Stanley Baldwin - Later Life

Later Life

After the coronation of George VI, Baldwin was created Earl Baldwin of Bewdley and Viscount Corvedale, of Corvedale in the County of Shropshire. He resigned the next day, 28 May 1937, and was created a Knight of the Garter (KG). "No man", noted Harold Nicolson, "has ever left in such a blaze of affection."

Baldwin supported the Munich Agreement and said to Chamberlain on 26 September 1938: "If you can secure peace, you may be cursed by a lot of hotheads but my word you will be blessed in Europe and by future generations". Baldwin made a rare speech in the House of Lords on 4 October where he said he could not have gone to Munich but praised Chamberlain's courage and said the responsibility of a Prime Minister was not to commit the country to war until he was sure that it was ready to fight. If there was a 95% chance of war in the future, he would still choose peace. He also said he would put industry on a war footing tomorrow as the opposition to such a move had disappeared. Churchill said in a speech: "He says he would mobilise tomorrow. I think it would have been much better if Earl Baldwin had said that two and a half years ago when everyone demanded a Ministry of Supply".

Two weeks after Munich, Baldwin said in a conversation with Lord Hinchingbrooke: "Can't we turn Hitler East? Napoleon broke himself against the Russians. Hitler might do the same".

Baldwin's years in retirement were quiet. After Chamberlain's death in 1940, Baldwin's perceived part in pre-war appeasement made him an unpopular figure during and after World War II. With a succession of British military failures in 1940, Baldwin started to receive critical letters: "insidious to begin with, then increasingly violent and abusive; then the newspapers; finally the polemicists who, with time and wit at their disposal, could debate at leisure how to wound the deepest." He did not have a secretary and so was not shielded from the often unpleasant letters sent to him. After a bitterly critical letter was sent to him by a member of the public, Baldwin wrote: "I can understand his bitterness. He wants a scapegoat and the men provided him with one". His biographers Middlemas and Barnes claim that "the men" almost certainly meant the authors of Guilty Men.

In September 1941, Baldwin's old enemy Lord Beaverbrook asked all local authorities to survey their area's iron and steel railings and gates that could be used for the war effort. Owners of such materials could appeal for an exemption on grounds of artistic or historic merit, which would be decided by a panel set up by local authorities. Baldwin applied for exemption for the iron gates of his country home on artistic grounds and his local council sent an architect to assess them. In December, the architect advised that they be exempt, but, in February 1942, the Ministry of Supply overruled this and said all his gates must go, except the ones at the main entrance. A newspaper campaign hounded him for not donating the gates to war production. The Daily Mirror columnist Cassandra denounced Baldwin:

Here was the country in deadly peril with half the Empire swinging in the wind like a busted barn door hanging on one hinge. Here was Old England half smothered in a shroud crying for steel to cut her way out, and right in the heart of beautiful Worcestershire was a one-time Prime Minister, refusing to give up the gates of his estate to make guns for our defence – and his. Here was an old stupid politician who had tricked the nation into complacency about rearmament for fear of losing an election. ...Here is the very shrine of stupidity...This National Park of Failure...

There were fears that if the gates were not taken by the proper authorities, "others without authority might". So months before any other collections were made, Baldwin's gates were removed except for those at the main entrance. Two of Beaverbrook's friends after the war claimed that this was Beaverbrook's decision, despite Churchill saying "Lay off Baldwin's gates". At Question Time in the House of Commons the Conservative MP Captain Alan Graham said: "Is the honourable Member aware that it is very necessary to leave Lord Baldwin his gates in order to protect him from the just indignation of the mob?"

During the war, Winston Churchill consulted him only once, in February 1943, on the advisability of his speaking out strongly against the continued neutrality of Éamon de Valera's Ireland. Baldwin saw the draft of Churchill's speech and advised against it, which advice Churchill followed.

In private, Baldwin defended his conduct in the 1930s:

...the critics have no historical sense. I have no Cabinet papers by me and do not want to trust my memory. But recall the Fulham election, the peace ballot, Singapore, sanctions, Malta. The English will only learn by example. When I first heard of Hitler, when Ribbentrop came to see me, I thought they were all crazy. I think I brought Ramsay and Simon to meet Ribbentrop. Remember that Ramsay's health was breaking up in the last two years. He had lost his nerve in the House in the last year. I had to take all the important speeches. The moment he went, I prepared for a general election and got a bigger majority for rearmament. No power on earth could have got rearmament without a general election except by a big split. Simon was inefficient. I had to lead the House, keep the machine together with those Labour fellows.

In December 1944, strongly advised by friends, Baldwin decided to respond to criticisms of him through a biographer. He asked G. M. Young, who accepted, and asked Churchill to grant permission to Young to see Cabinet papers. Baldwin wrote:

I am the last person to complain of fair criticism, but when one book after another appears and I am compared, for example, to Laval, my gorge rises; but I am crippled and cannot go and examine the files of the Cabinet Office. Could G. M. Young go on my behalf?

In June 1945, Baldwin's wife Lucy died. Baldwin himself by now suffered from arthritis and needed a stick to walk. When he made his final public appearance in London in October 1947 at the unveiling of a statue of George V, a crowd of people recognised and cheered him, but by this time he was deaf and asked: "Are they booing me?" Having been made Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1930, he continued in this capacity until his death in his sleep at Astley Hall, near Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, on 14 December 1947. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes buried in Worcester Cathedral.

His estate was probated at £280,971 ($460,427USD).

Baldwin was a member of the Oddfellows and Forester's Friendly Society.

Read more about this topic:  Stanley Baldwin

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