On 20 January 1940, Winston Churchill,still First Lord of the Admiralty, holds a radio broadcasted speech about the current state of affairs. The address, which would become famous as the ‘house of many mansions’ speech, is mostly about the position of the Neutral nations in Northern and Western Europe. Churchill reasons that these Neutral countries already suffer under ‘German malice and cruelty’ – illustrated by the fact that the Germans often torpedo neutral ships. He argues that the Allied convoys could provide safe passage on the seas, because according to Churchill, the Allied navies are superior to the Kriegsmarine.
Churchill paints a verbal picture of the dangers that lie ahead for neutral nations. He asks himself ‘what would happen if all these neutral nations […] were with one spontaneous impulse to do their duty in accordance with the Covenant of the League, and were to stand together with the British and French Empires against aggression and wrong?’ In other words: Churchill invites or even urges the neutral or independent countries to join the Allied side in their war with Germany.
‘Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last.’ Churchill argues that war will be inevitable for many of these countries anyway, and that siding with the Allies would allow them to stay free. ‘There is no chance of a speedy end except through united action.’ Still, many neutral countries still hold on to their hopes of staying out of the conflict unharmed. In that light, the Belgians refuse to allow the Allied forces in France access to Belgium in anticipation of a German invasion.
Photo: The British Army in France 1940 Men of the 2nd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment manning a trench in the snow at Rumegies, 22 January 1940.
Source: Davies (Lt), Kessell (Lt), War Office official photographer, Imperial War Museums, Photograph no. F 2212.
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