Book Review

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Ironside: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Lord Ironside is a fine study of one of the most senior British generals of the first year of the Second World War. The volume was written by Ironside’s son based on his father’s voluminous diaries. Ironside was a master linguist and a huge man (for which he was inevitably nicknamed “Tiny”) with real mettle. In his dramatic early years as a soldier, Ironside served as an artillery officer in the Boer War, an intelligence agent in southern Africa (on which John Buchan based the hero in his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps), a staff officer and brigade commander on the Western Front in World War One, and commander at Archangel in North Russia in 1918-19. In the immediate aftermath of the Great War, Ironside held temporary commands in Hungary, Turkey, and Persia. In the last appointment he was involved in the rise to power of Reza Shah.

At the outset of the Second World War Ironside was a full general and appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff in succession to Gort who became commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill supported Ironside’s appointment as CIGS. Churchill had known Ironside for many years and having been impressed, had previously “smoothed” his path to active duty while Secretary of War and as Colonial Secretary. Churchill, however, lost confidence in Ironside’s abilities and on becoming prime minister on May 10, 1940 soon replaced him as CIGS with John Dill. Ironside was moved to take over as commander-in-chief, Home Forces. With the fall of France, he was again quickly replaced. After just two months in the command Ironside turned over the Home Forces to Alan Brooke and went into retirement. A more detailed examination of Ironside being twice replaced in rapid succession could have been included in the volume.

The author should receive credit for discussing his father’s disturbing remarks about Hore-Belisha as well as acknowledging his “high opinion of himself,” but a more extensive discussion would have been beneficial of the charges made against Ironside of being a careerist and intriguer who lacked intelligence.

These comments aside, Ironside: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Lord Ironside is a long overdue study of an important general who had a fascinating career.

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Book Review

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Clement Attlee: The Man Who Made Modern Britain by John Bew (King’s College London) is a brilliant study of the second Labour prime minister. It will be the new standard biography of its subject. The accomplishments of the Attlee government (1945-51) are many, including the National Health Service, independence for India, and the development of the British bomb. As Bew notes “we continue to live in a world of Attlee’s creation.” Attlee was, however, continually underestimated. As leader of the Labour party, member of the war cabinet, and Prime Minister he was routinely dismissed, including in a 1944 article in the Observer that described him as a “first-class captain of a first-class cricket side who is not himself a headliner.” Even at the moment of his resounding victory in the 1945 election, there was a brief bid by Herbert Morrison to “snatch the leadership from Attlee’s hands.” Attlee knew of the criticism and in retirement allowed himself to uncharacteristically gloat in a poem he wrote for his brother:

Few thought he was even a starter
There were those who thought themselves smarter
But he ended P.M.
C.H. and O.M.
An earl and a knight of the garter

Bew is particularly good in describing the Churchill-Attlee relationship. Attlee counted Churchill as a friend from 1924 and it was the support of Attlee and Labour that put Churchill in Downing Street in May 1940. During the coalition government, Bew notes that there was not “perfect harmony between the two men” but they maintained a strong partnership throughout the war. Even after the war and the return to the rough and tumble of party politics, the two maintained a friendship and respect for each other. Attlee said of Churchill, “What a career! What a man! We shall not see his like again,” while Churchill would make occasional remarks about his Labour counterpart but would not allow others do so in his presence, rebuking one individual, “Mr Attlee is a great patriot. Don’t dare call him ‘silly old Attlee’ at Chartwell or you won’t be invited again.” Both at the time and since, Attlee was in the gigantic shadow cast by Winston Churchill’s outsized life and personality. With Bew’s biography, Attlee has a biography worthy of his accomplishments.

Churchill Bulletin

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The September issue (#123) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes the full schedule of the 2018 International Churchill Conference as well as articles on a cancelled speech Churchill was to have given in 1951, the 110th anniversary of Churchill’s marriage to Clementine, and a story related to Churchill’s Iron curtain speech. The Churchill Collectables column is about a Royal Doulton jug. The newsletter is available here.

Book Review

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Anthony Seldon is the indefatigable author of over 40 books, including Churchill’s Indian Summer: The Last Conservative Government, 1951-55. His latest book, written with Jonathan Meakin, is The Cabinet Office 1916-2016: The Birth of Modern Government which in ten chapters traces the development of the Cabinet Office since it was established in December 1916. Its founding represents the start of modern British government. In the volume, Seldon details the relationship of the eleven cabinet secretaries with the prime ministers they served.

Edward Bridges was the second Cabinet Secretary, appointed by Neville Chamberlain in 1938 after the long reign of Maurice Hankey in the post. At that time the cabinet office was also divided into civil and military sides with General Hastings Ismay being appointed to head the military side.

On becoming prime minister in May 1940 Winston Churchill retained both the division as well as the individuals. Both Bridges and Ismay were kept on for the full five years of Churchill’s war premiership. The prime minister was, however, “much closer to Ismay, whose company he found more convivial than the more ascetic Bridges.” Churchill had difficulty in forgetting that Bridges had served Chamberlain, but while never losing a “certain professional distance,” they became closer over the course of the war. Bridges found that in working with Churchill you had to convince him “you were on his side” and that any criticism being offered was intended to be helpful. The cabinet secretary recalled that within days of Churchill’s becoming prime minister “the whole machinery of government was working at a pace […] quite unlike anything which had gone before.” Bridges himself worked at a furious pace, including preparing agendas and minutes for the 919 meetings of the war cabinet from 1940 to 1945 and responding to the endless stream of directives from Churchill. Seldon notes Churchill wanted his responses from Bridges and Ismay, including ones detailing complex issues, to be boiled down into a single page. Bridges thought this was harder to do than writing a novel. Ismay, for his part, adopted the “device” of including appendices to his one-page reports, with one such effort running to Appendix “T.”

As illustrated in The Cabinet Office 1916-2016, in comparison with many of his successors, most glaringly Tony Blair, Churchill came to 10 Downing Street with much experience in administering large departments of the British government, including the Home Office, the Treasury, and the Board of Trade. It was this experience and understanding of the civil service that came with it which allowed Churchill to manage the efficient operation of the government.

Finest Hour

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The theme of the Summer 2018 (No. 181) issue of Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times is “Churchill and the British Army.” Articles include “Military Churchill” by Douglas Russell, “The Great War and Different Memories: Churchill, Haig, and the Legacy of Blame” by Mason Watson, “My Dear Major Roosevelt: Churchill Assists Teddy’s Son” by Fred Glueckstein, and “The British Army in Normandy: Winning the War the Wrong Way” by Edward Gordon and David Ramsay. The website of Finest Hour is here.

Churchill Research

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As prime minister and minister of defence during the Second World War, Winston Churchill was heavily involved in making senior military appointments. His most dramatic intervention in this regard was in August 1942 when he traveled to Egypt to review the situation in the Western Desert campaign and quickly concluded a change of commanders was needed. General Harold Alexander was called out to Egypt to replace General Claude Auchinleck as commander-in-chief, Middle East with Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery taking command of the Eighth Army. The story of Churchill’s visit to Egypt is recounted in the article, “Rommel, What Else Matters but Beating Him? Winston Churchill and the Change of Command in Cairo, August 1942,” by the author of this blog in the current issue of Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times (#181, Summer 2018). Finest Hour’s web site is here.

Churchill Bulletin

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The August issue (#122) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on Sir David Cannadine speaking on “Churchill: The Statesman as Artist” at the upcoming International Churchill Conference, a West End play on the story of the weather forecasts ahead of D-Day on 6 June 1944, and a donation to the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri. The Churchill Collectables column is about a wartime Churchill egg cup. The newsletter is available here.

Churchill’s Brother Officer

Hugo Baring was one of Winston Churchill’s brother officers in the 4th Hussars in India in the late 1890s. Born on 6 October 1876, Baring was the sixth son of Edward Charles Baring, the first Baron Revelstoke, a merchant banker. He attended Eton and Sandhurst before being gazetted to the 4th Hussars in 1896 where he became friends with Churchill. When the regiment was sent to India in 1896, Baring sailed along with Churchill and other officers aboard the S.S. Britannia. Upon reaching their post at Bangalore, a military cantonment in the Madras Presidency, Baring, Reginald Barnes, and Churchill pooled their resources so that they could live in a “palatial bungalow.” Shortly after their arrival in India, over Christmas 1896, Baring and Churchill visited Calcutta together. Baring served in the Tirah campaign of 1896-97 and in 1897 was appointed to the Viceroy’s staff at Simla. Leaving the army in 1899, Baring rejoined almost immediately to serve with the 17th Lancers in the South African War. After suffering a severe wound, he retired from the army for a second time and began a career in banking. He married Lady Evelyn Harriet Ashley in 1905 and had one son who died in the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. A success in business, Baring during his long career was a member of the London Committee of the National Bank of Egypt and a director of Parr’s Bank, the London and River Plate Bank, and the Westminster Bank. He also pursued business in Paris and America. Baring joined the army for a third time at the start of the First World War. He was gazetted a captain in the 10th Hussars in September 1914. Serving on the Western Front, Baring was wounded at Ypres. After recovering from his wound he spent the rest of the war in staff appointments. Promoted to Major in 1918, he was sent to Siberia as part of the British Mission. Returning from Russia the next year he left the army for the final time and returned to banking. Baring remained friends with Churchill as they corresponded and occasionally saw each other, including at the Old Comrades dinners of their regiment. Baring died on 22 August 1949 at Sleightholme Dale, Fadmoor, York.

Churchill Research

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Robert J. Lacey (Iona College) writes on Winston Churchill’s role in the creation of the British welfare state in “Churchill’s Tory Rebellion,” published in The American Conservative (July/August 2018). As both a member of the Liberal Party and after his return to the Conservatives, Churchill “understood the necessity of using state power to solve social problems.” By doing so workers would be “rooted” in “the traditional British economic and social framework” and “the fabric of British society would not be torn asunder by class warfare.” Lacey explains Churchill’s endorsement of the Beveridge report and support of the National Health Service and concludes that “American conservatives today might learn something from Churchill’s storied career, not just as a wartime leader but also as a preserver of domestic tranquility.” The July/August issue of The American Conservative is here.