Churchill in the News

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In 1970 a life-size bronze statue of Winston Churchill by the sculptor Oscar Nemon was unveiled outside the House of Commons chamber. Having first met Nemon in Morocco in 1951, Churchill regularly sat for the sculptor after he had returned as prime minister. The BBC program Westminster Hour has a report on the life of Oscar Nemon. The report is available here.

Book Review

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Winston Churchill would have to have been 142 years old to have offered an opinion or cast a vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In the absence of such longevity on Churchill’s part, both the leave and remain campaigns claimed Churchill’s support for their side. Boris Johnson, Nicholas Soames, and David Cameron all told the voters they were sure that they knew how Churchill would have voted on Europe. Published in advance of last year’s referendum, Churchill on Europe by Felix Klos claims that there is “no doubt” that Churchill wanted the United Kingdom as a leading member of an “ever-closer union of European states.” In his slim book of 64 pages plus notes, the author is able to only make a weak case for his position. The book only considers Churchill’s campaign for a united Europe in 1946-47, including the famous Zurich speech, when he and the Conservatives were in opposition. Klos does not explain, apart from a reference to a lack of support in the Conservative party, why the pursuit of a united Europe was not pressed ahead with when Churchill returned to the premiership in 1951. Perhaps in his forthcoming longer book on Churchill and Europe also from I.B. Tauris, Klos will make a more detailed case and explain why Britain under Churchill remained aloof as the initial steps were being taken for a united Europe in the early 1950s.

Churchill Bulletin

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The July issue of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on a special screening of Darkest Hour at the 2017 Churchill Conference, the scheduling of the author Michael Dobbs as a keynote speaker at the conference, a review of Winston Churchill in British Art, 1900 to The Present Day: The Titan with Many Faces, and Churchill Collectables: WSC Soap Set. The newsletter is available here.

Book Review

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On the eve of the 1944 Anzio Landing the defeatist and soon to be replaced American commander Major-General John Lucas wrote in his diary, “This whole affair had a strong odor of Gallipoli and apparently the same amateur [Churchill] was still on the coaches bench.” As encapsulated in this diary entry Winston Churchill was the irresponsible politician and military “amateur” who brushed aside his professional naval advisors to plunge the British into the failed Dardanelles naval attack and ensuing disastrous army campaign on the Gallipoli peninsula. The Dardanelles was the nadir of Churchill’s political career and the campaign continues to be cited as proof of his reckless and unreliable character. He has never fully escaped the Dardanelles. As Christopher Bell writes in the excellent Churchill and the Dardanelles, “controversy has raged around the Dardanelles since 1915, and the campaign still casts a long shadow over Churchill’s reputation.”

In this new book Bell (Dalhousie and author of Churchill and Sea Power) tackles the controversy and competing mythology surrounding Churchill and the campaign. He observes that two competing narratives have grown up around the campaign, one in which “Churchill is to blame for everything” and the other in which the Dardanelles was one of World War One’s “few creative strategic concepts” and that the failure was due to the execution not because of Churchill’s initial conception. In his study Bell holds that neither narrative is accurate. Churchill did not “dupe” the cabinet into supporting the scheme, nor did the attack fail merely due to local mistakes in the theatre.

This book tightly focuses on Churchill’s role in the operation and successfully avoids getting distracted into reciting a history of the campaign itself. It considers the origins and planning of the campaign, the haphazard decision-making that plagued the British government under Asquith during the early stages of the First World War, the impact of the Dardanelles failure on Churchill, and his efforts to restore his reputation by means of his evidence to the Dardanelles Commission. The efforts regarding the commission included coordinating his evidence with colleagues and even being permitted by the commissioners to question witnesses in the commission hearings. By 1917 Churchill had restored his reputation enough for him to receive a ministerial post under Prime Minister David Lloyd George. After the Armistice, Churchill continued to put forward his interpretation of the events in his war memoirs and other writings.

The key relationship in the decision to launch a naval attack at the Dardanelles was that between Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and Jacky Fisher as First Sea Lord. Despite his bluster, Fisher failed to clearly express his supposed opposition to the scheme at key junctures. While explaining much about the Churchill-Fisher relationship (such as their mutual need to cooperate in preparing for the Dardanelles Commission), Bell writes that “Fisher remains an enigma.” This reader continues to be puzzled by Churchill’s attraction to the erratic and ultimately incompetent Fisher, who as described by Bell was “by nature volatile, emotional, duplicitous, secretive, and inconsistent.”

In his study Bell concludes that both as First Lord of the Admiralty and Prime Minister during the Second World War, Churchill applied the lessons he drew from the Dardanelles experience. During the 1939-45 War he was more willing to accept a “no” from his professional military advisers having learned “the folly of launching a major operation with only grudging and half-hearted support.”

Churchill and the Dardanelles is a comprehensive and balanced study of the subject that refutes both the polemics about the Dardanelles and the hagiographical studies that seek to excuse Churchill’s role in the operation. Bell’s work will have to be considered in all future studies of the campaign.

Churchill in the News

A Sudbury taxi that is said to have transported Winston Churchill during the war will be on display at Newton Green Golf Club on August 6. The 80 year-old vehicle, which has been driven for more than 500,000 miles,  transported King George VI and Churchill when they were in the area during the war. An article from the East Anglian Daily Times is available here.

Churchill in the News

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Prince Charles recently visited Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s country home in Kent and now part of the National Trust. He was guided on the tour by his friend and Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames, MP. On the visit he was shown Churchill’s bedroom at Chartwell and commented that it looked “frightfully comfortable.” Later this year the bedroom as well as the secretary’s room will be added to the tour for visitors. An article from the Daily Telegraph on the tour is available here.

Churchill Bulletin

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The June issue of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the opening of a new exhibit, Charting Churchill: An Architectural Biography of Sir Winston Churchill, at the National Churchill Library and Center in Washington; a recent lecture by Jon Meacham on the relationship between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill; the Churchill Quiz: Summer Edition; and Churchill Collectables: Chancellor of the Exchequer bust. The newsletter is available here.

Churchill in the News

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An article in Variety comments on the recent appearance of Winston Churchill as a character in several television and film productions. John Lithgow played Churchill in the Netflix series The Crown while Brian Cox played him in the recently released Churchill and Gary Oldman will portray Churchill in the Darkest Hour, which will be released later in the year. A review of Churchill from the National Post which comments on the film’s “insipid screenplay” is available here.

Finest Hour

The theme of the Spring 2017 issue of the Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times is “The Churchill Men” with articles on Leonard Jerome, Lord Randolph Churchill, J.E.C. Welldon, Jack Churchill, Randolph Churchill, and Winston Churchill (the grandson). Other articles include “Churchill’s Marlborough as the ‘Sum of Things” and “Lincoln and Churchill: Commanders in Chief.” The website of the Finest Hour is here.

Book Review

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Quotes, witticisms, and maxims uttered by Winston Churchill, as well as some falsely attributed to him, have been complied in several books over the years. The Smart Words and Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill from Skyhorse Publishing is a recent addition to the genre. A pocket sized effort, the book provides 250 quotes in 14 sections (Sage Advice; Churchill on Churchill; A Cutting Tongue) with the text supported by several illustrations. It is edited by Max Morris who previously prepared The Smart Words and Wicked Wit of Jane Austen as well as the forthcoming The Smart Words and Wicked Wit of William Shakespeare. While researchers seeking a comprehensive resource on the British prime minister’s quotes should consult Churchill By Himself: The Definitive Collections of Quotations edited by Richard Langworth, The Smart Words and Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill is pleasantly presented and suitable for the interests of general readers.