"Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins."
But today marks 74 years since Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940, announced Britain's declaration of war on Nazi Germany, a just war if there ever was one. It is haunting to hear the sonorous voice of Chamberlain, speaking words that broke not only his policy and premiership, but his own spirit - he had resisted war because of his experiences in 1914 to 1918. Although he had not served in the military, like many of his time he was traumatised by the slaughter of the trenches and the "missing generation" that resulted, leading to the time known as "the great silence". At almost all costs, he was determined to avoid a repeat, leading him to seek to appease Hitler and either equivocating or even tolerating episodes of aggression by Germany and Italy which, with hindsight, it is easy to criticise, but at the time represented a desperate search for peace.
Listening to him here, he is clearly troubled and defeated, a poignant and sharp contrast with the rhetoric of the armchair warriors who head so many of our warmongering governments today: when he appeared a few days later before MPs, he admitted that "Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins."
He dedicated himself to working for victory, but it was not to be. Vacillating as Poland fell and Hitler menaced France during the long Phoney War (originally nicknamed the Bore War for its lack of action), he was replaced by Churchill in May 1940 after the disastrous attempt to intervene in Norway and as the Germans were finally moving through the Low Countries. Although he continued to serve in the Government as Lord President, he was found to have terminal cancer and died in November that year.
He left a mixed legacy - many, such as Michael Foot the future Labour leader, as well as his successor Winston Churchill, saw him as having failed Britain by not acting decisively enough to deter the Nazis. His support of sanctions against Republican Spain, assailed by the fascist Franco, similarly appeared to encourage the Axis aggressors. Yet looking back, it seems nigh impossible that anything other than war would have stopped Hitler and given the very fresh and real slaughter of the trenches, the patrician Tory's reluctance to stomach another major conflict seems a little more understandable.
It is unlikely that history will ever be kind to Neville Chamberlain, but contrasting him these last few weeks with the gung-ho readiness of modern politicians to expose service men and woman and Syrian civilians to military action, perhaps a few more men with his pause and hesitation would be welcome in today's corridors of power.