Duty, Honor, Country
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Winston Churchill Liveblogs World War II: November 13, 1939

November 13, 1939:

On Friday, November 13, my relations with Mr. Chamberlain had so far ripened that he and Mrs. Chamberlain came to dine with us at Admiralty House, where we had a comfortable fiat in the attics. We were a party of four. Although we had been colleagues under Mr. Baldwin for five years, my wife and I had never met the Chamberlains in such Circumstances before. by happy chance I turned the conversation on to his life in the bahamas, and I was delighted to find my guest expand in personal reminiscence to a degree I had not noticed before.

He told us the whole story, of which I knew only the barest outline, of his six years' struggle to grow sisal on a barren West Indian islet near Nassau. His father, the great "Joe", was firmly convinced that here was an opportunity at once to develop an Empire industry and fortify the family formes. His father and Austen had summoned him in 1890 from Birmingham to Canada, where they had long examined ! the project. About forty miles from Nassau in the Caribbean Gulf there was a small desert island, aimost uninhabited, where the soil was reported to be suitable for growing sisal. After careful reconnaissance by his two sons, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain had acquired a tract on the island of Andros, and assigned the capital required to develop it. All that remained was to grow the sisal. Austen was dedicated to the House of Commons. The task therefore fell to Neville.

Not only in filial duty but with conviction and alacrity he obeyed, and the next five years of his life were spent in trying to grow sisal in this lonely spot, swept by hurricanes from time to time, living nearly naked, struggling with labor difficulties and every other kind of obstacle, and with the town of Nassau as the only gleam of civilisation. He had insisted, he told us, on months' leave in England each year. He built a small harbour and landing-stage and a short railroad or tramway. He used all the processes of fertilisation which were judged suitable to the soil and generally led a completely primitive, open-air existence. But no sisal! Or at any rate no sisal that would face the market.

At the end of five years he was convinced that the plan could not succeed. He came home and faced his formidable parent, who was by no means contented with the result. I gathered that in the family the feeling was that though they loved him dearly they were sorry to have lost £50,000

I was fascinated by the way Mr. Chamberlain warmed as he talked, and by the talk itself, which was one of gallant endeavour. I thought to myself, "What a pity Hitler did not know when he met this sober English politician with his umbrella at Berchtesgaden, Godesberg, and Munich that he was actually talking to a hard-bitten pioneer from the outer marches of the British Empire!" This was really the only intimate social conversation that I can remember with Neville Chamberlain amid all the business we did together over nearly twenty years.

During dinner the war went on and things happened. With the soup an officer came up from the War Room below to report that a U-boat had been sunk. With the sweet he came again and reported that a second U-boat had been sunk; and just before the ladies left the dining-room he came a third time reporting that a third U-boat had been sunk. Nothing like this had ever happened before in a single day, and it was more than a year before such a record was repeated. As the ladies left us, Mrs. Chamberlain, with a naive and charming glance, said to me, "Did you arrange all this on purpose?" I assured her that if she would come again we would produce a similar result.