Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945
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How important was the contribution of the governments in exile to the Allied war effort in the Second World War? This can perhaps best be answered by a counter-question. What would have been the image of the Grand Alliance if the war had been purely a struggle for domination between two hostile camps of great powers, each open to accusations of imperialism and of ignoring the rights of small nations?
SOME CONCLUDING REMARKS
The contribution of the exiled governments to winning the war, judged in material terms, was modest in comparison with the gigantic effort of the larger allies. However, their continued existence as independent and recognized governments in exile on foreign soil, custodians of the hope for freedom of their peoples, the establishment and expansion of their resistance movements behind the enemy’s lines, and their integration into the Grand Alliance rendered them full partners in the prosecution of the war and in the approach to the peace that was to follow.
In the fateful summer of 1941 the eight governments in exile, together with De Gaulle’s Free French Movement, joined as equals in laying down the ideological foundations of the Grand Alliance. In a series of conferences held in London at Saint James’s Palace they approved the Atlantic Charter drafted at sea off Newfoundland by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on August 14, 1941, which clearly defined the war aims of the Allies and the principles that were to guide them in the post-war era, later being incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations.
Two unknowns – delicate questions that no-one could answer at the time – marked the period that preceded D-Day and the Soviet advance westwards after the Red Army’s victory at Stalingrad: what would be the limits of the Soviet advance into central Europe, and what degree of American solidarity and cooperation could be expected outside U.S. borders. Answers to these questions, which were crucial for the future, ultimately had to be worked out at the European Advisory Commission in London and in the conferences that brought about the birth of the U.N. The governments in exile insisted on being consulted on issues vital to them.
Great Britain had to its credit the gathering of the exiled governments on its soil before the Soviet Union and the United States entered the war. The significance of their presence in Britain was fully grasped by the British government. As early as February 19, 1941, Eden, in a circular to all government departments, stated: “It is of the highest importance from the point of view of His Majesty’s Government that the status of these governments be fully recognized and protected, and that their representatives should be treated not merely as representatives of foreign governments, but as Allies.” The letter continued: “The position of a government on foreign soil is a delicate one, and it is important for the successful prosecution of the war that the authority of the Allied governments should be upheld as far as possible, not only in the eyes of their own people, but also in neutral countries where they continue to maintain diplomatic representation.”
What Britain expected from the governments in exile, and in fact from the peoples they represented, was expressed by Gladwyn Jebb, later Lord Gladwyn. In his Four-Power Plan submitted to the Cabinet on October 28, 1942, he called for a “joint purpose” with them, both in “undermining the enemy’s morale and in encouraging that of the various subject populations on whose physical assistance we shall in the course of future operations increasingly depend.” In one way or another the peoples of the occupied countries, guided by their leaders in London, fulfilled these expectations.
After the cessation of hostilities a new Europe came into being. Five of the governments exiled in Britain – those of Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece – returned home as their countries regained independence. Those of Poland and Yugoslavia could not go back to their countries, where Soviet-inspired regimes had been installed. The exiled government of Czechoslovakia returned to Prague but was replaced by a Communist government in 1948.
The prolonged presence of the governments and their forces in Britain during the war also left its mark on the character of the host country. It contributed to the breakdown of traditional British insularity and led to the evolution of British policy in the direction of European integration.
Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945 SOME CONCLUDING REMARKS
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