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.

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Roger Keyes was a fighting admiral of both world wars whose aggressive spirit and love of action appealed to Winston Churchill. They first met in 1911 when Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty visited the headquarters of the Royal Navy’s submarine service at Gosport. Keyes was then Inspecting Captain of Submarines and took Churchill to sea in one of the D3 submarines for a two-hour run during which it submerged as the crew performed torpedo practice. Churchill and Keyes quickly developed a friendship. Keyes went on to serve as the chief of staff for the fleet in the attack on the Dardanelles in 1915 (he would always believe a renewed naval attack on the straits would have succeeded) and led the raid on Zeebrugge in 1918, which Churchill called the “finest feat of arms in the Great War.” In the Second World War, Churchill employed Keyes, despite his being 67 years old and a member of parliament, first as a liaison to the Belgian King and then as Director of Combined Operations. In 1941, after Keyes had entirely antagonized the British chiefs of staff, Churchill dismissed Keyes from the latter position. Churchill’s Admiral in Two World Wars: Admiral of the Fleet Lord Keyes of Zeebrugge and Dover GCB KCVO CMG DSO by Jim Crossley is a short biography that concludes that while Keyes was a superb leader and fearless in battle, he lacked strategic judgement and was often unrealistic about what he could achieve in battle.

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The historian and author Hugo Vickers met Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough in 1975 when she was 95 years old and had been living in a private psychiatric hospital for many years. They became friends, with Vickers being her only visitor until her death two years later. In The Sphinx: The Life of Gladys Deacon – Duchess of Marlborough Vickers chronicles Gladys’ turbulent and ultimately unfortunate sad life. It was, however, certainly a dramatic life, from her father’s murder of her mother’s lover, endless travels around Europe as a beautiful, charming, rich, and spoilt socialite, the tragic death of her sister, numerous quarrels with her unstable mother, affairs with many admirers and suitors, and a botched plastic surgery. At the age of 14, Gladys read about the Duke of Marlborough’s marriage to Consuelo Vanderbilt and set it as her childhood ambition to marry the duke. She eventually met Marlborough and began an affair with him in 1912 by which time Marlborough and Vanderbilt were already legally separated. After the Marlboroughs divorced in 1921, the duke and Gladys were married. It was, of course, a doomed marriage. There were many angry arguments and much irrational behavior on the part of both parties, including Gladys musing to guests at a party about shooting the duke. In the end, Gladys had to be evicted from Blenheim, but the duke died before they could be divorced. After leaving Blenheim, Gladys became a recluse (despite her fortune) and was eventually admitted to the hospital where she lived her last years. Gladys did not like Winston Churchill, her husband’s cousin, complaining that “he was in love with his own image – his reflection in the mirror.” Churchill, for his part, was bored by the company of Gladys and her socialite clique, noting that they were “strange glittering beings with whom I have little or nothing in common.”

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The December 2020 issue (#150) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on Churchill’s Scottish links, Harrow’s annual tradition of Churchill Songs taking place online, as well as a book review of the new edition of Winston S. Churchill, Greatest War Speeches: 1939–1945. The Churchilliana column is about an election campaign for the American Winston Churchill and the Churchill Style column features Edward Marsh. The December bulletin is available here.

 

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The Hunt for History: On the Trail of the World’s Lost Treasures – from the Letters of Lincoln, Churchill, and Einstein to the Secret Recordings onboard JFK’s Air Force One by Nathan Rabb is an entertaining book that recounts the adventures of one of the country’s leading dealers in rare documents. In his career, Rabb has handled documents ranging from Napoleon to George Washington to Martin Luther King. It’s an engaging story as Rabb describes his discoveries, detecting fakes and forgeries, and negotiating with sellers and buyers. His greatest discovery was finding two audiotapes of the radio traffic aboard Air Force One from the day of the Kennedy assassination. The announcement of this find brought a deluge of media attention and telephone calls from lawyers at the National Archives. The government lawyers were under pressure from members of Congress who were apparently dumbfounded that the unknown tapes had turned up with a Philadelphia rare document dealer. The inclusion of Winston Churchill in the subtitle seems a stretch – probably at the insistence of the publisher – as there is one lone Churchill document briefly covered in the book. It was from his capture and escape in the Boer War. Rabb’s passion and enthusiasm for rare documents and the individual story each one has shines through in this interesting read.

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Lee Pollock, former executive director of The International Churchill Society, has published “The Art of Losing: Advice for an outgoing President” in the American Purpose. The article considers the example Winston Churchill’s electoral defeat in 1945 and return to power in 1951 holds for President Donald Trump. The article is available here.