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Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park led No. 11 Group of the RAF’s Fighter Command in winning the Battle of Britain, one of the most decisive battles in military history. His reward for his role in winning the battle was to be shunted aside to quieter commands for 18 months, before being sent to take command of the air forces at Malta in July 1942. Park went on to command the RAF in the Middle East and ended the war as Allied Air Commander in South East Asia, being present at the Japanese surrender on September 12, 1945 at Singapore. Air Marshal Sir Keith Park: Victor of the Battle of Britain, Defender of Malta by Murray Rowlands is a slim biography that includes an account of the bitter controversies over tactics during the Battle of Britain that led to Park’s temporary banishment in 1941-42.

Churchill Review

As a cabinet minister during the Second World War, Lord Woolton became “the face, voice and spirit of the Ministry of Food.” His regular radio broadcasts brought him wide attention and it has been claimed that, after Churchill, he was the “most popular and identifiable government minister.” He even had the honor of having a pie named after him, the Woolton Pie which was made mostly from vegetables.

Frederick Marquis, ennobled as Lord Woolton in 1939, was appointed to the Ministry of Food by Neville Chamberlain in April 1940, and was retained in the position by Churchill on his becoming prime minister and forming a cabinet the next month. In November 1943, Woolton was moved to the Ministry of Reconstruction, where he directed post-war planning. Although a non-party minister, he remained in the cabinet after the coalition dissolved in 1945, serving as Lord President of the Council in Churchill’s caretaker government.

The Diaries and Letters of Lord Woolton, 1940-1945 edited by Michael Kandiah and Judith Rowbotham provides selections from Woolton’s diary and correspondence as well as excerpts from the cabinet papers, official memorandum, and his speeches. These documents are accompanied by a 100-page biographical essay on Woolton including an overview of his contribution at the ministries of Food and Reconstruction.

Woolton was never an intimate of Churchill and as the editors note his relationship with the prime minister was “always challenging.” He was often frustrated with Churchill but “when in a cooler frame of mind, Woolton was always able to better judge Churchill’s capabilities in a positive light.”

The Diaries and Letters of Lord Woolton, 1940-1945 is an excellent addition to the published collections of primary documents. The diary and correspondence provide further insight on the deliberations and decision-making in Churchill’s cabinet.

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On Boxing Day, 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King met at the White House in Washington, D.C. for discussions about the war situation. This was the first time that the three leaders had met together. While Churchill and Roosevelt would famously form a close friendship during the war, at this point in their relationship, as Neville Thompson observes in The Third Man: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Mackenzie King, and the Untold Friendships that Won WWII, King knew the British prime minister and American president far better than they knew each other. King had been friends with Churchill for over forty years, since their first meeting as young men in Ottawa at Christmas 1900 when Churchill was visiting the Canadian capital on a lecture tour of Canada and the United States. As King recalled decades later, he found Churchill at an Ottawa hotel memorably drinking champagne even though it was only 11 o’clock in the morning. King had not known Roosevelt for as long. They had first met in November 1935 at the White House with Roosevelt in the third year of his presidency and King freshly back as prime minister after ousting R.B. Bennett in the October election. In this volume, Thompson narrates the Canadian’s friendships with his British and American counterparts. Thompson based his research on the diary King kept for nearly six decades, beginning while a university student in 1893 and continuing until shortly before his death in 1950. The diary is one of the great documents of Canadian history and consists of 30,000 pages and 7.5 million words. In the diary King provides detailed insight on the Anglo-Canadian-American relationship of the Second World War; King’s admiration, disagreements, and frustrations with Churchill and Roosevelt; and the occasional gossipy comments he made about Churchill’s drinking habits or Roosevelt’s health. The Third Man: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Mackenzie King, and the Untold Friendships that Won WWII is a fine study and excellent read. Neville Thompson (emeritus, University of Western Ontario) is also the author of The Anti-Appeasers, Wellington After Waterloo, Earl Bathurst and the British Empire, and Canada and the End of the Imperial Dream.

Churchill Research

“From Circumspection to Centrality: Prime Ministers and the Growth of Analysis, Co-ordination, Management in the UK Intelligence Community” by Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac has been published in the Journal of Intelligence History. The authors argue that Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee changed the relationship between intelligence and Downing Street during their consecutive terms as prime minister from 1940 to 1951. Churchill initiated a “Churchillian revolution in intelligence” which Attlee completed. Prior to 1940 the use of intelligence by prime ministers had been inept. Churchill harnessed the power of intelligence to decision-making and created a central machine for managing and analyzing the intelligence provided to the prime minister. The journal website is here.

Churchill Research

“Command of the air’: Alfred T. Mahan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston S. Churchill and an Anglo-American personal diplomacy of air power” by Graham Cross was published in the March 2021 issue of the Journal of Transatlantic Studies. The article argues that Roosevelt and Churchill had “a sophisticated appreciation of how to use air power to achieve their foreign policy goals within the realm of personal diplomacy.” The journal website is here.

Churchill Research

“Inter-individual variability in disease expression: the Tudor-Churchill spectrum” by Donald F. Weaver (Krembil Research Institute) has been published in the March 2021 issue of the Neurological Sciences. The article provides two comparative case histories that study the effect of the traumatic brain injuries suffered by two English leaders, Henry VIII and Winston Churchill. The latter suffered several concussions in his life, most notably in 1893 when he fell from a bridge 30 feet to the ground and in 1931 after a car accident in New York. Unlike Henry VIII who spiraled into “self-destructive despair,” Weaver finds that the concussions did not severely impact Churchill, there is “no evidence of chronic headache, no early dementia (except in the last years of life when multiple strokes yielded some cognitive impairment), no evidence of CTE or Alzheimer’s disease.” The journal website is here.

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On his first day as prime minister on May 11, 1940, among Winston Churchill’s many tasks was to rid 10 Downing Street of Horace Wilson, the head of the Civil Service and close advisor to the previous two holders of the office of prime minister, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. A leading architect of appeasement, Wilson had strategically occupied for the previous five years the office located next to the Cabinet Room in Number Ten. Occupying that office had been “the symbol and source of his power.” There are many colorful stories about how Wilson was swiftly evicted from Number 10, with one account saying that a furious Churchill instructed Brendan Bracken to “Tell that man if that room is not cleared by 2 p.m. I will make him Minister to Iceland.” Although banished from Downing Street in disgrace, Wilson was allowed to remain head of the Civil Service and permanent secretary to the Treasury as it would have been “an affront to the Civil Service” to sack him. Wilson clung on for two years until he was retired on reaching the retirement age of sixty, his place being taken by Sir Richard Hopkins who was two years his senior.

Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler: Neville Chamberlain, Horace Wilson, & Britain’s Plight of Appeasement: 1937-1939 by Adrian Phillips focuses on the role of Horace Wilson in providing an outstanding account of the woeful history of the British policy of appeasing the dictators. Wilson had enjoyed “a stellar ascent through the ranks of the Civil Service” which culminated in being appointed an advisor to Baldwin in 1935, a position he continued in under Chamberlain when he emerged as “a great power in the land.” During his premiership, Chamberlain relied upon Wilson for advice on every possible topic, including foreign policy where Wilson’s counsel proved tragically inept. Wilson’s reputation had been made in resolving British industrial disputes with a lone foray in foreign affairs being the negotiation of the trade agreement in Ottawa in 1932. Dealing with Hitler was an entirely different matter than ending strikes and Nazi Berlin was a far cry from the always pleasant Canadian capital.

Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler is an excellent read. Phillips is the author of The King Who Had to Go: Edward VIII, Mrs. Simpson, and the Hidden Politics of the Abdication Crisis.

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Winston Churchill had a major impact on the creation of the modern Middle East while serving as War Secretary (1919-21) and Colonial Secretary (1921-22) in the David Lloyd George cabinet. In these two posts, the Middle East was a prime area of his responsibility. Over those four years, Churchill adopted the Sharifian policy, laid the foundation for the states of Jordan and Iraq, established the policy of Air Control, and attempted to formulate a Palestine policy, which he based on adherence to the Balfour Declaration. Winston S. Churchill and the Shaping of the Middle East, 1919-22 by Sara Reguer (Brooklyn College) studies Churchill’s role in the Middle East in the wake of the upheaval brought about by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Great War. Reguer interestingly notes that “people in high office develop their own methods to get what they want and Churchill was a master at this.” His maneuverings in the developing and implementing Middle East policy are an example of how someone in a high government position functions in the decision-making. Reguer adds, that Churchill’s “tactics were many: he built up an arsenal of reliable data and memoranda, he then used this arsenal to convince those men whose supportive opinions he needed and only then did he approach the high level decision makers.” The volume is a fine academic study of Churchill and the Middle East.

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A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion by Tom Segev has quite rightly been widely praised, with it being called a “monumental” work and the “definitive biography” of the founding father of the state of Israel. Demonstrating a masterful command of the subject, the author describes Ben-Gurion’s relentless and single-minded pursuit of the dream of establishing a Jewish state. A pursuit that culminated in his reading out of the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv and then going on to serve as the country’s first prime minister (1948-53, 1955-63). A “warts and all” biography, Segev includes the unattractive aspects of his subject’s personal life and personality. It is a detailed, encyclopedic account.

Segev recounts Ben-Gurion’s admiration of Winston Churchill, but probably makes a slight error in placing the first meeting of Ben-Gurion and Churchill in June 1961. Martin Gilbert records that Churchill and Ben-Gurion met before that with a meeting taking place on June 9, 1937. Of that meeting Ben-Gurion recorded in his diary that Churchill assured him, “England will wake up and defeat Mussolini and Hitler, and then your hour will also come.”

Tom Segev is a journalist and historian, being the author of Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends and The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust.