World War II changed the lives of everyone it touched. It made an impact on both those at the very top as much as it made on those at the bottom. In Europe that meant that everything will change and that absolutely nothing will remain the same as it was before 1939.
When Wehrmacht stormed into Poland on September 1st of 1939 people were amazed with effectiveness and sheer strength of German forces. To be honest who wouldn’t be? But there is difference between ordinary people and governments of many European nations who were dumbfounded by actions of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi machinery. Polish government for example sent at one point cavalry to intercept German tanks invading Polish borders. That’s how some high ranking officials were detached from reality in which they were living.
But we can draw direct line back to 1937 and 1938 when war wasn’t raging but when those who had power in their hands failed to make decisive action in order to prevent Hitler from even staging a war. The whole concept of appeasement betrayed those who were its architects. Édouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain who made concessions to Italy and Germany and signed Munich Agreement will be remembered in history books as those who allowed evil to creep in while pretending it is seeking last peace.
Surely, there was no understatement like the one made by the British Prime Minister upon his return to 10 Downing Street when he exclaimed that His Majesty’s Government secured the “peace for our time”. During the same speech he hold his fellow Britons to go and have a nice quiet sleep. Sadly, the United Kingdom will suffer for next 5 years and Britons will not sleep tight knowing the threat is on their doorstep.
But as the threat spread through Europe that same Britain will become safe haven for many governments in exile. With the mistakes done, the heads of states and governments needed shelter and they’ve found it in London. Norwegian, Dutch, Greek, Luxembourgian and Yugoslavian monarchs all found themselves within London, along with Presidents of Czechoslovakia and Poland. But as always there are exceptions, like Christian X of Denmark who unlike his brother Norwegian King never left his country or its capital Copenhagen. To this day King is still seen as unifying symbol throughout Denmark and symbol of resistance to Nazi oppression.
However, we also must point out that these government in exile did make impact on what was going on in their own countries and they had political strength to achieve at least some goals. We must remember that under circumstances very little could be done, but usually they carried continuation of democracy in themselves and after the World War II western countries had developed into stable democracies largely because their exiled governments preserved what has been in effect before 1939.
Little could be done for the ordinary people of Europe from the shelters in London, but that doesn’t mean people of Europe simply fell to its knees and surrendered. Quite the opposite, but we will cover that in our next article.