Horace Wilson: Man of Munich?

Sir Horace Wilson broke the tradition of the anonymous civil servant. During the Munich crisis he became a controversial and for some a hated figure. This article looks behind the myth to the man.

A senior civil servant was walking through the crowded lobby of his London club. As he reached the door a voice called out: 'There goes the man who has betrayed his country'. The speaker was a prominent Member of Parliament; his target Sir Horace Wilson, at that time, 1939, Permanent Head of the Civil Service and Chief Industrial Adviser to the Government.

Sir Horace Wilson was the most widely photographed and most frequently written about civil servant of his day. Before the outbreak of war in 1939 he was recognised as a powerful influence behind the policies of the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. Lord Woolton wrote in his Memoirs that Wilson 'found himself enjoying tremendous power – in fact a power unequalled by any member of the Cabinet except the Prime Minister'. Woolton recalls how Wilson left him early after dinner one evening to return to 10 Downing Street with the words: 'I must go and look after my master: he's feeling very lonely just now'.

Wilson was born on August 23rd, 1882, the son of Harry Wilson of Bournemouth a furniture dealer. He was educated at Kurnella School, Bournemouth, and at the London School of Economics.

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