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History - Neville Chamberlain
Neville Chamberlain was born on 18 March, 1869, in Birmingham. He was the eldest son of Joseph Chamberlain’s second wife. Joseph Chamberlain was the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, so Neville Chamberlain had a very politically focused upbringing. Neville’s mother died when he was six, giving birth to Neville’s siblings, and his relations with his father were habitually strained.Neville attended one of the oldest boarding schools in England, the Rugby School. Growing up, he developed several interests: botany, fishing, horticulture, ornithology, music and literature. For further studies, he attended the University of Birmingham (then known as Mason College). At the age of 21, he left for the Bahamas, to manage his father’s estate for seven years. On his return in 1897, he set up a copper-brass industry, and was also deeply involved in civic activities. He officially joined politics at the age of 42, in November 1911, as part of the Birmingham Town Planning Committee.In January 1911, he married Anne Vere Cole, with whom he had two children, Dorothy and Francis. It was Anne who encouraged his joining politics.
In 1915, he became the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. In December 1916, during his second term, David Llyod George offered him the position of Director of National Service. He would be responsible for conscripts and would simultaneously ensure that the war industries had enough workers. Chamberlain accepted the position, but was left unclear about its specifics, because of which his work seemed unsatisfactory to Llyod George. Relations remained strained between them from then on, and Chamberlain resigned from the post in 1917.


Chamberlain stayed out of the political spotlight until l1922, even though his half-brother, Austen, became the leader of the Conservative Party in 1921, albeit for a short term.

In late 1922, when Lloyd George’s government had fallen apart, Chamberlain rejoined the political scene under the newly established Bonar Law government. Chamberlain was appointed the Postmaster-General that October. He also served as Minister of Health and finally became the Chancellor of the Exchequer in ten months. He gained an influential position under Baldwin, the party leader. In 1924, Chamberlain became the Minister of Health for the next five years, and introduced many social reforms, including the Widows’, Orphans’ and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act of 1925, which “involved a contributory insurance scheme” that provided for widows and orphans as well as the retired, and reduced the retiring age to 65. He also introduced the Rating and Valuation Act of 1927, which introduced a new way of collecting local taxes.

The Great Depression affected the Labour Party badly as they suddenly had to cope with a poor economy and general instability.

Chamberlain became Prime Minister of Great Britain on 28 May, 1937. His three years in office were known for his policy of appeasement towards the growing threat of adversaries in Europe, such as Hitler and Mussolini. His policy in the beginning of his rule is summarized by his statement below:
"We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a program would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators."

Following the Munich Agreement, Chamberlain made a speech on September 30th, 1938, which was famous for the irony it contained in the phrase “peace of our time,” which justified Chamberlain’s signing away the Sudetenland. This phrase is ironic because of the coming chaos the Munich Pact gave way to. When Hitler broke the agreement, and invaded all of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain personally felt “betrayed.”

Although Chamberlain was popular among the citizens during the start of the war, with being included in the poetry written at that time, an unsuccessful expedition in Norway against Germany troops proved to launch much opposition from inside his party, such that Chamberlain was forced to resign from his post as Prime Minister. He recommended, for his succession, Winston Churchill.

Neville Chamberlain died on 9 November, 1940, due to bowel cancer.
 

Isha Chauhan
British International School of Bratislava

 

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Bratislava History Project
British International School of Bratislava
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Contact : Richard Jones-Nerzic