Saviour of the Nation
Brian Hodgkinson, who taught history for many years, has published three books of poems, as well as others on history, philosophy and economics. He is currently working on a narrative poem on the history of the Second World War.
Saviour of the Nation
Upon the stage of British politics
Another actor rose to eminence.
The time had come for Baldwin to withdraw.
His powers were waning; he was not the man
To meet the challenge posed by Hitler's threats.
Succeeding him came Neville Chamberlain,
A man of conscience, self-assured, austere,
Who brought to government much efficiency
Acquired by years in peacetime offices.
He sought to understand the claims of those
Who threatened to disrupt the world's affairs:
If he could meet dictators face to face,
Discuss at length their problems, then assess
What compromise might meet their due demands,
Then none would have recourse to violent means.
Such was his view - negotiate, appease.
The path he trod, convinced of rectitude,
Was far too strait for men of Churchill's ilk.
When Chamberlain soon planned to recognise
Italian claims on Ethiopia,
Eden resigned as Foreign Minister.
Henceforth he joined with that tiny band
Who stood opposed to Chamberlain's designs,
And recognised increasingly the need
For Churchill's hand on Britain's helm of State.
The sacrifice of office Eden made
Awoke in Churchill feelings of respect,
And yet he also felt a dark despair
At this new step towards the brink of war.
Hitler was not chastened by the thought
That Chamberlain would meet his just demands.
Once more he'd break the treaty, threatening now
The Anschluss with his native Austria.
Courageously the Chancellor Schuschnigg tried
To show by plebiscite his country's will,
But Hitler's fury swept away such hopes.
Where music once had charmed the Viennese,
In Summer parks and vacant palaces,
There echoed now the clattering of tanks,
With harsh commands and footsteps of the Reich.
Just at the time when German soldiers marched
To implement the Anschluss , there occurred
A luncheon party at 10 Downing Street.
The guest of honour was von Ribbentrop,
Departing as the Reich's ambassador,
To be, instead, its Foreign Minister.
Churchill, too, was present, and observed
A note was passed to Neville Chamberlain,
Who then seemed worried and pre-occupied.
Deliberately the Ribbentrops stayed late,
As though to hamper Chamberlain's desire
To take some action over Austria.
When Churchill rose to leave, and said he hoped
That Anglo-German friendship would endure,
The wife of the ambassador was curt;
'Make sure you do not spoil it!' she replied.
The British government only could protest;
But Churchill spoke in quite another vein,
When, on the morrow, he addressed the House:
'Again a solemn treaty is ignored,
To build, so it is claimed, a greater State;
Yet it transfers the Ostreich's minerals,
And access to the Danube waterway.
Now south-east Europe lies at Hitler's feet,
And Czechs and Slovaks henceforth are besieged.
How can appeasement check the Führer 's will?'
Already Wehrmacht generals had prepared
A detailed plan to seize Bohemia.
The pretext was the Czech Sudetenland,
Where Germans claimed they were deprived of rights.
A Nazi party there became the tool
For Hitler's pressure on the Czech regime.
Their leader, Henlein, would not compromise.
At Hitler's bidding all he would accept
Was full succession to the German Reich.
In Berlin's Sportspalast the Führer spoke,
Calling the German people to their fate:
To fight for Lebensraum , for blood and race.
His petty figure, with a small moustache