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This edited article about World War Two originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 855 published on 3 June 1978.
Smiling confidently, Neville Chamberlain, Britain’s Prime Minister, stepped from the De-Havilland 86B biplane on which he had just flown from Munich in Germany.
While newsreel cameras whirred, he stepped up to a battery of microphones and waved a sheet of paper in the air.
It was September, 1938. Adolf Hitler, Germany’s dictator, was looking around for countries to conquer. The Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia, had captured Hitler’s eye.
Fears that Hitler would invade this area and spark off a war had sent Chamberlain to Munich.
An agreement was made between the two leaders that the Czechs should leave the Sudetenland and allow the Germans to occupy it.
Chamberlain and Hitler then signed a further document – the one that Chamberlain was waving as he stepped off his plane.
“We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again,” it said.
“We are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.”
When he told listeners about this document in a radio broadcast later that day, Chamberlain said, “This is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.”
Many people shared his hopes, but many more thought they were unduly optimistic. The pessimists were proved right for, after occupying the Sudetenland, Hitler’s forces marched into Bohemia and Moravia.
On 1st September, 1939, the Germans invaded Poland – and two days later Europe was at war again. And Chamberlain’s document became nothing more than a worthless scrap of paper.