In the run-up to war, ‘Chips’ Channon was royally entertained by the Nazis as revealed in diaries

Like many others in 1930s Britain, Henry Channon was terrified of communism and thought Hitler was the one man who could save Europe from Stalin.

At the time, Winston Churchill was one of only a few British politicians who thought Hitler posed a threat. Channon, in common with many other MPs, felt Churchill was dangerous and that his obsession with Germany would lead inevitably to war.

In 1936, Chips and his wife Honor were guests of the Nazi regime at the Berlin Olympic Games. His record of that trip is as naive as it is shocking, both in his undisguised admiration of Hitler and in his account of a visit to a Nazi labour camp, where he reported cheerful inmates looking healthy and well-fed.

As Nazi persecution intensified, Chips would come to be utterly appalled. But in 1936, his view of Germany was entirely benign — and his descriptions of attending a series of eye-wateringly extravagant parties given by Goering, Ribbentrop and Goebbels are nothing short of astonishing.

Like many others in 1930s Britain, Henry Channon was terrified of communism and thought Hitler was the one man who could save Europe from Stalin

Friday, May 15, 1936 

I was dining with the King [Edward VIII] tonight. Dinner was gay and animated — but no gossip, as the King disapproves of it. 

I had an hour’s chat with Winston. He is consumed with contempt, jealousy, if indeed not hatred for [Stanley] Baldwin, whom he always denigrates. 

The ladies all curtsied when they left the dining room and Winston now led the conversation; he began by telling a story against me, how in Austria I was motoring with a lady when she was bitten on the bottom by a wasp and I gallantly sucked the wound, removing the sting. The story is true and the King roared with laughter! 

At the time, Winston Churchill was one of only a few British politicians who thought Hitler posed a threat. Channon, in common with many other MPs, felt Churchill was dangerous and that his obsession with Germany would lead inevitably to war

At the time, Winston Churchill was one of only a few British politicians who thought Hitler posed a threat. Channon, in common with many other MPs, felt Churchill was dangerous and that his obsession with Germany would lead inevitably to war

Friday, May 29 

[My wife] Honor and I lunched with Herr von Ribbentrop [later Nazi ambassador to Britain]. He looks like the captain of someone’s private yacht, that is square, breezy, with a seagoing look. 

After the rich meal was over, the Ribbentrops left with Lord Londonderry for the Whitsun holiday. 

The Londonderrys are very pro-German; and, indeed, who isn’t? Except the Coopers [Duff and Lady Diana]. 

All people, male or female, who are attracted by men and force are pro-German. The ‘softies’ who make a cult of female­ ­worship are pro-French. [Secretary of State for war] 

Duff Cooper, who adores women to an almost insane pitch and is always trying to rape them in taxis, etc, is immeasurably pro-French. The King, luckily, if anything, is pro-German. 

Thursday, August 6: Berlin 

[Chips and his wife had been invited to the German Olympics by Ribbentrop] A grand car with a stormtrooper at the wheel called for us and we whizzed off to the Olympic Stadium. An hour or so passed and then the audience was electrified — Hitler was coming! 

He looks exactly like his caricatures, brown uniform, short Charlie Chaplin moustache and square, stocky figure, determined but not grim. He saluted the cheering thousands and sat down. One felt one was in the presence of some semi-divine creature. 

In 1936, Chips (pictured) and his wife Honor were guests of the Nazi regime at the Berlin Olympic Games. His record of that trip is as naive as it is shocking

In 1936, Chips (pictured) and his wife Honor were guests of the Nazi regime at the Berlin Olympic Games. His record of that trip is as naive as it is shocking

Saturday, August 8 

I passed Hitler’s house in the Wilhelmstrasse. No one is allowed to walk unescorted in front of it; sentries or parading guards motion one to cross the street, where there is always a crowd waiting in the hope of seeing the Fuhrer. 

That Germany, too, is not now communist is due to Hitler. Oh! England wake up. You in your sloth and conceit are ignorant of the Soviet dangers and will not realise Germany is fighting our battles. 

Monday, August 10

Colonel Somebody fetched us and drove us to the country to inspect a labour camp. We had been told such tales of the hardships labour camps entailed, etc. 

Not at all: the camps looked tidy, even gay, and the boys, all about 18, looked like the ordinary German peasant boy, fair, healthy and sunburned. They are taught the preliminary military drills, gardening, etc, and their health and strength are built up. They were all smiling and clean. 

I cannot understand the English dislike and suspicion of the Nazi regime. [Channon was hopelessly naive. The inmates he saw were almost certainly Nazi loyalists drafted in for the occasion.] 

Tuesday, August 11

Tonight was the terrific Ribbentrop party. The banquet was served in an enormous marquee, and 625 people piled in. 

There were ambassadors, royalties, grandees, Nazis, diplomats, everyone about in Europe. Goering shook us both by the hand and his merry eyes twinkled. He seems a lovably disarming man. There were many [British] MPs present. I enjoyed myself quite wildly. 

Thursday, August 13

[The] Goering ball. We drove to where he lives in the very centre of Berlin, and found the great gardens lit up, and 700 or 800 guests. 

Goering, wreathed in smiles and orders and decorations, received us gaily, his wife at his side. We piled into the garden, where a hundred or more very white tables shone in the floodlighting. 

Towards the end of the meal, a whole corps de ballet danced in the moonlight. All the guests agreed that Goering had indeed eclipsed Ribbentrop, which was his ambition. 

The end of the garden was in darkness and suddenly, with no warning, it became floodlit and a procession of white horses, donkeys, peasants, music[ians] appeared from nowhere and, followed by the Goerings, we were led into [an amusement park] especially and secretly built! 

It was fantastic: roundabouts, cafes with beer and champagne, peasants dancing, vast women carrying pretzels and beer, a ship, a beerhouse, crowds of gay, laughing people, animals, and all done in impeccable taste. 

People whispered that Goebbels was in despair — dark, semisinister Goebbels who is the éminence grise of the regime. 

I suspect Goering of being venal, not least lascivious mentally. It is not difficult to picture him here, garlanded, and dancing before boys with a harp in his hand. People say that he can be v hard and ruthless, as are all Nazis when occasion demands, but intimately he seems all vanity and with a childish love of display. 

Saturday, August 15 

This evening was the Goebbels’ party. It lacked the elegance and chic of Ribbentrop’s, and the extravagance and good taste of Goering’s. 

There were 2,000 people [and] dancing on illuminated platforms but it was tasteless and indifferent. At the end of dinner, cannons roared and fireworks began on a scale that would have staggered the Romans. 

Sunday, August 16 

Honor and I went directly to the [Olympic] stadium to await the end of the Games. I couldn’t help thinking, as Hitler, alone, supreme, took the salute in the great arena, of the Emperor Claudius and his cruel games. 

Was it possible, would the little man from Braunau [Austria], for all his genius, remain simple and unspoilt whilst the world and its kings feared and fawned upon him? 

Monday, August 17

Of the leaders Goering is the most lovable; he is large, flabby, mischievous (probably sexual[ly] vicious, for I saw in his grey eyes the look I know too well), intelligent, eunuch-y, undoubtedly vain and devilishly fond of power and display. 

Thursday, April 15, 1937

People are saying that [Churchill] ought to be in the govt; that it is too bad to keep so brilliant a man out of office. But were he to be given it, it would mean, what? An explosion of foolishness after a time? War with Germany? 

Monday, June 7 

Winston told me once, some years ago, when he was intriguing to remove Baldwin from office, that he once went into the small Lobby WCs where there are only two pissoirs; to his embarrassment one was already occupied by the Prime Minister. 

It was too late to retreat, as he had been seen, so in he went. As [Baldwin] did up his trousers, he turned to Churchill and remarked: ‘I am glad there is still one common platform upon which we can still meet,’ and walked away. Winston tells it with a wealth of gesture. 

Tuesday, July 27

Winston spoke [in the Commons] this afternoon warn[ing] the govt of the vast German rearmament. To hear him is to believe the Germans are arriving tonight. What utter nonsense, but his fear and dislike of them amount to an obsession. 

Monday, August 23

[In Berlin] Honor and I had tea with Sir Nevile Henderson, the new [UK] Ambassador here. He is proGerman, anti-French, anti-Jew, proItalian and, indeed, thinks along the lines I do. 

He says there is no German menace — yet! And need never be if only Downing Street and [Foreign Secretary Anthony] Eden will be more open-minded. 

Friday, March 4, 1938

Winston has written a wicked article half-heartedly attacking [prime minister Neville] Chamberlain. [Winston] is a devil and must never be trusted. next,’ and other parrot cries are heard everywhere. 

Friday, March 11 

I was in [new foreign secretary, Viscount] Halifax’s room at 7.30 when the telephone rang. ‘The Germans are in Vienna’— and five minutes later ‘The skies are black with Nazi planes’. 

We stood breathless, wondering what would happen next. It was like 1914; perhaps more dramatic and less dangerous. By midnight Austria was a German province. 

Saturday, March 12

The world, unaware that Austria is [already] half-Nazi, is shocked and aghast. ‘Czechoslovakia will be next,’ and other parrot cries are heard everywhere.  

Thursday, March 24

Winston Churchill made his usual attack on Germany. He glared at me. 

Tuesday, May 3

Is Winston, that fat, brilliant, unbalanced, illogical, porcine orator more than that? Is he the male Cassandra? 

Is he perhaps right, banging his head against an uncomprehending country and unsympathetic government? I think not, for he is always wrong. All his life he has done much to poison our relations with Germany. 

Thursday, May 12

I subscribe, I am afraid, to the totalitarian view that England is on the decline. We shall dwindle for a generation or so; we are a tired race and our genius, I believe, is dead. 

We produce nothing new, whereas Germany and Italy are seething with vigour and life; we have only choruses of cranks! Democracy is absurd. 

Sunday, May 22

I rushed to the Foreign Office, where I found an atmosphere of suppressed excitement. The Germans were moving troops; their rage against the Czechs is almost boiling over. 

A shiver has passed through every chancellery in Europe. I stood in the window, gazing out on the Horse Guards Parade and wondered, was the world to commit suicide? 

Wednesday, May 25 

I saw Anthony Eden, looking a bit bohemian, in the Lobby. He cuts me. Winston, too, cuts me now. 

Friday, June 17 

It has got out that we are entertaining the Prime Minister to luncheon on Monday next and all the jealous cats in London are meowing. 

Wednesday, June 22 

The Duchess of Kent whispered to me that she had a secret to tell me: we share the same political views, and I asked her how the King and Queen felt. 

She replied noncommittally that they are not ‘very Continental’. I have reason to know, however, that the King is sound, and against Anthony Eden. 

Thursday, June 23 

My admiration, even affection, for the PM [Chamberlain] knows no bounds. He will save us still. 

Tuesday, July 5

Old Winston Churchill [is] now the most dangerous man in Europe. 

Thursday, September 1 

[Artist] Johnny Churchill, having painted a zodiacal fresco on the orangerie and turned [my wife Honor’s] bathroom into a coconut grove, has now left. 

He is a dear, gentle creature, far cleverer really than any of the Churchills. Will Winston go down in history as Johnny’s uncle? 

Friday, September 2

Spent the day at the Foreign Office. I am convinced that Hitler is too canny to risk a war. He is always right, always the greatest diplomat of modern times. 

Tuesday, September 13

The news is bad. Hitler has staked his claim; the Czechs won’t budge, and the French say they will march if an inch of Czech territory is violated. I don’t believe it. 

Wednesday, September 14 

Neville [Chamberlain], seeing war coming closer and closer, telegraphed to Hitler, asking him to have an immediate rendezvous. 

The German govt surprised, flattered, instantly accepted. It is one of the finest, most inspiring acts of all history! Of course a way will be found now. Neville has saved the world. 

Friday, September 23 

The PM had a stormy meeting with Hitler yesterday on his arrival; and this morning Chamberlain remained in his hotel, instead of proceeding to his rendezvous with the Fuhrer. It is grave, a bad omen that their talks did not proceed. 

Saturday, September 24 

The PM returned today to London. Peace hangs by a hair. 

Wednesday, September 28 

Winston as PM would be worse than a war, the two together would mean the destruction of civilisation. 

The newspapers made harrowing reading!! The fleet mobilised! Trenches dug in Hyde Park! London semi-evacuated. 

I went to the H of C [House of Commons], where the PM rose and in stately, slow English began the breathless tale of his negotiations with Hitler. He told how Hitler had invited him to Munich tomorrow morning, that Mussolini had accepted the same invitation. 

The House rose and, in a scene of riotous delight, bellowed their approval. [Chamberlain] walked out of the noisy, frantic Chamber alone. The Saviour of Peace, the greatest man since Christ, got smilingly into his car, umbrella and all. 

Thursday, September 29 

England has had a severe attack of the ‘jitters’; people enlisting, others in hundreds or thousands evacuating London. 

Friday, September 30 

By my side lay the newspapers — ‘Agreement signed at 12.53 in Munich’. So it is peace, and a respectable gentleman’s peace. The whole world rejoices whilst a few malcontents jeer. Chamberlain [has] saved the world.

[Britain declared war on September 3, 1939, following Hitler’s invasion of Poland.] 

Extracted from Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918- 38 (Volume 1) by Chips Channon, to be published on March 4 by Hutchinson at £35. 

©Georgia Fanshawe, Henry Channon and Robin Howard as Trustees of the diaries and personal papers of Sir Henry Channon 2021. Introduction and notes © Simon ­Heffer 2021. 

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