France’s Prime Minister, Minister of War and National Defence, is one who for years past has played a prominent part in the political life of the great republic. Here we are told something of his career as told in the War Illustrated. He first became Premier on the day in 1933 that saw Hitler appointed Reich Chancellor.
Bourgeois – there you have Edouard Daladier in one word. Born in 1884, the son of a baker, he was educated in Lyons and before the Great War was a secondary-school teacher. Her served at the front, won the Crois de Guerre and the Legion d’honeur and at the Armistice was a captain. Entering the Chamber of Deputies in 1919 as the Radical Socialist member of Vaucluse in Provence, he first achieved ministerial rank in the Herriot Cabinet of 1924, when he was appointed Minister of Colonies. In the next year Painleve made him Minister for War, and during the next few years he served under Briand, Steeg, Herriot and Paul-Bancour. Then, on January 31st 1933 a few hours after Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor of the German Reich, Daladier became Prime Minister of the French Republic.
Daladier’s first cabinet lasted some ten months, but after a period of office as Minister of War under Chautemps, he was Premier for a few days in 1934 when the Stavinsky scandal was at its height.
From 1936 he was Minister of War in several Popular Front governments, and on April 10th 1938, following the downfall of M. Blum’s cabinet, he became Prime Minister for the third time. In the autumn of that year he held France’s helm steady through the crisis over Czecho-Slovakia. He was one of the four “Men of Munich”, and to his credit let it be said that in circumstances of unprecedented difficulty he succeeded in keeping his head. It is on record that at Munich, while the Führer contented himself with a glass of Rhine Wine, Mussolini nibbled occasionally at a sandwich, and Mr Chamberlain ate sparingly, only the Frenchman consumed his ordinary meal – a hot dish, salad, cheese and coffee.
Like Mr Chamberlain, he was received on his return from Munich with transports of joy, but it was not long before, in Paris as in London, the Munich settlement was denounced as a shameful surrender. Nevertheless, Daladier continued to ride the storm. At the Radical-Socialists Congress at Marseilles he vigorously defended his conduct “the Munich Agreement”, he maintained “was an act of reason” and he went on to claim that “we have maintained peace and the dignity of France. These we are determined to preserve.”
On March 17th, 1939, following upon the German seizure of the rump state of Czecho-Slovakia, his government was granted extraordinary powers for the reinforcement of national defence. Speaking before the Senate M Daladier declared that, “we have found ourselves faced with a grave situation which may rapidly become dramatic. This we must meet courageously. We are going to show Europe,” he said, “that we are standing with our backs to the wall. We are embarking on the task of assuring the safety of the nation and the salvation of the Republic.”
As the year went on and the situation worsened, the Prime Minister still dominated the political scene. His sturdy personality seemed to embody the French will to resist the menace to her security and the future of western culture.
For the rostrum in the Chamber and through the microphone Daladier appealed to Frenchmen to bury their differences and to save their country and the world by their labours and sacrifices. Just before the war broke out he told his people that “in these solemn hours for the destiny of the world we all hope and believe that wisdom and good sense will finally triumph. But should all our efforts be in vain we appeal to you, French women and French men, to your courage and to your determination, not to submit to slavery.” Well is it for France that in her hour of greatest danger she has such a man as Daladier for her chosen leader.