Winston Churchill led Great Britain through the Second World War as the prime minister of a coalition government that was supported by the Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal parties. The coalition was established immediately after Churchill became prime minister in the difficult days of May 1940 and lasted five years until the withdrawal of the Labour party after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Although Churchill easily overshadowed the other members of his coalition government, both during the war and since, it was a talented ministry with such heavyweights as Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden, Ernest Bevin, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Stafford Cripps, and Herbert Morrison.
All Behind You, Winston: Churchill’s Great Coalition, 1940-45 by Roger Hermiston tells the well-known story of Churchill and Second World War with a greater emphasis and focus on the cast of characters that worked in the shadow of the prime minister’s wartime leadership. These men and just two women are often minimized or overlooked in most other accounts. This interesting book is skillfully and smoothly written.
Although Hermiston details the disagreements and rivalries within the coalition, especially the clashes between Archibald Sinclair and Beaverbrook, more consideration could have been given to the criticisms leveled at the cabinet, such as from Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, who attended War Cabinet meetings in 1941 and declared, “the Cabinet is deplorable – dumb men most of whom disagree with Winston but none of whom dare to say so.” Menzies’ comments were made in the first half of 1941 when Britain was alone and it’s fortunes were probably at their lowest ebb.
A particular hero of All Behind You is Lord Woolton who served as Minister of Food from 1940-43 before being moved to the Ministry of Reconstruction. Called Churchill’s “most effective minister,” Woolton with his communication skills was “a constant visitor to the nation’s kitchen” through his daily radio broadcasts.
Hermiston is also the author of Clough and Revie and The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake.