The British Economy
The Great Depression devastated the United Kingdom along with the rest of the industrialized world. In the 1930s, Britain’s traditional industrial base began to decline. Coal, shipping, and cotton production were all down significantly from preWorld War I levels. Throughout the inter-war period, unemployment never fell below one million, or one worker in ten. In 1932, unemployment hit a record high of 20 percent of the working population. In that year, more than one third of all miners were unemployed, as were 43 percent of cotton workers, 48 percent of iron and steel workers, and 62 percent of shipyard workers.
Overall, Britain’s economy was in a state of change. Despite the mass unemployment, those who had work saw their wages and salaries rise in proportion to the rise in the national product, which averaged 2.1 percent each year between 1920 and 1938. Gross domestic product rose by 2.3 percent between 1924 and 1937, which was a more rapid growth than that of the Victorian era. Also, new economic sectors were emerging, such as electric and electronics manufacturing, the motor vehicles industry, and the production of household equipment. Although England’s industrial production in 1938 only accounted for 9 percent of the world’s total, that same year, England’s share of world trade was 19 percent.
Britain and the World
Great Britain joined the League of Nations after World War I. This organization had set up a system of collective security to stop international aggression. In the 1930s, however, the League of Nations took virtually no action to do so. Japan seized Manchuria, a province in China, in 1931. Within a year, Japan proclaimed Manchuria to be independent and installed a Japanese-controlled government. China appealed to the League of Nations for help, but no member was willing to commit its military forces.
In 1935, Italian forces invaded Ethiopia, Africa’s only independent kingdom. Ethiopia, also a member of the League, turned to the organization for help, but the League voted only to condemn the invasion and to impose trade penalties against Italy. By May 1936, Ethiopia had fallen, and its ruler had fled to Britain. In June, Haile Selassie met with the League’s Council to reconsider its policy. Despite his pleas, Britain and France, the leading powers, declined to use force in Ethiopia.
Britain and World War II
By the early 1930s, Adolf Hitler ruled Germany with dictatorial powers. In 1936, while Britain and France were occupied with the Ethiopian crisis, Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles and moved German troops back into the Rhineland. In 1938, Germany annexed Austria and demanded that Czechoslovakia turn over the Sudetenland, a region in the northwest part of the country. Germany’s demand threatened war, and the British prime minister, along with the leader of France, met with Hitler and agreed to the annexation of the Sudetenland in return for Hitler’s promise to claim no more territory in Europe. In March 1939, however, Germany reneged, taking over most of the rest of Czechoslovakia and then attacking Poland in September. Britain and France demanded an immediate German withdrawal. When Hitler ignored these demands, Britain and France jointly declared war on Germany, beginning World War II.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Dorothy L. Sayers, Published by Gale Group, 2001.