30th August 1939 – a photograph of Sir Neville Chamberlain – Will fly to Berlin - article from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) I found when sorting the cuttings my mother had kept in the run-up to World War II.
There were, of course, two people called 'Neville/Nevile' involved in the diplomatic and political negotiations, with Britain desperately trying to stop a war that many people (my mother included) thought would be inevitable. The other was Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, who famously declared 'Peace in our Time' after discussions with Hitler.
Perhaps Nevile Henderson's greatest failure of judgement were his now infamous words of appeasement: ""If we handle him (Hitler) right, my belief is that he will become gradually more pacific. But if we treat him as a pariah or mad dog we shall turn him finally and irrevocably into one."
Nevile Henderson was the British Ambassador to Germany at the time of the Munich agreement in 1938 where the Czechoslovakian Sudatenland land was handed to the Nazis by the great powers, England, France and Italy. He counselled British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to go with this agreement.
This story, behind the SMH photograph of August 1939, tells of the lead-up to this statement. It tells of missed opportunities, poor political judgements and in the end (after this photo was published) a note delivered from the British Government to the German Government that precipitated a war that lasted from September 1939 to August 1945.
Nevile Henderson was born to the civil service and was adept within the diplomatic service circles. He was a man of significant charm and worked behind the political fronts to achieve outcomes that until this time, had borne good fruit for peace and good-will.
The rudiments of his remarkable success in Yugoslavia between 1929 and 1935 lay in his diplomacy. He was a close confidant to both King Alexander and Prince Paul. He was a supporter of international appeasement as a political policy and found himself at odds with key members of the British Parliament who feared the consequences of appeasement.
He was sent to Berlin as the British Ambassador between 1937 to 1939, although during this period ill health caught up with him and he was ultimately diagnosed with cancer. In fact, he didn't even survive the war, he died in December 1942.
Perhaps the most alarming political meeting of the year is embodied in this photograph that my mother kept; it was when Nevile Henderson met with the German Foreign Minister Joachim Von Rippentrop.
The dramatic scene has Henderson asking for a copy of Germany's final offer of its 16 point proposal, which, if not agreed to, would result in the invasion of Poland. This had been read to him, but he wanted a written copy to send to the Polish Government. As this meeting was held at midnight, the final set time for acceptance, Rippentrop refused to give it to him because the Polish representative, who needed to sign the ultimatum, did not arrive until August 31 – he did not have the authority to sign..
Henderson was furious. The British were doing everything in their power to prevent war, whereas Germany was engaging in every diplomatic ploy to find an excuse to attack Poland.
Which it did, at 4.45 am the following morning, September 1st.
''Ambassador Henderson, who had long advocated concessions to Germany, recognised that here was a deliberately conceived alibi the German government had prepared for a war it was determined to start. No wonder Henderson was angry; von Ribbentrop on the other hand could see war ahead and went home beaming," as one historian explained.
Little wonder this photograph still sends shiver down my spine, when I think of this seminal day in our recent history.
As I pondered upon this thought, I couldn't help but reflect on how the description of the Cross, and knowing with our hindsight what fate was to befall Christ, has had this same impact upon Christians through the centuries.
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Baptist Minister 45 years
- 1984 - Australian cricket team chaplain 17 years (Ret)
- 2001 - Life After Cricket (18 years Ret)
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Married to Delma for 45 years with 4 children and 6 grand children