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.

Churchill in the News

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documentsA set of plans for Winston Churchill’s state funeral were recently sold at auction by Catherine Southon Auctioneers and Valuers for £472. The documents were prepared 12 years before Churchill’s death in 1965 and detailed the “procession, ceremony, military flypast, and the coffin’s transportation.” Articles on the auction are available from BBC News and the Daily Express.

This Date in Churchill History

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On March 9, 1961 the 86-year old Winston Churchill flew aboard a Vickers Vanguard from London Airport to Gibraltar where he was met by General Sir Charles Keightley, the governor of the territory. Keightley drove with the former prime minister to the pier where Churchill immediately boarded Aristotle Onassis’s yacht Christina. Churchill was accompanied by his private secretary Anthony Montague Brown along with Brown’s wife and daughter as well as Lord and Lady Moran and two nurses. Later in the day the Christina sailed for a five-week West Indies cruise which would see the yacht call at Trinidad, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, and Florida before arriving in New York. Onassis joined the cruise midway in the West Indies. Churchill returned to London by air from New York on April 14, 1961.

Book Review

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“Now we could say if you insist on doing this or that, well we can just blot out Moscow, then Stalingrad, then Kiev, then Kuibyshev, Karhov … Sebastopol etc, etc. And now where are the Russians!!!” an excited Winston Churchill is reported as having said on July 23, 1945 in Potsdam after being informed of the successful atomic bomb tests in New Mexico.

As recounted in Churchill and the Bomb in War and Cold War by Kevin Ruane (Canterbury Christ Church University), the belligerent and aggressive posture of July 1945 was, however, just one aspect of Churchill’s attitude towards nuclear weapons. In his excellent study Ruane describes three “incarnations” of Churchill and nuclear weapons during the period 1941 to 1955: the atomic bomb-maker, the atomic diplomatist, and the nuclear peace-maker. Over these 14 years Churchill, “altered his outlook on weapons of mass destruction to a remarkable degree.”

Ruane argues that as the destructive power of the Hydrogen Bomb became apparent, Churchill shifted from the atomic diplomatist who wished to retain an Anglo-American atomic monopoly and force a reversal of the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe to a nuclear peace-maker. In his second premiership Churchill was “terrified” by the hydrogen bomb and, despite the opposition of some of his cabinet colleagues and the Americans, unsuccessfully pursued a summit meeting with the Soviet leadership to ease international tensions. His fear of the H-bomb overrode his anti-communism. This last incarnation of the nuclear Churchill, Ruane writes, embraced and “arguably” even conceived “the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction.”

A further interesting theme that Ruane traces in his study is that throughout the three incarnations of the nuclear Churchill, the statesman, with little success, sought to fully extend his cherished Anglo-American “special relationship” to the nuclear sphere. Churchill continued to attach great importance to the Quebec and Hyde Park agreements on atomic cooperation long after they had been superseded by events (such as the death of President Franklin Roosevelt and the McMahon Act of 1946).

As Ruane notes in his book’s introduction the gap in the literature about Churchill and nuclear weapons has been tackled by both his own effort as well as by Graham Farmelo’s equally well-done Churchill’s Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race that was published in 2013. Ruane’s study benefits from its tighter focus on Churchill as opposed to Farmelo’s work that on occasion moves away from the statesman to cover the larger story of Britain and nuclear weapons.

Churchill and the Bomb in War and Cold War is a well-researched, detailed, and comprehensive study of Churchill and nuclear weapons.

This Day in Churchill History

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On March 2, 1945, Prime Minister Winston Churchill flew from Northolt to Belgium aboard his Douglas C-54 Skymaster for a five-day visit to the front. Arriving behind schedule at Northolt, Churchill departed with his entourage that included his wife Clementine, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Alan Brooke and General Hastings Ismay at just after 11 am. A Spitfire squadron provided an escort. Flying over Dungeness, St. Omer, and Lille they saw some of the former flying bomb sites. Churchill was met in Brussels by his daughter Mary who was serving in an anti-aircraft battery; Air Marshal Arthur Coningham, commander of the 2nd Tactical Air Force; Major-General Sir Francis Wilfred de Guingand, chief of staff to Montgomery; and Air Vice-Marshal Basil Embry. Coningham, who had a reputation for extravagance, took the party to his headquarters in the city located in a lavish villa for lunch, which was “one of his usual sumptuous meals.” After the lunch the party, save for Clementine and Mary who remained in Brussels, flew to the Eindhoven aerodrome in two Dakota aircraft where they were met by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the 21st Army Group, who took them to his headquarters for tea. While with Monty the prime minister’s proposal of inserting Field Marshal Harold Alexander as Deputy Supreme Commander was discussed. The party later went to the station where Eisenhower’s train had been placed at their disposal. They changed and returned to Montgomery’s headquarters for dinner, after which they attended Monty’s evening interviews with his liaison officers on the battle situation.

This Day in Churchill History

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On February 26, 1930 Winston Churchill was the chief speaker at a public meeting of the Navy League at the Cannon-street Hotel, London. He was in a “combative mood and strongly criticized” the British government for being unsure of itself in the then ongoing London Naval Conference. Speaking on the naval position of the British Empire, Churchill said that naval defence was a matter of national and imperial existence for Britain. Declaring he wished to deal with two “simple points,” he first disputed the Admiralty’s position that the navy’s necessary minimum strength in cruisers was 50 instead of 70 such ships and secondly said that a treaty of naval parity between the United States and Britain “calculated arithmetically was not equality.” He argued that Britain should determine its naval requirements “by ourselves and by ourselves alone.”

Churchill in the News

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An article by Mario Livio recently published in Nature reports on an 11-page essay Winston Churchill wrote on alien life in September 1939 which was entitled “Are We Alone in the Universe?” Livio provides an excellent detailed analysis of the Churchill essay from a scientific perspective. The Nature article also claims that this Churchill manuscript, which is held by the collection of the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, MO., “has never been published or subjected to scientific or academic scrutiny.” However, as pointed out by Richard Langworth at the Churchill Project, a version of the essay was published as “Are There Men on the Moon?” in the Sunday Dispatch (March 8, 1942) and reprinted in The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill (1975). The full-text of “Are There Men on the Moon?” is available from the Churchill Project.