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As David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov observe in The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt, the relationship between the three leaders was “largely an epistolary relationship” that ran from June 22, 1941 with the German invasion of the USSR to Franklin Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945. During those almost four years, the leaders of the Soviet Union, United States, and Great Britain only met together twice, for four days at Tehran and eight days at Yalta. Additionally, Churchill met Stalin alone in Moscow in August 1942 and November 1944. In place of personal discussions, the leaders exchanged 682 letters. As a point of comparison that reflects the nature of the Big Three’s relationship, Roosevelt and Churchill were in each other’s company for 113 days during the war and exchanged more than 1,600 letters. In addition, they often kept each other informed of the letters they individually sent to and received from Stalin

The “epistolary relationship” between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin is studied in the documentary history The Kremlin Letters, edited by David Reynolds (Cambridge University) and Vladimir Pechatnov (Moscow State Institute of International Relations). The volume provides the full-text transcript of 75% of the letters exchanged between the three leaders, including all of the important messages, along with an extensive commentary that provides context and background to the correspondence. [The volume, however, does not include the first two messages Churchill sent to Stalin, the first sent on June 25, 1940 and the second composed on April 3, 1941.] While the Stalin-Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence has been published previously with the first edition being Correspondence between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and the Presidents of the U.S.A. and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 published in 1957, the reprinting of the letters with the accompanying commentary make this volume invaluable. The contribution of the Reynolds and Pechatnov goes far beyond adding brief explanatory notes to, instead, providing a full narrative on the Anglo-American-Soviet relationship during the Second World War. The commentary takes up more space than the full-text of the letters.

The correspondence exchanged between the three leaders was usually the result of drafting and redrafting before being sent. Churchill’s messages involved the contributions of the Cabinet, Foreign Office, and other relevant departments and officials and, likewise, Reynolds and Pechatnov observe that “team work and editorship were both essential in the composition of Stalin’s telegrams.” Roosevelt is thought to have been the “least involved in the nitty-gritty of composition” with many of his letters being drafted by Harry Hopkins, Leahy, or other officials. Roosevelt would, however, review and approve all the correspondence, making amendments as needed. In the volume the editors have included the “more significant alterations that they made in successive drafts,” with cuts and additions being demarked. Additionally, the correspondence had to be translated into and from Russian as well as enciphered for transmission between the capitals. On occasion, as Reynolds and Pechatnov note, the exact meaning was lost in the process with accompanying misunderstandings. The Kremlin Letters provides the version of Stalin’s letters in the form they were given to Roosevelt and Churchill.

Reynolds and Pechatnov comment that “despite all the diplomatic frills and bureaucratic red tape, many of the messages are intensely human.” The messages could be business-like or friendly, but also, as in the case of Stalin, sarcastic and rude or very rarely pleading, such as cable of May 6, 1942 asking for supplies to be urgently dispatched and quite astonishingly acknowledging the difficulties involved in sending the Arctic convoys. The editors correctly note that Churchill was “convinced of his own persuasive powers” and “relished personal diplomacy.” For the prime minister his messages to Stalin (and other leaders) were “surrogates” for personal conversation.

The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt is an outstanding work of scholarship.

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Churchill Research

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“Winston Churchill: two mild left hemisphere strokes, finger gangrene and syncope in 1959” by John W. Scadding and J. Allister Vale has been published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. The authors consider in detail the mild strokes Churchill suffered on April 13, 1959 and on November 17, 1959. They conclude that “Churchill’s cognitive function was gradually deteriorating, most probably on the basis of increasing cerebrovascular disease.” He, however, maintained a busy schedule of engagements and “demonstrated that he could rise to the occasion and that when he really wanted to do something, he still could.” The journal’s web site is here.

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The recent official state visit of President Donald Trump to the United Kingdom was the 113th of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, the first being that of King Gustaf VI of Sweden in June 1954. During this most recent visit, the Queen again demonstrated her customary tact, discretion, and aplomb. Elizabeth II’s comportment during a visit which had been forecast to hold the potential for many pitfalls was praised by many critics, with the Washington Post, in the aftermath of the visit, calling her the “master of soft power.”

In Queen of the World, Robert Hardman recounts the role of Queen Elizabeth II in diplomacy and international affairs since her ascending to the British throne whilst on a visit to Kenya in February 1952. A past royal correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and currently for the Daily Mail, Hardman has previously written Her Majesty: Queen Elizabeth II and her Court and Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work. In thirteen chapters Hardman adopts a thematic approach as he provides behind-the-scenes journalistic accounts, based on numerous interviews and archival papers, of the royal tours undertaken by the Queen and the state visits of foreign leaders received by her. State visits are about “dazzling” the visitor and Hardman quotes former prime minister David Cameron that there “is nothing like a Palace banquet for wowing even the most modern world leader.” The guest list to be dazzled has included over the decades some unenviable guests, with the “nadir” being the 1978 visit of the Stalinist dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, whom the Queen would often refer to as “that frightful little man.” As he considers the Queen’s role in international politics, Hardman describes her importance in the evolution of the Commonwealth of Nations and her efforts to keep it “in one piece.” Without her as Head of the Commonwealth, he writes that “the whole thing would long since have disappeared beneath the waterline.” In the book Hardman also enjoys occasionally correcting some of the canards put forward in the television show The Crown. Queen of the World is a detailed and worthwhile account.

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The History Press has published a new edition of Raymond Asquith: Life and Letters edited by his grandson John Jolliffe. At the time of its original publication in 1980, this volume of letters was widely praised for the brilliance of Asquith’s writing, with The Times writing that the “letters to his wife, family, and friends are perceptive, funny, and indiscreet monuments” to his short life.

Raymond Asquith was born in 1878, the son of the future prime minister H.H. Asquith and his first wife Helen. After attending Winchester College, he went to Balliol College, Oxford where he was a dazzling figure. He was president of the Oxford Union in 1900 and member of a circle that included Aubrey Herbert and John Buchan. Called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1904, Asquith married Katherine Horne in 1907. It was happy marriage and they had two daughters and a son nicknamed “Trim.” At the outbreak of the First World War, Asquith joined the army and in July 1915 transferred to the Grenadier Guards as a Lieutenant. He went to France in October of that year. Posted to the British Expeditionary Force headquarters at the intervention of his father, Asquith insisted on returning to his regiment and rejoined to serve in the Battle of the Somme. Asquith was killed on the Western Front on September 15, 1916. On his death Winston Churchill called Asquith his “brilliant hero-friend” and wrote to Prime Minister Asquith that Raymond, was “a character of singular charm and distinction – so gifted yet so devoid of personal ambition, so critically detached from ordinary affairs yet capable of the utmost willing sacrifice.”

Asquith’s letters are interesting, witty, and eloquent. The last letter he wrote was one to his wife two days before he was killed. Asquith ended the letter by writing that it would not be disagreeable to return to London for the winter months, “but I must see out the fighting season. Tomorrow we shall move forward again, probably into the line. Angel, I send you all my love. Remember me to Trim.”

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Winston Churchill: At War and Thinking of War Before 1939 edited by B.J.C. McKercher and Antoine Capet provides a collection of eight interesting essays by several of the leading scholars on Winston Churchill and his era. Prior to the onset of the Second World War, Churchill had been a soldier, statesman, military historian, and writer on military affairs. As is noted in the book’s introduction, “his military service and efforts in and out of the Cabinet in fighting and thinking about war prior to 1939 provides a telling prologue to whatever he achieved as a warlord during the Second World War.” Published as part of the Routledge Studies in Modern British History series, this essay collection is derived from a conference, “Winston Churchill (1874-1965) in Peace and War,” that was held in Paris in September 2015. The primary audience of the volume are scholarly readers.

The eight essays are “At War on the Nile: What Winston Churchill Learned from the River War” (James W. Muller), “A Dangerous, if not Malignant Design”: Winston Churchill and the German Naval Challenge before the First World War” (John H. Maurer), “By God, I will make them Fight!” Winston Churchill and Britain’s Decision for War in 1914” (John W. Young), “Churchill’s Downfall in 1915: The British Press and the Dardanelles Campaign” (Christopher M. Bell), “What Churchill and de Gaulle Learned from the Great War” (Will Morrissey), “The Limitations of the Politician-Historian: Winston Churchill, Rearmament, Appeasement, and the Origins of the Second World War” (B. J. C. McKercher), “Winston Churchill and the Golden Age of Journalism,” (Richard Toye) and “Winston Churchill, Islam and the Middle East” (Warren Dockter).

Among the essays is James Muller’s discussion of Churchill’s participation in the Sudan Campaign and his subsequent book The River War that concludes that the book “still offers a definitive account of the re-conquest of the Sudan and a thoughtful exploration of the problems of war, empire, race, and religion that Churchill first encountered in the late Victorian era – which are very much still our problems today.”

John Young in the chapter on Churchill’s role in the decision for war in 1914 remarks that Churchill was the cabinet’s “foremost exponent of British intervention.” As the crisis unfolded, Churchill readied the navy for war and pushed his cabinet colleagues, often acting without their approval relying, instead, on the support of Asquith. Young also considers Churchill’s decision during the July crisis to seize two dreadnoughts that had been built in British shipyards and were ready to be delivered to Turkey, a decision that was later claimed to have driven the Turks into the war on the side of Germany. Young concludes that it was “probably best” that the ships were seized. Had the dreadnoughts been delivered as scheduled to a power already in negotiations with Berlin and subsequently used against the Allied Powers, this reviewer would expect there would have been domestic and international repercussions, with Churchill, no doubt, criticized for failing to act to stop the delivery.

Churchill’s first volume of his Second World War memoirs, The Gathering Storm, is severely criticized in McKercher’s essay as it is found to be “woefully inadequate as an historical analysis in understanding how war came and demonstrates the limitations of a politician-historian.” McKercher considers The Gathering Storm an “egotistical chronicle” which ignores the complexities British leaders faced in “building effective strategy based on rearmament and doing so within confines established by electoral and public opinion concerned as much with domestic issues.” McKercher rather overstates his case at times, most especially with his claim that “the patrician Churchill lacked any understanding of post-1918 British electoral politics.” As Churchill ran for election eight times from 1918 to 1935 (winning five times), I would venture it is safe to say he had, at the very least, some understanding of electoral politics.

John Maurer provides a most interesting essay on Churchill and the German naval challenge. As First Lord of the Admiralty for the three years prior to the start of the First World War, Churchill was responsible for British “naval security” and played a leading role in directing British policy and strategy in the Anglo-German naval competition. Maurer observes that in seeking to keep ahead of Germany on the seas, Churchill had to walk a “political tightrope” between the proponents of British naval preparedness and those who opposed higher naval spending and thought Churchill was merely provoking Germany, with many of the latter found in Churchill’s own Liberal party and Asquith government. Meeting the German naval challenge required Churchill to employ his “skills in administration, strategic assessment, execution of policy, political maneuvering, and powers of expression” to build and maintain a domestic “political consensus.”

At the start of the First World War, Churchill’s standing with the British public and press was at a peak, but within weeks he was the target of a press campaign demanding he be forced out as First Lord of the Admiralty. In an excellent essay on Churchill’s downfall, Bell writes that by the end of 1914 the conservative newspapers were “committed to a depiction of Churchill as a loose cannon who was personally responsible for some of the worst setbacks that Britain had suffered in the opening months of the war,” while Churchill was “frustrated by his inability to lash back at his critics in the press.” The newspaper attacks intensified with the naval failure at the Dardanelles and Churchill was ousted in the political crisis in May 1915 that led to the forming of the coalition government. Bell writes that the press campaign was a “mixture of truths, half-truths, and outright fabrications,” with the consistent theme that Churchill “routinely ignored his naval advisors; he was a reckless amateur with fatally flawed judgement” and solely responsible for the navy’s defeats. There is, Bell concludes, “enough truth in these charges” that they were embraced at the time and a century later are “still going strong.”

Winston Churchill: At War and Thinking of War Before 1939 provides a collection of substantive and challenging essays that make many useful observations that will stimulate further historical discussion and scholarship.

Churchill Bulletin

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The June issue (#132) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the upcoming 36th International Churchill Conference in Washington, D.C. on October 29–31, 2019, the fiftieth anniversary celebrations at the National Churchill Museum held in May 2019, and the launch of the Jennie Churchill Fund. The Churchill Style column discusses the prime minister’s hats and the Churchilliana section features the 1941 Anglo-American Badge. The bulletin is available here.

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“St. Stephen’s in War and Peace: Civil Defence and the Location of Parliament, 1938-51” by Miles Taylor has been published in Parliamentary History (38:1; February 2019). The article reviews the relocation of parliament during the Second World War, the debate on how the House of Commons should be rebuilt, and the new commons chamber that opened in October 1950. In 1943 a Commons committee was created to plan the rebuilding of the House of Commons. Taylor writes that Churchill “loaded the dice” by giving the committee precise instructions. The chamber layout would be oblong not semicircular and thus “restore two-party politics by creating a structure, and, more importantly, an atmosphere, in the middle of the 20th century derived from the mid-Victorian era.” Taylor concludes that “reconstructing the Commons after the war was both an act of restoration and of invention, as Churchill and his successors sought to reshape parliamentary politics to their own ends.” The Parliamentary History web site is here.

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“Winston Churchill: Inguinal Hernia Repair on 11 June 1947” by J. Allister Vale and John W. Scadding has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (112:4; 2019). In September 1945, while on holiday at Lake Como in Italy, Churchill was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia and a truss was made for him to wear. Over the next two years the hernia became larger and various trusses had proved ineffective and on June 11, 1947 Churchill was operated on at the Fife Nursing Home in London. The two-hour operation was performed by Sir Thomas Dunhill and Sir James Patterson Ross. The website for the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is here.