Did people agree with Churchill’s stand on appeasement?
The sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive to explore the question of Churchill’s stand on appeasement. As a collection of eight sources they can be used to build up a picture of thoughts and opinions on appeasement. Teachers could ask students, either as individuals or pairs or small groups, to look at a smaller number of sources and then report back. However, it’s probably better to try to get students to use all eight sources if possible. This way they can move beyond the sources as individual documents and use them more in the way a historian would, as a collection of documents which illustrate the past more effectively as a coherent group.
With this basis in mind, students who have looked at the collection might then be challenged with tasks which extend their thinking and understanding. For example:
Activity 1: Was Churchill really a lone voice on appeasement?
|Source||Support the view AT FACE VALUE that Churchill was a lone voice||Do not support the view AT FACE VALUE that Churchill was a lone voice||Reasons why the source is strong or weak evidence about this particular issue (eg date of source, typicality, the way Churchill is addressed)|
Activity 2: What kind of picture do we get about appeasement from these sources?
Students can sometimes fall into the trap of assuming that documents represent ‘the whole’ of the story rather than being part of the puzzle which historians have to piece together. It might be useful to ask them to discuss the following assertions in groups:
- Letters definitely tell you about what’s happening at the time.
- Personal letters definitely tell you about what the letter writer thinks.
- A British letter will tell you more about public opinion in Britain.
- An American or Canadian letter will tell you more about public opinion in America or Canada.
- Personal letters are useless as sources because they only tell you about one person.
If time permits, a really interesting and useful follow up exercise would be to select a file of constituency correspondence and ask students to work through it, counting out how many ‘for’ and how many ‘against’ letters it contains. A good example of such a file is: CHAR 7/107.
Activity 3: Why did Chamberlain and other leaders not listen to the concerns about appeasement?
1. Get students to use the background information sections, particularly the issue of Churchill’s political isolation and how he wasn’t trusted by the Conservative Party in particular.
2. Now study the following papers, in CHAR 2/274, in the Churchill Archive (see particularly images 22 to 30).
3. Now get students to debate the following three propositions:
- Churchill wasn’t listened to because key British politicians didn’t trust him.
- Most British politicians fully understood the danger posed by Hitler but they disagreed that opposing him was the right policy.
- British politicians felt that Germany was too strong and Britain was too weak to oppose Hitler in 1938.
Activity 4: What factors have influenced later interpretations of appeasement?
As they look through the sources students might be puzzled in that the letters make clear that Churchill certainly wasn’t a lone voice on appeasement. This raises questions:
- How did supporters of appeasement try to convince British people about appeasement as a policy?
- Was Churchill the only high-profile critic of appeasement?
- How did the impression develop that Churchill was a lone voice?
Some of the sources provide interesting starting points for students to investigate the questions further. Source 1 illustrates the way in which The Gathering Storm, Churchill’s own account of these years, has influenced public opinion. Source 5 indicates how the media of the time tried to influence public opinion about appeasement in Britain. Students could find much useful material to investigate these questions through further searches in the Churchill Archive. After that, they might want to look at the UK National Archives Cabinet Papers and also the British Pathe Collection. Relevant links to all of these resources can be found in the ‘Background’ section.