20 April 1939
20 April 1939 marked Adolf Hitler’s fiftieth birthday. Less than five months later Britain would be at war with Germany. A month earlier, German troops had marched into the Czech Republic, proving that the Munich Agreement, which Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had proclaimed as ‘peace in our time,’ was worthless. Yet, the British government remained dedicated to appeasing Hitler. On 19 April, the eve of the Fuhrer’s big day, the Cabinet agreed that King George VI should telegram birthday greetings, as not to do so might be considered ‘an affront’.1
Chamberlain’s government did not confine its diplomatic sycophancy to a royal telegram of congratulations. On the eve of Hitler’s birthday, Lord Halifax declared in parliament that Britain’s ambassador, who had been recalled in March following the Nazi occupation of Prague, would shortly be returning and while no cabinet ministers were present at the birthday celebrations in Berlin, if only because they had not received any official invitations, the Nazi newspaper Angriff was able to boast that Britain had sent its service attachés ‘dressed in khaki with golden buttons’ to attend the largest military procession Berlin had ever seen – all in Hitler’s honour.2
Among the invited guests, the Berlin correspondents of The Times and Daily Express spotted a British General, J.F.C. Fuller, conspicuous in his grey top hat. The Times explained that the general’s ‘views on democratic institutions have of late received prominent and favourable notice in the German press.’3 There were also other British pilgrims, influential members of the establishment, who, to cite the Edinburgh Evening News, were ‘honoured with personal invitations,’ to attend the goose-stepping parade. These included Sir Goerge Ogilvie-Forbes, (the British Charge d’Affaires), the Duke of Beccleuch and Lord Brocket, a close associate of both Chamberlain and the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax.4
- The National Archives CAB 23/98/11
- ‘Ambassador to go back to Berlin,’ the Yorkshire Post, 20 April 1939 p. 9 and The Angriff quoted in ‘Nazi Display of Might,’ the Yorkshire Post, 21 April 1939 p. 9.
- ‘Herr Hitler’s Birthday,’ The Times, 19 April 1939 p. 14.
- ‘Fuehrer’s British Friends,’ the Edinburgh Evening News, 20 April 1939 p. 8.
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