There are so many books – both fiction and non-fiction – about Winston Churchill and the war, that it has become an industry in itself. Every year, historians and publishers try to find the next unique angle about Winston, and as much as I love the man, it does get tiring after a while seeing yet another Churchill book.
Which is why I feel sorry for Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, who has been relegated to Churchill’s shadow ever since he resigned as Prime Minister in 1940. The sole blame for the war has been dumped on his shoulders, and despite a great deal of misguided policies designed to avoid another war, you could see that his heart was in the right place. Nevertheless, he has been put down as a bogeyman in British politics. The man who grovelled to Hitler.
So I was delighted when Robert Harris – an author whom I deeply admire – wrote and brought out “Munich”. It is a fictionalised account of the Munich agreement in 1938, when Hitler was trying to take the Sudetenland back into the German fold. Unbeknown to everyone else however, he was already prepared to take the rest of Czechoslovakia too, but Chamberlain was convinced that the Sudetenland would be Hitler’s final territorial demand, and then all would be well in the world. Well, we all know how THAT turned out.
The story starts with a man called Hugh Legat, who is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries. He is caught up in the maelstrom of the Sudeten crisis, and little does he know that his past is about to catch up with him. A German whom he went to Oxford with, Paul Hartmann, is now working for the German foreign ministry as a translator, and he comes into possession of written proof of Hitler’s real intentions in Europe. Appalled, he decides to pass the information to the only man in a position to get them to Chamberlain – Legat. For his part, Legat has no idea that Hartmann is working with the anti-Nazi underground to topple the Nazi regime.
Through a various sequence of events, both Legat and Hartmann discover they have a chance to meet at Munich. The British Secret Service send Legat in undercover with Chamberlain’s delegation, and Hartmann pulls strings to get into the conference. But Hartmann is being tailed by a very suspicious SS officer who is determined to find some proof of Hartmann’s guilt.
This is a book that you will be immersed in until the very end. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it will give you a new perspective on Neville Chamberlain. One day perhaps, his reputation will be salvaged, which is only right.