The World War II Multimedia Database

For the 72 Million

Prelude to War – United Kingdom

After World War I, Great Britain was marked by the death of a million of her young men, more than she was to lose in World War II. Her leaders, many old men overdue for retirement whose replacements were dead in Flanders field, were gripped by the memory of their war dead. The true horror of trench warfare had been kept from the British public, but not to the same extent that the German public was. With the returning armies came graphic descriptions of the violence and fear of massive unemployment.

Throughout the twenties, Great Britain faced industrial conflict. The war had proved that men of all classes died together, seriously shaking the foundation of Edwardian culture. The abdication of the King Edward VIII in 1936 to marry a divorced American woman is the most striking example of how English class lines were beginning to blur.

In “exile” during the thirties was a master politician who had planned the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and went to France as a lieutenant to rehabilitate his reputation. Winston S. Churchill had come out of World War I critical of the Versailles Treaty and warning of the danger of a rearmed Germany.

In the 1930s he was a Member of Parliament from his lifelong family home. Often ignored, he was still a colorful figure who dined with T.E. Lawrence and greeted his children with guttural animal noises instead of their Christian names. Half American, he was nevertheless British to the core and believed absolutely in the greatness and majesty of Great Britain.

Churchill watched the policy of appeasement that marked the thirties and waited for the coming storm. His arguments for increased defense spending during a depression went unheeded as the British government sought to stop the economic chaos by cutting back spending. He watched the growing Nazi movement and once waited to meet Hitler in Berlin, who never showed.

History would prove that Churchill was meant to be a wartime Prime Minister, not a peacetime one. After Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich, the world thought it was safe from another global war. Within a few months, antiaircraft guns would be placed around London, and her young men would once again be sent to die in France. The British people faced the war with a twinge of resentment over another war, but determined to see it through. Within a year Churchill would be Prime Minister and Great Britain would stand alone against Nazi Germany.

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