Britain at War: Daily Telegraph Commemorating the Second World War

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Britain, in the autumn of 1938, was still something approaching a great power, with an empire on which the sun never set and – despite the ravages of the slump earlier in the decade – more prosperous than almost any other country on the planet. It was 70 years ago this week that we, in the words of our then prime minister Neville Chamberlain, decided that Czechoslovakia was merely a faraway country of which we knew little, and that if a chunk of it full of ethnic Germans was given to Hitler’s Reich no-one would be any the worse off.

We have to be careful of hindsight: but we know well that this was not Hitler’s last territorial claim in Europe. A reading of Mein Kampf, the verbose and rambling personal manifesto he had written in prison in the early 1920s, would have pointed us down the true path, just as it would have warned of the horrific fate of European Jewry.

The following March Hitler simply took the rest of Czechoslovakia, then on September 1st 1939 sent his Panzers into Poland. In the next few years there will be many 70th anniversaries, many of them wretched, some of them glorious, as we recall momentous events that occurred within living memory, and a barbarism that soiled a Europe now apparently enjoying permanent peace.

With the 70th anniversary of the capitulation to Hitler at Munich by Chamberlain and the French Prime Minister, Daladier, so too is The Daily Telegraph embarking upon a large-scale historical project to commemorate the Second World War.

Our aim, over the months ahead, is to collect as many memories as possible of those who took part in it or were affected by it. Those of us not born at the time have, for most of our lives, taken for granted the presence of those who were witness to the bloodshed, the struggle and, ultimately, our victory. They have always been there to answer our questions about "what it was like".

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