Churchill Webcast

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The National Churchill Day Webcast will be presented on April 9 (12:00 PM, Central time) by the National Churchill Museum. The webcast will feature political commentator Chris Matthews and director of the Churchill Archives Centre Allen Packwood discussing both President John F. Kennedy awarding Churchill his honorary U.S. citizenship as well as the Anglo-American special relationship. More information on the webcast is available here.

Churchill Research

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Andrew Roberts, author of the acclaimed Churchill: Walking with Destiny, has written the article “Churchill and the Flu” that has been published by the Brunswick Review. The piece considers how Churchill and his world were shaped by pandemics (including the Spanish Flu of 1917-19) and what lessons might be learned from Churchill in responding to Covid-19. The article is available here.

Book Review

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Churchill: A Graphic Biography is published by Greenhill Books, with the text by Vincent Delmas and the artwork by Alessia Nocera. Francois Kersaudy, author of De Gaulle and Churchill, was the historical consultant on the project and wrote the introduction. Employing the comic book format, it is a wonderfully illustrated and scripted biography that traces episodes of Churchill’s life from his childhood to VE-Day in 1945. It is an entertaining and delightful book that will well-serve both new and accomplished readers of Churchill biographies. Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny, contributed the foreword.

Churchill Bulletin

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The March 2020 issue (#141) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the upcoming International Churchill Conference to be held in London; a review of The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz; and a report on the one-day symposium, Churchill in War and Peace, to be held in Nashville in April 2020. The Art of Being Winston Churchill column discusses imbibing and the Churchilliana column features the “Iron Curtain” speech badge. The March bulletin is available here.

Finest Hour

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The theme of the latest issue (No. 187) of Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times is “Churchill and Blenheim.” Named after the Duke of Marlborough’s famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim, the palace is the residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and the birthplace of Churchill. The articles include “The Seventh Duke of Marlborough: Winston Churchill’s Paternal Grandfather” by Fred Glueckstein,” “The Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars and Blenheim” by Douglas S. Russell, “Betrothal at Blenheim” by Mary Soames, “Strange Glittering Beings: The Ninth Duke of Marlborough and His Wives” by Hugo Vickers, and “Blenheim, Politics, and Community” by Robert Courts, MP. In the always interesting Cohen Corner, Ronald Cohen tracks down an obscure 32-page pamphlet entitled Churchill … Statesman of the Century. The website of Finest Hour is here.

Churchill Biography

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With the publication of the final volume, Never Flinch, Never Weary, October 1951-January 1965, the official biography of Winston Churchill has been completed. As determined by the Guinness Book of World Records (the arbiter of such things), it is the longest biography in history. The completed project consists of eight narrative volumes and 23 document volumes. It has both physical and intellectual heft. Together the volumes, which have been acclaimed as a “classic of English scholarly biography,” total over 42,000 pages, measure 72 linear inches, and weigh 108 pounds. As Larry Arnn, the biography’s final editor, has commented its mammoth size is “befitting one of the largest lives ever lived.”

The story of the “Great Biography” starts in 1960 as the then 85 year-old Winston Churchill selected his son Randolph to write his biography based on his voluminous personal papers. Randolph Churchill had proven himself capable by researching and writing a biography of Lord Derby. (Selecting his son to write his biography continued a tradition, as Winston Churchill had written the biography of his own father, Lord Randolph Churchill. In turn, Churchill’s grandson, Winston Churchill, would write the biography of his father, Randolph Churchill).

Randolph Churchill assembled a research team and work began on the official biography in 1961. The following year, Martin Gilbert, a young History Don from Merton College, Oxford, joined the research team. In approaching the project, Randolph Churchill adopted the motto “he shall be his own biographer.” Winston Churchill’s personal documents were to be the basis of the biography’s narrative, with extensive selections made from Churchill’s personal papers that included correspondence, minutes, memorandums, telegrams, reports, and speeches. This approach ensured that “from its pages emerges a living Churchill who towers above his fellow politicians.” Beyond Churchill’s papers, research for the project was also undertaken in the cabinet papers, government documents, and other collections of personal papers.

The first narrative volume of the Churchill biography was published in 1966, a year after Churchill’s death, with the second following in 1967. The initial publishers were Heinemann in Britain and Houghton Mifflin in the United States. Randolph Churchill died in 1968 at the age of 57 with only these first two volumes written. Although Winston Churchill’s grandson and Frederick Smith, 2nd Earl of Birkenhead, were both said to be keen to take on the project, the Chartwell Trust selected Martin Gilbert to continue the work. He received £80,000 to complete the project, most of which went to supporting his research. Over the next twenty years, the remaining six narrative volumes and first 13 companion volumes of documents (which took Churchill’s life to 1939) were published. The next three document volumes, which covered the years 1939-1941, were published under the title The Churchill War Papers. Although widely praised on the publication of each volume, a criticism made of the biography was that it favored meticulous coverage of Churchill’s life, with at times day to day attention, over analysis and interpretation of events and decisions.

After the publication of the War Papers there was a pause in publication of new volumes. Hillsdale College, however, stepped in to join the project. A liberal arts school established in 1844 located west of Detroit, Hillsdale’s president is Larry Arnn, a Churchill scholar who worked with Gilbert as a research assistant in the 1970s. Having reached an agreement with Gilbert and the Churchill family to complete the project, Hillsdale became the publisher of the official biography in 2004. Under Hillsdale’s stewardship, the eight narrative volumes and first 16 documents were republished and commencing in 2014 the remaining seven documents volumes were brought to publication with the final volume appearing in 2019. Sir Martin passed away in 2015 and Larry Arnn followed him as editor.

The official biography is simply an outstanding achievement. Under the editorship of Churchill, Gilbert, and Arnn, the biography is indeed worthy of the subject whose life it chronicles.

Book Review

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Churchill and Stalin: Comrades-in-Arms during the Second World War by Martin Folly (Brunel University), Geoffrey Roberts (University College Cork), and Oleg Rzheshevsky (author of Allies at War: The Soviet, American, and British Experience) is a documentary history of Anglo-Soviet relations during the conflict. The first two chapters of the book provide a narrative summary of the war-time relationship while the following chapters provide reproductions of more than 130 documents. These documents include the Churchill-Stalin correspondence and meeting transcripts, including the Eden-Stalin meetings of December 1941, the Churchill-Molotov meetings of May-June 1942, and Churchill-Stalin meetings and conversations in Moscow, Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam. The volumes includes a short 4-page chapter covering Churchill, Stalin, and the Cold War. Churchill and Stalin: Comrades-in-Arms during the Second World War joins the recently published Complete Maisky Diaries and The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt in providing researchers and readers alike with access to the primary sources that document the relationship between Churchill and Stalin during the war.

Churchill document

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Military historian Paul McNicholls of British Columbia recently shared with the writer of this blog a letter from Winston Churchill he uncovered during his research in the papers of Donald Montgomery, the elder brother of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The letter is dated November 1946 and a reply to Montgomery’s request for the then-former prime minister’s autograph which would be auctioned to raise funds for a charitable cause.

Paul is currently writing a biography of Donald Montgomery, who emigrated to Canada in 1908, settled in Vancouver, and served with the Canadian Corps during the First World War. His most recent book is Journey Through the Wilderness: Garnet Wolseley’s Canadian Red River Expedition of 1870, published by Helion. Information on the book is available here.

Churchill Research

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The speech Winston Churchill delivered in Belfast on February 8, 1912 is considered against the backdrop of British and Ulster Unionist politics in “British Political Theatre in Ireland: Winston Churchill and Belfast, 1912” by M.C. Rast and published in History Ireland (January-February 2020). Churchill was then serving as First Lord of the Admiralty in the Asquith government which was committed to Irish self-government and was soon to introduce the third Home Rule bill. Churchill supported the bill and the announcement that he would speak at a pro-home rule meeting at the Ulster Hall provoked, as detailed in the article, controversy and angry oppositions from Ulster Unionists. The History Ireland website is here.