chapter  5
10 Pages

Hugh Dalton, Poland and SOE, 1940–42: Terry Charman


At 6 pm on Tuesday 14 May 1940, five days after the German invasion of the Low Countries, Hugh Dalton, then at the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth, received a telephone call from Winston Churchill. ‘Your friends tell me that you have made a considerable study of economic warfare,’ the new prime minister said. ‘Will you take that ministry?’ Dalton’s response was both immediate and affirmative, ‘I should be very glad to,’ he replied, telling the premier that, ‘I am very proud to serve under you.’ Two months later, on 16 July 1940, the day that Hitler gave the orders to prepare for Operation ‘Sealion’, Churchill gave Dalton ministerial responsibility for the new secret organization, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), with the famous injunction: ‘And now set Europe ablaze’. In his memoirs Dalton recalled, ‘I accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation with great eagerness and satisfaction’, adding, ‘… for the next 18 months until I moved to the Board of Trade, the running of SOE absorbed an ever-increasing part of my time and energies’. Those energies, as both Dalton’s friends and enemies could testify, were formidable.1