This Day in Churchill History

At 11:30 on the night of July 30, 1940, Winston Churchill left London by train for the north of England for an inspection tour. The next day the prime minister inspected Home Guard units as well as coastal and other defenses, including those near Hartlepool. Accompanied by Lieutenant-General Hastings Ismay and Commander Thompson, he motored along the coastal front and occasionally left the car to make a closer inspection of the defenses. After watching one exercise, the prime minister famously posed with a Tommy gun. Churchill also inspected a shipyard where he spoke with a group outside the front gates, calling out “Are we downhearted” to which they roared, “No.” Churchill returned to London that evening by train. In London he met with Secretary of War Anthony Eden and Chief of the Imperial General Staff John Dill. During the day, Churchill cabled President Franklin Roosevelt about the war situation and requested American aid, including destroyers, motor boats, and flying boats.

 

Churchill Research

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Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny, has published the essay “Brendan Bracken – ‘more Churchillian than Churchill” on the Engelsberg Ideas website. Bracken was a Conservative politician, publisher, and Churchill’s great friend and supporter from their initial meeting in 1923 till his early death in 1958 at the age of fifty-seven. Bracken, as Roberts notes, cultivated an aura of mystery about himself, including even hinting that he was Churchill’s illegitimate son. A rumor on which Churchill commented, “I looked it up, but the dates don’t coincide.” Although Bracken was a member of parliament and held senior cabinet posts during the war as Roberts astutely writes his “real importance” was “as Churchill’s confidant, spin-doctor, and intimate advisor.” The essay is available here.

Churchill Research

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Field Marshal Harold R.L.G. Alexander was one of the most prominent British generals of the Second World War, serving in campaigns in France, Burma, North Africa, and Italy. Alexander’s relationship with Winston Churchill is considered in the article, “Great Contemporaries: Sir Harold Alexander, Churchill’s Favorite General,” by the writer of this blog and published on the Churchill Project. The article is available here.

Churchill Bulletin

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The June 2020 issue (#144) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes details on the 37th International Churchill Conference titled “Churchill in Adversity: A Virtual Conference,” book reviews of Churchill’s Shadow Raiders: The Race to Develop Radar, WWII’s Invisible Secret Weapon and Grand Improvisation: America Confronts the British Superpower, 1945–1957. The “Churchill Style” column discusses fountain pens and the Churchilliana column has a piece on a wartime bust of Churchill that was made in the United States. The June bulletin is available here.

This Day in Churchill History

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Travelling overnight by special train from Washington, DC, Winston Churchill arrived at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on the morning of June 24, 1942. The prime minister was in the American capital for the Second Washington Conference with President Franklin Roosevelt and had been invited by General George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, to make an inspection of an army camp. Marshall intended to impress upon the prime minister the scale and intensity of the training being conducted by the American army. On the visit Churchill was accompanied by Marshall, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and several American and British generals. The visit to South Carolina went ahead despite the news received days earlier that Tobruk had fallen, a disaster that Churchill called “one of the heaviest blows I can recall during the war.”

The train stopped on an open plain in the camp and at 11 am Churchill’s party disembarked straight onto the parade ground. For the next five and half hours he was “on the go” despite the heat as he inspected the largest United States army infantry training post. He reviewed a march past of soldiers from three US Army infantry divisions, viewed various infantry training activities, and observed a parachute demonstration, which he thought “impressive and convincing.” After a brief lunch, Churchill watched a tactical training exercise conducted by 2,000 soldiers using live ammunition, including heavy artillery.

The New York Times reported that with his ever present cigar, Churchill “inspected Fort Jackson’s activities minutely, even prying into soldiers’ packs, working the breech block of a 75-millimeter gun, and getting covered with choking, yellow dust kicked up by thousands of feet and hundreds of armed vehicles. He saw some of the plain, essential drudgery of life in an army camp. And, complimenting a company of sweating, serious-faced infantrymen on a mass calisthenics exercise, he said: ‘I know you are all waiting and longing for the day, which is coming, when all this work and preparation will be turned into a mighty effort of war to make sure that right and justice will prevail in the world.” A clip of the speech is available here.

Churchill commented to the newspaper reporters that he was “enormously impressed” with what he had seen. An opinion he confirmed in private when he told General Hastings Ismay, who doubted the abilities of the inexperienced troops, that “they are wonderful material and will learn very quickly.”

Late in the afternoon, Churchill flew back to Washington.

Finest Hour

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The theme of the latest issue (No. 188) of Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times is “Churchill’s Prime Ministers.” The issue includes articles on Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, H.H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, Stanley Baldwin, and Neville Chamberlain. A further article covers future prime ministers (Clement Attlee, Antony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, and Edward Heath) who worked with Churchill. The website of Finest Hour is here.

This Day in Churchill History

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June 6, 1944 was D-Day. In the early morning hours of the day the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe by the American, British, and Canadian armies began with the airborne landing followed at dawn by the assault on the Normandy beaches.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill had spent the night at 10 Downing Street. Before he had gone to bed the evening before he had been in the Map Room and remarked to his wife Clementine, “Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning twenty thousand men may have been killed?”

Churchill was provided with the first reports of the operation when he woke on June 6th and during the morning followed the battle on the beaches in the Map Room, where the progress was plotted minute by minute.

The news that the liberation of Europe had begun was announced on the 9 a.m. news in the General Forces Programme which reported that: “The German Overseas News has just put out the following flash: ‘early this morning, the expected Anglo-American invasion began when airborne forces were landed in the Seine estuary.” A later flash said that a combined landing had been made in the area of Caen on the French coast.

That morning the House of Commons met for the first time since the adjournment on 26th May, 1944 for the Whitsuntide Recess. The session began with oral questions which ended unexpectedly early and the Speaker announced there would be a short interval to allow for a statement by the prime minister. There followed a buzz of conversation and eager expectation in the chamber for about ten minutes  as the members waited for Churchill. David Lloyd George arrived during the interval, while Clementine Churchill and her daughter Diana entered the Speaker’s Gallery. Despite the importance of the moment, there were many empty seats in the chamber which in itself reflected that secrecy around the invasion had been maintained.

At three minutes to noon, the prime minister entered the chamber from behind the Speaker’s chair and received a warm ovation. Harold Nicolson, M.P. recorded in his diary that Churchill looked pale and members feared he was about to announce some “terrible disaster.” The Speaker immediately called upon Churchill who placed two separate typescripts on the table before himself. He would speak for only seven minutes and the members would listen in “hushed awe” broken only by “bursts of cheering.”

Churchill began first with the liberation of Rome by the Allied armies under General Harold Alexander that had taken place on June 4, 1944. This received a “really tremendous cheer.” Churchill briefly detailed the war in Italy before ending with, “We must await further developments in the Italian theatre before it is possible to estimate the magnitude or quality of our gains, great and timely though they certainly are.” As Nicolson noted Churchill stressed the word “timely” with a rise of his voice.

There was then a slight pause as the prime minister then picked up his other page of notes and said:

“I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines and landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time. The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled. The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved so difficult as was apprehended. The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 first line aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle. I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are coming in in rapid succession. So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.

     There are already hopes that actual tactical surprise has been attained, and we hope to furnish the enemy with a succession of surprises during the course of the fighting. The battle that has now begun will grow constantly in scale and in intensity for many weeks to come and I shall not attempt to speculate upon its course. This I may say, however. Complete unity prevails throughout the Allied Armies. There is a brotherhood in arms between us and our friends of the United States. There is complete confidence in the supreme commander, General Eisenhower, and his lieutenants, and also in the commander of the Expeditionary Force, General Montgomery. The ardour and spirit of the troops, as I saw myself, embarking in these last few days was splendid to witness. Nothing that equipment, science or forethought could do has been neglected, and the whole process of opening this great new front will be pursued with the utmost resolution both by the commanders and by the United States and British Governments whom they serve.”

Churchill then took three questions from Arthur Greenwood, Willie Gallacher, and Aneurin Bevan and left the chamber. In the afternoon of June 6th he went for an audience and luncheon with King George VI at Buckingham Palace and thereafter with the King went to the Allied Air Headquarters led by Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and later to the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower.

At 6:15 that evening Churchill returned to the House of Commons as promised earlier in the day to make a further statement on the progress of the invasion of Europe. He said:

“I can state to the House that this operation is proceeding in thoroughly satisfactory manner. Many dangers and difficulties which at this time last night appeared extremely formidable are behind us. The passage of the sea has been made with far less loss than we apprehended. The resistance of the batteries has been greatly weakened by the bombing of the Air Force, and the superior bombardment-of our ships quickly reduced their fire to dimensions which did not affect the problem. The landing of the troops on a broad front, both British and American—Allied troops, I will not give lists of all the different nationalities they represent or the States they represent—but the landings along the whole front have been effective, and our troops have penetrated, in some cases, several miles inland. Lodgments exist on a broad front.

The outstanding feature has been the landings of the airborne troops, which were on a scale far larger than anything that has been seen so far in the world. These landings took place with extremely little loss and with great accuracy. Particular anxiety attached to them, because the conditions of light prevailing in the very limited period of the dawn—just before the dawn—the conditions of visibility, made all the difference. Indeed, there might have been something happening at the last minute which would not have enabled airborne troops to play their part. A very great degree of risk had to be taken in respect of the weather.

But General Eisenhower’s courage is equal to all the necessary decisions that have to be taken in these extremely difficult and uncontrollable matters. The airborne troops are well established, and the landings and the follow-ups are all proceeding with much less loss—very much less—than we expected. Fighting is proceeding at various points. We have captured various bridges which were of importance, and which were not blown up. There is even fighting proceeding in the town of Caen, inland. But all this, although a very valuable first step—a vital and essential first step—gives no indication of what may be the course of the battle in the next days and weeks, because the enemy will now probably endeavour to concentrate on this area and in that event heavy fighting will soon begin and will continue without end, as we can push troops in and he can bring other troops up. It is, therefore, a most serious time that we enter upon. Thank God, we enter upon it with our great Allies all in good heart and all in good friendship.”

After Churchill finished speaking, there was “loud and prolonged cheers.”

Churchill Bulletin

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The May 2020 issue (#143) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the International Churchill Society’s competition to encourage participants to write or deliver an inspirational speech of hope in response to the current global challenges, the move of the 2020 International Churchill Conference to an online format, a piece on Churchill’s Writings by Tom Young (author of Silver Wings, Iron Cross), and “Churchill’s Shadow Raiders: How Theft, Trickery and Deception Secured Victory in WWII” by Damien Lewis. The Churchilliana column features Great War postcards. The May bulletin is available here.

Forthcoming Churchill Book

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Winston Churchill’s Illnesses, 1886-1965 by Allister Vale and John Scadding will be published by Frontline Books in October 2020. The book greatly expands on the more than a dozen journal articles that they have published on Churchill’s health. Based on these prior journal articles, Winston Churchill’s Illnesses should provide an excellent account of Churchill’s medical history.

This Day in Churchill History

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On May 8, 1945 VE-Day in Europe was celebrated. The surrender of Germany took place just days short of the fifth anniversary of Winston Churchill becoming prime minister on May 10, 1940.

That day Churchill stayed in his bed all morning at 10 Downing Street as he worked on his Victory broadcast and at one o’clock that afternoon went to Buckingham Palace for an audience and lunch with King George VI. Returning to 10 Downing Street, he made a broadcast to the nation at three o’clock that afternoon from the Cabinet Room announcing the end of the Second World War in Europe. After the broadcast Churchill, accompanied by Harvie Watt, MP, left for the House of Commons in an open car. Crowds engulfed the car and the police had difficulty in forcing a path through the throng as Churchill stood in the car and waved. The House of Commons was entirely filled and Churchill received a great ovation as he entered the chamber. Members stood and yelled and waved their order papers. At the dispatch box he announced the end of the German war and then moved that the House proceed to St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster to give thanks to “Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination.” The House unanimously agreed. As the procession formed up, Churchill shook hands and exchanged a few words with Arthur Greenwood, Manny Shinwell, Leslie Hore-Belisha, and Will Thorne. At quarter to four that afternoon, the members of parliament made the short procession to St. Margaret’s, Westminster for a service. After the service the procession returned to the House of Commons and Churchill moved an adjournment motion. He then (along with members of the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff) went to Buckingham Palace, where they were received by King George VI. Shortly after 5:30 Churchill appeared on the palace balcony with the King and Queen and the two princesses. They received five minutes of sustained cheering from the vast crowds on the Mall. Crowds continued to cheer Churchill as he left the palace and returned by an open motor car to Downing Street. Churchill then went to the Home Office where he was joined by cabinet colleagues and the Chiefs of Staff on the balcony. Later he appeared, again with other members of the War Cabinet, on the central balcony of the Ministry of Health overlooking Whitehall. Just before six o’clock from the balcony he made a short speech of a few sentences that was carried by a loudspeaker, telling the crowd that “This is your Victory,” to which they roared back “No – it is yours.” Ernest Bevin then beat time as the crowd sang “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and Bevin then called for three cheers for victory. In the evening Churchill dined with family members and Lord Camrose in the Annexe and at 10:30 pm with crowds still packed in Whitehall, Churchill returned to the Ministry of Health balcony. He made a short speech in which he asked the crowd, “There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? Were we down-hearted?” The crowd replied with resounding shouts of “No!”