Ralph Morley – King’s School Canterbury Junior School

Tell the whole story revolving round ONE of these famous quotations:

(His choice:)

‘I believe that it is peace in our time.’

In 1938, Neville Chamberlain stepped out of a Lockhead L.14 Electra and uttered these words.  He had spoken with the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, and declared that this document ‘represents the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.’  In May 1938, the German Reich had annexed Austria and in October this vicious and powerful nation had invaded the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland – ‘to protect the millions of Germans who live there.’  The Conservative government of Neville Chamberlain favoured the Stanley Baldwin approach: appease Adolf Hitler with one hand, and re-arm the British Empire with the other.

Chamberlain flew out to Munich to talk with Adolf Hitler.  Meanwhile, Britain prepared.  RAF aircraft were given camouflage, and factories were allocated for possible war-work.  A degree of panic was apparent in Great Britain – and in Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as people feared a repeat of the Great War, of Gallipoli, Vimy Ridge or Ypres.

However, Chamberlain came back with the Munich Agreement, allowing Hitler to stay in the Sudetenland , somehow having assured himself that no further moves would be made.

In May 1939, however, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia and turned its eyes on Poland.  Britain and France moved to guarantee the neutrality of Poland, and in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, declared war.  So much for ‘peace in our time.

The Early Development of Railways in England

Yesterday, I boarded an early morning train from Ashford, itself a railway town, to Canterbury.  My ticket, a season ticket, was one of the earliest railway developments, introduced on the Canterbury-Whitstable line in the 1830s.

Richard Trevithick, having developed the steam engine in 1804, attempted to sell the idea to road builders to replace the horse and carriage with trains, and to mining companies in his native Cornwall.  He was unsuccessful, and later emigrated and died in poverty.

George  Stephenson, however, was more successful in spreading railways.  His Stockton-Darlington line prospered, and then, with the ‘Rocket’, the result of his genius and his son’s, the Liverpool-Manchester line flourished.

All of a sudden, the ‘iron horse’ led the way.  Companies, at first almost solely under Stephenson’s direction, built lines linking major parts of the country with not-so-major parts– the London Bridge-Greenwich line in 1836, the London-Birmingham in 1837-1838, and Brunel’s masterpiece, the Great Western Railway line from London to Bristol.  Allowing for rapid transit by Brunellian steam, one could then travel from London to New York!

The 1840s saw the emergence of the railway works, where companies built their own engines instead of relying on Stephenson at Darlington or his rival, Timothy Hackworth at Shildon.  Engines were built at Crewe (1842), Swindon (1840s), Derby (1845), Brighton (1846) and my own borough of Ashford (1847).

In the 1850s, many of the smaller lines began to develop, particularly in East Anglia to serve trade such as sugar beet, and in the north-east.  Companies began to expand into each other’s territory; for instance, a local example would be the London, Chatham and Dover Railway built a line to Ashford, duplicating the existing South-Eastern Railway line.

Finally, we move to the 1870s, with the emergence of locomotives still in use ninety years later (for instance, William Stroudley’ A!/A1X ‘Terrier’ for the London, Brighton and soth coast Railway.  It is fascinating to think about the early development of the railways, and the fact that, in 1963 as in 1873, the branch to Hayling Island near Portsmouth was still traversed by the aforementioned ‘Terriers’ and a few coaches.

Operation Dynamo (Dunkirk)

‘Wars are not won by evacuations,’ Churchill told the House of Commons, and yet those 336.000 Allied troops rescued surely played a part in winning the Second World War.

May 9th, 1940 saw the German invasion of France and the Low Countries – Operation Bodenplatte.  Despite France’s confident assurances that the Maginot line, the structure built to defend France, would protect the Allies, the Germans succeeded in invading and then occupying France by traversing the supposedly impassable Ardennes Forest and by going through the unprotected Franco-Belgian border.  The German ‘blitzkrieg’ forced the French, Belgian and British forces into a pocket at Dunkirk.  It seemed that nearly 400,000 troops would be taken prisoner.

In the final wee week of May 1940, however, the British Admiralty ordered an immediate evacuation of Dunkirk.  British and Commonwealth destroyers and minor vessels were called in, but each 300ft. destroyer could only take off so many soldiers, and the rate of loss was appalling, as Junkers JU 87 ‘stuka’ bombers dive-bombed and sank the destroyers alongside the mole or pier at Dunkirk.

The man in charge of the operation, Admiral Bertram Hugh Ramsay, saw the situation.  Too many destroyers were lost for too few men – about 20,000 rescued. Ramsay and his team from his HQ at Dover Castle (Hellfire Corner) decided to use the one reserve they had, Britain’s mercantile craft.

The ‘call-to-arms’ went out over the wireless, and all sorts of pleasure craft, steamers, packets, fireboats set out from ports from London to Newhaven, concentrating on Ramsgate and Dover, and were able to come right inshore at Dunkirk.  The soldiers on the beach calmly queued, as if in a Post Office, whilst 500kg. bombs fell around them.

Despite the seemingly continual presence of German bombers, in fact the Germans were not about to occupy Dunkirk.  German High Command ordered the Panzer divisions, and the infantry, to wait.  This crucial decision allowed hundreds of thousands of Allied troops to be taken off the beaches.

The miracle of Dunkirk, however, was not to last.  In the first week of June 1940, the German forces closed in and took thousands of stranded Allied troops prisoner, included many wounded who had been left until last, and Operation Dynamo was called off.

Maybe wars are won by evacuations.

Special Answers



Every year the best candidates produce answers
of remarkable maturity, knowledge and enthusiasm.

The Townsend-Warner
Preparatory Schools History Prize

Home        Origins        Some Recent Papers        Some Recent Reports

Past Winners        Past Team Winners        Top 30 Last Year        Special Answers