Churchill in the News

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An article from ABC News describes the search for a “lost letter” that may prove that a Queensland soldier saved Winston Churchill’s life during the Boer War. Private Fergus McFadzen was serving in the 4th South Africa ‘Queensland Imperial Bushmen Contingent’ and was out foraging for hay when he spotted Churchill alone on the veld. McFadzen recalled that “we were a long way from the British lines, and from the direction Churchill was heading he would have missed the lot of us by miles, and either been shot by a Boer sniper or again taken prisoner.” The Australian private pulled Churchill onto his horse and “landed him back safely in the British camp.” The article is available here and a 1944 article on the story is here.

Churchill Research

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The article “It’s a Case of All or None: ‘Jacky’ Fisher’s Advice to Winston Churchill, 1911” by Simon Harley and published in The Mariner’s Mirror (102:2, May 2016) considers the relationship between Churchill as newly appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and Admiral Jacky Fisher, First Sea Lord from 1904 to 1910. Harley challenges the commonly held view that Churchill “adopted wholesale” Fisher’s advice about senior naval appointments by examining the surviving correspondence between the two for a two month period in late 1911. While conceding Churchill was in Fisher’s “thrall,” Harley finds that the new First Lord of the Admiralty did not “slavishly” follow the often erratic advice that was being offered. The journal’s website is here.

Churchill Research

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capture“A Great Turkish Policy: Winston Churchill, the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign” by A. Warren Dockter (Aberystwyth University) was published in the latest issue of History (102: 349, January 2017). It provides an examination of Churchill’s role in Anglo-Ottoman relations in the years before 1914 as well as during and after the First World War, including how his views of the Ottomans impacted the planning of the Dardanelles campaign. Dockter, the author of Churchill and the Islamic World: Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East, comments that his subject “reflected on the Ottoman empire and Turkey a great deal before the First World War even started and his positions were often complex and at times contradictory. Specifically the author comments that Churchill, who had worked for an Anglo-Ottoman alliance since 1911, based his controversial decision in 1914 to commandeer two battleships being built for Turkey by the British on his belief that “German diplomacy had already won Turkish affections.” Dockter concludes that “Churchill had a much more complex, if not sympathetic, relationship with the Ottoman empire than is typically understood.” The website for History is available here.

Churchill Research

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An article on the history of the “controversial” Royal Naval Division, “Churchill’s Improbable Army” by John A. Haymond, has been published in the Spring 2017 issue of MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History (29:3). On August 16, 1914 Winston Churchill, then-First Lord of the Admiralty, issued a directive for the creation of the division which would be composed of Royal Marine and Naval Reservists who had no training as soldiers. Critics though he was “aiming to create the equivalent of his personal army.” The article outlines the service of the division at Antwerp, Gallipoli, and the Western Front. The MHQ website is here.

Churchill Research

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On March 5, 1946 the then former-prime minister Winston Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Generally considered, both at the time and since, to be a controversial “saber-rattling call” for confrontation with the Soviets, the speech is reinterpreted in the article “Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ Speech in Context: The Attempt to Achieve a ‘Good Understanding on All Points’ with Stalin’s Soviet Union” by Klaus Larres and published by The International History Review (published online 10 March 2017). Larres argues that the speech, which established Churchill as the “Cold Warrior par excellence,” has been “misunderstood.” Beyond the “bellicose” sections the speech had “a malleable and benign part” in which Churchill called for an “understanding” with the Soviets and a negotiated settlement of the issues between the Anglo-Americans and the Soviet Union. Rather than increase tensions the speech, officially titled The Sinews of Peace, was “meant to prevent the escalation of this conflict and avoid the dangerous clash between the world’s greatest powers that soon became known as the Cold War.” The International History Review website is here.

Churchill Research

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“Being Nuclear on a Budget: Churchill, Britain and ‘Atoms for Peace,’ 1953-1955” by Martin Theaker was recently published in Diplomacy and Statecraft (2016; 27:4). The article considers the impact of President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative on Britain’s political and atomic interests as well as the role of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s personal diplomacy in offering British support for the project. Theaker writes that Churchill pledged British support for the initiative “without properly consulting either his technical or diplomatic experts” and the pledge actually “jeopardised Britain’s influence overseas.” In offering support for “Atoms for Peace,” the author observes that “Churchill relegated Britain’s atomic objectives below his high-political aims.” The Diplomacy and Statecraft website is here.

This Day in Churchill History

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On March 25, 1953 Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons in a brief session to adopt a formal motion of sympathy to Queen Elizabeth on the death of her grandmother, Queen Mary of Teck, who had died the previous evening. Churchill and his cabinet were dressed in black. The prime minister read the formal motion before remarking on Queen Mary that “She looked like a Queen. She acted like a Queen. Her death leaves a void in our hearts – a void that it will be hard to fill indeed.” After the House adjourned Churchill sat on the treasury bench for several minutes speaking with Anthony Eden. That evening Churchill made a brief broadcast from London on the death of Mary. In the broadcast he said that there were few now living that could recall a time without Queen Mary and that she was the last living link to Queen Victoria. He remarked that Mary had died with the satisfaction of knowing the crown to be placed on Queen Elizabeth’s head at the upcoming coronation was “more broadly and securely based” than it had been in the nineteenth century.

Book Review

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Although the Churchill War Rooms and the Churchill Museum attract almost 500,000 visitors annually, Winston Churchill ironically “didn’t enjoy his War Rooms.” As Jonathan Asbury notes in Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, during the war Churchill presided over meetings in the cabinet room and was a fixture in the map room but he probably never ate in the dining room reserved for his use and slept only a couple of nights underground in his assigned bedroom.

Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms is published by the Imperial War Museum and provides more than 150 photographs in a coffee table book format. Most of the photographs are color images of the restored rooms along with various equipment and objects (stirrup pumps, broadcasting equipment, fans, and a famous Churchill “klop”) used in the rooms. The photographs are clear, crisp, and bright. The book would have benefited from the addition of more contemporary images from the war years.

The photographs are supported by text, capsule information, and quotes from the men and women who served in the war rooms, including Leading Aircraft Woman Myra Murden who observed, “The building to me had masses of corridors. How the heck you ever found your way around I shall never know.”

Among the most interesting images in the book are the wooden arms of Churchill’s chair in the cabinet room that is “gouged with scratch marks that speak volumes for the nervous energy of its occupant and the tension of the hundreds of meetings that he presided over in this room.”

The restoration of the Churchill War Rooms over the years has been a pain-staking effort that has been occasionally received timely assistance. For example, as recounted in the book, an American soldier retrieved the sign for Clementine Churchill’s room from a bin in 1945 and four decades later arranged for its return before the War Rooms opened to the public in 1984.

Churchill Bulletin

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The March 2017 (#105) issue of the Churchill Bulletin: The monthly newsletter of The International Churchill Society has been released. It includes articles on Lord Owen being scheduled to speak at the 2017 International Churchill Conference, Churchill Collectables: Big Three Victory Banner, The Churchill Quiz—Spring Edition, and Professor Richard Carwardine speaking on Abraham Lincoln on February 6th at the National Churchill Library and Center. The newsletter is available here.

Finest Hour

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The theme of the Winter 2017 issue of the Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times is “The Churchill Women” with articles on Jennie Churchill (by Anne Sebba), Mrs. Elizabeth Everest (by Katherine Barnett), Pamela Plowden (by Fred Glueckstein), Clementine Churchill (by Sonia Purnell), and Sarah Churchill (by Catherine Katz). Other articles in the issue include “A Day at Chartwell” by Edwina Sandys; “My Maiden Speech” by Robert Courts, MP; and “Monarchical N. 1: Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II by Roddy MacKenzie. The website of the Finest Hour is here.