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A mere 15 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a British delegation arrived in the American capital for the First Washington Conference (codenamed the Arcadia Conference). During the three-week conference strategies for defeating Germany and Japan were studied and considered as the American and British chiefs of staff met a total of twelve times. The results of the conference included agreement on a “Germany First” strategy, the creation of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and the adoption of a supreme theatre commander structure in the establishment of the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command under General Wavell. Historians, however, have been dismissive of the Arcadia conference, deeming it inconclusive and observing that the participants only discussed strategy in general terms. John F. Shortal in Code Name Arcadia: The First Wartime Conference of Churchill and Roosevelt writes that these critical assessments are not entirely accurate. In his detailed, scholarly study, he recounts the discussions and decision-making at the conference and finds that at Washington “the American and British chiefs met for the first time since the United States entered the war and gauged each other to assess the talents and abilities of their counterparts.” The Arcadia Conference “left a solid foundation for the Anglo-American alliance.” At the conference, Churchill and Roosevelt “cemented their partnership” and “forged an alliance that would win World War II.”

In regard to the British prime minister, Shortal interestingly writes that at Washington Churchill “was determined to get as much as he could, as fast as he could, from the Americans. This was his responsibility as the British leader. He was his nation’s advocate and did not care whose toes he stepped on.” On occasions he pushed the American’s beyond their interests or capabilities, such as in pressing for the diversion of reinforcement to Singapore or attempting to control the distribution of war equipment. Shortal also observes that the British chiefs of staff and accompanying secretariat were much better prepared than their American counterparts, who had just been plunged into the war. Additionally, he notes that the Americans suspected that the British chiefs of staff were steadfastly presenting Churchill’s initiatives even if they did not necessarily support them. This confused the American chiefs as they did not know if the recommendations being offered were “the best British military opinion” or something the British chiefs had been pushed into adopting by the prime minister.

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Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart is a legendary figure in British military history. He fought in five wars, won the Victoria Cross, escaped from a POW camp, was promoted to general, and was wounded several times, including losing a hand and an eye. All the while being credited with setting records for the intensity and variety of his use of foul language. As prime minister in the Second World War, Winston Churchill appointed Carton de Wiart as his personal representative to Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek. He admired de Wiart and called him a “model of chivalry and honour.” An article on de Wiart, “British Berserker,” by the author of this blog has been published in the latest issue of Britain at War (August 2021). The magazine’s website is here and the article is available here.

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Charles de Gaulle: A Thorn in the Side of Six American Presidents by William R. Keylor (professor emeritus, Boston University) studies the French leader’s antagonistic relationship with his American counterparts, first as leader of the Free French in the Second World War and later as president of France in the late 1950s and through the 1960s. Five of the presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson) found him to be an almost continuous “source of annoyance and irritation,” while only the sixth and last American president he dealt with, Richard Nixon, held “a respectful, even laudatory, view of the French president.”

Despite Winston Churchill’s efforts as prime minister during the war, the relationship between de Gaulle and the American presidents was poisonous from the very start. The Roosevelt administration both disliked (with reason) and distrusted de Gaulle as a would-be dictator and contested the legitimacy of his claim to be the leader of France as the head of the Free French. The American government first maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy France and then cultivated in succession Admiral Darlan and General Giraud as alternatives to de Gaulle. Churchill, who had sponsored de Gaulle in June 1940 when he was an almost entirely unknown junior French general, pressed both the Americans to recognize de Gaulle and de Gaulle to reach an understanding with Roosevelt. Both efforts were a struggle. As Keylor notes, De Gaulle often incensed Churchill by being an obstacle in the much-sought harmonious Anglo-American relations, including at the Casablanca conference in 1943.

Charles de Gaulle: A Thorn in the Side of Six American Presidents is a worthwhile study and provides interesting insights into the French leader’s “long and contentious relationship” with the United States.

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Question: “In his first speech to the House of Commons as Prime Minister on 13 May, 1940, what four things did Churchill say he had to ‘offer’ and in what order did he list them?”

Question: “From 1908 what was Churchill’s preferred brand of champagne?”

The two above questions are among the 800 questions included in The Churchill Quiz Book: How Much Do You Know about Britain’s Wartime Leader? Adopting a handbook format that includes numerous photographs, the questions in the quiz book are arranged in ten chronological chapters each of which is subdivided into four separate quizzes. The questions include “true or false,” multiple choice, anagrams, straight answer, pictorial questions, and questions deemed to be of the expert level. The handbook has been prepared by Kieran Whitworth, a book buyer at the Imperial War Museums and author of The Ultimate World War II Quiz Book.  The Churchill Quiz Book is an enjoyable book to read and browse or use on a quiz night.

The answers to the two example questions are below.

Answer: ‘Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”

Answer: Pol Roger

Churchill Research

Winston Churchill with General Emile Fayolle while visiting the headquarters of the French XXXIII Corps on December 15, 1915. Captain Edward Spears is third from the left.

Edward Spears was a member of parliament and close friend of Winston Churchill, who during the Second World War appointed him the prime minister’s liaison to the French and later minister to Syria and Lebanon. An essay, “Great Contemporaries: Louis Spears, Liaison to the French” by the author of this blog has been published on the Churchill Project. The article is available here.

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In his famous speech in Zurich on September 19, 1946, Winston Churchill made a call to recreate the European family and to “build a kind of United States of Europe.” In the speech, Churchill specifically gave credit to the work already completed towards European unity made by the Pan-European Union and its founder and leader Count Richard Coundenhove-Kalergi. Churchill had met Coundenhove-Kalergi for the second time a few days before delivering the speech, having first met him in 1938 at Chartwell before the Second World War. An Austrian aristocrat, Coundenhove-Kalergi had founded the Pan-European Union in 1923 and would spend the next half-century promoting a peaceful and united Europe. In the process Coundenhove-Kalergi earned the hatred of Hitler, who attacked him as a “cosmopolitan bastard.” Forced to flee to the United States in 1940, Coundenhove-Kalergi returned to Europe after the war, at a time when his ideas for a united Europe were finding a more ready audience. Churchill and Coundenhove-Kalergi were associated in the years after the Zurich speech in the campaign for greater European integration.

Hitler’s Cosmopolitan Bastard: Count Richard Coundenhove-Kalergi and His Vision of Europe by Martyn Bond is the first English language biography of its subject. It is a detailed and well-researched study of the fascinating life of an “apostle of European unity.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.