No. 52 NAI DFA 219/6

Letter from Seán Murphy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Paris, 12 October 1939

A Chara,

With reference to our telephone conversation yesterday I have the honour to state that I would have sent you reports of my personal impressions of the situation here were it not for the fact that the delay in the post puts them completely out of date. It was for that reason that I confined myself to giving the views of the French Press which I felt however late in arriving would constitute a record of French public opinion. Henceforth however I will send you a weekly report of my impressions or oftener if the circumstances should warrant it.

The big events of the last eight days have been the German Peace offensive, the Chamberlain speech on the peace offensive and the speech of Daladier.

With regard to the German Peace offensive as I have already reported the French press turned down any peace proposals from Hitler. The Communist party was the only element in France prepared to consider peace proposals and their attitude resulted in the dissolution of the party by decree.

Chamberlain's speech was favourably received by the French press but one heard questions being asked in all sections of French life as to whether there was not a possibility that Chamberlain might consider peace terms at this stage. I read Chamberlain's speech very carefully and I confess I found it difficult to find ground for this French apprehension. However there is no doubt it existed.

Yesterday evening I met quite by accident Mr. Percy Phillip who is the European correspondent of the New York Times. He is regarded as a very good newspaperman and was very well in with Bonnet.1 He told me he had recently visited the Maginot line at the invitation of the French Government. He said that the line was very interesting. He had gone down in one section of it 115 metres by electric light. Below they saw a complete world. There was a light railway, munitions dumps, hospital stations, Officers messes, etc. He said they had been with the French advance posts in No Man's land. The advance was about 30 to 40 Kilometres. He had no doubt that if the Germans made a serious attack the French would not try to hold on but would retreat to the Maginot line. The advance was merely to show that France was really at war with Germany. Phillip said the real interest for him was his talk at lunch with some officers of the reserve who had been called up for duty. Officers of the reserve are of course a much better guide to public opinion than those of the regular army, as they have left professions and business and are generally suffering loss. He asked them what they thought of Hitler's proposals and they replied to a man that if any French Government dared to negotiate with Hitler the army would take control of the country at once. They were determined that this time it would be seen through to the end, and there would be no more political armistice such as 1918. They were worried by Chamberlain's speech and hoped there was no danger of England letting up at this stage.

Daladier's speech was completely approved by all the French press as indicating the attitude of the ordinary French citizen. As far as the press here report it seems that the speech was well received in England and all the neutral countries. Even the German press it is alleged stated that 'the speech was not as bad as was expected.' From all I can hear the speech represents the attitude of the man in the street towards the war. Everyone seems anxious to put an end to the constant disturbances in Europe and are prepared to pay a very high price to secure stability.

The other question of interest is the attitude of Russia towards the Baltic countries. As you know Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have already accepted the Russian conditions. I met the Lithuanian Minister2 the other day and he said after the example of Poland that they had no alternative but to accept the Russian terms and hope for the best. I should say that the Minister has always been very left in his views. I think however he feels that his country is in for a very bad time.

The Finns as far as one can gather are prepared to resist Russia's demands. Whether that attitude will continue remains to be seen.

In conclusion I think that the French are prepared to see their war through to the bitter end whatever the cost. They consider themselves better prepared and better equipped than ever before. They have abundance of food and apparently oil supplies.

They are very impressed by the organisation and equipment of the English troops that have already arrived here and they are glowing in their praise of the English Air Force.

Is Mise le meas,
(Sgd) Seán Murphy

P.S. May I have a copy of this in due course please


1 Georges-Étienne Bonnet (1889-1973), French politician (Radical-Socialist Party); Finance Minister (1937-8), Foreign Minister (1938-9), member of the Vichy National Council (1941).

2 Jurgis Baltrusaitis (1873-1944).

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