At Eleven a.m. this morning, the Classic FM channel fell silent for two minutes, in accord with many other stations and channels, to remember the dead who fell in ‘The Great War’, the Second World War, the Korean War, and all the other conflagrations from the Falklands to Basra and Helmand. I had an uncle, his name to us was Uncle Pete. As a very small boy, I can just remember him coming to see my mother in the middle of May in 1944; he picked me up and sat me on the high, old-fashioned mantelpiece in our kitchen, scared me rotten it did! But he smiled when I called out, and swung me down again, safe and sound to sit with our cats while he and his wife talked with my mother.
I did not know, no-one knew that that visit would be his last. He landed on Sword Beach on the 6th June 1944, and died seven weeks later, a casualty of ‘friendly fire’; and lies in a tiny cemetery plot in a churchyard in a Normandy village named Bonnebosq. He left behind a wife and three children.
My own father served throughout that War, having signed up the day after War was declared by a man who some, but only some, believe was the true saviour of Great Britain. That man was of course Neville Chamberlain. I am one of those who believe the reverse is true. The first belief stems from the time which was given Britain to answer the call to arms which was sounded by the Munich Agreement between Germany and Britain. The truth that Germany was outclassed by the combination of French and British armies when Hitler called for the Sudetenland to become part of Greater Germany didn’t even make Chamberlain blink.
He sold the Czechs down the river, because he had been in the First World War, and could simply not imagine “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” It is true that Britain gained a year and a half to bring her Air Force from a peace-time status to something approaching war status, but we had a standing Army which was a match for anything forecast, and a Navy which was second to none.
If Chamberlain and Daladier, the French Premier, had stood firm at Bad Godesberg and Munich, the Nazi bully would have been shown as a busted flush, a windbag which had been punctured, and the world would probably have been spared the horrors of that which sprawled across Europe, then the Middle-East and then the Far East. They should have stood firm, they had the troops, the ships, the military might to stand up to a Germany which was unprepared for any sort of conflict at all.
As a matter of record, just compare the present day, where we are preparing to throw away a mobile trump card in the shape of an operational carrier, complete with a fully ready, if slightly diminished fleet of Harrier jets; possibly the only method of defending the Falkland Islands against an Argentina which still believes the isles are named Las Malvinas!