers to prepare two-year policy programmes. These reports were to be integrated with the intent of co-ordinating the passage of legislation through the current Parliament, the term of which was to expire in November 1940.
With little land action in the west, the initial months of the war were dubbed the "Bore War," later renamed the "Phoney War" by journalists. Chamberlain, in common with most Allied officials and generals, felt the war could be won relatively quickly by keeping economic pressure on Germany through a blockade while continuing rearmament. The Prime Minister was reluctant to go too far in altering the British economy. The government submitted an emergency war budget about which Chamberlain stated, "the only thing that matters is to win the war, though we may go bankrupt in the process." Government expenditures rose by little more than the rate of inflation between September 1939 and March 1940. Despite these difficulties, Chamberlain still enjoyed approval ratings as high as 68% and almost 60% in April 1940.
In early 1940 the Allies approved a naval campaign designed to seize the northern part of Norway, a neutral country, including the key port of Narvik, and possibly also to seize the iron mines at Gällivare in northern Sweden, from which Germany obtained much of its iron ore. As the Baltic froze in winter, the iron ore was then sent south by ship from Narvik. The Allies planned to begin by mining Norwegian waters, thus provoking a German reaction in Norway, and then would occupy much of the country. Unforeseen by the Allies, Germany had also planned to occupy Norway, and on 9 April German troops occupied Denmark and began an invasion of Norway. German forces quickly overran much of the country. The Allies sent troops to Norway, but they met with little success, and on 26 April the War Cabinet ordered a withdrawal. The Prime Minister's opponents decided to turn the adjournment debate for the Whitsun recess into a challenge to Chamberlain, who soon heard about the plan. After initial anger, Chamberlain determined to fight.
In a departure from usual practice, Chamberlain did not issue any resignation Honours list. With Chamberlain remaining leader of the Conservative Party, and with many MPs still supporting him and distrusting the new Prime Minister, Churchill refrained from any purge of Chamberlain loyalists. Churchill wished Chamberlain to return to the Exchequer, but he declined, convinced that this would lead to difficulties with the Labour Party. Instead, he accepted the post of Lord President of the Council with a seat in the shrunken five-member War Cabinet. When Chamberlain entered the House of Commons on 13 May 1940, for the first time since his resignation, "MPs lost their heads, they shouted, they cheered, they waved their order papers, and his reception was a regular ovation." The House received Churchill coolly; some of his great speeches to the chamber, such as "We shall fight on the beaches," met with only half-hearted enthusiasm.
Chamberlain's fall from power left him deeply depressed; he wrote, "Few men can have known such a reversal of fortune in so short a time." He especially regretted the loss of Chequers as "a place where I have been so happy," though after a farewell visit there by the Chamberlains on 19 June, he wrote, "I am content now that I have done that, and shall put Chequers out of my mind." As Lord President, Chamberlain assumed vast responsibilities over domestic issues and chaired the War Cabinet during Churchill's many absences. Attlee later remembered him as "free from any of the rancour he might have felt against us. He worked very hard and well: a good chairman, a good committeeman, always very businesslike." As chairman of the Lord President's Committee, he exerted great influence over the wartime economy. Halifax reported to the War Cabinet on 26 May 1940, with the Low Countries conquered and French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud warning that France might have to sign an armistice, that diplomatic contacts with a still-neutral Italy offered the possibility of a negotiated peace. Halifax urged following up and seeing if a worthwhile offer could be obtained. The battle over the course of action within the War Cabinet lasted three days; Chamberlain's statement on the final day, that there was unlikely to be an acceptable offer and that the matter should not be pursued at that time, helped persuade the War Cabinet to reject negotiations.
Twice in May 1940, Churchill broached the subject of bringing Lloyd George into the government. Each time, Chamberlain indicated that due to their longtime antipathy he would immediately retire if Lloyd George were appointed a minister. Churchill did not appoint Lloyd George, but brought up the subject with Chamberlain again early in June. This time, Chamberlain agreed to Lloyd George's appointment provided Lloyd George gave a personal assurance to put aside the feud. Lloyd George declined to serve in Churchill's government.
In July 1940, a polemic titled Guilty Men was released by "Cato"—a pseudonym for three journalists (future Labour leader Michael Foot, former Liberal MP Frank Owen, and the Conservative Peter Howard). It attacked the record of the National Government, alleging that it had failed to prepare adequately for war. It called for the removal of Chamberlain and other ministers who had allegedly contributed to the British disasters of the early part of the war. The short book sold more than 200,000 copies, many of which were passed from hand-to-hand, and went into 27 editions in the first few months, despite not being carried by several major bookshops. According to historian David Dutton, "its impact upon Chamberlain's reputation, both among the general public and within the academic world, was profound indeed."
Chamberlain had long enjoyed excellent health, except for occasional attacks of gout, but by July 1940 he was in almost constant pain. He sought treatment, and later that month entered hospital for surgery. Surgeons discovered that he was suffering from terminal bowel cancer, but they concealed it from him, instead telling him that he would not require further surgery. Chamberlain resumed work in mid-August. He returned to his office on 9 September, but renewed pain, compounded by the night-time bombing of London which forced him to go to an air raid shelter and denied him rest, sapped his energy, and he left London for the last time on 19 September, returning to Highfield Park in Heckfield. Chamberlain offered his resignation to Churchill on 22 September 1940. The Prime Minister was initially reluctant to accept, but as both men realised that Chamberlain would never return to work, Churchill finally allowed him to resign. The Prime Minister asked if Chamberlain would accept the highest order of British chivalry, the Order of the Garter, of which his brother had been a member. Chamberlain refused, saying he would "prefer to die plain 'Mr Chamberlain' like my father before me, unadorned by any title."
Chamberlain died of bowel cancer on 9 November 1940 at the age of 71. A funeral service took place at Westminster Abbey (due to wartime security concerns, the date and time were not widely publicised). After cremation, his ashes were interred in the Abbey next to those of Bonar Law. Churchill eulogised Chamberlain in the House of Commons three days after his death:
Though some Chamberlain supporters found Churchill's oratory to be faint praise of the late Prime Minister, Churchill added less publicly, "Whatever shall I do without poor Neville? I was relying on him to look after the Home Front for me." Amongst others who paid tribute to Chamberlain in the Commons and in the House of Lords on 12 November 1940 were Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (1st Earl of Halifax, Edward Wood), the Leader of the Labour Party, Clement Attlee, and the Liberal Party leader and Air Minister, Sir Archibald Sinclair. Lloyd George, the only former Prime Minister remaining in the Commons, had been expected to speak, but absented himself from the proceedings. Ever close to his family, the executors of Chamberlain's will were his cousins, Wilfred Byng Kenrick and Sir Wilfrid Martineau, both of whom, like Chamberlain, were Lord Mayors of Birmingham.
Guilty Men was not the only Second World War tract that damaged Chamberlain's reputation. We Were Not All Wrong, published in 1941, took a similar tack to Guilty Men, arguing that Liberal and Labour MPs, and a small number of Conservatives, had fought against Chamberlain's appeasement policies. The author, Liberal MP Geoffrey Mander, had voted against conscription in 1939. Another polemic against Conservative policies was Why Not Trust the Tories (1944, written by "Gracchus", who was later revealed to be future Labour minister Aneurin Bevan), which castigated the Conservatives for the foreign policy decisions of Baldwin and Chamberlain. Though a few Conservatives offered their own versions of events, most notably MP Quintin Hogg in his 1945 The Left was Never Right, by the end of the war, there was a very strong public belief that Chamberlain was culpable for serious diplomatic and military misjudgements that had nearly caused Britain's defeat.
Chamberlain's reputation was devastated by these attacks from the left. In 1948, with the publication of The Gathering Storm, the first volume of Churchill's six-volume set, The Second World War, Chamberlain sustained an even more serious assault from the right. While Churchill stated privately, "this is not history, this is my case", his series was still hugely influential. Churchill depicted Chamberlain as well-meaning but weak, blind to the threat posed by Hitler, and oblivious to the fact that (according to Churchill) Hitler could have been removed from power by a grand coalition of European states. Churchill suggested that the year's delay between Munich and war worsened Britain's position, and criticised Chamberlain for both peacetime and wartime decisions. In the years following the publication of Churchill's books, few historians questioned his judgment.
The adoption of the "thirty-year rule" in 1967 made available many of the papers of the Chamberlain government over the subsequent three years, helping to explain why Chamberlain acted as he did. The resultant works greatly fuelled the revisionist school, although they also included books that strongly criticised Chamberlain, such as Keith Middlemas's 1972 Diplomacy of Illusion (which portrayed Chamberlain as a seasoned politician with strategic blindness when it came to Germany). Released papers indicated that, contrary to claims made in Guilty Men, Chamberlain had neither ignored the advice of the Foreign Office nor had he disregarded and run roughshod over his Cabinet. Other released papers showed that Chamberlain had considered seeking a grand coalition amongst European governments like that later advocated by Churchill, but had rejected it on the ground that the division of Europe into two camps would make war more, not less likely. They also showed that Chamberlain had been advised that the Dominions, pursuing independent foreign policies under the Statute of Westminster, had indicated that Chamberlain could not depend on their help in the event of a Continental war. The Chiefs of Staff report, which indicated that Britain could not forcibly prevent Germany from conquering Czechoslovakia, was first publicly known at this time. In reaction to the revisionist school of thought regarding Chamberlain a post-revisionist school emerged beginning in the 1990s, using the released papers to justify the initial conclusions of Guilty Men. Oxford historian R. A. C. Parker argued that Chamberlain could have forged a close alliance with France after the Anschluß, in early 1938, and begun a policy of containment of Germany under the auspices of the League of Nations. While many revisionist writers had suggested that Chamberlain had had few or no choices in his actions, Parker argued that Chamberlain and his colleagues had chosen appeasement over other viable policies. In his two volumes, Chamberlain and Appeasement (1993) and Churchill and Appeasement (2000), Parker stated that Chamberlain, due to his "powerful, obstinate personality" and his skill in debate, caused Britain to embrace appeasement instead of effective deterrence. Parker also suggested that had Churchill held high office in the second half of the 1930s Churchill would have built a series of alliances which would have deterred Hitler, and perhaps would have caused Hitler's domestic opponents to procure his removal.
Many of Chamberlain's family letters and his extensive personal papers were bequeathed by his family in 1974 to the Birmingham University Archives. During the war, the Chamberlain family had commissioned historian Keith Feiling to produce an official biography, and gave him access to Chamberlain's private diaries and papers. While Feiling had the right of access to official papers as the official biographer of a recently deceased person, he may not have been aware of the provision, and the Cabinet Secretary denied his requests for access.
Though Feiling produced what historian David Dutton described in 2001 as "the most impressive and persuasive single-volume biography" of Chamberlain (completed during the war and published in 1946), he could not repair the damage already done to Chamberlain's reputation.
Neville's father, Joseph Chamberlain, was the Mayor of Birmingham and Cabinet member.
Currently, Neville Chamberlain is 153 years, 3 months and 7 days old. Neville Chamberlain will celebrate 154th birthday on a Saturday 18th of March 2023. Below we countdown to Neville Chamberlain upcoming birthday.