I do not propose to say many words tonight. 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 today 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...
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 a 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
As regards the immediate manpower 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 BBC.
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
past experiences in this matter, to organize our manpower 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 manpower 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 solution. 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.
Neville Chamberlain - September 1, 1939