With his restless temperament, wide political responsibilities, and thirst for victory, Winston Churchill did not hesitate to prod and push the Royal Navy’s admirals during the Second World War. A study of Churchill’s relationship with six of the senior naval leaders is considered in the article “Pester, Nag, and Bite! Churchill and the British Admirals of the Second World War” by the author of this blog and published in the most recent issue of the Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times (Summer 2017; No. 177). The journal’s web site is here.
The August issue of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the schedule for the 34th International Churchill Conference, a review of the film Dunkirk, an obituary for the actor Robert Hardy, a review of Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality: What He Actually Did and Said, and Churchill Collectables: King George V Coronation Parade Ticket. The newsletter is available here.
On August 20, 1930, Winston Churchill “sharply criticized” the Labour government’s policy on India and Egypt in a speech at Cleve Court, the residence of Lord Carson at Minster, Thanet. He charged the government had demonstrated “weakness and incapacity” in both the handling of the recent outbreak of hostilities on the Northwest Frontier as well as in its approach to Gandhi and India’s constitutional problem. He likewise declared himself “unhappy” with its Egyptian policy where the government “was eager to scuttle out of Egypt and to withdraw our troops in Cairo, where they had preserved order and made progress possible for 50 years.” With a general election upcoming, Churchill concluded his speech by saying that after the Conservative Party had driven the “wretched Socialist Government” from office, “confidence will be restored in Britain and spread from Britain round the world. Industry will be stimulated by a tariff. Agriculture will be aided by a guarantee. The dole will be purged of abuses and imposture; and we shall bear our part in a general revival of national and imperial strength.”
In 1970 a life-size bronze statue of Winston Churchill by the sculptor Oscar Nemon was unveiled outside the House of Commons chamber. Having first met Nemon in Morocco in 1951, Churchill regularly sat for the sculptor after he had returned as prime minister. The BBC program Westminster Hour has a report on the life of Oscar Nemon. The report is available here.
Winston Churchill would have to have been 142 years old to have offered an opinion or cast a vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In the absence of such longevity on Churchill’s part, both the leave and remain campaigns claimed Churchill’s support for their side. Boris Johnson, Nicholas Soames, and David Cameron all told the voters they were sure that they knew how Churchill would have voted on Europe. Published in advance of last year’s referendum, Churchill on Europe by Felix Klos claims that there is “no doubt” that Churchill wanted the United Kingdom as a leading member of an “ever-closer union of European states.” In his slim book of 64 pages plus notes, the author is able to only make a weak case for his position. The book only considers Churchill’s campaign for a united Europe in 1946-47, including the famous Zurich speech, when he and the Conservatives were in opposition. Klos does not explain, apart from a reference to a lack of support in the Conservative party, why the pursuit of a united Europe was not pressed ahead with when Churchill returned to the premiership in 1951. Perhaps in his forthcoming longer book on Churchill and Europe also from I.B. Tauris, Klos will make a more detailed case and explain why Britain under Churchill remained aloof as the initial steps were being taken for a united Europe in the early 1950s.
The July issue of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on a special screening of Darkest Hour at the 2017 Churchill Conference, the scheduling of the author Michael Dobbs as a keynote speaker at the conference, a review of Winston Churchill in British Art, 1900 to The Present Day: The Titan with Many Faces, and Churchill Collectables: WSC Soap Set. The newsletter is available here.
On the eve of the 1944 Anzio Landing the defeatist and soon to be replaced American commander Major-General John Lucas wrote in his diary, “This whole affair had a strong odor of Gallipoli and apparently the same amateur [Churchill] was still on the coaches bench.” As encapsulated in this diary entry Winston Churchill was the irresponsible politician and military “amateur” who brushed aside his professional naval advisors to plunge the British into the failed Dardanelles naval attack and ensuing disastrous army campaign on the Gallipoli peninsula. The Dardanelles was the nadir of Churchill’s political career and the campaign continues to be cited as proof of his reckless and unreliable character. He has never fully escaped the Dardanelles. As Christopher Bell writes in the excellent Churchill and the Dardanelles, “controversy has raged around the Dardanelles since 1915, and the campaign still casts a long shadow over Churchill’s reputation.”
In this new book Bell (Dalhousie and author of Churchill and Sea Power) tackles the controversy and competing mythology surrounding Churchill and the campaign. He observes that two competing narratives have grown up around the campaign, one in which “Churchill is to blame for everything” and the other in which the Dardanelles was one of World War One’s “few creative strategic concepts” and that the failure was due to the execution not because of Churchill’s initial conception. In his study Bell holds that neither narrative is accurate. Churchill did not “dupe” the cabinet into supporting the scheme, nor did the attack fail merely due to local mistakes in the theatre.
This book tightly focuses on Churchill’s role in the operation and successfully avoids getting distracted into reciting a history of the campaign itself. It considers the origins and planning of the campaign, the haphazard decision-making that plagued the British government under Asquith during the early stages of the First World War, the impact of the Dardanelles failure on Churchill, and his efforts to restore his reputation by means of his evidence to the Dardanelles Commission. The efforts regarding the commission included coordinating his evidence with colleagues and even being permitted by the commissioners to question witnesses in the commission hearings. By 1917 Churchill had restored his reputation enough for him to receive a ministerial post under Prime Minister David Lloyd George. After the Armistice, Churchill continued to put forward his interpretation of the events in his war memoirs and other writings.
The key relationship in the decision to launch a naval attack at the Dardanelles was that between Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and Jacky Fisher as First Sea Lord. Despite his bluster, Fisher failed to clearly express his supposed opposition to the scheme at key junctures. While explaining much about the Churchill-Fisher relationship (such as their mutual need to cooperate in preparing for the Dardanelles Commission), Bell writes that “Fisher remains an enigma.” This reader continues to be puzzled by Churchill’s attraction to the erratic and ultimately incompetent Fisher, who as described by Bell was “by nature volatile, emotional, duplicitous, secretive, and inconsistent.”
In his study Bell concludes that both as First Lord of the Admiralty and Prime Minister during the Second World War, Churchill applied the lessons he drew from the Dardanelles experience. During the 1939-45 War he was more willing to accept a “no” from his professional military advisers having learned “the folly of launching a major operation with only grudging and half-hearted support.”
Churchill and the Dardanelles is a comprehensive and balanced study of the subject that refutes both the polemics about the Dardanelles and the hagiographical studies that seek to excuse Churchill’s role in the operation. Bell’s work will have to be considered in all future studies of the campaign.
A Sudbury taxi that is said to have transported Winston Churchill during the war will be on display at Newton Green Golf Club on August 6. The 80 year-old vehicle, which has been driven for more than 500,000 miles, transported King George VI and Churchill when they were in the area during the war. An article from the East Anglian Daily Times is available here.
Prince Charles recently visited Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s country home in Kent and now part of the National Trust. He was guided on the tour by his friend and Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames, MP. On the visit he was shown Churchill’s bedroom at Chartwell and commented that it looked “frightfully comfortable.” Later this year the bedroom as well as the secretary’s room will be added to the tour for visitors. An article from the Daily Telegraph on the tour is available here.
The June issue of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes articles on the opening of a new exhibit, Charting Churchill: An Architectural Biography of Sir Winston Churchill, at the National Churchill Library and Center in Washington; a recent lecture by Jon Meacham on the relationship between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill; the Churchill Quiz: Summer Edition; and Churchill Collectables: Chancellor of the Exchequer bust. The newsletter is available here.