Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill KG OM CH TD DL FRS RA (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British politician, army officer, and writer, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. As Prime Minister, Churchill led Britain to victory in the Second World War. Ideologically an economic liberal and British imperialist, he was a member of the Liberal Party from 1904 to 1924 before rejoining the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as Member of Parliament (MP).
Born in Oxfordshire to an aristocratic family, Churchill was a son of Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Jerome. Joining the British Army, he saw action in British India, the Anglo-Sudan War, and the Second Boer War, gaining fame as a war correspondent and writing books about his campaigns. Elected an MP in 1900, initially as a Conservative, he defected to the Liberals in 1904. In H. H. Asquith‘s Liberal government, Churchill served as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, and First Lord of the Admiralty, championing prison reform and workers’ social security. During the First World War, he oversaw the Gallipoli Campaign; after it proved a disaster, he resigned from government and served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. In 1917 he returned to government under David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions, and was subsequently Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, then Secretary of State for the Colonies. After two years out of Parliament, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin‘s Conservative government, returning the pound sterling in 1925 to the gold standard at its pre-war parity, a move widely seen as creating deflationary pressure on the UK economy.
Out of office during the 1930s, Churchill took the lead in calling for British rearmament to counter the growing threat from Nazi Germany. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was re-appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. Following Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain‘s resignation in 1940, Churchill replaced him. Churchill oversaw British involvement in the Allied war effort, resulting in victory in 1945. His wartime response to the 1943 Bengal famine, which claimed an estimated three million lives, has caused controversy, and he sanctioned the 1945 bombing of Dresden, which caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths and continues to be debated. After the Conservatives’ defeat in the 1945 general election, he became Leader of the Opposition. Amid the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union, he publicly warned of an “iron curtain” of Soviet influence in Europe and promoted European unity. He was re-elected prime minister in the 1951 election. His second term was preoccupied with foreign affairs, including the Malayan Emergency, Mau Mau Uprising, Korean War, Syrian crisis and a UK-backed Iranian coup. Domestically his government emphasised house-building and developed an atomic bomb. In declining health, Churchill resigned as prime minister in 1955, although he remained an MP until 1964. Upon his death in 1965, he was given a state funeral.
Widely considered one of the 20th century’s most significant figures, Churchill remains popular in the UK and Western world, where he is seen as a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending liberal democracy from the spread of fascism. Also praised as a social reformer and writer, among his many awards was the Nobel Prize in Literature. Conversely, his imperialist and racist viewscoupled with his sanctioning of human rights abuses in the suppression of anti-imperialist movements seeking independence from the British Empirehave generated considerable controversy.
Childhood and schooling: 1874-1895
Churchill was born at his parental home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, on 30 November 1874, at which time the United Kingdom was the dominant world power. A direct descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough, his family were among the highest levels of the British aristocracy, and thus he was born into the country’s governing elite. His paternal grandfather, John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, had been a Member of Parliament (MP) for ten years, a member of the Conservative Party who served in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. His own father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had been elected Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873. His mother, Jennie Churchill (ne Jerome), was from an American family whose substantial wealth derived from finance. The couple had met in August 1873, and were engaged three days later, marrying at the British Embassy in Paris in April 1874. The couple lived beyond their income and were frequently in debt; according to the biographer Sebastian Haffner, the family were “rich by normal standards but poor by those of the rich”.
In 1876 John Spencer-Churchill was appointed Viceroy of Ireland, with Randolph as his private secretary, resulting in the Churchill family’s relocation to Dublin, when the entirety of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It was here that Jennie’s second son, Jack, was born in 1880; there has been speculation that Randolph was not his biological father. Throughout much of the 1880s Randolph and Jennie were effectively estranged, during which she had many suitors. Churchill had virtually no relationship with his father; referring to his mother, Churchill later stated that “I loved her dearly – but at a distance.” His relationship with Jack would be warm, and they were close at various points in their lives. In Dublin, he was educated in reading and mathematics by a governess, while he and his brother were cared for primarily by their nanny, Elizabeth Ann Everest. Churchill was devoted to her and nicknamed her “Woomany”; he later wrote that “She had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole of the twenty years I had lived.”
Aged seven, he began boarding at St. George’s School in Ascot, Berkshire; he hated it, did poorly academically, and regularly misbehaved. Visits home were to Connaught Place in London, where his parents had settled, while they also took him on his first foreign holiday, to Gastein in Austria-Hungary. As a result of poor health, in September 1884 he moved to Brunswick School in Hove; there, his academic performance improved but he continued to misbehave. He narrowly passed the entrance exam which allowed him to begin studies at the elite Harrow School in April 1888. There, his academics remained highhe excelled particularly in historybut teachers complained that he was unpunctual and careless. He wrote poetry and letters which were published in the school magazine, Harrovian, and won a fencing competition. His father insisted that he be prepared for a career in the military, and so Churchill’s last three years at Harrow were spent in the army form. He performed poorly in most of his exams.
On a holiday to Bournemouth in January 1893, he fell and was knocked unconscious for three days. In March he took a job at a cram school in Lexham Gardens, South Kensington, before holidaying in Switzerland and Italy that summer. He made three attempts to be admitted to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, only succeeding on the third. There, he was accepted as a cadet in the cavalry, starting his education in September 1893. In August 1894 he and his brother holidayed in Belgium, and he spent free time in London, joining protests at the closing of the Empire Theatre, which he had frequented. His Sandhurst education lasted for 15 months; he graduated in December 1894. Shortly after Churchill finished at Sandhurst, in January 1895, his father died; this led Churchill to adopt the belief that members of his family inevitably died young.
Cuba, India, and Sudan: 1895-1899
In February 1895, Churchill was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Fourth Hussars regiment of the British Army, based at Aldershot. This position earned him a wage of 150 a year, which was far outstripped by his expenditure. In July, he rushed to Crouch Hill, North London to sit with Everest as she lay dying, subsequently organising her funeral. Churchill was eager to witness military action and used his mother’s influence to try to get himself posted to a warzone. In the autumn of 1895, he and Reginald Barnes traveled to Cuba to observe its war of independence; they joined Spanish troops attempting to suppress independence fighters and were caught up in several skirmishes. In North America, he also spent time in New York City, staying with the wealthy politician Bourke Cockran at the latter’s Fifth Avenue residence; Cockran profoundly influenced the young Churchill. Churchill admired the United States, writing to his brother that it was “a very great country” and telling his mother “what an extraordinary people the Americans are!”
With the Hussars, Churchill arrived in Bombay, British India, in October 1896. They were soon transferred to Bangalore, where he shared a bungalow with Barnes. Describing India as a “godless land of snobs and bores”, Churchill remained posted there for 19 months, during the course of which he made three visits to Calcutta, expeditions to Hyderabad and the North West Frontier, and two visits back to Britain. Believing himself poorly educated, he began a project of self-education, reading the work of Plato, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, and Henry Hallam. Most influential for him were however Edward Gibbon‘s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Winwood Reade‘s The Martyrdom of Man, and the writings of Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Keenly interested in British parliamentary affairs, in a private letter he declared himself “a Liberal in all but name”, but added that he could never endorse the Liberal Party‘s support for Irish home rule. Instead, he allied himself to the Tory democracy wing of the Conservative Party, and on a visit home gave his first public speech for the Conservative’s Primrose League in Bath. Reflecting a mix of reformist and conservative perspectives, he supported the promotion of secular, non-denominational education while opposing women’s suffrage, referring to the Suffragettes as “a ridiculous movement”.
Churchill decided to join the Malakand Field Force led by Bindon Blood in its campaign against Mohmand rebels in the Swat Valley of Northwest India. Blood agreed on the condition that Churchill be assigned as a journalist; to ensure this, he gained accreditation from The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph, for whom he wrote regular updates. In letters to family, he described how both sides in the conflict slaughtered each other’s wounded, although he omitted any reference to such actions by British troops in his published reports. He remained with the British troops for six weeks before returning to Bangalore in October 1897. There, he wrote his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, which was published by Longman to largely positive reviews. He also wrote his only work of fiction, Savrola, a roman clef set in an imagined Balkan kingdom. It was serialised in Macmillan’s Magazine between May-December 1899 before appearing in book form.
While staying in Bangalore in the first half of 1898, Churchill explored the possibility of joining Herbert Kitchener‘s military campaign in the Sudan. Kitchener was initially reticent, claiming that Churchill was simply seeking publicity and medals. After spending time in Calcutta, Meerut, and Peshawar, Churchill sailed back to England from Bombay in June. There, he used his contactsincluding a visit to the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury at 10 Downing Streetto get himself assigned to Kitchener’s campaign. He agreed that he would write a column describing the events for The Morning Post. He sailed for Egypt, where he joined the 21st Lancers at Cairo before they headed south along the River Nile to take part in the Battle of Omdurman against the army of Sudanese leader Abdallahi ibn Muhammad. Churchill was critical of Kitchener’s actions during the war, particularly the latter’s unmerciful treatment of enemy wounded and his desecration of Muhammad Ahmad‘s tomb in Omdurman. Following the battle, Churchill gave skin from his chest for a graft for an injured officer. Back in England by October, Churchill wrote an account of the campaign, published as The River War in November 1899.
Attempts at a Parliamentary career and South Africa: 1899-1900
Deciding that he wanted a parliamentary career, Churchill pursued political contacts and gave addresses at three Conservative Party meetings. It was also at this point that he courted Pamela Plowden, later Countess of Lytton; although a relationship did not ensue, they remained lifelong friends. In December he returned to India for three months, largely to indulge his love of the game polo. While in Calcutta, he stayed for a week in the home of Viceroy George Nathaniel Curzon. On the journey home, he spent two weeks at the Savoy Hotel in Cairo, where he was introduced to the Khedive Abbas II, before arriving in England in April. He refocused his attention on politics, addressing further Conservative meetings and networking at events such as a Rothschild‘s dinner party. He was selected as one of the two Conservative parliamentary candidates at the June 1899 by-election in Oldham, Lancashire. Although the Oldham seats had previously been held by the Conservatives, the election was a narrow Liberal victory.
Anticipating the outbreak of the Second Boer War between Britain and the Boer Republics, Churchill sailed from Southampton to South Africa as a journalist writing for the Daily Mail and Morning Post. From Cape Town, in October he travelled to the conflict zone near Ladysmith, then besieged by Boer troops, before spending time at Estcourt before heading for Colenso. After his train was derailed by Boer artillery shelling, he was captured as a prisoner of war and interned in a Boer POW camp in Pretoria. In December, Churchill and two other inmates escaped the prison over the latrine wall. Churchill stowed aboard a freight train and later hid within a mine, shielded by the sympathetic English mine owner. Wanted by the Boer authorities, he again hid aboard a freight train and travelled to safety in Portuguese East Africa.
Sailing to Durban, Churchill found that his escape had attracted much publicity in Britain. Rather than returning home, in January 1900, he was appointed a lieutenant in the South African Light Horse regiment, joining Redvers Buller‘s fight to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith and take Pretoria. In his writings during the campaign, he chastised British hatred for the Boer, calling for them to be treated with “generosity and tolerance” and urging a “speedy peace”; after the war was over he would call for the British to be magnanimous in victory. He was among the first British troops into Ladysmith and Pretoria. He and his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, were able to get ahead of the rest of the troops in Pretoria, where they demanded and received the surrender of 52 Boer prison camp guards. After the victory in Pretoria, he returned to Cape Town and sailed for Britain in July. In May, while he had still been in South Africa, his Morning Post despatches had been published as London to Ladysmith via Pretoria, which sold well.
Early political career
Early years in Parliament: 1900-1905
Arriving in Southampton in July 1900, Churchill rented a flat in London’s Mayfair, using it as his base for the next six years, and hired a personal secretary. He stood again as a Conservative candidate for the seat of Oldham at the 1900 general election, securing a narrow victory. At the age of 25, he was now an MP. MPs were not then paid a wage, and to earn money Churchill embarked on a speaking tour focusing on his South African experiences; after touring Britain in late October and November he proceeded to the US, where his first lecture was introduced by the writer Mark Twain. In the US, he met President William McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt; the latter invited Churchill to dinner, but took a dislike to him. Churchill then crossed to Canada to give more lectures, and in spring 1901 gave talks in Paris, Madrid, and Gibraltar. In October 1900, he published Ian Hamilton’s March, a book about his South African experiences.
In February 1901, Churchill took his seat in the House of Commons, where his maiden speech gained widespread press coverage. He associated with a group of Conservatives known as the Hughligans, although was critical of the Conservative government on various issues. He condemned the British execution of a Boer military commandant, and voiced concerns about the levels of public expenditure; in response, Prime Minister Arthur Balfour asked him to join a parliamentary select committee on the topic. He opposed an increase in army funding, suggesting that any additional military expenditure should go to the navy. This upset the Conservative front bench but gained support from Liberals. He increasingly socialised with senior Liberals, and particularly the Liberal Imperialists like H. H. Asquith. In this context, he later wrote, he “drifted steadily to the left” of British parliamentary politics. He privately considered “the gradual creation by an evolutionary process of a Democratic or Progressive wing to the Conservative Party”, or alternately a “Central Party” to unite the Conservatives and Liberals.
In the House of Commons, Churchill increasingly voted with the Liberal opposition against the government. In February 1903, he was among 18 Conservative MPs who voted against the government’s increase in military expenditure. He backed the Liberal vote of censure against the use of Chinese indentured labourers in South Africa, and in favour of a Liberal bill to restore legal rights to trade unions. His April 1904 parliamentary speech upholding the rights of trade unions was described by the pro-Conservative Daily Mail as “Radicalism of the reddest type”. In May 1903, the Conservative MP Joseph Chamberlain called for the introduction of tariffs on goods imported into the British Empire from outside; Churchill became a leading Conservative voice against such economic protectionism. Describing himself as a “sober admirer” of “the principles of Free Trade”, in July he was a founding member of the anti-protectionist Free Food League. In October, Balfour’s government sided with Chamberlain and announced protectionist legislation.
Churchill’s outspoken criticism of Balfour’s government and imperial protectionism, coupled with a letter of support he sent to a Liberal candidate in Ludlow, angered many Conservatives. In December 1903, the Oldham Conservative Association informed him that it would not support his candidature in the next general election. In March 1904, Balfour and the Conservative front bench walked out of the House of Commons during one of his speeches; he described their response as “a very unpleasant and disconcerting demonstration”. In May he expressed opposition to the government’s proposed Aliens Bill, which was designed to curb Jewish migration into Britain. He stated that the bill would “appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners, to racial prejudice against Jews, and to labour prejudice against competition” and expressed himself in favour of “the old tolerant and generous practice of free entry and asylum to which this country has so long adhered and from which it has so greatly gained.” On 31 May, he crossed the floor, defecting from the Conservatives to sit as a member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons.
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies: 1905-1908
In December, Balfour resigned as Prime Minister and King Edward VII invited the Liberal leader Henry Campbell-Bannerman to form a new government. Hoping to secure a working majority in the House of Commons, Campbell-Bannerman called a general election for January 1906. The Liberals won with 377 seats to the Conservatives’ 157. Having had a previous invitation from the Manchester Liberals to stand in their constituency, Churchill did so, winning the Manchester North West seat with a majority of 1241. January also saw the publication of Churchill’s biography of his father, a work he had been working on for several years. He received an advance payment of 8000 for the book, the highest ever paid for a political biography in Britain to that point; on publication, it was generally well received. It was also at this time that the first biography of Churchill himself, written by the Liberal Alexander MacCallum Scott, was published.
In the new government, Churchill became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonial Office, a position that he had requested. He worked beneath the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Victor Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin, and took Edward Marsh as his secretary; the latter remained Churchill’s secretary for 25 years. In this junior ministerial position, Churchill was first tasked with helping to draft a constitution for the Transvaal. In 1906, he helped oversee the granting of a government to the Orange Free State. In dealing with southern Africa, he sought to ensure equality between the British and Boer. He also announced a gradual phasing out of the use of Chinese indentured labourers in South Africa; he and the government decided that a sudden ban would cause too much upset in the colony and might damage the economy. He expressed concerns about the relations between European settlers and the indigenous southern African population; after Zulu launched the Bambatha Rebellion in Natal, he complained of Europeans’ “disgusting butchery of the natives”.
In August 1906, Churchill holidayed on a yacht in Deauville, France, spending much of his time playing polo or gambling. From there he proceeded to Paris and then Switzerlandwhere he climbed the Eggishornand then to Berlin and Silesia, where he was a guest of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He went then to Venice, and from there toured Italy by motorcar with his friend, Lionel Rothschild. In May 1907, he holidayed at the home of another friend, Maurice de Forest, in Biarritz. In the autumn, he embarked on a tour of Europe and Africa. Traveling through France and then Italy, he travelled to Malta and then Cyprus, before moving through the Suez Canal to Aden and Berbera. Sailing to Mombasa, he travelled by rail through the Kenya Colonystopping for big game hunting in Simbabefore heading through the Uganda Protectorate and then sailing up the River Nile. He wrote about his experiences for Strand Magazine and later published them in book form as My African Journey.
President of the Board of Trade: 1908-1910
When Asquith succeeded Campbell-Bannerman in 1908, Churchill was promoted to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. Aged 33, he was the youngest Cabinet member since 1866. Newly appointed Cabinet ministers were legally obliged to seek re-election at a by-election; in April, Churchill lost Manchester North to the Conservative candidate by 429 votes. The Liberals then stood him in a by-election in the Scottish safe seat of Dundee, where he won comfortably. In his Cabinet role, Churchill worked with Liberal politician David Lloyd George to champion social reform. In one speech Churchill stated that although the “vanguard” of the British people “enjoys all the delights of all the ages, our rearguard struggles out into conditions which are crueller than barbarism”. To deal with this, he promoted what he called a “network of State intervention and regulation” akin to that in Germany. His speeches on these issues were published in the volumes Liberalism and the Social Problem and The People’s Rights.
One of the first tasks he faced was in arbitrating an industrial dispute among ship-workers and their employers on the River Tyne. He then established a Standing Court of Arbitration to deal with future industrial disputes, establishing a reputation as a conciliator. Arguing that workers should have their working hours reduced, Churchill promoted the Mines Eight Hours Billwhich legally prohibited miners working more than an eight-hour dayintroducing its second reading in the House of Commons. In 1908, he introduced the Trade Boards Bill to parliament, which would establish a Board of Trade which could prosecute exploitative employers, establish the principle of minimum wage, and the right of workers to have meal breaks. The bill passed with a large majority. In May, he proposed the Labour Exchanges Bill which sought to establish over 200 Labour Exchanges through which the unemployed would be assisted in finding employment. He also promoted the idea of an unemployment insurance scheme, which would be part-funded by the state.
To ensure funding for these social reforms, he and Lloyd George denounced Reginald McKennas‘ expansion of warship production. Churchill openly ridiculed those who thought war with Germany was inevitableaccording to biographer Roy Jenkins he was going through “a pro-German phase”and in autumn 1909 he visited Germany, spending time with the Kaiser and observing German Army manoeuvres. In his personal life, Churchill proposed marriage to Clementine Hozier; they were married in September at St Margaret’s, Westminster. They honeymooned in Baveno, Venice, and Moravia, before settling into a London home at 33 Eccleston Square. The following July they had a daughter, Diana.
To pass its social reforms into law, Asquith’s Liberal government presented them in the form of the People’s Budget. Conservative opponents of the reform set up the Budget Protest League; supporters of it established the Budget League, of which Churchill became president. The budget passed in the House of Commons but was rejected by the Conservative peers who dominated the House of Lords; this threatened Churchill’s social reforms. Churchill warned that such upper-class obstruction would anger working-class Britons and could lead to class war. To deal with the deadlock, the government called a January 1910 general election, which resulted in a narrow Liberal victory; Churchill retained his seat at Dundee. After the election, he proposed the abolition of the House of Lords in a cabinet memorandum, suggesting that it be replaced either by a unicameral system or by a new, smaller second chamber that lacked an in-built advantage for the Conservatives. In April, the Lords relented and the budget was passed.
Home Secretary: 1910-1911
In February 1910, Churchill was promoted to Home Secretary, giving him control over the police and prison services, and he implemented a prison reform programme. He introduced a distinction between criminal and political prisoners, with prison rules for the latter being relaxed. He tried to establish libraries for prisoners, and introduced a measure ensuring that each prison must put on either a lecture or a concert for the entertainment of prisoners four times a year. He reduced the length of solitary confinement for first offenders to one month and for recidivists to three months, and spoke out against what he regarded as the excessively lengthy sentences meted out to perpetrators of certain crimes. He proposed the abolition of automatic imprisonment of those who failed to pay fines, and put a stop to the imprisonment of those aged between 16 and 21 except in cases where they had committed the most serious offences. Of the 43 capital sentences passed while he was Home Secretary, he commuted 21 of them.
One of the major domestic issues in Britain was that of women’s suffrage. By this point, Churchill supported giving women the vote, although would only back a bill to that effect if it had majority support from the (male) electorate. His proposed solution was a referendum on the issue, but this found no favour with Asquith and women’s suffrage remained unresolved until 1918. Many Suffragettes mistook Churchill for a committed opponent of women’s suffrage, and targeted his meetings for protest. In November 1910, the suffragist Hugh Franklin attacked Churchill with a whip; Franklin was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks. It was these militant suffragettes who were the primary beneficiaries of Churchill’s relaxed rules for those categorised as ‘political’ prisoners.
In the summer of 1910, Churchill spent two months on de Forest’s yacht in the Mediterranean. Back in Britain, he was tasked with dealing with the Tonypandy Riot, in which coal miners in the Rhondda Valley violently protested against their working conditions. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan requested troops to help police quell the rioting. Churchill, learning that the troops were already travelling, allowed them to go as far as Swindon and Cardiff, but blocked their deployment; he was concerned that the use of troops could lead to bloodshed. Instead he sent 270 London policewho were not equipped with firearmsto assist their Welsh counterparts. As the riots continued, he offered the protesters an interview with the government’s chief industrial arbitrator, which they accepted. Privately, Churchill regarded both the mine owners and striking miners as being “very unreasonable”.The Times and other media outlets accused him of being too soft on the rioters; conversely, many in the Labour Party, which was linked to the trade unions, regarded him as having been too heavy handed.
Asquith called a general election for December 1910, in which the Liberals were re-elected and Churchill again secured his Dundee seat. In January 1911, Churchill became involved with the Siege of Sidney Street; three Latvian burglars had killed several police officers and hidden in a house in London’s East End, which was surrounded by police. Churchill joined the police although did not direct their operation. After the house caught on fire, he told the fire brigade not to proceed into the house because of the threat that the armed Latvians posed to them. After the event, two of the burglars were found dead. Although he faced criticism for his decision, he stated that he “thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”
In March 1911, he introduced the second reading of the Coal Mines Bill to parliament, whichwhen implemented into lawintroduced stricter safety standards to coal mines. He also formulated the Shops Bill to improve the working conditions of shop workers; it faced opposition from shop owners and only passed into law in a much emasculated form. To maintain pressure on this issue, he became president of the Early Closing Association and remained in that position until the early 1940s. In April, Lloyd George introduced the first health and unemployment insurance legislation, the National Insurance Act 1911; Churchill had been instrumental in drafting it. In May, his wife gave birth to their second child, Randolph, named after Churchill’s father. In 1911, he was tasked with dealing with escalating civil strife, sending troops into Liverpool to quell protesting dockers and rallying against a national railway strike. As the Agadir Crisis emerged, which threatened the outbreak of war between Germany and France, Churchill suggested thatshould negotiations failthe UK should form an alliance with France and Russia and safeguard the independence of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark in the face of possible German expansionism. The Agadir Crisis had a dramatic effect on Churchill and his views about the need for naval expansion.
First Lord of the Admiralty: 1911-1915
In October 1911, Asquith appointed Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty. He settled into his official London residence at Admiralty House, and established his new office aboard the admiralty yacht, the Enchantress. Over the next two and a half years he focused on naval preparation, visiting naval stations and dockyards, seeking to improve naval morale, and scrutinising German naval developments. After the German government passed the German Navy Law to increase warship production, Churchill vowed that Britain would do the same and that for every new battleship built by the Germans, Britain would build two. Believing that Germany had been taken over by an oligarchy of “the landlord ascendancy”, he expressed the hope that war with the country would be averted if Germany’s “democratic forces” could re-assert their control over its government. To discourage conflict, he invited the Germans to engage in a mutual de-escalation of the two country’s naval building projects, but his offer was rebuffed.
As part of his naval reforms, he pushed for higher pay and greater recreational facilities for naval staff, an increase in the building of submarines, and a renewed focus on the Royal Naval Air Service, encouraging them to experiment with how aircraft could be used for offensive military purposes. He coined the term “seaplane” and ordered 100 to be constructed for the Navy. In 1913 he began taking flying lessons at Eastchurch air station, although close friends urged him to stop given the dangers involved. Some Liberals objected to his levels of naval expenditure; in December 1913 he threatened to resign if his proposal for four new battleships in 1914-15 was rejected. In June 1914, he convinced the House of Commons to authorise the government purchase of a 51% share in the profits of oil produced by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, to secure continued oil access for the Royal Navy. As a supporter of eugenics, he participated in the drafting of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913; however, the Act, in the form eventually passed, rejected his preferred method of sterilisation of the feeble-minded in favour of their confinement in institutions.
Taking political centre stage in this period was the vexed issue of how the British government should respond to the Irish home rule movement. In 1912, Asquith’s government had put forward the Home Rule Bill, which if passed into law would grant home rule to Ireland. Churchill supported the bill and urged Ulster Unionistsa largely Protestant community who desired continued political unity with Britainto accept it. He opposed partition of Ireland, and in 1913 suggested that Ulster have some autonomy from an independent Irish government. Many Ulster Unionists rejected any option that left them under the jurisdiction of a Dublin-based government and the Ulster Volunteers threatened an uprising to establish an independent Protestant state in Ulster. Churchill was the Cabinet minister tasked with giving an ultimatum to those threatening violence, doing so in a Bradford speech in March 1914. Following a Cabinet decision, he boosted the naval presence in Ireland to deal with any Unionist uprising; Conservatives accused him of trying to initiate an “Ulster Pogrom”. Seeking further compromise to calm the Ulster Volunteers, Churchill suggested that Ireland remain part of a federal United Kingdom; this in turn angered Liberals and Irish nationalists.
First World War
Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914, there was growing talk of war in Europe. Churchill began readying the navy for conflict, convinced that if Germany attacked France then Britain would inevitably join the war. Although there was strong opposition to involvement in the conflict within the Liberal Party, the British Cabinet agreed that a German invasion of Belgium would be a cause for war. When this happened, Britain declared war. Churchill was tasked with overseeing the country’s naval warfare effort. In two weeks, the navy transported 120,000 British troops across the English Channel to France. In August, he oversaw a naval blockade of German North Sea ports to prevent them from transporting food by sea; he also sent submarines to the Baltic Sea to assist the Russian Navy against German warships. Also in August, he sent the Marine Brigade to Ostend to force the Germans to reallocate some of their troops away from their main southward thrust.
In September, Churchill took over full responsibility for the aerial defence of Britain, and made several visits to France to oversee the war effort. While in Britain, he spoke at all-party recruiting rallies in London and Liverpool, and his wife gave birth to their third child, Sarah. In October he visited Antwerp to observe Belgian defences against the besieging Germans; he promised Belgian Prime Minister Charles de Broqueville that Britain would provide reinforcements for the city. The German assault continued, and shortly after Churchill left the city he agreed to a British retreat, allowing the Germans to take Antwerp; many in the press criticised Churchill for this. Churchill maintained that his actions prolonged the resistance by a week (Belgium had proposed surrendering Antwerp on 3 October) and that this time had enabled the Allies to secure Calais and Dunkirk.
In November, Asquith called a War Council, consisting of himself, Lloyd George, Edward Grey, Kitchener, and Churchill. Churchill proposed a plan to seize the Baltic island of Borkum from the Danish, and use it as a post from which to attack Germany’s northern coastline, believing that this strategy should shorten the war. Churchill also encouraged the development of the tank, which he believed would be useful in overcoming the problems of trench warfare, and funded its creation with admiralty funds. To relieve Turkish pressure on the Russians in the Caucuses, Churchill was part of a plan to distract the Turkish Army by attacking in the Dardanelles, with the hope that if successful the British could seize Constantinople. In March, a fleet of 13 battleships attacked in the Dardanelles but faced severe problems from submerged mines; in April, the 29th Division began its assault at Gallipoli. Many MPs, particularly Conservatives, blamed Churchill for the failure of these campaigns. Amid growing Conservative pressure, in May, Asquith agreed to form an all-party coalition government; the Conservatives’ one condition of entry was that Churchill be demoted from his position at the Admiralty. Churchill plead his case with both Asquith and Conservative leader Bonar Law, but ultimately accepted his demotion to the position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
On the Western Front: 1915-1916
For several months Churchill served in the sinecure of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, on 15 November 1915 he resigned from the government, feeling his energies were not being used.
Although remaining a member of parliament, Churchill returned to the British Army, attempting to obtain an appointment as brigade commander, but settling for command of a battalion. After some time gaining front-line experience as a Major with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, he was appointed temporary Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers (part of the 9th (Scottish) Division), on 1 January 1916.
Correspondence with his wife shows that his intent in taking up active service was to rehabilitate his reputation, but this was balanced by the serious risk of being killed. During his period of command, his battalion was stationed at Ploegsteert but did not take part in any set battle. Although he disapproved strongly of the mass slaughter involved in many Western Front actions, he exposed himself to danger by making excursions to the front line and personally made 36 forays into no man’s land.
Return to Parliament
In March 1916, Churchill returned to the UK after he had become restless in France and wished to speak again in the House of Commons. Future prime minister David Lloyd George acidly commented: “You will one day discover that the state of mind revealed in (your) letter is the reason why you do not win trust even where you command admiration. In every line of it, national interests are completely overshadowed by your personal concern.”
In July 1917, Churchill was appointed Minister of Munitions, and in January 1919, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air. He was the main architect of the Ten Year Rule, a principle that allowed the Treasury to dominate and control strategic, foreign and financial policies under the assumption that “there would be no great European war for the next five or ten years”. (Later as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1928, Churchill would persuade the Cabinet to make the rule self-perpetuating.) A major preoccupation of his tenure in the War Office was the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. Churchill was a staunch advocate of foreign intervention, declaring that Bolshevism must be “strangled in its cradle”.
He was instrumental in having para-military forces (Black and Tans and Auxiliaries) intervene in the Irish War of Independence. He became Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1921 and was a signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State. Churchill was involved in the lengthy negotiations of the treaty and, to protect British maritime interests, he engineered part of the Irish Free State agreement to include three Treaty PortsQueenstown (Cobh), Berehaven and Lough Swillywhich could be used as Atlantic bases by the Royal Navy. In 1938, however, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement, the bases were returned to Ireland.
In 1919, Churchill sanctioned the use of tear gas on Kurdish tribesmen in Iraq. Though the British did consider the use of non-lethal poison gas in putting down Kurdish rebellions, it was not used, as conventional bombing was considered more effective.
In 1919, Britain and the United States signed a treaty of alliance with France which the United States Senate refused to ratify, thus making the proposed Anglo-Franco-American alliance stillborn. In July 1921, Churchill argued at the Imperial conference of Dominion prime ministers that despite the rejection by the United States Senate of the alliance with France that Britain should still sign a military alliance with France to guarantee post-war security. Churchill’s ideas of an Anglo-French alliance was rejected at the conference as British public opinion and even more so Dominion public opinion was against the idea of the “continental commitment”.
In September, the Conservative Party withdrew from the Coalition government, following a meeting of backbenchers dissatisfied with the handling of the Chanak Crisis, a move that precipitated the looming November 1922 general election. Churchill fell ill during the campaign, and had to have an appendectomy. This made it difficult for him to campaign, and a further setback was the internal division which continued to beset the Liberal Party. He came fourth in the poll for Dundee, losing to prohibitionist Edwin Scrymgeour. Churchill later quipped that he left Dundee “without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix”.
On 4 May 1923, Churchill spoke in favour of the French occupation of the Ruhr, which was extremely unpopular in Britain saying: “We must not allow any particular phrase of French policy to estrange us from the great French nation. We must not turn our backs on our friends from the past”.
In 1923, Churchill acted as a paid consultant for Burmah Oil (now BP plc) to lobby the British government to allow Burmah exclusive rights to Persian (Iranian) oil resources; these rights were ultimately granted. He stood for the Liberals again in the 1923 general election, losing in Leicester West.
In January 1924, the first Labour Government had taken office amid fears of threats to the Constitution. Churchill was noted at the time for being particularly hostile to socialism. He believed that the Labour Party as a socialist party, did not fully support the existing British Constitution. In March 1924, aged 49, he sought election at the Westminster Abbey by-election, 1924. He had originally sought the backing of the local Unionist association which happened to be called the Westminster Abbey Constitutional Association, so he adopted the term ‘Constitutionalist‘ to describe himself during the by-election campaign. Despite support from Beaverbrook and Rothermere newspapers, he lost by 43 votes.
After the by-election Churchill continued to use the term and talked about setting up a Constitutionalist Party, though any formal plans that Churchill may have had were shelved with the calling of another general election. Churchill and 11 others decided to use the label Constitutionalist rather than Liberal or Unionist. He was returned at Epping against a Liberal and with the support of the Unionists. After the election the seven Constitutionalist candidates, including Churchill, who were elected did not act or vote as a group.
Rejoining the Conservative Party
Chancellor of the Exchequer: 1924-1929
Churchill accepted the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin‘s Unionist government, and formally rejoined the Conservative Party, commenting wryly that “anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat (in British English to rat means to betray).
As Chancellor of the Exchequer Churchill oversaw Britain’s disastrous return to the Gold Standard, which resulted in deflation, unemployment, and the miners’ strike that led to the General Strike of 1926.
His decision, announced in the 1924 Budget, came after long consultation with various economists including John Maynard Keynes, Sir Otto Niemeyer, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, and the board of the Bank of England. This decision prompted Keynes to write The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill, arguing that the return to the gold standard at the pre-war parity in 1925 (1=$4.86) would lead to a global depression. However, the decision was generally popular and seen as ‘sound economics’ although it was opposed by Lord Beaverbrook and the Federation of British Industries.
Churchill later regarded this as the greatest mistake of his life; in discussions at the time with former Chancellor Reginald McKenna, Churchill acknowledged that the return to the gold standard and the resulting ‘dear money’ policy was economically bad. In those discussions he maintained the policy as fundamentally politicala return to the pre-war conditions in which he believed. In his speech on the Bill he said “I will tell you what it will shackle us to. It will shackle us to reality.”
The return to the pre-war exchange rate and to the Gold Standard depressed industries. The most affected was the coal industry, already suffering from declining output as shipping switched to oil. As basic British industries like cotton came under more competition in export markets, the return to the pre-war exchange was estimated to add up to ten percent in costs to the industry. In July 1925, a Commission of Inquiry reported generally favouring the miners’ position rather than that of the mine owners.
With Churchill’s support Baldwin proposed a subsidy to the coal industry, while a Royal Commission under Herbert Samuel prepared a further report. The Samuel Commission solved nothing and the miners’ dispute led to the General Strike of 1926. Churchill edited the Government’s newspaper, the British Gazette, and was one of the more hawkish members of the Cabinet, recommending that the route of food convoys from the docks into London should be guarded by tanks, armoured cars and hidden machine guns. This was rejected by the Cabinet. Exaggerated accounts of Churchill’s belligerency during the strike soon began to circulate. Immediately afterward, the New Statesman claimed that Churchill had been leader of a “war party” in the Cabinet and had wished to use military force against the strikers. He consulted the Attorney-General Sir Douglas Hogg, who advised that although he had a good case for criminal libel, it would be inadvisable to have confidential Cabinet discussions aired in open court. Churchill agreed to let the matter drop.
Later economists, as well as people at the time, also criticised Churchill’s budget measures. These were seen as assisting the generally prosperous rentier banking and salaried classes (to which Churchill and his associates generally belonged) at the expense of manufacturers and exporters which were known then to be suffering from imports and from competition in traditional export markets, and as paring the Armed Forces, and especially the Royal Navy, too heavily.
The Conservative government was defeated in the 1929 general election. Churchill did not seek election to the Conservative Business Committee, the official leadership of the Conservative MPs. Over the next two years, he became estranged from Conservative leadership over the issues of protective tariffs and Indian Home Rule, by his political views and by his friendships with press barons, financiers and people whose character was seen as dubious. When Ramsay MacDonald formed the National Government in 1931, Churchill was not invited to join the Cabinet. He was at the low-point in his career, in a period known as “the wilderness years”.
He spent much of the next few years concentrating on his writing, works including Marlborough: His Life and Timesa biography of his ancestor John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlboroughand A History of the English Speaking Peoples (though the latter was not published until well after the Second World War),Great Contemporaries and many newspaper articles and collections of speeches. He was one of the best paid writers of his time. His political views, set forth in his 1930 Romanes Lecture and published as Parliamentary Government and the Economic Problem (republished in 1932 in his collection of essays “Thoughts and Adventures”) involved abandoning universal suffrage, a return to a property franchise, proportional representation for the major cities and an economic ‘sub parliament’.
Churchill opposed Gandhi‘s peaceful disobedience revolt and the Indian Independence movement in the 1920s and 30s, arguing that the Round Table Conference “was a frightful prospect”. Churchill brooked no moderation. “The truth is”, he declared in 1930, “that Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be grappled with and crushed.” In response to Gandhi’s movement, Churchill proclaimed in 1920 that Gandhi should be bound hand and foot and crushed with an elephant ridden by the viceroy. Later reports indicate that Churchill favoured letting Gandhi die if he went on a hunger strike.
In speeches and press articles in this period, he forecast widespread unemployment in Britain and civil strife in India should independence be granted. The Viceroy, Lord Irwin, who had been appointed by the prior Conservative Government, engaged in the Round Table Conference in early 1931 and then announced the Government’s policy that India should be granted Dominion status. In this the Government was supported by the Liberal Party and, officially at least, by the Conservative Party. Churchill denounced the Round Table Conference.
At a meeting of the West Essex Conservative Association, specially convened so that Churchill could explain his position, he said “It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace … to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.” He called the Indian National Congress leaders “Brahmins who mouth and patter principles of Western Liberalism”.
Two incidents damaged Churchill’s reputation within the Conservative Party in this period. Both were taken as attacks on the Conservative front bench. The first was his speech on the eve of the St George by-election in April 1931. In a safe Conservative seat, the official Conservative candidate Duff Cooper was opposed by Ernest Petter, an independent Conservative. Petter was supported by Lord Rothermere, Lord Beaverbrook and their respective newspapers. Although arranged before the by-election was set, Churchill’s speech was seen as supporting the independent candidate and as a part of the press barons’ campaign against Baldwin. Baldwin’s position was strengthened when Duff Cooper won, and when the civil disobedience campaign in India ceased with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.
The second issue was a claim by Churchill that Sir Samuel Hoare and Lord Derby had pressured the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to change evidence it had given to the Joint Select Committee considering the Government of India Bill, and in doing so had breached parliamentary privilege. He had the matter referred to the House of Commons Privilege Committee which, after investigations in which Churchill gave evidence, reported to the House that there had been no breach. The report was debated on 13 June 1934. Churchill was unable to find a single supporter in the House and the debate ended without a division.
Churchill permanently broke with Baldwin over Indian independence and never again held any office while Baldwin was prime minister. Some historians see his basic attitude to India as being set out in his book My Early Life (1930).
German and Italian rearmament and conflicts in Manchuria and Abyssinia
In the 1920s, Churchill supported the idea of a “reconciliation” between Germany and France with Britain serving as the “honest broker” for the reconciliation”. Beginning in 1931, when he opposed those who advocated giving Germany the right to military parity with France, Churchill spoke often of the dangers of Germany’s rearmament.
In 1931, Churchill said: “It is not in the immediate interest of European peace that the French Army should be seriously weakened. It is not in British interests to antagonize France”. He later, particularly in The Gathering Storm, portrayed himself as being for a time, a lone voice calling on Britain to strengthen itself to counter the belligerence of Germany. However Lord Lloyd was the first to so agitate.
In 1932, Churchill accepted the presidency of the newly founded New Commonwealth Society, a peace organisation which he described in 1937 as “one of the few peace societies that advocates the use of force, if possible overwhelming force, to support public international law”.
Churchill’s initial attitude towards the fascist dictators was ambiguous. After the First World War defeat of Germany, a new danger occupied conservatives’ political consciousnessthe spread of communism. A newspaper article penned by Churchill and published on 4 February 1920, had warned that “civilisation” was threatened by the Bolsheviks, a movement which he linked through historical precedence to Jewish conspiracy. In his 1920 newspaper article entitled “Zionism versus Bolshevism”, Churchill wrote in part:
This movement among the Jews is not new … this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing.
However, in this article, Churchill praised the Jews who had integrated into the national life of the countries in which they lived “while adhering faithfully to their own religion”, contrasting them with those who had “forsaken the faith of their forefathers” and come to play an influential role in the rise of the Bolshevik movement. Most Churchill scholars cite his great admiration for the Jews. Due in part to his childhood exposure to his fathers many Jewish friends and associates, Churchill was a lifelong, fervent opponent of antisemitism and a supporter of the Zionist movement.
In 1931, he warned against the League of Nations opposing the Japanese in Manchuria: “I hope we shall try in England to understand the position of Japan, an ancient state … On the one side they have the dark menace of Soviet Russia. On the other the chaos of China, four or five provinces of which are being tortured under communist rule.” In contemporary newspaper articles he referred to the Spanish Republican government as a communist front, and Franco‘s army as the “Anti-red movement.” He supported the Hoare-Laval Pact and continued until 1937 to praise Mussolini. He regarded Mussolini’s regime as a bulwark against the perceived threat of communist revolution, going as far (in 1933) as to call Mussolini the “Roman genius … the greatest lawgiver among men.” However, he stressed that the UK must stick with its tradition of Parliamentary democracy, not adopt fascism.
Speaking in the House of Commons in 1937, Churchill said, “I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between communism and Nazism, I would choose communism.” In a 1935 essay, “Hitler and his Choice”, which was republished in his 1937 book Great Contemporaries, Churchill expressed a hope that Hitler, if he so chose, and despite his rise to power through dictatorial action, hatred and cruelty, might yet “go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the great Germanic nation and brought it back serene, helpful and strong to the forefront of the European family circle.” His first major speech on defence on 7 February 1934 stressed the need to rebuild the Royal Air Force and to create a Ministry of Defence; his second, on 13 July urged a renewed role for the League of Nations. These three topics remained his themes until early 1936. In 1935, he was one of the founding members of The Focus, which brought together people of differing political backgrounds and occupations who were united in seeking “the defence of freedom and peace.”The Focus led to the formation of the much wider Arms and the Covenant Movement in 1936.
Germany and rearmament: 1936
Churchill, holidaying in Spain when the Germans reoccupied the Rhineland in February 1936, returned to a divided Britain. The Labour opposition was adamant in opposing sanctions and the National Government was divided between advocates of economic sanctions and those who said that even these would lead to a humiliating backdown by Britain as France would not support any intervention. Churchill’s speech on 9 March was measured, and praised by Neville Chamberlain as constructive. But within weeks Churchill was passed over for the post of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence in favour of Attorney General Sir Thomas Inskip.A. J. P. Taylor later called this “an appointment rightly described as the most extraordinary since Caligula made his horse a consul.” At the time insiders were less worried: Duff Cooper was opposed to Churchill’s appointment, while General Ellison wrote that he had “only one comment, and that is ‘Thank God we are preserved from Winston Churchill.'”
On 22 May 1936, Churchill was present at a meeting of Old Guard Conservatives (the group, not all of them present on that occasion, included Austen Chamberlain, Geoffrey Lloyd, Leopold Amery, and Robert Horne) at Lord Winterton‘s house at Shillinglee Park, to push for greater rearmament. This meeting prompted Baldwin to comment that it was “the time of year when midges came out of dirty ditches”. Neville Chamberlain was also taking a growing interest in foreign affairs, and in June, as part of a power-bid at the expense of the young and pro-League of Nations Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, he demanded an end to sanctions against Italy (“the very midsummer of madness”).
In June 1936, Churchill organised a deputation of senior Conservatives to see Baldwin, Inskip and Halifax. There had been demands for a Secret Session of the House and the senior ministers agreed to meet the deputation rather than listen to a potential four-hour speech by Churchill. He had tried to have delegates from the other two parties and later wrote, “If the leaders of the Labour and Liberal oppositions had come with us there might have been a political situation so intense as to enforce remedial action.”Robert Rhodes James writes that this is “not quite the impression” given by the documentary record of the meetings of 28-29 July, and another meeting in November. Churchill’s figures for the size of the Luftwaffe, leaked to him by Ralph Wigram at the Foreign Office, were less accurate than those of the Air Ministry and he believed that the Germans were preparing to unleash thermite bombs “the size of an orange” on London. Ministers stressed that Hitler’s intentions were unclear, and the importance of maximising Britain’s long-term economic strength through exports, whereas Churchill wanted 25-30 percent of British industry to be brought under state control for purposes of rearmament. Baldwin argued that the important thing had been to win the election to get “a perfectly free hand” for rearmament. The meeting ended with Baldwin agreeing with Churchill that rearmament was vital to deter Germany.
On 12 November, Churchill returned to the topic. Speaking in the Address in Reply debate, after giving some specific instances of Germany’s war preparedness, he said “The Government simply cannot make up their mind or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful for impotency. And so we go on preparing more months more years precious perhaps vital for the greatness of Britain for the locusts to eat.” Robert Rhodes James called this one of Churchill’s most brilliant speeches during this period, Baldwin’s reply sounding weak and disturbing the House. The exchange gave new encouragement to the Arms and the Covenant Movement.
In June 1936, Walter Monckton told Churchill that the rumours that King Edward VIII intended to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson were true. Churchill then advised against the marriage and said he regarded Mrs Simpson’s existing marriage as a ‘safeguard’.
In November, he declined Lord Salisbury‘s invitation to be part of a delegation of senior Conservative backbenchers who met with Baldwin to discuss the matter. On 25 November he, Attlee and Liberal Party leader Archibald Sinclair met with Baldwin, were told officially of the King’s intention, and asked whether they would form an administration if Baldwin and the National Government resigned should the King not take the Ministry’s advice. Both Attlee and Sinclair said they would not take office if invited to do so. Churchill’s reply was that his attitude was a little different but he would support the government.
The Abdication crisis became public, coming to a head in the first two weeks of December 1936. At this time, Churchill publicly gave his support to the King. The first public meeting of the Arms and the Covenant Movement was on 3 December. Churchill was a major speaker and later wrote that in replying to the Vote of Thanks, he made a declaration ‘on the spur of the moment’ asking for delay before any decision was made by either the King or his Cabinet. Later that night Churchill saw the draft of the King’s proposed wireless broadcast and spoke with Beaverbrook and the King’s solicitor about it. On 4 December, he met with the King and again urged delay in any decision about abdication. On 5 December, he issued a lengthy statement implying that the Ministry was applying unconstitutional pressure on the King to force him to make a hasty decision. On 7 December, he tried to address the Commons to plead for delay. He was shouted down. Seemingly staggered by the unanimous hostility of all Members, he left.
Churchill’s reputation in Parliament and England as a whole was badly damaged. Some, such as Alistair Cooke, saw him as trying to build a King’s Party. Others like Harold Macmillan were dismayed by the damage Churchill’s support for the King had done to the Arms and the Covenant Movement. Churchill himself later wrote “I was myself so smitten in public opinion that it was the almost universal view that my political life was at last ended.” Historians are divided about Churchill’s motives in his support for Edward VIII. Some such as A. J. P. Taylor see it as being an attempt to ‘overthrow the government of feeble men’. Others, such as R. R. James, view Churchill’s motives as honourable and disinterested, in that he felt deeply for the King.
Return from exile
Churchill later sought to portray himself as an isolated voice warning of the need to rearm against Germany. While it is true that he had a small following in the House of Commons during much of the 1930s, he was given privileged information by some elements within the government, particularly by disaffected civil servants in the War Ministry and Foreign Office. The “Churchill group” in the latter half of the decade consisted of only himself, Duncan Sandys and Brendan Bracken. It was isolated from the other main factions within the Conservative Party in pressing for faster rearmament and a stronger foreign policy; one meeting of anti-Chamberlain forces decided that Churchill would make a good Minister of Supply.
Even during the time Churchill was campaigning against Indian independence, he received official and otherwise secret information. From 1932, Churchill’s neighbour, Major Desmond Morton, with Ramsay MacDonald‘s approval, gave Churchill information on German air power. From 1930 onward Morton headed a department of the Committee of Imperial Defence charged with researching the defence preparedness of other nations. Lord Swinton, as Secretary of State for Air, and with Baldwin’s approval, in 1934 gave Churchill access to official and otherwise secret information.
Swinton did so, knowing Churchill would remain a critic of the government, but believing that an informed critic was better than one relying on rumour and hearsay. Churchill was a fierce critic of Neville Chamberlain‘s appeasement of Adolf Hitler and in private letters to Lloyd George (13 August) and Lord Moyne (11 September) just before the Munich Agreement, he wrote that the government was faced with a choice between “war and shame” and that having chosen shame would later get war on less favourable terms.
Return to the Admiralty
On 3 September 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany following the outbreak of the Second World War, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, the same position he had held during the first part of the First World War. As such he was a member of Chamberlain’s small War Cabinet.
In this position, he proved to be one of the highest-profile ministers during the so-called “Phoney War“, when the only noticeable action was at sea and the USSR’s attack on Finland. Churchill planned to penetrate the Baltic with a naval force. This was soon changed to a plan involving the mining of Norwegian waters to stop iron ore shipments from Narvik and provoke Germany into attacking Norway, where it could be defeated by the Royal Navy. However, Chamberlain and the rest of the War Cabinet disagreed, and the start of the mining plan, Operation Wilfred, was delayed until 8 April 1940, a day before the successful German invasion of Norway.
First term as prime minister: 1940-1945″]
“We shall never surrender”
On 10 May 1940, hours before the German invasion of France by a lightning advance through the Low Countries, it became clear that, following failure in Norway, the country had no confidence in Chamberlain’s prosecution of the war and so Chamberlain resigned. The commonly accepted version of events states that Lord Halifax turned down the post of prime minister because he believed he could not govern effectively as a member of the House of Lords instead of the House of Commons. Although a prime minister does not traditionally advise the King on a prime minister’s own successor, Chamberlain wanted someone who would command the support of all three major parties in the House of Commons. A meeting between Chamberlain, Halifax, Churchill, and David Margesson, the government Chief Whip, led to the recommendation of Churchill, and, as constitutional monarch, George VI asked Churchill to be prime minister. Churchill’s first act was to write to Chamberlain to thank him for his support.
Churchill was still unpopular with many Conservatives and the Establishment, who opposed his replacing Chamberlain; the former prime minister remained party leader until dying in November. Churchill probably could not have won a majority in any of the political parties in the House of Commons, and the House of Lords was completely silent when it learned of his appointment.Ralph Ingersoll reported in late 1940 that, “Everywhere I went in London people admired energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose. People said they didn’t know what Britain would do without him. He was obviously respected. But no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the war. He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time. The time being the time of a desperate war with Britain’s enemies.”
An element of British public and political sentiment favoured a negotiated peace with Germany, among them Halifax as Foreign Secretary. Over three days in May (26-28 May 1940), there were repeated discussions within the War Cabinet of whether the UK should associate itself with French approaches to Mussolini to use his good offices with Hitler to seek a negotiated peace: they terminated in refusal to do so. Various interpretations are possible of this episode, and of Churchill’s argument that “it was idle to think that, if we tried to make peace now, we should get better terms than if we fought it out”, but throughout Churchill seems to have opposed any immediate peace negotiations. Although at times personally pessimistic about Britain’s chances for victory (Churchill told Hastings Ismay on 12 June 1940 that “ou and I will be dead in three months’ time”) his use of rhetoric hardened public opinion against a peaceful resolution and prepared the British for a long war.
Coining the general term for the upcoming battle, Churchill stated in his “finest hour” speech to the House of Commons on 18 June, “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” By refusing an armistice with Germany, Churchill kept resistance alive in the British Empire and created the basis for the later Allied counter-attacks of 1942-45, with Britain serving as a platform for the supply of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Western Europe.
In response to previous criticisms that there had been no clear single minister in charge of the prosecution of the war, Churchill created and took the additional position of Minister of Defence, making him the most powerful wartime prime minister in British history. He immediately put his friend and confidant, industrialist and newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, in charge of aircraft production and made his friend Frederick Lindemann the government’s scientific advisor. It has been argued that it was Beaverbrook’s business acumen that allowed Britain to quickly gear up aircraft production and engineering, which eventually made the difference in the war.
Churchill’s speeches were a great inspiration to the embattled British. His first as prime minister was the famous “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech. One historian has called its effect on Parliament “electrifying”. The House of Commons that had ignored him during the 1930s “was now listening, and cheering”. Churchill followed that closely with two other equally famous ones, given just before the Battle of Britain. One included the words:
… we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour‘.
At the height of the Battle of Britain, his bracing survey of the situation included the memorable line “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few“, which engendered the enduring nickname The Few for the RAF fighter pilots who won it. He first spoke these famous words upon his exit from No. 11 Group’s underground bunker at RAF Uxbridge, now known as the Battle of Britain Bunker on 16 August 1940. One of his most memorable war speeches came on 10 November 1942 at the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon at Mansion House in London, in response to the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein. Churchill stated:
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Without having much in the way of sustenance or good news to offer the British people, he took a risk in deliberately choosing to emphasise the dangers instead. “Rhetorical power”, wrote Churchill, “is neither wholly bestowed, nor wholly acquired, but cultivated.” Not all were impressed by his oratory. Robert Menzies, Australian Prime Minister, said of Churchill during the Second World War: “His real tyrant is the glittering phrase so attractive to his mind that awkward facts have to give way.” Another associate wrote: “He is … the slave of the words which his mind forms about ideas … And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery.”
Mental and physical health
The war energised Churchill, who was 65 years old when he became Prime Minister. Stating that he was the only top leader from World War I who still had an important political job, John Gunther wrote that Churchill “looks ten years younger than he is”. H. R. Knickerbocker wrote that “The responsibilities which are his now must be greater than those carried by any other human being on earth. One would think such a weight would have a crushing effect upon him. Not at all. The last time I saw him, while the Battle of Britain was still raging, he looked twenty years younger than before the war began … His uplifted spirit is transmitted to the people”. Churchill’s physical health became more fragile during the war; he suffered a mild heart attack in December 1941 at the White House, and in December 1943 contracted pneumonia. Despite this, Churchill travelled over 100,000 miles (160,000 km) throughout the war to meet other national leaders. For security, he usually travelled using the alias Colonel Warden.
Since the appearance in 1966 of Lord Moran‘s memoir of his years as Churchill’s doctor, with its claim that “Black Dog” was the name Churchill gave to “the prolonged fits of depression from which he suffered”, many authors have suggested that throughout his life Churchill was a victim of, or at risk from, clinical depression. Formulated in this way, Churchill’s mental health history contains unmistakable echoes of the seminal interpretation of Lord Moran’s Black Dog revelations made by Dr Anthony Storr.
In drawing so heavily on Moran for what he took to be the latter’s totally reliable, first-hand clinical evidence of Churchill’s lifelong struggle with “prolonged and recurrent depression” and its associated “despair”, Storr produced a seemingly authoritative and persuasive diagnostic essay that, in the words of John Ramsden, “strongly influenced all later accounts.”
However, Storr was not aware that Moran, as Moran’s biographer Professor Richard Lovell has shown and contrary to the impression created in Moran’s book, kept no diary, in the usual sense of the word, during his years as Churchill’s doctor. Nor was Storr aware that Moran’s book as published was a much rewritten account which mixed together Moran’s contemporaneous jottings with later material acquired from other sources.
As Wilfred Attenborough demonstrated, the key Black Dog ‘diary’ entry for 14 August 1944 was an arbitrarily dated pastiche in which the explicit reference to Black Dogthe first of the few in the book (with an associated footnote definition of the term)was taken, not from anything Churchill had said to Moran, but from much later claims made to Moran by Bracken in 1958. Although seemingly unnoticed by Dr Storr and those he influenced, Moran later on in his book retracts his earlier suggestion, also derived from Brendan Bracken, that, towards the end of the Second World War, Churchill was succumbing to “the inborn melancholia of the Churchill blood”; also unnoticed by Storr et al., Moran, in his final chapter, states that Churchill, before the start of the First World War, “had managed to extirpate bouts of depression from his system”.
Despite the difficulties with Moran’s book, the many illustrations it provides of a Churchill understandably plunged into temporary low mood by military defeats and other severely adverse developments constitute a compelling portrait of a great man reacting to, but not significantly impeded by, worry and overstrain, a compelling portrait that is entirely consistent with the portraits of others who worked closely with Churchill. Churchill did not receive medication for depressionthe amphetamine that Moran prescribed for special occasions, especially for big speeches from the autumn of 1953 onwards, was to combat the effects of Churchill’s stroke of that year.
Churchill himself seems, in a long life, to have written about Black Dog on one occasion only: the reference, a backward-looking one, occurs in a private handwritten letter to Clementine Churchill dated July 1911 which reports the successful treatment of a relative’s depression by a doctor in Germany. His ministerial circumstances at that date, the very limited treatments available for serious depression pre-1911, the fact of the relative’s being “complete cured”, and, not least, the evident deep interest Churchill took in the fact of the complete cure, can be shown to point to Churchill’s pre-1911 Black Dog depression as having been a form of mild (i.e. non-psychotic) anxiety-depression, as that term is defined by Professor Edward Shorter.
Moran himself leaned strongly in the direction of his patient being “by nature very apprehensive”; close associates of Churchill have disputed the idea that apprehension was a defining feature of Churchill’s temperament, although they readily concede that he was noticeably worried and anxious about some matters, especially in the buildup to important speeches in the House of Commons and elsewhere. Churchill himself all but openly acknowledged in his book Painting as a Pastime that he was prey to the “worry and mental overstrain by persons who, over prolonged periods, have to bear exceptional responsibilities and discharge duties upon a very large scale”. The fact that he found a remedy in painting and bricklaying is a strong indicator that the condition as he defined it did not amount to ‘clinical depression’, certainly not as that term was understood during the lifetimes of himself and Lord Moran.
According to Lord Moran, during the war years Churchill sought solace in his tumbler of whisky and soda and his cigar. Churchill was also a very emotional man, unafraid to shed tears when appropriate. During some of his broadcast speeches it was noticed that he was trying to hold back the tears. Nevertheless, although the fall of Tobruk was, by Churchill’s own account, “one of the heaviest blows” he received during the war, there seem to have been no tears. Certainly, the next day Moran found him animated and vigorous.Field Marshal Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who had been present when President Roosevelt broke the news of the tragedy to Churchill, focused afterward in his diary on the superbly well judged manner in which the President made his offer of immediate military assistance, despite Alanbrooke’s being ever ready to highlight what he perceived to be Churchill’s contradictory motivations and flawed character during the war. For example, in his diary entry for 10 September 1944:
… And the wonderful thing is that 3/4 of the population of the world imagine that Churchill is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other 1/4 have no idea what a public menace he is and has been throughout this war! It is far better that the world should never know, and never suspect the feet of clay of this otherwise superhuman being. Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again … Never have I admired and despised a man simultaneously to the same extent. Never have such opposite extremes been combined in the same human being.
Relations with the United States
Churchill’s good relations with United States President Franklin D. Rooseveltbetween 1939 and 1945 they exchanged an estimated 1700 letters and telegrams and met 11 times; Churchill estimated that they had 120 days of close personal contacthelped secure vital food, oil and munitions via the North Atlantic shipping routes.
It was for this reason that Churchill was relieved when Roosevelt was re-elected in 1940. Upon re-election, Roosevelt immediately set about implementing a new method of providing military hardware and shipping to Britain without the need for monetary payment. Roosevelt persuaded Congress that repayment for this immensely costly service would take the form of defending the US; and so Lend-Lease was born. Churchill had 12 strategic conferences with Roosevelt which covered the Atlantic Charter, Europe first strategy, the Declaration by United Nations and other war policies. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Churchill’s first thought in anticipation of US help was, “We have won the war!”
On 26 December 1941, Churchill addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress, asking of Germany and Japan, “What kind of people do they think we are?” Churchill initiated the Special Operations Executive (SOE) under Hugh Dalton‘s Ministry of Economic Warfare, which established, conducted and fostered covert, subversive and partisan operations in occupied territories with notable success; and also the Commandos which established the pattern for most of the world’s current Special Forces. The Russians referred to him as the “British Bulldog.”
Churchill was party to treaties that would redraw post-Second World War European and Asian boundaries. These were discussed as early as 1943. At the Second Quebec Conference in 1944 he drafted and, together with Roosevelt, signed a less-harsh version of the original Morgenthau Plan, in which they pledged to convert Germany after its unconditional surrender “into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character.” Proposals for European boundaries and settlements were officially agreed to by President Harry S. Truman, Churchill, and Joseph Stalin at Potsdam. Churchill’s strong relationship with Harry Truman was of great significance to both countries. While he clearly regretted the loss of his close friend and counterpart Roosevelt, Churchill was enormously supportive of Truman in his first days in office, calling him, “the type of leader the world needs when it needs him most.”
Relations with the Soviet Union
When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill, a vehement anti-communist, famously stated “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons”, regarding his policy towards Stalin. Soon, British supplies and tanks were being sent to help the Soviet Union.
The Casablanca Conference, a meeting of Allied powers held in Casablanca, Morocco, on 14 January through 23 January 1943, produced what was to be known as the “Casablanca Declaration“. In attendance were Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle. Joseph Stalin had bowed out, citing the need for his presence in the Soviet Union to attend to the Stalingrad crisis. It was in Casablanca that the Allies made a unified commitment to continue the war through to the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers. In private, however, Churchill did not fully subscribe to the doctrine of “unconditional surrender”, and was taken by surprise when Franklin Roosevelt announced this to the world as Allied consensus.
The settlement concerning the borders of Poland, that is, the boundary between Poland and the Soviet Union and between Germany and Poland, was viewed as a betrayal in Poland during the post-war years, as it was established against the views of the Polish government in exile. It was Winston Churchill, who tried to motivate Mikoajczyk, who was prime minister of the Polish government in exile, to accept Stalin’s wishes, but Mikoajczyk refused. Churchill was convinced that the only way to alleviate tensions between the two populations was the transfer of people, to match the national borders.
As he expounded in the House of Commons on 15 December 1944, “Expulsion is the method which, insofar as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble … A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions.” However, the resulting expulsions of Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania were carried out in a way which resulted in much hardship and, according to a 1966 report by the West German Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons, over 2.1 million Germans dead or missing. Churchill opposed the Soviet domination of Poland and wrote bitterly about it in his books, but was unable to prevent it at the conferences.
During October 1944, he and Eden were in Moscow to meet with the Russian leadership. At this point, Russian forces were beginning to advance into various eastern European countries. Churchill held the view that until everything was formally and properly worked out at the Yalta conference, there had to be a temporary, war-time, working agreement with regard to who would run what. The most significant of these meetings was held on 9 October 1944 in the Kremlin between Churchill and Stalin. During the meeting, Poland and the Balkan problems were discussed. Churchill told Stalin:
Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?
Stalin agreed to this Percentages agreement, ticking a piece of paper as he heard the translation. In 1958, five years after the account of this meeting was published (in The Second World War), authorities of the Soviet Union denied that Stalin accepted the “imperialist proposal”.
One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference was that the Allies would return all Soviet citizens that found themselves in the Allied zone to the Soviet Union. This immediately affected the Soviet prisoners of war liberated by the Allies, but was also extended to all Eastern European refugees.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called the Operation Keelhaul “the last secret” of the Second World War. The operation decided the fate of up to two million post-war refugees fleeing eastern Europe.
Role in Bengal famine
There has been debate over Churchill’s culpability in the deaths of millions of Indians during the Bengal famine of 1943. Some commentators point to the disruption of the traditional marketing system and maladministration at the provincial level as a cause, with Churchill saying that the famine was the Indians’ own fault for “breeding like rabbits”.Adam Jones, editor of the Journal of Genocide Research, calls Churchill “a genuine genocidaire“, noting that the British leader called Indians a “foul race” in this period and said that the British air force chief should “send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.”
Arthur Herman, author of Churchill and Gandhi, contends, ‘The real cause was the fall of Burma to the Japanese, which cut off India’s main supply of rice imports when domestic sources fell short … it is true that Churchill opposed diverting food supplies and transports from other theatres to India to cover the shortfall: this was wartime.’
In response to an urgent request by the Secretary of State for India (Leo Amery) and the Viceroy of India (Wavell), to release food stocks for India, Churchill responded with a telegram to Wavell asking, if food was so scarce, “why Gandhi hadn’t died yet”. In July 1940, newly in office, he reportedly welcomed reports of the emerging conflict between the Muslim League and the Indian Congress, hoping “it would be bitter and bloody”.
Dresden bombings controversy
Between 13-15 February 1945, British and US bombers attacked the German city of Dresden, which was crowded with German wounded and refugees. There were unknown numbers of refugees in Dresden, so historians Matthias Neutzner, Gtz Bergander and Frederick Taylor have used historical sources and deductive reasoning to estimate that the number of refugees in the city and surrounding suburbs was around 200,000 or less on the first night of the bombing. Because of the cultural importance of the city, and of the number of civilian casualties close to the end of the war, this remains one of the most controversial Western Allied actions of the war. Following the bombing Churchill stated in a secret telegram:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed … I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.
On reflection, under pressure from the chiefs of staff, and in response to the views expressed by Sir Charles Portal (Chief of the Air Staff) and Sir Arthur Harris (AOC-in-C of RAF Bomber Command), among others, Churchill withdrew his memo and issued a new one. This final version of the memo completed on 1 April 1945, stated:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so called ‘area-bombing’ of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our allies … We must see to it that our attacks do no more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy’s war effort.
Ultimately, responsibility for the British part of the attack lay with Churchill, which is why he has been criticised for allowing the bombings to occur. German historian Jrg Friedrich claims that Churchill’s decision was a “war crime”, and, writing in 2006, philosopher A.C. Grayling questioned the whole strategic bombing campaign by the RAF, presenting the argument that although it was not a war crime it was a moral crime that undermines the Allies’ contention that they fought a just war.
On the other hand, it has been asserted that Churchill’s involvement in the bombing of Dresden was based on strategic and tactical aspects of winning the war. The destruction of Dresden, while immense, was designed to expedite the defeat of Germany. As historian and journalist Max Hastings wrote in an article subtitled “the Allied Bombing of Dresden”: “I believe it is wrong to describe strategic bombing as a war crime, for this might be held to suggest some moral equivalence with the deeds of the Nazis. Bombing represented a sincere, albeit mistaken, attempt to bring about Germany’s military defeat.”
British historian Frederick Taylor asserts that “All sides bombed each other’s cities during the war. Half a million Soviet citizens, for example, died from German bombing during the invasion and occupation of Russia. That’s roughly equivalent to the number of German citizens who died from Allied raids.”
End of the Second World War
In June 1944, the Allied Forces invaded Normandy and pushed the Nazi forces back into Germany on a broad front over the coming year. After being attacked on three fronts by the Allies, and in spite of Allied failures, such as Operation Market Garden, and German counter-attacks, including the Battle of the Bulge, Germany was eventually defeated. On 7 May 1945 at the SHAEF headquarters in Rheims the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender. On the same day in a BBC news flash John Snagge announced that 8 May would be Victory in Europe Day. On Victory in Europe Day, Churchill broadcast to the nation that Germany had surrendered and that a final ceasefire on all fronts in Europe would come into effect at one minute past midnight that night.
Afterward, Churchill told a huge crowd in Whitehall: “This is your victory.” The people shouted: “No, it is yours”, and Churchill then conducted them in the singing of “Land of Hope and Glory“. In the evening he made another broadcast to the nation asserting the defeat of Japan in the coming months. The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. As Europe celebrated peace at the end of six years of war, Churchill was concerned with the possibility that the celebrations would soon be brutally interrupted. He concluded the UK and the US must anticipate the Red Army ignoring previously agreed frontiers and agreements in Europe, and prepare to “impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire.” According to the Operation Unthinkable plan ordered by Churchill and developed by the British Armed Forces, the Third World War could have started on 1 July 1945 with a sudden attack against the allied Soviet troops. The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.
Soon after VE day there came a dispute with Britain over French mandates Syria and Lebanon known as the Levant which quickly developed into a major diplomatic incident. In May, de Gaulle sent more French troops to re-establish their presence provoking an outbreak of nationalism. On 20 May, French troops opened fire on demonstrators in Damascus with artillery and dropped bombs from the air. Finally, on 31 May, with the death toll exceeding a thousand Syrians, Churchill decided to act and sent de Gaulle an ultimatum saying, “In order to avoid a collision between British and French forces, we request you immediately to order French troops to cease fire and withdraw to their barracks”. This was ignored by both de Gaulle and the French forces and thus Churchill ordered British troops and armoured cars under General Bernard Paget to invade Syria from nearby Transjordan. The invasion went ahead and the British swiftly moved in cutting the French General Fernand Oliva-Roget’s telephone line with his base at Beirut. Eventually, heavily outnumbered, Oliva-Roget ordered his men back to their bases near the coast who were then escorted by the British. A furious row then broke out between Britain and France.
Churchill’s relationship with de Gaulle was at this time rock bottom in spite of his efforts to preserve French interests at Yalta and a visit to Paris the previous year. In January he told a colleague that he believed that de Gaulle was “a great danger to peace and for Great Britain. After five years of experience, I am convinced that he is the worst enemy of France in her troubles … he is one of the greatest dangers to European peace…. I am sure that in the long run no understanding will be reached with General de Gaulle”. In France, there were accusations that Britain had armed the demonstrators and de Gaulle raged against ‘Churchill’s ultimatum’, saying that “the whole thing stank of oil”.
In Opposition: 1945-1951″]
Caretaker government and 1945 election
With a general election looming (there had been none for almost a decade), and with the Labour Ministers refusing to continue the wartime coalition, Churchill resigned as Prime Minister on 23 May 1945. Later that day, he accepted the King’s invitation to form a new government, known officially as the National Government, like the Conservative-dominated coalition of the 1930s, but in practice known as the Churchill caretaker ministry. The government contained Conservatives, National Liberals and a few non-party figures such as Sir John Anderson and Lord Woolton, but not Labour or Archibald Sinclair‘s Official Liberals. Although Churchill continued to carry out the functions of Prime Minister, including exchanging messages with the US administration about the upcoming Potsdam Conference, he was not formally reappointed until 28 May.
Although polling day was 5 July, the results of the 1945 election did not become known until 26 July, owing to the need to collect the votes of those serving overseas. Clementine, who together with his daughter Mary had been at the count at Churchill’s constituency in Essex (although unopposed by the major parties, Churchill had been returned with a much-reduced majority against an independent candidate) returned to meet her husband for lunch. To her suggestion that election defeat might be “a blessing in disguise” he retorted that “at the moment it seems very effectively disguised”. That afternoon Churchill’s doctor Lord Moran (so he later recorded in his book The Struggle for Survival) commiserated with him on the “ingratitude” of the British public, to which Churchill replied “I wouldn’t call it that. They have had a very hard time.” Having lost the election, despite enjoying much support amongst the British population, he resigned as Prime Minister that evening, this time handing over to a Labour Government. Many reasons for his defeat have been given, key among them being that a desire for post-war reform was widespread amongst the population and that the man who had led Britain in war was not seen as the man to lead the nation in peace. Although the Conservative Party was unpopular, many electors appear to have wanted Churchill to continue as Prime Minister whatever the outcome, or to have wrongly believed that this would be possible.
On the morning of 27 July, Churchill held a farewell Cabinet. On the way out of the Cabinet Room he told Eden “Thirty years of my life have been passed in this room. I shall never sit in it again. You will, but I shall not.” However, contrary to expectations, Churchill did not hand over the Conservative leadership to Anthony Eden, who became his deputy but was disinclined to challenge his leadership. It would be another decade before Churchill finally did hand over the reins.
For six years he was to serve as the Leader of the Opposition. During these years Churchill continued to influence world affairs. During his 1946 trip to the United States, Churchill famously lost a lot of money in a poker game with Harry Truman and his advisors.
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.
Churchill’s doctor Lord Moran later (in his book The Struggle for Survival) recalled Churchill suggesting in 1946the year before he put the idea (unsuccessfully) in a memo to President Trumanthat the United States make a pre-emptive atomic bomb attack on Moscow while the Soviet Union did not yet possess nuclear weapons.
In parliament on 5 June 1946, three days before the London Victory Parade, Churchill said he ‘deeply’ regretted that:
none of the Polish troops, and I must say this, who fought with us on a score of battlefields, who poured out their blood in the common cause, are not to be allowed to march in the Victory Parade… The fate of Poland seems to be unending tragedy and we who went to war all ill-prepared on her behalf watch with sorrow the strange outcome of our endeavours.
Churchill told the Irish Ambassador to London in 1946, “I said a few words in parliament the other day about your country because I still hope for a united Ireland. You must get those fellows in the north in, though; you can’t do it by force. There is not, and never was, any bitterness in my heart towards your country.” He later said “You know I have had many invitations to visit Ulster but I have refused them all. I don’t want to go there at all, I would much rather go to southern Ireland. Maybe I’ll buy another horse with an entry in the Irish Derby.”
He continued to lead his party after losing the 1950 general election.
In the summer of 1930, inspired by the ideas being floated by Aristide Briand and by his recent tour of the US in the autumn of 1929, Churchill wrote an article lamenting the instability which had been caused by the independence of Poland and the disintegration of Austria-Hungary into petty states, and called for a “United States of Europe“, although he wrote that Britain was “with Europe but not of it”.
Ideas about closer European union continued to circulate, driven by Paul-Henri Spaak, from 1942 onwards. As early as March 1943 a Churchill speech on postwar reconstruction annoyed the US administration not only by not mentioning China as a great power but by proposing a purely European “Council of Europe”. Harry Hopkins passed on President Roosevelt’s concerns, warning Eden that it would “give free ammunition to (US) isolationists” who might propose an American “regional council”. Churchill urged Eden, on a visit to the US at the time, to “listen politely” but give “no countenance” to Roosevelt’s proposals for the US, UK, USSR and Chiang Kai-shek‘s China to act together to enforce “Global Collective Security” with the Japanese and French Empires taken into international trusteeship.
Now out of office, Churchill gave a speech at Zurich on 19 September 1946 in which he called for “a kind of United States of Europe” centred around a Franco-German partnership, with Britain and the Commonwealth, and perhaps the US, as “friends and sponsors of the new Europe”. The Times wrote of him “startling the world” with “outrageous propositions” and warned that there was as yet little appetite for such unity, and that he appeared to be assuming a permanent division between Eastern and Western Europe, and urged “more humdrum” economic agreements. Churchill’s speech was praised by Leo Amery and by Count Coudenhove-Kalergi who wrote that it would galvanise governments into action.
Churchill expressed similar sentiments at a meeting of the Primrose League at the Albert Hall on 18 May 1947. He declared “let Europe arise” but was “absolutely clear” that “we shall allow no wedge to be driven between Britain and the United States”. Churchill’s speeches helped to encourage the foundation of the Council of Europe.
In June 1950, Churchill was strongly critical of the Attlee Government’s failure to send British representatives to Paris (to discuss the Schuman Plan for setting up the European Coal and Steel Community), declaring that les absents ont toujours tort and calling it “a squalid attitude” which “derange(d) the balance of Europe”, and risked Germany dominating the new grouping. He called for world unity through the UN (against the backdrop of the communist invasion of South Korea), while stressing that Britain was uniquely placed to exert leadership through her links to the Commonwealth, the US and Europe. However, Churchill did not want Britain to actually join any federal grouping. In September 1951, a declaration of the American, French and British foreign ministers welcomed the Schuman Plan, stressing that it would revive economic growth and encourage the development of a democratic Germany, part of the Atlantic community.
After returning as Prime Minister, Churchill issued a note for the Cabinet on 29 November 1951. He listed British Foreign Policy priorities as Commonwealth unity and consolidation, “fraternal association” of the English-speaking world (i.e. the Commonwealth and the US), then thirdly “United Europe, to which we are a closelyand specially-related ally and friend (it is) only when plans for uniting Europe take a federal form that we cannot take part, because we cannot subordinate ourselves or the control of British policy to federal authorities”.
In 1956, after retiring as Prime Minister, Churchill went to Aachen to receive the Charlemagne Prize for his contribution to European Unity. Churchill is today listed as one of the “Founding fathers of the European Union“.
In July 1962, Field-Marshal Montgomery told the press that the aged Churchill, whom he had just visited in hospital where he was being treated for a broken hip, was opposed to Macmillan‘s negotiations for Britain to enter the EEC (which would, in the event, be vetoed by the French President, General de Gaulle, the following January). Churchill told his granddaughter, Edwina, that Montgomery’s behaviour in leaking a private conversation was “monstrous”.
Second term as prime minister: 1951-1955″]
Return to government
After the general election of October 1951, Churchill again became prime minister, and his second government lasted until his resignation in April 1955. He also held the office of Minister of Defence from October 1951 until 1 March 1952, when he handed the portfolio to Field Marshal Alexander.
In domestic affairs, various reforms were introduced such as the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and the Housing Repairs and Rents Act 1954. The former measure consolidated legislation dealing with the employment of young persons and women in mines and quarries, together with safety, health, and welfare. The latter measure extended previous housing Acts, and set out details in defining housing units as “unfit for human habitation.” Tax allowances were raised, as well, construction of council housing accelerated, and pensions and national assistance benefits were increased. Controversially, however, charges for prescription medicines were introduced.
Housing was an issue the Conservatives were widely recognised to have made their own, after the Churchill government of the early 1950s, with Harold Macmillan as Minister for Housing, giving housing construction far higher political priority than it had received under the Attlee administration (where housing had been attached to the portfolio of Health Minister Aneurin Bevan, whose attention was concentrated on his responsibilities for the National Health Service). Macmillan had accepted Churchill’s challenge to meet the latter’s ambitious public commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year, and achieved the target a year ahead of schedule.
Kenya and Malaya
Churchill’s domestic priorities in his last government were overshadowed by a series of foreign policy crises, which were partly the result of the continued decline of British military and imperial prestige and power. Being a strong proponent of Britain as an international power, Churchill would often meet such moments with direct action. One example was his dispatch of British troops to Kenya to deal with the Mau Mau rebellion. Trying to retain what he could of the Empire, he once stated that, “I will not preside over a dismemberment.”
This was followed by events which became known as the Malayan Emergency which had been in progress since 1948. Once again, Churchill’s government inherited a crisis, and Churchill chose to use direct military action against those in rebellion while attempting to build an alliance with those who were not. While the rebellion was slowly being defeated, it was equally clear that colonial rule from Britain was no longer sustainable.
Relations with the US and the quest for a summit
In the early 1950s, Britain was still attempting to remain a third major power on the world stage. This was “the time when Britain stood up to the United States as strongly as she was ever to do in the postwar world”. However, Churchill devoted much of his time in office to Anglo-American relations and attempted to maintain the Special Relationship. He made four official transatlantic visits to America during his second term as prime minister.
Churchill and Eden visited Washington in January 1952. The Truman Administration was supporting the plans for a European Defence Community (EDC), hoping that this would allow controlled West German rearmament and enable American troop reductions. Churchill affected to believe that the proposed EDC would not work, scoffing at the supposed difficulties of language. Churchill asked in vain for a US military commitment to support Britain’s position in Egypt and Middle East (where the Truman Administration had recently pressured Attlee not to intervene against Mossadeq in Iran); this did not meet with American approvalthe US expected British support to fight communism in Korea, but saw any US commitment to the Middle East as supporting British imperialism, and were unpersuaded that this would help prevent pro-Soviet regimes from coming to power. By early 1953, the Cabinet’s Foreign Policy priority was Egypt and the nationalist, anti-imperialist Egyptian Revolution.
After Stalin’s death, Churchill, the last of the wartime Big Three, wrote to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had just assumed office as US President, on 11 March proposing a summit meeting with the Soviets; Eisenhower wrote back pouring cold water on the suggestions as the Soviets might use it for propaganda.
Some of Churchill’s colleagues hoped that he might retire after the Queen’s Coronation in May 1953. Eden wrote to his son on 10 April “W gets daily older & is apt to … waste a great deal of time … the outside world has little idea how difficult that becomes. Please make me retire before I am 80!” However, Eden’s serious illness (he nearly died after a series of botched operations on his bile duct) allowed Churchill to take control of foreign affairs from April 1953.
After further discouragement from President Eisenhower (this was the McCarthy era in the US, in which Secretary of State Dulles took a Manichean view of the Cold War), Churchill announced his plans in the House of Commons on 11 May. The US Embassy in London noted that this was a rare occasion on which Churchill did not mention Anglo-American solidarity in a speech. Ministers like Lord Salisbury (acting Foreign Secretary) and Nutting were concerned at the irritation caused to the Americans and the French, although Selwyn Lloyd supported Churchill’s initiative, as did most Conservatives. In his diary a year later, Eden wrote of Churchill’s actions with fury.
Stroke and resignation
Churchill had suffered a mild stroke while on holiday in the south of France in the summer of 1949. By the time he formed his next government he was slowing down noticeably enough for George VI, as early as December 1951, to consider inviting Churchill to retire in the following year in favour of Anthony Eden, but it is not recorded if the King made that approach before his own death in February 1952.
The strain of carrying the Premiership and Foreign Office contributed to his second stroke at 10 Downing Street after dinner on the evening of 23 June 1953. Despite being partially paralysed down one side, he presided over a Cabinet meeting the next morning without anybody noticing his incapacity. Thereafter his condition deteriorated, and it was thought that he might not survive the weekend. Had Eden been fit, Churchill’s premiership would most likely have been over. News of this was kept from the public and from Parliament, who were told that Churchill was suffering from exhaustion. He went to his country home, Chartwell, to recuperate, and by the end of June he astonished his doctors by being able, dripping with perspiration, to lift himself upright from his chair. He joked that news of his illness had chased the trial of the serial killer John Christie off the front pages.
Churchill was still keen to pursue a meeting with the Soviets and was open to the idea of a reunified Germany. He refused to condemn the Soviet crushing of East Germany, commenting on 10 July 1953 that “The Russians were surprisingly patient about the disturbances in East Germany“. He thought this might have been the reason for the removal of Beria. Churchill returned to public life in October 1953 to make a speech at the Conservative Party conference at Margate. In December 1953, Churchill met Eisenhower in Bermuda.
Churchill was annoyed about friction between Eden and Dulles (June 1954). On the trip home from another Anglo-American conference, the diplomat Pierson Dixon compared US actions in Guatemala to Soviet policy in Korea and Greece, causing Churchill to retort that Guatemala was a “bloody place” he’d “never heard of”. Churchill was still keen for a trip to Moscow, and threatened to resign, provoking a crisis in the Cabinet when Lord Salisbury threatened to resign if Churchill had his way. In the end the Soviets proposed a five-power conference, which did not meet until after Churchill had retired. By the autumn Churchill was again postponing his resignation.
Eden, now partially recovered from his operations, became a major figure on the world stage in 1954, helping to negotiate peace in Indo-China, an agreement with Egypt and to broker an agreement between the countries of Western Europe after the French rejection of the EDC. Aware that he was slowing down both physically and mentally, Churchill at last retired as prime minister in 1955 and was succeeded by Anthony Eden. At the time of his departure, he was considered to have had the longest ministerial career in modern British politics.
Retirement and death: 1955-1965″]
Elizabeth II offered to create Churchill Duke of London, but this was declined as a result of the objections of his son Randolph, who would have inherited the title on his father’s death. He did, however, accept a knighthood as Garter Knight. After leaving the premiership, Churchill spent less time in parliament until he stood down at the 1964 general election. Churchill spent most of his retirement at Chartwell and at his home in Hyde Park Gate, in London, and became a habitu of high society on the French Riviera.
Although publicly supportive, Churchill was privately scathing about Eden’s Suez Invasion. His wife believed that he had made a number of visits to the US in the following years in an attempt to help repair Anglo-American relations.
By the time of the 1959 general election Churchill seldom attended the House of Commons. Despite the Conservative landslide, his own majority fell by more than a thousand. It is widely believed that as his mental and physical faculties decayed, he began to lose a battle he had supposedly long fought against depression. However, the nature, incidence and severity of Churchill’s depression is uncertain. Anthony Montague Browne, Personal Secretary to Churchill during the latter’s final ten years of life, wrote that he never heard Churchill refer to depression, and he disputed that the former prime minister suffered from depression.
There was speculation that Churchill may have had Alzheimer’s disease in his last years, although others maintain that his reduced mental capacity was simply the cumulative result of the ten strokes and the increasing deafness he suffered from during the period 1949-1963. In 1963, US President John F. Kennedy, acting under authorisation granted by an Act of Congress, proclaimed him an Honorary Citizen of the United States, but he was unable to attend the White House ceremony.
Despite poor health, Churchill still tried to remain active in public life, and on St George’s Day 1964, sent a message of congratulations to the surviving veterans of the 1918 Zeebrugge Raid who were attending a service of commemoration in Deal, Kent, where two casualties of the raid were buried in the Hamilton Road Cemetery. On 15 January 1965, Churchill suffered a severe stroke and died at his London home nine days later, aged 90, on the morning of Sunday, 24 January 1965, 70 years to the day after his own father’s death.
Churchill’s funeral plan had been initiated in 1953, after he suffered a major stroke, under the name Operation Hope Not. The purpose was to commemorate Churchill “on a scale befitting his position in history”, as Queen Elizabeth II declared.
The funeral was the largest state funeral in world history up to that time, with representatives from 112 nations; only China did not send an emissary. In Europe, 350 million people, including 25 million in Britain, watched the funeral on television, and only the Republic of Ireland did not broadcast it live.
By decree of the Queen, his body lay in state in Westminster Hall for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 30 January 1965. One of the largest assemblages of statesmen in the world was gathered for the service. Unusually, the Queen attended the funeral because Churchill was the first commoner since William Gladstone to lie-in-State. As Churchill’s lead-lined coffin passed up the River Thames from Tower Pier to Festival Pier on the MV Havengore, dockers lowered their crane jibs in a salute.
The Royal Artillery fired the 19-gun salute due a head of government, and the RAF staged a fly-by of sixteen English Electric Lightning fighters. The coffin was then taken the short distance to Waterloo station where it was loaded onto a specially prepared and painted carriage as part of the funeral train for its rail journey to Hanborough, seven miles northwest of Oxford.
The funeral train of Pullman coaches carrying his family mourners was hauled by Battle of Britain class steam locomotive No. 34051 Winston Churchill. In the fields along the route, and at the stations through which the train passed, thousands stood in silence to pay their last respects. At Churchill’s request, he was buried in the family plot at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, near Woodstock, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace. Churchill’s funeral vanformer Southern Railway van S2464Sis now part of a preservation project with the Swanage Railway, having been repatriated to the UK in 2007 from the US, to where it had been exported in 1965.
Artist, historian, and writer”]
Churchill was an accomplished amateur artist and took great pleasure in painting, especially after his resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915. He found a haven in art to overcome the spells of depression which some say he suffered throughout his life. As William Rees-Mogg has stated, “In his own life, he had to suffer the ‘black dog’ of depression. In his landscapes and still lives there is no sign of depression.” Churchill was persuaded and taught to paint by his artist friend, Paul Maze, whom he met during the First World War. Maze was a great influence on Churchill’s painting and became a lifelong painting companion.
Churchill’s best known paintings are impressionist landscapes, many of which were painted while on holiday in the South of France, Egypt or Morocco. Using the pseudonym “Charles Morin”, he continued his hobby throughout his life and painted hundreds of paintings, many of which are on show in the studio at Chartwell as well as private collections. Most of his paintings are oil-based and feature landscapes, but he also did a number of interior scenes and portraits. In 1925 Lord Duveen, Kenneth Clark, and Oswald Birley selected his Winter Sunshine as the prize winner in a contest for anonymous amateur artists.:46-47 Due to obvious time constraints, Churchill attempted only one painting during the Second World War. He completed the painting from the tower of the Villa Taylor in Marrakesh.
Some of his paintings can today be seen in the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art. Emery Reves was Churchill’s American publisher, as well as a close friend and Churchill often visited Emery and his wife Wendy Russell Reves at their villa, La Pausa, in the South of France, which had originally been built in 1927 for Coco Chanel by her lover the 2nd Duke of Westminster. The villa was rebuilt within the museum in 1985 with a gallery of Churchill paintings and memorabilia.
Gunther estimated in 1939 that Churchill earned $100,000 a year ($1.39 million in 2016) from writing and lecturing, but that “of this he spends plenty”. Despite his lifelong fame and upper-class origins, Churchill always struggled to keep his income at a level which would fund his extravagant lifestyle. MPs before 1946 received only a nominal salary (and in fact did not receive anything at all until the Parliament Act 1911) so many had secondary professions from which to earn a living. From his first book in 1898 until his second stint as Prime Minister, Churchill’s income while out of office was almost entirely from writing books and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, among them the fortnightly columns that appeared in the Evening Standard from 1936 warning of the rise of Hitler and the danger of the policy of appeasement.
Churchill was a prolific writer, often under the pen name “Winston S. Churchill”, which he used by agreement with the American novelist of the same name to avoid confusion between their works. His output included a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs, and several histories. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”. Two of his most famous works, published after his first premiership brought his international fame to new heights, were his six-volume memoir The Second World War and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples; a four-volume history covering the period from Caesar’s invasions of Britain (55 BC) to the beginning of the First World War (1914). A number of volumes of Churchill’s speeches were also published. the first of which, Into Battle, was published in the United States under the title Blood, Sweat and Tears, and was included in Life Magazine‘s list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924-1944.
Churchill was an amateur bricklayer, constructing buildings and garden walls at his country home at Chartwell, where he also bred butterflies. As part of this hobby Churchill joined the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, but was expelled due to his revived membership in the Conservative Party.
Churchill was passionate about science and technology. When he was 22 he read Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species and a primer on physics. In the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote popular-science essays on topics such as evolution and fusion power. In an unpublished manuscript, Are We Alone in the Universe?, he investigates the possibility of extraterrestrial life in a thoroughly scientific way.
Churchill was a career politician, with biographer Robert Rhodes James describing him as a man “who was to devote himself for his entire adult life to the profession of politics”. In James’ view, Churchill was “fundamentally a very conservative man”, and that this “basic conservatism was a conspicuous feature of his political attitudes”. Gilbert described Churchill as being “liberal in outlook” throughout his life, although Jenkins thought that “there is room for argument about whether he was ever an engrained philosophical Liberal”.
Gilbert described Churchill as “a radical” who believed that the state was needed to ensure “minimum standards of life, labour and social well-being for all citizens”. Many Liberals doubted the conviction of his radicalism when it came to social reform. Churchill’s speeches on liberalism emphasised the retention of Britain’s existing social structure and the need for “gradualness” rather than revolutionary change; he accepted and endorsed the existence of class divisions in British society. Churchill sought social reform not out of a desire to challenge the existing social structure but out of an attempt to preserve it.Charles Masterman, a Liberal reformer who knew Churchill, stated that the latter “desired in England, a state of things where a benign upper class dispensed benefits to an industrious, bien pendant, and grateful working class”. In Jenkins’ view, Churchill’s privileged background prevented him from empathising with the poor, and instead he “sympathize with them from on high”. As a minister, Churchill engaged in anti-socialist rhetoric, and sought to clearly differentiate socialism from liberalism.
Although Churchill had upset both Edward VII and George V in his political career, he always remained a firm monarchist, displaying a romanticised view of the British monarchy. Jenkins described Churchill’s opposition to protectionism as being based on a “profound conviction”, although during his political career many questioned the sincerity of Churchill’s anti-protectionist beliefs. Although as Home Secretary he found sanctioning executions to be one of his most emotionally taxing tasks, he did not endorse the abolition of the death penalty.
Links to political parties
James described Churchill as having “no permanent commitment to any” party, and that his “shifts of allegiance were never unconnected with his personal interests”. When campaigning for his Oldham seat in 1899, Churchill referred to himself as a Conservative and a Tory Democrat; the following year, he referred to Liberals as “prigs, prudes, and faddists”. In a 1902 letter to a fellow Conservative, Churchill stated that he had “broad, tolerant, moderate viewsa longing for compromise and agreementa disdain for cant of all kindsa hatred for extremists whether they be Jingos or Pro-Boers; and I confess the idea of a central party, fresher, freer, more efficient, yet, above all, loyal and patriotic, is very pleasing to my heart.” This dream of a “Centre Party” that would bring together more moderate elements of the main British partiesand thus remain permanently in officewas a recurring one for Churchill.
By 1903, he was increasingly dissatisfied with the Conservatives, in part due to their promotion of economic protectionism, but also because he had attracted the animosity of many party members and was likely aware that this might have prevented him gaining a Cabinet position under a Conservative government. The Liberal Party was then attracting growing support, and so his defection may have also have been influenced by personal ambition. In a 1903 letter, he referred to himself as an “English Liberal… I hate the Tory party, their men, their words and their methods”. Jenkins noted that, with Lloyd George, Churchill formed “a partnership of constructive radicalism, two social reforming New Liberals who had turned their backs on the old Gladstonian tradition of concentrating on libertarian political issues and leaving social conditions to look after themselves”.
Throughout his political career, Churchill’s relationship with the Conservative Party was stormy.
Churchill firmly believed himself to be a man of destiny. Churchill biographers have described him as egocentric, brash, self-confident and self-centred. He had a good memory, and could be reckless. Describing Churchill’s “ebullient personality”, Jenkins noted that in his youth, Churchill displayed “impetuous self-centredness” and “rash courage”. Jenkins added that Churchill displayed a “self-confidence and determination always to go straight to the top” when dealing with a situation, approaching the highest ranking official he could, while James described him as “a career politician, profoundly ambitious and eager for prominence”.
Jenkins stated that in his early parliamentary years, Churchill was “often deliberately provocative”; James called it “deliberately aggressive”. James was of the view that, when speaking in the House of Commons, Churchill gave the impression of having a chip on his shoulder. His barbed rhetorical style earned him many enemies in parliament, and many Conservatives disliked him for his open criticism of Balfour and subsequent defection to the Liberals. Gilbert stated that in his early parliamentary career, Churchill reflected “zeal, intelligence, and eagerness to learn”. Churchill developed a reputation for being a heavy drinker of alcoholic beverages, although this was often over-exaggerated. In India, he enjoyed playing polo. Gilbert noted that Churchill’s literary style was “outspoken, vigorous, with the written equivalent of a mischievous grin”. Jenkins thought that Churchill was excited and exhilarated by war, but that he was never indifferent to the suffering that it caused.
From childhood, Churchill had been unable to pronounce the letter s, verbalising it with a slur. This lateral lisp continued throughout his career, reported consistently by journalists of the time and later. Authors writing in the 1920s and 1930s, before sound recording became common, also mentioned Churchill having a stutter, describing it in terms such as “severe” or “agonising”. The Churchill Centre and Museum says the majority of records show his impediment was a lateral lisp, while Churchill’s stutter is a myth. His dentures were specially designed to aid his speech. After many years of public speeches carefully prepared not only to inspire, but also to avoid hesitations, he could finally state, “My impediment is no hindrance”. James thought that, in part because of his speech impediment, Churchill was “not a natural impromptu speaker”. Churchill therefore memorised speeches before he gave them. Gilbert believed that during the early 1900s, when Churchill worked as a professional speech giver, he mastered “every aspect of the art of speech-making”. Jenkins noted that “Churchill lived by phrase-making. He thought rhetorically, and was constantly in danger of his policy being made by his phrases rather than vice versa.” For James, Churchill was “particularly effective” at “invective and raillery” and that he was “at his most effective when he made deliberate use of humour and sarcasm”.
For Jenkins, Churchill was “singularly lacking in inhibition or concealment”, and for James he “lacked any capacity for intrigue and was refreshingly innocent and straightforward”. Jenkins stated that Churchill “naturally had a lively sympathy for the underdog, particularly against the middle-dog, provided, and it was quite a big proviso, that his own position as a top-dog was unchallenged”. He was a particular fan of polo, a sport that he played while stationed in India.
Churchill displayed particular loyalty to his family and close friends. For instance, when Lloyd George was going through the Marconi scandal, one of the lowest points of his career, Churchill supported him. One of his closest friends, even when he was a Liberal, was the Conservative MP F. E. Smith. In 1911, he became close with Grey, and another longstanding friend was Violet Asquith. Like his father, Churchill faced jibes that all of his friends were Jewish.
In 1900, he retired from the regular army, and in 1902 joined the Imperial Yeomanry, where he was commissioned as a Captain in the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars on 4 January 1902. Later in 1902, he was initiated into Freemasonry at Studholme Lodge #1591, London, and raised to the Third Degree on 25 March 1902. In April 1905, he was promoted to Major and appointed to command of the Henley Squadron of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. In September 1916, he transferred to the territorial reserves of officers, where he remained until retiring in 1924 as a Major.
Marriage and children
Churchill met his future wife, Clementine Hozier, in 1904 at a ball in Crewe House, home of the Earl of Crewe and Crewe’s wife Margaret Primrose (daughter of Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, and Hannah Rothschild). In 1908, they met again at a dinner party hosted by Lady St Helier. Churchill found himself seated beside Clementine, and they soon began a lifelong romance. He proposed to Clementine during a house party at Blenheim Palace on 10 August 1908, in a small Temple of Diana.
On 12 September 1908, he and Clementine were married in St. Margaret’s, Westminster.A. G. Edwards, the Bishop of St Asaph, conducted the service. Their first child, Diana, was born in London on 11 July 1909. After the pregnancy, Clementine moved to Sussex to recover, while Diana stayed in London with her nanny. On 28 May 1911, their second child, Randolph, was born at 33 Eccleston Square. Their third child, Sarah, was born on 7 October 1914 at Admiralty House. The birth was marked with anxiety for Clementine, as Churchill had been sent to Antwerp by the Cabinet to “stiffen the resistance of the beleaguered city” after news that the Belgians intended to surrender the town. Clementine gave birth to her fourth child, Marigold Frances Churchill, on 15 November 1918, four days after the official end of the First World War.
In the early days of August 1921, the Churchills’ children were entrusted to a French nursery governess in Kent, Mlle Rose. Clementine travelled to Eaton Hall to play tennis with Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, and his family. While still under the care of Mlle Rose, Marigold had a cold but was reported to have recovered from the illness. As the illness progressed with hardly any notice, it turned into septicaemia. Rose sent for Clementine, but the illness proved fatal on 23 August 1921, and Marigold was buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery three days later. On 15 September 1922, the Churchills’ last child, Mary, was born. Later that month, the Churchills bought Chartwell, which would be their home until Winston’s death in 1965. According to Jenkins, Churchill was an “enthusiastic and loving father” but one who expected too much of his children.
The Churchills were married for 57 years. Churchill was aware of the strain that his political career placed on his marriage.
Relationship with Lady Castlerosse
In autumn 1985, Churchill’s former private secretary, Sir John Colville, was interviewed by archivists at Churchill College, Cambridge. During the interview Colville reported that Churchill had had a ‘brief affair’ with Doris, Viscountess Castlerosse, a glamorous aristocrat. During the 1930s, while he was out of political office, Churchill spent four holidays with Castlerosse, in the south of France. Churchill painted at least two portraits of Castlerosse. Following the revival of his political career, in the late 1930s, Churchill ended the relationship. In the late 1950s, Castlerosse’s love letters to Churchill were revealed to Clementine. Churchill’s relationship with Castlerosse was the subject of a documentary shown on Channel 4, on 4 March 2018.
Churchill had never been a Christian and has been described as an agnostic. In 1898 he wrote to his mother stating that “I do not accept the Christian or any other form of religious belief”. In a letter to his cousin he referred to religion as “a delicious narcotic” and expressed a preference for Protestantism over Roman Catholicism, relating that he felt it “a step nearer Reason”.
Churchill was very interested in Islam and the culture of the Orient, to the point that relatives feared he might convert. In 1907, Churchill received a letter from his future sister-in-law, Lady Gwendoline Bertie, in which she pleaded: “Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise , Pasha-like tendencies, I really have”.
During the Boer War, Churchill often prayed during the heat of battle, but he admitted that he thought it was an unreasonable thing to do. He reflected that: “The practice was comforting and the reasoning led nowhere. I therefore acted in accordance with my feelings without troubling to square such conduct with the conclusions of thought”.
Pets and animals
In addition to the honour of a state funeral, Churchill received a wide range of awards and other honours, including the following, chronologically:
- Churchill was appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 1907.
- He was conferred the Order of the Companions of Honour in 1922.
- He was awarded the Territorial Decoration for his long service in the Territorial Army in 1924.
- Churchill was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1941
- In 1941, he was appointed to the Privy Council of Canada.
- In 1945, while Churchill was mentioned by Halvdan Koht as one of seven appropriate candidates for the Nobel Prize in Peace, the nomination went to Cordell Hull.
- He was conferred the Order of Merit in 1946.
- In 1953, Churchill was invested as a Knight of the Garter (becoming Sir Winston Churchill, KG), and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his numerous published works, especially his six-volume set The Second World War.
- In 1958, Churchill College, Cambridge was founded in his honour.
- In 1963, Churchill was named an Honorary Citizen of the United States by Public Law 88-6/H.R. 4374 (approved/enacted 9 April 1963).
- On 29 November 1995, during a visit to the United Kingdom, President Bill Clinton of the United States announced to both Houses of Parliament that an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer would be named the USS Winston S. Churchill. This was the first United States warship to be named after an Englishman since the end of the American Revolution.
- In a BBC poll of the “100 Greatest Britons” in 2002, he was proclaimed “The Greatest of Them All” based on approximately a million votes from BBC viewers. Churchill was also rated as one of the most influential leaders in history by TIME.
Military ranks and appointments
Churchill held substantive ranks in the British Army and in the Territorial Army since he was commissioned as a Cornet in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars until his retirement from the Territorial Army in 1924 with the rank of Major, having held the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel during the Great War.
In addition he held many honorary military appointments. In 1939, he was appointed as an Honorary Air Commodore in the Auxiliary Air Force and was awarded honorary wings in 1943. In 1941, he was made a Regimental Colonel of the 4th Hussars. During the Second World War, he frequently wore his uniform as an Air Commodore and as a Colonel of the Hussars. After the war he was appointed as the Colonel in Chief of the 4th Hussars,Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars and the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars.
In 1913, he was appointed an Elder Brother of Trinity House as result of his appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty. He held the post of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from 1941 until his death and in that capacity was appointed Honorary Colonel of the 89th (Cinque Ports) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, on 20 February 1942. In 1949, he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant (DL) of Kent.
Resuming, Churchill held the following military ranks and appointments:
- Cornet, later Lieutenant, 4th Queen’s Own Hussars (1895)
- Captain, Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars (1902)
- Major, 2nd Bn/Grenadier Guards (provisional, December 1915)
- Lt.Colonel, 6th Bn/Royal Scots Fusiliers (provisional, January-March 1916)
- Major, Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, Territorial Army (1916 – retired 1924)
- Air Commodore, 615th (Co.of Surrey) Fighter Sqn Royal Auxiliary Air Force (honorary, 1939)
- Honorary Colonel, 63rd Oxfordshire Yeomanry Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (1939)
- Honorary Colonel, 6th Bn/Royal Scots Fusiliers (1940)
- Regimental Colonel, 4th Queen’s Own Hussars (1941)
- Colonel-in-Chief, 4th Queen’s Own Hussars (1941), later Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars (1958)
- Colonel-in-Chief, Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars (1941)
- Honorary Colonel, 5th (Cinque Ports) Bn/Royal Sussex Rgt (1941), later 4th/5th Bn/Royal Sussex Rgt.(1943)
- Honorary Colonel, 89th (Cinque Ports) Heavy Anti-Airctaft Rgt, Royal Artillery (1942)
- Honorary Colonel, 4th Bn/Essex Rgt, Territorial Army (1945)
- Honorary Colonel, 6th (Cinque Ports) Cadet Bn, the Buffs (1946)
- Honorary Colonel, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire Yeomanty, Royal Artillery (1950)
Reception and legacy
The historian Robert Rhodes James stated that Churchill had lived an “exceptionally long, complex, and controversial life”, one whichin the realm of British parliamentary politicswas comparable only to Gladstone’s in its “length, drama and incident”. Churchill’s reputation among the general British public remains high: he was voted number one in a 2002 BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons of all time. Throughout his career, Churchill’s outspokenness earned him enemies, and his legacy continues to stir intense debate among writers and historians. By the time he entered the House of Commons as an MP, he was already controversial, perceived by many as “an adventurer and a medal-hunter”. Up until 1939, his approach to politics resulted in there developing a widespread “mistrust and dislike” of him, an attitude exacerbated by his repeated party defections. When First Lord of the Admiralty, many “critics denigrated him” as being “reckless, ignorant, and unprincipled, a political upstart with no understanding of the glorious traditions and methods of work of the Royal Navy”.
Haffner believed that Churchill had an “affinity with war”, exhibiting “a profound and innate understanding of it.” In his later career, Churchill gained a reputation as being the last Victorian in British politics; Jenkins thought that this was not a fair assessment, stating that he remained “essentially an Edwardian rather than a Victorian” in his attitudes. Jenkins also remarked that Churchill had “a substantial record as a social reformer” for his work in the first part of his parliamentary career; similarly, James thought that as a social reformer “his achievements were considerable”. In James’ view, this had been achieved because “as a minister had three outstanding qualities. He worked hard; he put his proposals efficiently through the Cabinet and Parliament; he carried his Department with him. These ministerial merits are not as common as might be thought.”
Between 1966 and 1988, an eight-volume biography of Churchill was published, started by Randolph Churchill but completed largely by Martin Gilbert after the former’s death in 1968. James suggested that this official biography was a “labour of love” for Randolph Churchill, and that “what was so admirable in the son, was… les desirable in the biographer.” According to Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre, even during his own lifetime Churchill was an “incredibly complex, contradictory and larger-than-life human being,” who frequently wrestled with those contradictions.
Notably, his strongly held and outspoken views on race have frequently been highlighted, quoted and strongly criticised. However, historian Richard Toye has observed that in the context of the era, Churchill was not “particularly unique” in having strong opinions on race and the superiority of white peoples, even if many of his contemporaries did not subscribe to them.
While staunchly opposed to labour unions and holding Communist agitation responsible for the Labour movement during the 1920s, he supported social reform, if more in the spirit of Victorian paternalism. From early on, his reputation as an unbending imperialist was well established. At the November 1921 cabinet meeting where a final decision on a proposal to retrocede Weihaiwei to China was to be made, he, alone with George Curzon, another uncompromising imperialist, adamantly opposed the proposal, no matter how worthless the territory was known to be. He lamented Britains historic readiness to barter away places such as Java and Corfu, asking “Why melt down the capital collected by our forebears to please a lot of pacifists?”
Churchill’s attitudes towards and policies regarding Indians and Britain’s rule of the subcontinent are frequently criticised, and have left a lasting and highly contentious mark on his legacy. Historian Walter Reid, who has written admiringly about Churchill’s premiership and “absolutely crucial role during the Second World War,” has however acknowledged that Churchill “was very wrong in relation to India, where his conduct fell far below his usual level.” Reid further observes that while it remains “tough to give a nuanced view on Churchill in a few words,” Churchill’s efforts and those of several fellow back-bench parliamentarians in the 1930s to manipulate the 1935 Government of India Act further entrenched religious and political divisions amongst Hindus, Muslims and the Indian princely rulers.