Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister

Written by Nicholas Shakespeare
Review by Douglas Kemp

This is a fascinating, detailed account of the political issues which led to the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain being replaced by Winston Churchill in May 1940. Although the general story is well known, the background leading up to the vote in the House of Commons is perhaps less so. Britain had just badly lost to a well-organised and executed German invasion of Norway. With the Wehrmacht about to sweep through the Low Countries and France, the country was in dire peril – with the USA still formally neutral, the UK and its commonwealth was the last bastion of liberal democracy in the world against the then-combined threat of expansionist and brutal Nazism, fascism and Soviet communism. Shakespeare uses all the available sources to narrate the events of those tremendously dramatic days of May 1940, as well as to look at the characters of the three main players – Chamberlain, Halifax and Churchill, of course. It is an absorbing narrative, and a pleasure to read.