Anthony Eden’s reputation will always be linked with the Suez fiasco of 1956. The humiliating failure at Suez has almost entirely blotted out his earlier achievements and represents as David Reynolds called it the “Suezide” of Eden’s reputation. Anthony Eden, Anglo-American Relations and the 1954 Indochina Crisis by Ken Ruane and Matthew Jones seeks to “free” Eden from the “shadow of Suez.” Before succeeding Winston Churchill as prime minister in April 1955, Eden had been a member of parliament since 1923 and served three turns as Foreign Secretary. He was “one of the dominating figures in British foreign policy from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, an adroit and oft-times successful Foreign Secretary in the Second World War and the early Cold War.” 1954 was Eden’s ‘annus mirabilis’ in which he achieved an “amazing series” of diplomatic successes, with the negotiation of the end of the French war in Indochina at the forefront. Ruane and Jones detail Eden’s approach to the Indochina Crisis, its place in overall British foreign policy, the role of nuclear weapons, Anglo-American relations, and the negotiation of the settlement at the Geneva Conference. Anthony Eden, Anglo-American Relations and the 1954 Indochina Crisis is the definitive study on the subject of Eden and Indochina.
The October issue (#136) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the upcoming 36th International Churchill Conference and the inaugural meeting of the Young Churchillians held last month. The Churchill Style column reports on Churchill and fashion, while the Churchilliana column describes a plate commemorating Lord Randolph Churchill. The October bulletin is available here.
MI5: British Security Service Operations 1909-1945 has recently been republished by Frontline Books, having been originally published by Stein & Day in 1982. The volume traces the history of the Security Service from its founding to the end of the Second World War. As West notes, at the start of the Second World War MI5 was a relatively small organization which greatly expanded during the conflict both in its size and in its powers. Winston Churchill’s becoming prime minister on May 10, 1940 brought about many changes in the organization of MI5, most immediately in the dismissal of its long-time director-general Sir Vernon Kell, with whom the new prime minister had always had a poor relationship. The volume recounts many specific operations of the service, including the double-cross system and the pursuit of Abwehr spies. Nigel West is a prolific author on intelligence and security issues and a former member of parliament.
Being a great traveler, Winston Churchill had over the course of his life several passports, visas, and other travel documents issued to him. Above is an image of the first page of Churchill’s passport that was issued on September 26, 1918. This war-time passport was printed with special instructions for travelers to France and the Zone of British Armies. The photograph and signature were cut out of the passport at some point, perhaps to follow passport office procedures for the issuing of Churchill’s next passport.
An image of the last passport issued to Churchill is below. It is on display at Chartwell, loaned by his great-grandson Randolph (thanks to Richard Langworth for this information).
Air Officer Commanding: Hugh Dowding, Architect of the Battle of Britain by John T. LaSaine, Jr. is a fine study of the Second World War’s most famous Royal Air Force commander. LaSaine provides a concise biography with five of the 14 chapters devoted to his subject’s leadership of Fighter Command in 1940. Having won the Battle of Britain, Dowding was unceremoniously sacked in November 1940, despite having won one of the most pivotal battles in history. The Air Ministry had tried to remove Dowding several times previously but had been blocked by Winston Churchill, who had full confidence in Dowding. The success of German night bombing, however, gave the Air Ministry another opportunity and Dowding was forced out, handing over his command to a less worthy officer in Sholto Douglas. Dowding had been largely undermined by Lord Trenchard, the old and influential RAF war horse. Having known one another since the First World War, as LaSaine notes, Trenchard long held an “unflattering view of Dowding’s leadership.” A history professor at the Air Command and Staff College, LaSaine comments accurately that Churchill was “conspicuously inconspicuous in the process of retiring Dowding from command.” Having staunchly defended Dowding against the Air Ministry through most of the year, there is no documentary evidence of Churchill either agreeing to the departure or trying to prevent it. Intended for an audience “beyond the academy,” Air Officer Commanding is a readable and enjoyable volume.
How the Navy Won the War: The Real Instrument of Victory, 1914-1918 by Jim Ring provides a study of the role of the Royal Navy in the First World War. In the introduction, the author asserts that the navy’s efforts in the conflict have been overshadowed by the story of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. He sets out in the book to correct the popular view that the Royal Navy only played a minor role in the war. Acknowledging that the story of the navy in the war is familiar to naval and military historians, Ring correctly notes that it “never captured the public’s imagination or, indeed, attention.” The navy’s achievements in the war, as summarized in the introduction of the volume, were ferrying the BEF to France, deterring an invasion of Britain, keeping the sea lanes open to mercantile shipping, defeating the U-boats, and imposing a blockade on Germany. Intended for a general readership, this account is based on research in the existing scholarship. Footnotes are not included with which to follow-up on the research.
An enjoyable introduction to the subject, this reviewer remains unconvinced that the book’s sub-title has been proved. The navy’s role was undoubtedly crucial to achieving victory, but it overstates the case to declare it “the real instrument of victory.” Churchill wrote of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe that he was “the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon” and indeed the navy could have lost the war for Britain at many turns. However, it took the vast British, French, and American armies in France in 1918 to win it.
Ring is an award-winning author and film-maker whose previous books include Erskine Childers, Riviera, and How the English Made the Alps.
Faith in appeasement, the central tenet of British foreign policy throughout the 1930s, remained strong among the most devout long after it had been exposed as entirely bankrupt. Even as it lay in tatters with the German military massing on the Polish frontier for the invasion of Poland in the late summer of 1939, the virtually disloyal British ambassador to Berlin Sir Nevile Henderson recommended the Polish government concede to Hitler’s demands, while in London R.A.B. Butler, member of parliament, despaired that the British Foreign Office was displaying an unwarranted “absolute inhibition” to pressure the Poles to negotiate. After the German invasion of Poland, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his government prevaricated one last time before finally declaring war on Germany.
Appeasement was “the attempt by Britain and France to avoid war by making ‘reasonable’ concessions to German and Italian grievances.” The long list of “reasonable concessions” when finally catalogued included the systematic dismantling of the Treaty of Versailles, disbelieving Hitler’s Mein Kampf manifesto, willfully ignoring the anti-Semitic nature of Hitler’s regime, and excusing the camps and Nazi atrocities, such as Kristallnacht. The Rhineland was conceded, massive German rearmament permitted, intervention in the Spanish Civil War accepted, Austria was allowed to be absorbed, Abyssinia invaded, an undeclared Italian submarine war waged in the Mediterranean, Albania annexed, Memel seized from Lithuania, and the Sudetenland and eventually all of Czechoslovakia occupied.
The abysmal history of British foreign policy in the years before the Second World War is described in Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War by Tim Bouverie, a political journalist. It a well-written work that engages the reader with the drama of the events, while, as the author acknowledges in the introduction, providing only limited analysis and commentary. In this his first book, Bouverie is particularly good at mining published diaries, correspondence, and archival collections to illuminate the characters and personalities involved. The sorry cast includes Stanley Baldwin who as prime minister excused his own ignoring of Britain’s military defenses as a policy of rearmament might have lost him the 1935 election and former prime minister David Lloyd George who after visiting Hitler gushed that the Fuhrer was “the greatest German of the age.” Bouverie describes the steady stream of British admirers who joined Lloyd George in travelling to “Hitler’s Wonderland” to gape at the supposed achievements of Nazi Germany.
A success as a British cabinet minister, Neville Chamberlain became prime minister in 1937 determined to reach an accommodation with the dictators. As a leading anti-appeaser Duff Cooper noted Chamberlain as mayor of the city of Birmingham had never met anybody “who in the least resembled Adolf Hitler.” Chamberlain’s defenders claim that his surrender of Czechoslovakia at Munich bought Britain an “extra year” before the start of the war. This ignores the reality that he remained reluctant to increase the pace of British rearmament. Bouverie rightly concludes that Chamberlain blundered badly in his handling of the relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt and the United States and failed to establish an anti-German deal with the Soviet Union.
Brightening Bouverie’s story are the anti-appeasers whose number included, of course, Winston Churchill as well as the glamorous but indecisive Anthony Eden, the pugnacious Leo Amery, and Harold Macmillan, who burned an effigy of Chamberlain on Guy Fawkes Night in 1938. While many of the pro-appeasement politicians had not served in the First World War, most of the prominent anti-appeasers had fought, been wounded, and decorated for valor in the trenches of the Western Front. The anti-appeasers were small in number and isolated politically, attacked as war-mongers in the pro-appeasement newspapers, harassed by their constituents, and had their telephone conversations bugged. Ronald Cartland, the brother of the novelist Barbara Cartland, was a member of parliament who on the eve of the German invasion of Poland passionately attacked appeasement in a speech in the House of Commons. He was vilified in the press and Chamberlain boasted he would have the young man’s political career destroyed. Chamberlain did not have bother himself to carry out his threat as after war was declared, Cartland joined the army and nine months later was killed at Dunkirk.
Appeasement cannot be entirely dismissed as the cowardly policy of Chamberlain and a feckless British establishment who blindly ignored the looming danger. Borne out of perceived British weakness and the instability of France, it reflected the general desire to avoid a repetition of the horrible losses of the First World War. As Bouverie details, appeasement was an extremely popular policy. In the 1930s, millions of British supported disarmament and pacifism as reflected, albeit overplayed, in the famous Oxford Student Union vote against fighting for King and Country. The public, while abhorring the Nazi regime, reacted with delirium to avoiding war by throwing Czechoslovakia to the wolves at Munich. Chamberlain with his promise of peace with honor was serenaded by crowds in Downing Street on his return. Only after the long series of humiliations at the hands of Hitler and Mussolini was British patience with the dictators at last exhausted.
While the story of appeasement has been much written about, Bouverie retells the story in outstanding fashion. Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War is a fascinating narrative history.
Winston Churchill’s mental health has been a widely studied topic, largely commencing with the publication of Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965 by Lord Moran, Churchill’s doctor for the last 25 years of his life. Since then there have been a number of studies trying to posthumously diagnose the prime minister’s mental health. Wilfred Attenborough in his Diagnosing Churchill: Bipolar or “Prey to Nerves”?, as set out in the introduction, seeks to scrutinize the “posthumous psychiatric diagnoses of Churchill as bipolar/manic-depressive, and their biographical-evidential foundations.” The excellent book effectively traces Churchill’s life as it relates to his mental health and considers the arguments of previous writers on the subject, including Ghaemi, Fieve, Owen, and Norman. Attenborough concludes in answer to the question asked in his book’s title that, “Churchill’s variation in mood throughout his life, until he began to suffer the depredations of his advanced old age, were reactive to, and reasonably proportionate to, events and circumstances. By definition, this means they were not, they could not be, manic-depression.” In this conclusion Attenborough is joined by the study (too recently published to be consulted by Attenborough in his research), “Did Sir Winston Churchill suffer from the ‘black dog’?” by Anthony M. Daniels and J. Allister Vale and published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (111:11, 2018). Those authors, both from the City Hospital, Birmingham, conclude that “the available evidence suggests that Churchill suffered no major psychiatric disorder.”
In reading Attenborough’s book this reviewer observes that the scholarship on Churchill’s mental health largely seems to correlate his mental health only with the successes and failures of his political career. The joys and difficulties in his personal life (such as his marriage, birth of his children, the death of his mother and daughter Marigold both in 1921, the marriages and divorces of his children, the difficult relationship with his son, his finances, physical health, personal struggles of his daughter Diana, and the death of his greatest friend Lord Birkenhead in 1930) are rarely considered in determining the stresses and anxieties Churchill was undergoing at a particular moment.
The reviewer was a peer reviewer of the manuscript.
With the title Churchill: Military Genius or Menace? the experienced reader of books about Winston Churchill will expect yet another expose of his alleged faults as a war leader. In that regard the reader of this volume will not be disappointed. Indeed, the book repeats the many previously made criticisms of Churchill, including the charges that he interfered in military affairs and was a “dictator” in running the British government. Among the other critiques offered by the author of the book are that Churchill refused to pursue peace negotiations in late May 1940 because “imbued by visions of death or glory for himself and the nation, Churchill was determined that Britain would never surrender.” Criticisms of Churchill as a war leader have been made in a more sophisticated fashion and argued much more convincingly in many other books.