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
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
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
"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 Precautions.
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