The January 2020 issue (#139) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the 37th International Churchill Conference to be held in London in October 2020; the new exhibit of Churchill’s art being hosted at the Hilliard University Art Museum; and reviews of the Churchill Documents, volume 22, Leader of the Opposition, August 1945 to October 1951 as well as Churchill and the Movie Mogul, a documentary film. The Art of Being Winston Churchill column discusses childhood pastimes, while the Churchilliana column presents a wartime oval badge. The January bulletin is available here.
The second to last volume in the Churchill documents series being published by Hillsdale College Press covers the six years from Winston Churchill’s election defeat in July 1945 to his return to 10 Downing Street after winning a parliamentary majority in the October 1951 general election. The years spent out of government, while Clement Attlee and Labour were in office, are usually, beyond the Iron Curtain Speech in March 1946, little considered and quickly dispensed with in most Churchill biographies (the excellent Churchill: The Unruly Giant by Norman Rose for example devotes just 10 pages out of its 425 pages to those six years). These were nonetheless busy and eventful years and The Churchill Documents: Volume 22: Leader of the Opposition August 1945 to October 1951 checks in at more than 2,200 pages.
Arranging the documents in chronological order, the volume narrates Churchill’s political, literary, and personal affairs during the period. It includes correspondence, excerpts from memoirs and diaries written by colleagues, and Churchill’s speeches.
Almost immediately after leaving Downing Street in 1945, Churchill departed on a holiday to Lake Como (pg. 53), resumed painting, and arranged the reopening of his beloved Chartwell which had been closed during the war (pgs. 50-51). Over the ensuing six years, as covered in this volume, he, with a team, researched and wrote his war memoirs that set out his history of the Second World War and for which he ultimately received the Nobel Prize for Literature; arranged his financial affairs (trust, taxes, selling literary rights); holidayed in Cuba, the south of France, the United States, and Marrakesh; suffered health issues (pg. 1476); and dealt with family affairs. Among the many interesting pieces found in browsing through the volume are Churchill’s letter to his son Randolph on February 9, 1949 advising him on his divorce from Pamela in which he “strongly recommend a friendly settlement of the minor differences” (pg. 1322-23); a note from his wife Clementine warning him of overworking the thermostat after a near-fire in his bedroom (pg. 1286), and a letter he received welcoming him to “the company of Hallmark Painters for 1950 Christmas Cards” (pg. 1651). Churchill cabled a reply that he was “delighted” to have his paintings “exhibited in America through the medium of Christmas Cards.”
As Andrew Roberts has noted in Churchill: Walking with Destiny the 1945 election defeat can be seen as really “a blessing in disguise for Churchill” as the issues and problems the Attlee government faced, such as India, the scuttle from Palestine, and financial austerity, were ones Churchill would have entirely disliked. Instead as the most prestigious statesmen on the world stage, not holding government office, Churchill adopted issues that he was most concerned with, most famously delivering the Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri warning of the Soviet threat and calling for an Anglo-American special relationship (pgs. 227-235). Another theme of concern to Churchill in the post-war period was the pursuit of European Unity. He spoke on the subject often, including at Zurich University in September 1946 (pg. 458-461), delivering a speech in which he called for “a kind of United States of Europe,” as well as at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1947 (pg. 704-711) and at the opening of the Congress of Europe in May 1948 (pg. 1037-1042). With the Brexit saga, Churchill’s views from this period have been scrutinized, debated, and reconsidered over and over again.
Although he was leader of the Conservative Party and therefore leader of the opposition, Churchill spent relatively little time on party political affairs. Of Churchill, James Stuart, the Conservative Chief Whip, remarked, “our leader did not often grace us with his presence.” Churchill largely left the thankless task of opposing the Attlee government in the commons and remaking the party in the wake of the election defeat to his colleagues, most especially Anthony Eden and Lord Woolton. However, he spoke in the House of Commons on about 590 different days (many included in the volume) and in the 1950 and 1951 election campaigns was the Conservative party’s great asset.
As with the previous volumes in the series, The Churchill Documents: Volume 22: Leader of the Opposition August 1945 to October 1951 is exhaustive and comprehensive. It is an exceptional work and valuable contribution to the study of Churchill.
Clementine Churchill: A Life in Pictures is an elegantly designed and presented pictorial biography. It consists of more than 125 photographs with the accompanying text drawn as an abridged edition of First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill by Sonia Purnell. As Purnell writes Clementine and Winston formed “one of the most important partnerships in history.” Dedicated to the common project of making Churchill prime minister, together they weathered repeated public and private humiliations, personal tragedies, and “survived the strains of being at the centre of two world wars.” The photographs in the volume include pictorial portraits taken by Dorothy Wilding and Madame Yevonde as well as informal pictures of Clementine playing tennis and with her family. Many of the photographs in the volume have rarely been published. The most charming photograph in the book is the one of Clementine posing with a Saint Bernard while holding her skis at a winter resort.
“Churchill and the Outbreak of the Second World War in Europe” by John H. Maurer (Naval War College) has been published in Orbis (Summer 2019). The article provides a reflection on the origins of the Second World War as presented in the first volume of Churchill’s war memoirs, The Gathering Storm. Maurer comments that this volume “remains fundamental for understanding Great Britain’s actions between the two world wars” and is “an important work of political philosophy on the interaction between a country’s domestic politics and strategic behavior.” Churchill’s narrative of the 1930s, as Maurer acknowledges, has been scrutinized and criticized by historians but Maurer finds that Churchill’s “indictment of British policy remains powerful, and his incredible skill at constructing a dramatic narrative, must command respect.” The Orbis web site is here.
The theme of the latest issue (No. 186) of Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times is “Churchill’s Cold War.” The articles include “Churchill and Truman” by Alan P. Dobson, “Churchill and the Nuclear Cold War” by Kevin Ruane, and “Churchill and the ‘German Question” by Klaus Larres. The issue includes an extract from the epilogue published as part of a one-volume abridgement of The Second World War. Dated February 10, 1957, this epilogue is “his last work of original writing intended for publication.” The website of Finest Hour is here.
Oblivion or Glory: 1921 and the Making of Winston Churchill by David Stafford is a wonderfully written and vibrant account of Churchill’s life for the single year of 1921. Starting on January 1, 1921 with Churchill as a house guest, along with Prime Minister David Lloyd George and other leading figures in the Coalition government, at a New Year’s Party held at Port Lympne in Kent, the author narrates his subject’s progress through the year in both political and family terms. As Colonial Secretary in Lloyd George’s cabinet, Churchill shaped the immediate future of the Middle East at the Cairo Conference and was a leading figure in negotiating the end of the Anglo-Irish War. Against these accomplishments, the year was a difficult one for Churchill personally with the loss of his mother Jennie, his great friend Sir Ernest Cassell, and most tragically the death of his two year old daughter Marigold. In the demanding year, Churchill also found time for painting, making progress on writing the World Crisis, holidaying in the south of France, and dealing with the adventures of his cousin Claire Sheridan.
In the volume Stafford argues that 1921 was “a watershed” in Churchill’s fortunes as he made “enormous gains” in restoring his political reputation. By the end of the year, “an alternative and more positive view [of Churchill] was steadily gaining ground” in the press, amongst his colleagues, and with the general public. Oblivion or Glory is an adroit and enjoyable read.
Stafford (University of Victoria and the University of Edinburgh) is a leading Churchill scholar and the author of Churchill and Secret Service and Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943-1945.
The December issue (#138) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the announcement of the first National Churchill Library Fellows and the honoring by the International Churchill Society of forty-five veterans of the Second World War currently residing at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The Art of Being Winston Churchill column discusses Churchill and dining, while the Churchilliana column presents a wartime postcard series that features quotations from the “We shall fight on the beaches” speech on June 4, 1940 to the House of Commons. The November bulletin is available here.
Winston Churchill had great confidence in his ability to resolve issues and convince friends and political foes alike of the correctness of his arguments in face to face meetings. To this end as prime minister during the Second World War and again in the early 1950s, Churchill traveled thousands of miles by plane, ship, and train to meet with Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Dwight Eisenhower among others. These conferences always featured meetings over dinner. Churchill reputedly remarked that if he could only dine with Stalin once a week all their problems could be settled and there would be no trouble. Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table by Cita Stelzer provides a study of Churchill’s pursuit of states-craft over meals. It is an enjoyable read that highlights Churchill’s appreciation of fine food, drink, and conversation as well as the drama of the high-level summitry. Stelzer most recently published Working with Winston: The Unsung Women behind Britain’s Greatest Statesman.
As prime minister in 1942, Winston Churchill famously declared “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire” and yet five years later (albeit while Churchill was out of office and Attlee and Labour were in government) India achieved independence and the rest of the colonies duly received their independence over the next decade and a half. By the time Churchill died at the age of 90 in 1965, the British Empire was gone with Britain’s colonial holdings reduced to a few fragments around the globe. In Churchill and Empire: A Portrait of an Imperialist, Lawrence James studies the role the British Empire played in Churchill’s life and political career. Born at the height of the Victorian Age, as a young army officer Churchill served in colonial wars on the edges of the empire before administering the empire as undersecretary at the colonial office (1905-08) and later as colonial secretary (1921-22). He initially entered the political wilderness in the early 1930s over the India issue and as prime minister during the Second World War was very cognizant that he was leader of not just Britain but the empire. James’s narrative provides an examination of Churchill’s complicated, controversial, and often contradictory relationship with and thinking about the empire.
The Munich Conference to determine the future of Czechoslovakia began on September 29, 1938 with the Czechoslovakian government absent from the talks. They were “not expected to participate or even attend” and it was only after the conference had begun that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain “relented and invited the Czechoslovaks as part of his own delegation.” Even then the Czechoslovaks were considered only observers, refused admission to the conference room, and “left to cool their heels” as German, Britain, France, and Italy negotiated their dismemberment. Most English-language studies of Munich likewise exclude the Czechoslovaks from the central narrative and largely relegate the country and its politicians to the periphery of the story. The Bell of Treason: The 1938 Munich Agreement in Czechoslovakia by P.E. Caquet is a valuable study of the crisis told from the vantage point of Prague and the perspective of the Czechoslovaks. With fluency in English, Czech, Slovak, French, and German, Caquet effectively mines Czech and Slovak language primary and secondary sources, while the Notes and Bibliography reflect research in archives in London, Paris, and Prague.
Having absorbed Austria, Hitler and Germany immediately turned their full attention to Czechoslovakia with the pretext of self-determination for the Sudeten Germans. As Caquet demonstrates the Czechoslovakian government was resilient in the face of the threat. It was “able and prepared to resist aggression” from within in the form of Henlein and the SdP and ready to attempt to weather, with the support of its allies in Paris and London, a German invasion. By September 1938, as Caquet notes, the Czechoslovakians had broken the SdP and forced Henlein to flee, while advancing a plan that would meet the aspirations of the Sudeten Germans. “A resolution of the conflict was in sight. The Sudetenland was on the verge of ceasing to be a ticking time bomb in the heart of Europe. Then something extraordinary happened. Chamberlain announced that he would go to Berchtesgaden.” Czechoslovakia was sold-out in the space of just a few days. While Chamberlain returned to London from Munich at the end of the month to an enthusiastic welcome, Caquet details in his chapter, “After Munich,” the chaos and violence heralded by the German occupation. Caquest effectively refutes the apologists for appeasement, including the claim by A.J.P. Taylor that Munich was “a triumph for all that was best and most enlightened in British life.”