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Did people agree with Churchill's stand on appeasement?

Source 7

A letter from Major Strange, a Canadian businessman, to his friend Mr Taylor in Liverpool, July 1939


CHAR 2/361/38 (image 46)

Simplified Transcript

Dear Mr Taylor

Thank your for your letter and the information telling us what’s happening in Europe. It isn’t easy to get clear information here.

I have to tell you people here in Canada are beginning to wonder whether Mr Chamberlain can be trusted. They think he may betray Poland the way he betrayed Czechoslovakia.

What everyone here is wondering is why Chamberlain doesn’t make a clear statement saying that if German troops go into Poland in any circumstances Britain will declare war on Germany. Everything Mr Chamberlain says seems very vague.

Best wishes
HGL Strange

Original Transcript

Winnipeg July 19th 1939
Mr W Taylor

Dear Mr Taylor

Thank you for your kind letter of July 4th., with which is enclosed a copy of your letter to Mr. Snow, and a clipping from The Daily Telegraph. It is kind indeed of you to send all this to us, and you may rest assured it is very much appreciated, for it is hard to find, in this country, truthful observations by competent thinkers such as you are.

I have to report to you a feeling that is unfortunately growing in this country of Canada among thinking people. It is this. Can Mr. Chamberlain be trusted? People are scanning his pronouncements very carefully and it seems to be the general consensus that in every statement he makes there contains the possibility of sliding out from under if Germany does take over Danzig. In other words the fear is that Chamberlain may still be inclined to do what they call ‘Runciman’ Poland as it is generally said he did to Czechoslovakia.

While most people may not agree with this, it certainly must be taken into account if Canada’s wholehearted support is needed.

What everyone is wondering here is as follows: Why does not Mr. Chamberlain say boldly and clearly, in public, if Germany sends any soldiers into Danzig, no matter whether Danzig asks for them or not. Great Britain will at once go to war. It seems to me then that everyone would know where they stood, but I must agree with some of Mr. Chamberlain’s critics, in this country, that his statements are far from clear, and to say the least, all of them are exceedingly ambiguous. Could you throw a little light on this please?

Best wishes.
Very truly yours,
H.G.L. Strange.

What is this source?

This is a copy of a letter written by an important Canadian businessman, Major Strange, who held a senior position in a Canadian grain company, to Mr Taylor, a former colleague, in Liverpool in July 1938. The letter was copied and then sent on by Mr Taylor to Winston Churchill in early August.

Background to this source

British people depended on imported foods for survival. The supply of grain from Canada, and other foods from all over the world, was very significant. If Britain went to war with Germany, it would have a significant impact on Major Strange’s business. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for his close interest in European politics and Chamberlain’s policies towards Hitler.

This letter was written at a time of crisis in Europe. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had followed a policy of appeasement towards German leader Adolf Hitler, giving him a series of concessions, especially in 1938. In 1939 Hitler had effectively taken over Czechoslovakia completely, breaking all his previous promises. It now looked as though he was about to do the same to Poland. One of Germany’s biggest complaints about the Treaty of Versailles was that it left the city of Danzig in the newly created state of Poland even though Danzig contained a significant proportion of Germans and had been part of the German state before the First World War.

In the years 1935–38 the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had been pursuing aggressive policies such as building up German arms and demanding territories. In 1936 he marched troops into the Rhineland and there’d been no resistance. In 1938 he joined Austria to Germany. In September 1938 he demanded the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia should become part of Germany. War looked very likely but British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to meet Hitler in Munich and effectively gave him what he wanted, assuming that this would satisfy Hitler and guarantee future peace. This turned out to be a false hope and Hitler took over the rest of Czechoslovakia, then threatened Poland.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating how far people agreed with Churchill’s views on appeasement in the 1930s. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Is it easy to get information about the situation in Europe in Canada?
  2. What are people thinking about Chamberlain and why?
  3. Why does it matter what people think of Chamberlain?
  4. What do people in Canada want Chamberlain to do?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
Canadians support appeasement.

Canadians trust Hitler.

Canadians were interested in what was happening in Europe.

The letter-writer only really cares about how his business will be affected.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • The context of this source is vital to understanding how historians can use it. It was written at a time when Hitler had reached a series of agreements and broken each one in turn. Opinion in the US and Canada was very anti-German but also critical of the British government for allowing Hitler to make so many gains.
  • Lord Runciman was the head of a British delegation which was sent to investigate the Sudetenland situation in 1938. He was widely believed to have been a Nazi sympathiser.It was also widely believed that he had reported back to the British government on the Sudetenland situation in a way which was favourable to Hitler and those Germans in the Sudetenland who wanted to be joined to Germany.

Explore the guide to interpreting letters

Source 8

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