Britain's Finest Hour

Britain's finest hour came in the Second World War. In the summer and winter of 1940 Britain, alone, stood against Nazi Germany. In the preceding 15 months, the Nazi war machine had steam-rolled through Western Europe. First carving up Poland with the Soviet Union, and then capturing the low countries and spectacularly defeating France. In the summer of 1940, there were people in the British cabinet who thought Britain could not hold out alone, and the best thing was to sue for peace with Hitler, perhaps similar to Vichy France. However, Churchill stood firm against the likes of Lord Halifax saying there could be no compromise with Hitler. The outlook was certainly bleak, but, the inspirational speeches of Churchill helped firm up British resolve to keep fighting against the tyranny of Hitler's Germany.

Unexpectedly, 1941 and 1942, saw the tide of war change as Germany invaded Russia, and Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. This effectively brought Britain two much more powerful allies and after years of hard fighting, Germany was eventually, comprehensively and decisively beaten. The Thousand Year Reich was destroyed and the top leaders were mostly either killed, arrested or committed suicide at their own hands. It was only at the defeat of Nazi Germany that the true scale and horror of the Nazi state were fully revealed. Though, allied intelligence knew about the persecution of Jews, it was only pictures of concentration camps and the mass extermination of people that brought home the evils of a regime that had sought to conquer the whole of Europe, if not the world.

One irony of the Second World War is that though it was Britain's final hour, it came at a high cost. The war bankrupted Britain creating a national debt of nearly 200% of GDP (by end of 1940s).

The war was also a turning point, no longer would Britain have an Empire, soon countries which had been part of Britain's Empire were given their freedom, such as India in 1947.

From one perspective, Britain gained nothing and lost materially. But, in fighting the Nazi Empire, it was as if Britain learnt that ruling countries against their will was wrong. After fighting fascism in Europe, Britain could no longer morally hold out against other countries claim for self-determination.

By fighting Hitler's Germany, fascist tendencies in Britain were reduced. Before the war, Oswald Mosley's black shirts were a potential political force. The war changed all that. Before the war, Churchill despised the idea of giving India independence. After 1947, even Churchill gave up the pretence of trying to maintain an Empire.

The Second World War also had a profound impact on Britain's society. The war gave the ordinary working people greater expectations, they no longer wanted a return to the staid class ridden society complete with mass unemployment of the 1930s. In 1945, the British even voted against the Conservative war hero - Winston Churchill. Instead there was a Labour landslide and a manifesto for a National Health Service, a Welfare State and a socialist government.

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Perma Link | By: T Pettinger |

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