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Winston Churchill: 1927-1939

Winston Churchill: 1927-1939



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One of the results of this Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act was that trade union membership fell below the 5,000,000 mark for the first time since 1926. However, despite its victory over the trade union movement, the public turned against the Conservative Party. Over the next three years the Labour Party won all the thirteen by-elections that took place. Stanley Baldwin considered offering government help to relieving distress in high unemployment areas but Winston Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, insisted that "we must harden our hearts". (1)

Winston Churchill was a great admirer of Benito Mussolini and welcomed both his anti-socialism and his authoritarian way of organising and disciplining the Italians. He visited the country in January 1927 and wrote to his wife, Clementine Churchill, about his first impressions of Mussolini's Italy: "This country gives the impression of discipline, order, goodwill, smiling faces. A happy strict school... The Fascists have been saluting in their impressive manner all over the place." (2)

Churchill met Mussolini and gave a very positive account of him at a press conference held in Rome. Churchill claimed he had been "charmed" by his "gentle and simple bearing" and praised the way "he thought of nothing but the lasting good... of the Italian people." He added that it was "quite absurd to suggest that the Italian Government does not stand upon a popular basis or that it is not upheld by the active and practical assent of the great masses." Finally, he addressed the suppression of left-wing political parties: "If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have been whole-heartedly with you from the start to the finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism." (3)

Churchill shared Mussolini's opinions on the problems of democracy. Churchill wrote: "All experience goes to show that once the vote has been given to everyone and what is called full democracy has been achieved, the whole political system is very speedily broken up and swept away." (4) Churchill told his son that democracy might destroy past achievements and that future historians would probably record "that within a generation of the poor silly people all getting the votes they clamoured for they squandered the treasure which five centuries of wisdom and victory had amassed." (5)

Stanley Baldwin, wanted to change the image of the Conservative Party to make it appear a less right-wing organisation. In March 1927 He suggested to his Cabinet that the government should propose legislation for the enfranchisement of nearly five million women between the ages of twenty-one and thirty. This measure meant that women would constitute almost 53% of the British electorate. The Daily Mail complained that these impressionable young females would be easily manipulated by the Labour Party. (6)

Churchill was totally opposed to the move and argued that the affairs of the country ought not be put into the hands of a female majority. In order to avoid giving the vote to all adults he proposed that the vote be taken away from all men between twenty-one and thirty. He lost the argument and in Cabinet and asked for a formal note of dissent to be entered in the minutes. There was little opposition in Parliament to the bill and it became law on 2nd July 1928. As a result, all women over the age of 21 could now vote in elections. (7)

There was little opposition in Parliament to the bill and it became law on 2nd July 1928. Many of the women who had fought for this right were now dead including Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, Constance Lytton and Emmeline Pankhurst. Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the NUWSS during the campaign for the vote, was still alive and had the pleasure of attending Parliament to see the vote take place. That night she wrote in her diary that it was almost exactly 61 years ago since she heard John Stuart Mill introduce his suffrage amendment to the Reform Bill on May 20th, 1867." (8)

In January 1929, 1,433,000 people in Britain were out of work. Churchill was widely blamed for the poor state of the economy. However, he refused to take action to reduce the problem. He told Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, that unemployment was not a political issue for the Conservatives: "Unemployment was confined to certain areas, which would go against the Government anyhow, but it was not sufficiently spread to have a universal damaging influence all over the country." (9)

Churchill resisted attempts by his colleagues who suggested he took action to reduce unemployment. In his opinion the British economic position was sound and that there was "a more contented people and a better standard of living for the wage earners than at any other time in our own history". He thought the Government should not allow itself to be "disparaged abroad and demoralised at home" by the unemployment figures". This was because they did not represent genuine unemployment,only "a special culture developed by the post-war extensions of the original Unemployment Insurance Act." He told the Cabinet that "it is to be hoped that we shall not let ourselves be drawn by panic or electioneering into unsound schemes to cure unemployment". (10)

Baldwin was urged by some economists to take measures that would protect the depressed iron and steel industry. Baldwin ruled this out owing to the pledge against protection which had been made at the 1924 election. Agriculture was in an even worse condition, and here again the government could offer little assistance without reopening the dangerous tariff issue. Baldwin was considered to be a popular prime minister and he fully expected to win the general election that was to take place on 30th May, 1929. (11)

In its manifesto the Conservative Party blamed the General Strike for the country's economic problems. "Trade suffered a severe set-back owing to the General Strike, and the industrial troubles of 1926. In the last two years it has made a remarkable recovery. In the insured industries, other than the coal mining industry, there are now 800,000 more people employed and 125,000 fewer unemployed than when we assumed office... This recovery has been achieved by the combined efforts of our people assisted by the Government's policy of helping industry to help itself. The establishment of stable conditions has given industry confidence and opportunity." (12)

The Labour Party attacked the record of Baldwin's government: "By its inaction during four critical years it has multiplied our difficulties and increased our dangers. Unemployment is more acute than when Labour left office.... The Government's further record is that it has helped its friends by remissions of taxation, whilst it has robbed the funds of the workers' National Health Insurance Societies, reduced Unemployment Benefits, and thrown thousands of workless men and women on to the Poor Law. The Tory Government has added £38,000,000 to indirect taxation, which is an increasing burden on the wage-earners, shop-keepers and lower middle classes." (13)

In a speech made during the campaign Winston Churchill told the Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union (one of his favourite organisations) gathered at the Queen's Hall that if Labour won "they would be bound to bring back the Russian Bolsheviks, who will immediately get busy in the mines and the factories, as well as among the armed forces, planning another general strike" and the Government would be manipulated by "a small secret international junta". (14)

This was Churchill's theme throughout the campaign. On 15th April 1929 he delivered his fifth Budget and Neville Chamberlain described how he "kept the House fascinated and enthralled by its wit, audacity, adroitness and power". Two weeks later, as part of the election campaign, Churchill made his first radio broadcast. He urged his listeners to vote Conservative: "Avoid chops and changes of policy; avoid thimble-riggers and three-card-trick men; avoid all needless borrowings; and above all avoid, as you would the smallpox, class warfare and violent political strife." (15)

In the 1929 General Election on 30th May the Conservatives won 8,656,000 votes (38%), the Labour Party 8,309,000 (37%) and the Liberals 5,309,000 (23%). However, the bias of the system worked in Labour's favour, and in the House of Commons the party won 287 seats, the Conservatives 261 and the Liberals 59. The Conservatives lost 150 seats and became for the first time a smaller parliamentary party than Labour. Thomas Jones was with Churchill when the results came in. "At one desk sat Winston... sipping whisky and soda, getting redder and redder, rising and going out to glare at the tape machine himself, hunching his shoulders, bowing his head like a bull about to charge. As Labour gain after Labour gain was announced, Winston became more and more flushed with anger, left his seat and contronted the machine in the passage; with his shoulders hunched he glared at the figures, tore the sheets and behaved as though if any more Labour gains came along he would smash the whole apparatus. His ejaculations to the surrounding staff were quite unprintable." (16)

David Lloyd George, the leader of the Liberals, admitted that his campaign to increase public spending in order to reduce unemployment, had been unsuccessful but claimed he held the balance of power: "It would be silly to pretend that we have realised our expectations. It looks for the moment as if we still hold the balance." However, both Baldwin and MacDonald refused to form a coalition government with Lloyd George. Baldwin resigned and once again MacDonald agreed to form a minority government. (17)

Winston Churchill was furious with both David Lloyd George and Stanley Baldwin because they had allowed the Labour Party to form the new government. Lloyd George argued that he had no choice but to do this as his manifesto promises were much closer to the policies of the Labour Party. Churchill replied: "Never mind, you have done your best, and if Britain alone among modern States chooses to cast away her rights, her interests and her strength, she must learn by bitter experience." (18)

Churchill hoped that Baldwin would be removed and he would replace him as leader of the Conservative Party. He feared that the party would select someone on the left of the party such as Neville Chamberlain. While visiting Canada he wrote to Clementine Churchill that if Chamberlain "or anyone else of that kind" was made leader "I will clear out of politics and see if I cannot make you and the kittens a little more comfortable before I die." He explained that his thoughts were on the premiership. "Only one goal attracts me, and if that were barred I should quit the dreary field for pastures new." (19)

Churchill was in New York City on 29th October, 1929, when the Wall Street Crash took place. His own shareholdings plummeted and his losses were in excess of £10,000, more than £600,000 in the money values of 2018. The following day he saw from his bedroom window "a gentleman cast himself down fifteen storeys and was dashed to pieces, causing a wild commotion and the arrival of the fire brigade". Later that day he visited the floor of the Stock Exchange where members walked "like a slow-motion picture of a disturbed ant heap, offering each other enormous blocks of securities at a third of their old prices" and "finding no one strong enough to pick up the sure fortunes they were compelled to offer." (20)

While he was away in the United States the Conservative Shadow Cabinet agreed with Stanley Baldwin that they would support the Labour Government's plans for India. The decision, announced by the Viceroy of India, was to grant Dominion Status to India. While retaining a Viceroy appointed from London, and British military control of defence, the country would be ruled within a few years by Indians at both the national and provincial levels. Churchill was certain this was a wrong decision and that the people of India were not ready to govern themselves. He wrote an article in The Daily Mail defending British rule of India: "Justice has been given - equal between race and race, impartial between man and man. Science, healing or creative, has been harnessed to the service of this immense and, by themselves, helpless population." (21)

Churchill now concentrated on writing his first volume of his autobiography. Entitled, My Early Life (1930), it covered his career from birth to his separation from the Conservative Party in 1903. It has been argued by Roy Jenkins, the author of Churchill (2001): "Many consider this to be Churchill's best book, and some would put it as one of the most outstanding works of the twentieth century... What most distinguished the book was that it was designed not to prove a point or to advance a theory but to entertain. In consequence there disappeared the somewhat portentous and tendentiously partial citation of documents, which, even though interspersed by pages of sparkling description and polemic, somewhat marred both The World Crisis and The Second World War. They were replaced by a most agreeable mockery of himself and of others with whom he came into contact." (22)

Winston Churchill's handling of the economy was blamed for the Conservative government's defeat in 1929. Churchill's opposition to the party's policy on India also upset Stanley Baldwin, the leader of the party, who was attempting to make the Conservatives a centre party. In 1931 when Baldwin, joined the National Government, he refused to allow Churchill to join the team because his views were considered to be too extreme. This included his idea that "democracy is totally unsuited to India" because they were "humble primitives". When the Viceroy of India, Edward Wood, told him that his opinions were out of date and that he ought to meet some Indians in order to understand their views, he rejected the suggestion: "I am quite satisfied with my views of India. I don't want them disturbed by any bloody Indian." (23)

Churchill also questioned the idea of democracy and asked "whether institutions based on adult suffrage could possibly arrive at the right decision upon the intricate propositions of modern business and finance". He then suggested a semi-corporatist, anti-democratic alternative that would have been similar to the authoritarian state imposed on Italy by Benito Mussolini and Germany by Adolf Hitler. Churchill had been an early supporter of Mussolini: "Fascismo's triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism... proved the necessary antidote to the Communist poison." (24)

In an article published in the Evening Standard in January, 1934, he declared that with the advent of universal suffrage the political and social class to which he belonged was losing its control over affairs and "a universal suffrage electorate with a majority of women voters" would be unable to preserve the British form of government. His solution was to go back to the nineteenth-century system of plural voting - those he deemed suitable would be given extra votes in order to outweigh the influence of women and the working class and produce the answer he wanted at General Elections. (25)

On 7th June 1935, Ramsay MacDonald went to see George V to tell him he was resigning as head of the National Government. Henry Channon, the Conservative MP for Southend, commented in his diary: "I am glad Ramsay (MacDonald) has gone: I have always disliked his shifty face, and his inability to give a direct answer. What a career, a life-long Socialist, then for 4 years a Conservative Prime Minister, and now the defender of Londonderry House. An incredible volte-face. He ends up distrusted by Conservatives and hated by Socialists." (26)

Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister for the third time. Parliament was dissolved on 25th October 1935 and the General Election was set for 14th November. On 31st October, Baldwin declared "I give you my word there will be no great armaments." Churchill disagreed with Baldwin and he responded by publishing an article in The Daily Mail where he stressed the need to build up Britain's armed forces: "I do not feel that people realise at all how near and how grave are the dangers of a world explosion." (27)

In the 1935 General Election the Conservative-dominated National Government lost 90 seats from its massive majority of 1931, but still retained an overwhelming majority of 255 in the House of Commons. Churchill held his seat with an increased majority. He fully expected to be invited to join the government but Baldwin ignored his claims. Churchill later wrote: "This was to me a pang and, in a way, an insult. There was much mockery in the press. I do not pretend that, thirsting to get on the move." (28)

Winston Churchill gave support to Benito Mussolini in his foreign adventures. On 3rd October 1935, Mussolini sent 400,000 soldiers to invade Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Haile Selassie, the ruler of appealed to the League of Nations for help, delivering an address that made him a worldwide figure. As might have been expected, given his views of black people, Churchill had little sympathy for one of the two last surviving independent African countries. He told the House of Commons: "No one can keep up the pretence that Abyssinia is a fit, worthy and equal member of a league of civilised nations." (29)

As the majority of the Ethiopian population lived in rural towns, Italy faced continued resistance. Haile Selassie fled into exile and went to live in England. Mussolini was able to proclaim the Empire of Ethiopia and the assumption of the imperial title by the Italian king Victor Emmanuel III. The League of Nations condemned Italy's aggression and imposed economic sanctions in November 1935, but the sanctions were largely ineffective since they did not ban the sale of oil to Italy or close the Suez Canal, something that was under the control of the British. Despite the illegal methods employed by Mussolini, Churchill remained a loyal supporter. He told the Anti-Socialist Union that Mussolini was "the greatest lawgiver among living men". (30) He also wrote in The Sunday Chronicle that Mussolini was "a really great man". (31)

Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, joined with Pierre Laval, the prime minister of France, in an effort to resolve the crisis created by the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. The secret agreement, known as the Hoare-Laval Pact, proposed that Italy would receive two-thirds of the territory it conquered as well as permission to enlarge existing colonies in East Africa. In return, Abyssinia, was to receive a narrow strip of territory and access to the sea. This was "the policy that Churchill had favoured all along". (32)

Details of the Hoare-Laval plan was leaked to the press on 10th December, 1935. Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, moved a vote of censure. He accused Stanley Baldwin of winning the 1935 General Election on one policy and pursuing another. "There is the question of the honour of this country, and there is the honour of the Prime Minister... If you turn and run away from the aggressor, you kill the League, and you do worse than that... you kill all faith in the word of honour of this country." (33)

Sir Austen Chamberlain, the Conservative MP, condemned the Pact and said: "Gentlemen do not behave in such a way". The Conservative Chief Whip told Baldwin: "Our men won't stand for it". The Government withdrew the plan, and Hoare was forced to resign. Churchill decided to keep out of the debate in case it put him in a bad light. Attlee wrote to his brother: "I fear that we are in for a bad time. The Government has no policy and no convictions. I have never seen a collection of ministers more hopeless after so short a time since an election." (34)

Adolf Hitler knew that both France and Britain were militarily stronger than Germany. However, their failure to take action against Italy, convinced him that they were unwilling to go to war. He therefore decided to break another aspect of the Treaty of Versailles by sending German troops into the Rhineland. The German generals were very much against the plan, claiming that the French Army would win a victory in the military conflict that was bound to follow this action. Hitler ignored their advice and on 1st March, 1936, three German battalions marched into the Rhineland. Hitler later admitted: "The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance." (35)

The British government accepted Hitler's Rhineland coup. Sir Anthony Eden, the new foreign secretary, informed the French that the British government was not prepared to support military action. The chiefs of staff felt Britain was in no position to go to war with Germany over the issue. The Rhineland invasion was not seen by the British government as an act of unprovoked aggression but as the righting of an injustice left behind by the Treaty of Versailles. Eden apparently said that "Hitler was only going into his own back garden." (36)

Winston Churchill agreed with the government position. In an article in the Evening Standard he praised the French for their restraint: "instead of retaliating with arms, as the previous generation would have, France has taken the correct course by appealing to the League of Nations". (37) In a speech in the House of Commons he supported the government's policy on appeasement and called on the League of Nations to invite Germany to state her grievances and her legitimate aspirations" so that under the League's auspices "justice may be done and peace preserved". (38)

Clement Attlee attacked Churchill, Baldwin and Eden and the Conservative government for the acceptance that Hitler was allowed to march into the Rhineland without any measures taken against Germany. He spoke of the dangers of accepting Hitler's actions as merely righting one of the punitive wrongs of Versailles. "In the last five years we have had quite enough of dodging difficulties, of using forms of words to avoid facing up to realities... I am afraid that you may get a patched-up peace and then another crisis next year." (39)

Churchill supported General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War. He described the democratically elected Republican government as "a poverty stricken and backward proletariat demanding the overthrow of Church, State and property and the inauguration of a Communist regime." Against them stood the "patriotic, religious and bourgeois forces, under the leadership of the army, and sustained by the countryside in many provinces... marching to re-establish order by setting up a military dictatorship." (40)

As Geoffrey Best, the author of Churchill: A Study in Greatness (2001) has pointed out: "He (Churchill) was relatively unconcerned about what else went on in Europe. Eschewing the liberal-cum-socialist practice of bracketing together the two fascist dictators, he clung for long to a hope that Mussolini (whose regime in any case he correctly assessed as much less unpleasant than Hitler's) could be kept friendly or neutral in the forthcoming conflict. He was an anti-Nazi, not an anti-Fascist until very late in the day. He failed to give serious thought to the issues at stake in the Spanish Civil War and he did his own anti-Hitler campaign no good by appearing at that time to be pro-Franco." (41)

As C. P. Snow pointed out: "He (Churchill) lived until he was over ninety. If he had died at sixty-five, he would have been one of the picturesque failures in English politics - a failure like his own father, Lord Randolph Churchill, or Charles James Fox... His life, right up to the time when most men have finished, had been adventurous and twopence coloured, but he had achieved little. Except among his friends - and I mean his few real friends - he had never been popular. In most of his political life he had been widely and deeply disliked." (42)

During this period Churchill was a supporter of the government's appeasement policy. In April 1936 he called on the League of Nations to invite Germany "to state her grievances and her legitimate aspirations" so that "justice may be done and peace preserved". (43) Churchill believed that the right strategy was to try and encourage Adolf Hitler to order the invasion of the Soviet Union. He wrote to Violet Bonham-Carter suggesting an alliance of Britain, France, Belgium and Holland to deter Germany from attacking in the west. He expected that Hitler would turn eastwards and attack the Soviet Union, and he proposed that Britain should stand aside while his old enemy Bolshevism was destroyed: "We should have to expect that the Germans would soon begin a war of conquest east and south and that at the same time Japan would attack Russia in the Far East. But Britain and France would maintain a heavily-armed neutrality." (44)

Stanley Baldwin's health so deteriorated that he announced that he would retire in May 1937. Neville Chamberlain was the obvious replacement. Churchill hoped that Chamberlain would offer him a post in his government. However, like Baldwin before him, Chamberlain was resolved to keep Churchill out of power. Blanche Dugdale reported that "It seems clear that Winston will not be invited to join Chamberlain's Cabinet. He (Chamberlain) quoted with approval a description of him made by Haldane when they were in Asquith's Cabinet: It is like arguing with a Brass band." (45)

As late as September, 1937, Churchill was praising Hitler's domestic achievements. In an article published in The Evening Standard after praising Germany's achievements in the First World War he wrote: "One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations. I have on more than one occasion made my appeal in public that the Führer of Germany should now become the Hitler of peace." (46)

Churchill went further the following month. "The story of that struggle (Hitler's rise to power), cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate or overcome, all the authority or resistances which barred his path.". He then considered the way Hitler had suppressed the opposition and set up concentration camps: "Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim and even frightful methods, but who nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler." (47)

In a speech at the Conservative Party conference on 7th October, 1937, he made it clear that he opposed the government's policy on India but supported its appeasement policy: "I used to come here year after year when we had some differences between ourselves about rearmament and also about a place called India. So I thought it would only be right that I should come here when we are all agreed... let us indeed support the foreign policy of our Government, which commands the trust, comprehension, and the comradeship of peace-loving and law-respecting nations in all parts of the world." (48)

On 12th March, 1938, the German Army invaded Austria. Churchill, like the Government and most of his fellow politicians, found it difficult to decide how to react to what seemed to be a highly popular peaceful union of the two countries. During the debate in the House of Commons, Churchill did not advocate the use of force to remove German forces from Austria. Instead he called for was discussion between diplomats at Geneva and still continued to support the government's appeasement policy. (49)

Winston Churchill now decided to become involved in discussions with representatives of Hitler's government in Nazi Germany. In July, 1938, Churchill had a meeting with Albert Forster, the Nazi Gauleiter of Danzig. Forster asked Churchill whether German discriminatory legislation against the Jews would prevent an understanding with Britain. Churchill replied that he thought "it was a hindrance and an irritation, but probably not a complete obstacle to a working agreement." (50)

In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler at his home in Berchtesgaden. Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported Germany's plans to takeover the Sudetenland. After discussing the issue with the Edouard Daladier (France) and Eduard Benes (Czechoslovakia), Chamberlain informed Hitler that his proposals were unacceptable. Neville Henderson, the British ambassador in Germany, pleaded with Chamberlain to go on negotiating with Hitler. He believed, like Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, that the German claim to the Sudetenland in 1938 was a moral one, and he always reverted in his dispatches to his conviction that the Treaty of Versailles had been unfair to Germany. "At the same time, he was unsympathetic to feelers from the German opposition to Hitler seeking to enlist British support. Henderson thought, not unreasonably, that it was not the job of the British government to subvert the German government, and this view was shared by Chamberlain and Halifax". (51)

Benito Mussolini suggested to Hitler that one way of solving this issue was to hold a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. This would exclude both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and therefore increasing the possibility of reaching an agreement and undermine the solidarity that was developing against Germany. The meeting took place in Munich on 29th September, 1938. Desperate to avoid war, and anxious to avoid an alliance with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, Chamberlain and Daladier agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe. (52)

The meeting ended with Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini signing the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany. "We, the German Führer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as Symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries." (53)

Neville Henderson, the British ambassador in Berlin, defended the agreement: "Germany thus incorporated the Sudeten lands in the Reich without bloodshed and without firing a shot. But she had not got all that Hitler wanted and which she would have got if the arbitrament had been left to war... The humiliation of the Czechs was a tragedy, but it was solely thanks to Mr. Chamberlain's courage and pertinacity that a futile and senseless war was averted." (54)

On 3rd October, 1938, Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, attacked the Munich Agreement in a speech in the House of Commons. "We have felt that we are in the midst of a tragedy. We have felt humiliation. This has not been a victory for reason and humanity. It has been a victory for brute force. At every stage of the proceedings there have been time limits laid down by the owner and ruler of armed force. The terms have not been terms negotiated; they have been terms laid down as ultimata. We have seen today a gallant, civilised and democratic people betrayed and handed over to a ruthless despotism. We have seen something more. We have seen the cause of democracy, which is, in our view, the cause of civilisation and humanity, receive a terrible defeat.... The events of these last few days constitute one of the greatest diplomatic defeats that this country and France have ever sustained. There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler. Without firing a shot, by the mere display of military force, he has achieved a dominating position in Europe which Germany failed to win after four years of war. He has overturned the balance of power in Europe. He has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition. He has opened his way to the food, the oil and the resources which he requires in order to consolidate his military power, and he has successfully defeated and reduced to impotence the forces that might have stood against the rule of violence." (55)

Winston Churchill now decided to break with the government over its appeasement policy and two days after Attlee's speech made his move. Churchill praised Chamberlain for his efforts: "If I do not begin this afternoon by paying the usual, and indeed almost invariable, tributes to the Prime Minister for his handling of this crisis, it is certainly not from any lack of personal regard. We have always, over a great many years, had very pleasant relations, and I have deeply understood from personal experiences of my own in a similar crisis the stress and strain he has had to bear; but I am sure it is much better to say exactly what we think about public affairs, and this is certainly not the time when it is worth anyone’s while to court political popularity."

Churchill went on to say the negotiations had been a failure: "No one has been a more resolute and uncompromising struggler for peace than the Prime Minister. Everyone knows that. Never has there been such instance and undaunted determination to maintain and secure peace. That is quite true. Nevertheless, I am not quite clear why there was so much danger of Great Britain or France being involved in a war with Germany at this juncture if, in fact, they were ready all along to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. The terms which the Prime Minister brought back with him could easily have been agreed, I believe, through the ordinary diplomatic channels at any time during the summer. And I will say this, that I believe the Czechs, left to themselves and told they were going to get no help from the Western Powers, would have been able to make better terms than they have got after all this tremendous perturbation; they could hardly have had worse."

It was now time to change course and form an alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. "After the seizure of Austria in March we faced this problem in our debates. I ventured to appeal to the Government to go a little further than the Prime Minister went, and to give a pledge that in conjunction with France and other Powers they would guarantee the security of Czechoslovakia while the Sudeten-Deutsch question was being examined either by a League of Nations Commission or some other impartial body, and I still believe that if that course had been followed events would not have fallen into this disastrous state. France and Great Britain together, especially if they had maintained a close contact with Russia, which certainly was not done, would have been able in those days in the summer, when they had the prestige, to influence many of the smaller states of Europe; and I believe they could have determined the attitude of Poland. Such a combination, prepared at a time when the German dictator was not deeply and irrevocably committed to his new adventure, would, I believe, have given strength to all those forces in Germany which resisted this departure, this new design." (56)

At one desk sat Winston... His ejaculations to the surrounding staff were quite unprintable.

(1) Clive Ponting, Winston Churchill (1994) page 314

(2) Winston Churchill, letter to Clementine Churchill (6th January, 1927)

(3) Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (1991) page 480

(4) Winston Churchill, My Early Life (1930) page 373

(5) Winston Churchill, letter to Randolph Churchill (8th January, 1931)

(6) The Daily Mail (28th April, 1928)

(7) Clive Ponting, Winston Churchill (1994) page 314

(8) Millicent Fawcett, diary entry (2nd July 1928)

(9) Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, letter to Leo Amery (12th November, 1928)

(10) Clive Ponting, Winston Churchill (1994) pages 325-326

(11) Stuart Ball, Stanley Baldwin : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(12) The Conservative Manifesto: Mr. Stanley Baldwin's Election Address (May, 1929)

(13) The Labour Manifesto: Labour's Appeal to the Nation (May, 1929)

(14) Winston Churchill, speech at the Queen's Hall (12th February, 1929)

(15) Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (1991) page 489

(16) Thomas Jones, diary entry (30th May, 1929)

(17) Roy Hattersley, David Lloyd George (2010) page 608

(18) Winston Churchill, letter to David Lloyd George (28th July, 1929)

(19) Winston Churchill, letter to Clementine Churchill (27th August, 1929)

(20) Winston Churchill, diary entry (30th October, 1929)

(21) The Daily Mail (16th November, 1929)

(22) Roy Jenkins, Churchill (2001) page 420

(23) Clive Ponting, Winston Churchill (1994) page 338

(24) The New York Times (21st January, 1927)

(25) Winston Churchill, The Evening Standard (24th January, 1934)

(26) Henry Channon, diary entry (June, 1935)

(27) Winston Churchill, The Daily Mail (12th November, 1935)

(28) Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (1991) page 547

(29) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (24th October 1935)

(30) Winston Churchill, speech (17th February, 1933)

(31) Winston Churchill, The Sunday Chronicle (26th May, 1935)

(32) Clive Ponting, Winston Churchill (1994) page 376

(33) Clement Attlee, speech in the House of Commons (19th December, 1935)

(34) Francis Beckett, Clem Attlee (2000) page 131

(35) Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) page 345

(36) Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War (1998) page 27

(37) Winston Churchill, The Evening Standard (13th March, 1936)

(38) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (6th April, 1936)

(39) Clement Attlee, speech in the House of Commons (26th March, 1936)

(40) Winston Churchill, The Evening Standard (10th August, 1936)

(41) Geoffrey Best, Churchill: A Study in Greatness (2001) page 155

(42) C. Snow, Variety of Men (1967) page 127

(43) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (6th April, 1936)

(44) Winston Churchill, letter to Violet Bonham-Carter (25th May 1936)

(45) Blanche Dugdale, diary entry (27th February, 1937)

(46) Winston Churchill, The Evening Standard (17th September 1937)

(47) Winston Churchill, The Evening Standard (14th October, 1937)

(48) Winston Churchill, speech at the Conservative Party conference at Scarborough (14th October, 1937)

(49) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (12th March, 1938)

(50) Clive Ponting, Winston Churchill (1994) page 394

(51) Peter Neville, Nevile Henderson : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(52) Graham Darby, Hitler, Appeasement and the Road to War (1999) page 56

(53) Statement issued by Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler after the signing of the Munich Agreement (30th September, 1938)

(54) Neville Henderson, Failure of a Mission (1940) page 167

(55) Clement Attlee, speech in the House of Commons (3rd October, 1938)

(56) Winston Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (5th October, 1938)

John Simkin


Winston Churchill’s Wicked Sense of Humor: Eight Clever Remarks from the Old Chap

In lieu of the recent commemoration of Winston Churchill’s fiftieth death anniversary, let us look at another side of this great man’s personality – his wit and sharp tongue – through these eight clever comebacks, jokes and retorts that came out of his mouth.

WWII British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is greatly remembered as the greatest prime minister Britain has ever had with his indefatigable spirit which pushed the country through the tumultuous years of the Second World War. The great war leader, though, is also known for another thing — his sharp tongue. His ability to make up clever one-liners may be one of the factors why his legend is kept alive trough these long five decades after his death.

Here are the witty, funny and clever sayings from the celebrated politician himself — Sir Winston Churchill.

On Poison and Coffee

This anecdote about the prime minister’s word showdown with viscountess and known to be the first female member of the Parliament, Nancy Astor, is, perhaps, the most well-known in this “clever lines” list.

It was common fact in those times that these two figures have a mutual dislike for each other and couldn’t be in each other’s company without a battle of words ensuing.

The most familiar duel of words between Churchill and Astor happened when the latter visited Blenheim and it so happened that the WWII leader was also there. Nancy Astor was said to have commented “If I were your wife I would poison your coffee…”

To which Sir Winston Churchill promptly replied with “And if I were your husband, I would drink it”.

Firing Insult with Insult

Exchanging insults may not be the best form of entertainment but this one gets its place in this “clever lines” list because it’s amusing.

The British Prime Minister during WWII had always admitted he and alcohol had a “relationship” and this one ensued from his drinking spirits.

It was said that while Churchill was leaving the House of Commons sometime in 1946, MP Bessie Braddock hit him with an insult saying “Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more you are disgustingly drunk.”

Churchill fired back at her with an insult, too, saying “Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”

It seemed that the WWII prime minister borrowed lines from W. C. Fields in the 1934 film It’s a Gift. In this picture, when told he was drunk, Fields’ character quipped “Yeah, and you’re crazy. But I’ll be sober tomorrow and you’ll be crazy the rest of your life.”

Toilet Humor

Toilet humor, though low-class, can be hilarious and though this one’s not the funniest in this said joke genre, surprisingly, the WWII prime minister had one clever toilet one-liner of his own.

When he was disturbed from his “thinking time in the throne” by a call from Lord Privy Seal, Churchill easily responded with “Tell him I can only deal with one s*** at a time”.

On Meeting the Maker Face to Face

When asked by a reporter if he was prepared to meet his maker, the respected leader responded with an answer which bordered on the serious and the amusingly witty:

“I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Alcohol for Better Health?

Winston Churchill and alcohol had a rather complicated relationship. many historians reject the notion that the WWII prime minister was an alcohol “abuser” and apparently, he also was not dependent on alcohol or he wouldn’t have won his 1936 bet with Rothermere — the bet was whether he could or could not abstain from drinking hard spirits within a year.

One of Winston Churchill famous clever quips about his friendship with alcohol makes it to this list of the prime minister’s witty lines. During a reception in Washington DC while WWII was running, the British politician made this famous retort:

“All I can say is that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”

Chamberlain and Crocodile Feeding

The WWII prime minister was very vocal about his feelings of former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy with Adolf Hitler — he was against it. Nothing expressed those feelings well compared to this line – which was funny if taken into imagination – which he likened Chamberlain to a crocodile feeder.

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Churchill’s wit were more than barbs and retorts to his detractors. The WWII leader also used his sharp tongue to deliver praises to those whom he deemed worthy of them. UK Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, Clement Attlee, was one of these men.

When asked what he thought about the man, Sir Churchill said this famous clever line:

“A modest man, who has much to be modest about.”

Birthday Doldrums

Chamberlain, Baldwin and Churchill

Former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and WWII British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had, what we call, a love and hate relationship. Churchill had worked in Baldwin’s cabinet and the former had even asked opinions from the latter but in the end, their comradeship suffered a fallout and historians point out political and decision differences the culprits.

So, when Churchill was asked why he declined to give Baldwin a birthday card on his eightieth birthday, here was his clever quip:

“I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.”


Winston, Churchill and Me – a memoir of childhood 1944-1950 By Jonathan Dudley

An excerpt from Winston, Churchill and Me. Get your copy at Amazon.com

AUGUST 1949 (first visit)

Someone in a maid’s uniform took me up a flight of stairs to a light and spacious drawing room. Mrs Pamela Churchill, Winston’s mother, sat at one end of a long white sofa. She wore a deep blue dress made from a silky material that rustled as she moved. Winston was there too, sitting on the floor, doing something with a comic. He looked exactly the same as he did at school: messy and awkward with his pencil, he made funny noises through his nose when he breathed. His mother was beautiful, really beautiful, calm and poised, smoking a cigarette. “You must be Jonathan,” she said. And then, quite shortly after that “The car will be here very soon”.


Why can't Britain handle the truth about Winston Churchill?

A baleful silence attends one of the most talked-about figures in British history. You may enthuse endlessly about Winston Churchill “single-handedly” defeating Hitler. But mention his views on race or his colonial policies, and you’ll be instantly drowned in ferocious and orchestrated vitriol.

In a sea of fawningly reverential Churchill biographies, hardly any books seriously examine his documented racism. Nothing, it seems, can be allowed to complicate, let alone tarnish, the national myth of a flawless hero: an idol who “saved our civilisation”, as Boris Johnson claims, or “humanity as a whole”, as David Cameron did. Make an uncomfortable observation about his views on white supremacy and the likes of Piers Morgan will ask: “Why do you live in this country?”

Not everyone is content to be told to be quiet because they would be “speaking German” if not for Churchill. Many people want to know more about the historical figures they are required to admire uncritically. The Black Lives Matter protests last June – during which the word “racist” was sprayed in red letters on Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, were accompanied by demands for more education on race, empire and the figures whose statues dot our landscapes.

Yet providing a fuller picture is made difficult. Scholars who explore less illustrious sides of Churchill are treated dismissively. Take the example of Churchill College, Cambridge, where I am a teaching fellow. In response to calls for fuller information about its founder, the college set up a series of events on Churchill, Empire and Race. I recently chaired the second of these, a panel discussion on “The Racial Consequences of Mr Churchill”.

Even before it took place, the discussion was repeatedly denounced in the tabloids and on social media as “idiotic”, a “character assassination” aimed at “trashing” the great man. Outraged letters to the college said this was academic freedom gone too far, and that the event should be cancelled. The speakers and I, all scholars and people of colour, were subjected to vicious hate mail, racist slurs and threats. We were accused of treason and slander. One correspondent warned that my name was being forwarded to the commanding officer of an RAF base near my home.

The college is now under heavy pressure to stop doing these events. After the recent panel, the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange, which is influential in government circles – and claims to champion free speech and controversial views on campus – published a “review” of the event. The foreword, written by Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames, stated that he hoped the review would “prevent such an intellectually dishonest event from being organised at Churchill College in the future – and, one might hope, elsewhere”.

It’s ironic. We’re told by government and media that “cancel culture” is an imposition of the academic left. Yet here it is in reality, the actual “cancel culture” that prevents a truthful engagement with British history. Churchill was an admired wartime leader who recognised the threat of Hitler in time and played a pivotal role in the allied victory. It should be possible to recognise this without glossing over his less benign side. The scholars at the Cambridge event – Madhusree Mukerjee, Onyeka Nubia and Kehinde Andrews – drew attention to Churchill’s dogged advocacy of British colonial rule his contributing role in the disastrous 1943 Bengal famine, in which millions of people died unnecessarily his interest in eugenics and his views, deeply retrograde even for his time, on race.

Churchill is on record as praising “Aryan stock” and insisting it was right for “a stronger race, a higher-grade race” to take the place of indigenous peoples. He reportedly did not think “black people were as capable or as efficient as white people”. In 1911, Churchill banned interracial boxing matches so white fighters would not be seen losing to black ones. He insisted that Britain and the US shared “Anglo-Saxon superiority”. He described anticolonial campaigners as “savages armed with ideas”.

Even his contemporaries found his views on race shocking. In the context of Churchill’s hard line against providing famine relief to Bengal, the colonial secretary, Leo Amery, remarked: “On the subject of India, Winston is not quite sane … I didn’t see much difference between his outlook and Hitler’s.”

Just because Hitler was a racist does not mean Churchill could not have been one. Britain entered the war, after all, because it faced an existential threat – and not primarily because it disagreed with Nazi ideology. Noting affinities between colonial and Nazi race-thinking, African and Asian leaders queried Churchill’s double standards in firmly rejecting self-determination for colonial subjects who were also fighting Hitler.

It is worth recalling that the uncritical Churchill-worship that is so dominant today was not shared by many British people in 1945, when they voted him out of office before the war was even completely over. Many working-class communities in Britain, from Dundee to south Wales, felt strong animosity towards Churchill for his willingness to mobilise military force during industrial disputes. As recently as 2010, Llanmaes community council opposed the renaming of a military base to Churchill Lines.

Critical assessment is not “character assassination”. Thanks to the groupthink of “the cult of Churchill”, the late prime minister has become a mythological figure rather than a historical one. To play down the implications of Churchill’s views on race – or suggest absurdly, as Policy Exchange does, that his racist words meant “something other than their conventional definition” – speaks to me of a profound lack of honesty and courage.

This failure of courage is tied to a wider aversion to examining the British empire truthfully, perhaps for fear of what it might say about Britain today. A necessary national conversation about Churchill and the empire he was so committed to is one necessary way to break this unacceptable silence.


3. Churchill the Artist

Churchill was a prolific painter, producing nearly 600 works throughout his lifetime. Sarah Thomas of Sotheby’s has commented “Churchill took up painting very late… He found relief from all the pressures of his work in his painting.” In December 2006, one piece, ‘View of Tinherir’ from 1951, sold at auction for a record £612,800. According to Thomas, however, it took him a while to master his trade: “His work does vary in quality… A lot of his paintings are pretty poor and amateur and full of splodges.”


Historical significance

Churchill gave a number of inspirational speeches during World War II. However, events leading up to the speech gave a hint of optimism, concerning the outcome of the war. For one thing, the United States started supplying vast amounts of war material to the UK-Lend-Lease program in March 1941.

Also, since Nazi Germany had invaded Yugoslavia and Greece earlier in the year and invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, it appeared that Britain was no longer the target for the main efforts of Germany.

(Thanks to David Bell of the UK for adding some historical background.)

Before speaking, Churchill discovered that the students had added a verse to one of the school songs:

"Not less we praise in darker days
The leader of our nation,
And Churchill's name shall win acclaim
From each new generation.
For you have power in danger's hour
Our freedom to defend, Sir!
Though long the fight we know that right
Will triumph in the end, Sir!"

This fact was noted in the speech, which may have been primarily an unrehearsed or extemporaneous speech.


Winston's Parents

Prominent Parents

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill's ancestors were both British and American. Winston's father was the British Lord Randolph Churchill, the youngest son of John, the 7th Duke of Marlborough. Lord Randolph's ancestor John Churchill made history by winning many successful military campaigns in Europe for Queen Anne almost 200 years earlier.

His mother was the American Jennie Jerome. The Jeromes fought for the independence of the American colonies in George Washington's armies.

Winston's father and mother were both socially active and politically prominent. Their affairs - social and intimate - occupied them constantly. As with many of their social class and standing, child rearing and education were left to others.

Lord Randolph Churchill's political career was meteoric. In 1886, at age thirty-seven, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the youngest to hold the office in over a hundred years. In less than six months, he resigned from the Cabinet over a matter of principle - his insistence on reducing defense spending. He never held high office again. "One could not grow up in my father's house. without understanding that there had been a great political disaster," said Winston.

Winston revered his father as a great statesman. The feelings of respect and affection were not reciprocated. Lord Randolph frequently expressed harsh disappointment in Winston.

Winston's mother, American heiress Jennie Jerome, was by universal agreement a great beauty. She threw herself completely into the English upper-class social whirl. While fond of her children, her social role with her husband always came first - sometimes to the point of not permitting Winston to come home for holidays or going on extensive travels without him.

Winston adored her - "She shone for me like the evening star. I loved her dearly - but at a distance."

Double, Double Toil and Trouble [Macbeth, 4:1]

In 1895, within six months, first Winston's father, then Mrs. Everest, died. Winston now faced the world without his idolized father and without his primary emotional support and mother figure.

Winston's father had been in declining health and increasing dementia for several years. But, his erratic behavior and his dissatisfaction with Winston remained robust. Winston was not told the diagnosis - thought to be syphilis - and for many years believed that he too would die young. "Is it forty and finished?" he pondered.

Even in death, Winston's father remained a force to be reckoned with "All my dreams of comradeship with him, of entering Parliament at his side and in his support, were ended. There remained for me only to pursue his aims and vindicate his memory."

When Winston learned that Mrs. Everest was gravely ill he rushed to her beside. He was the only member of his family to attend to her, and upon her death provided the tombstone for her grave. "She had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole twenty years I had lived." "I shall never know such a friend again."


Travels with Churchill

Winston Churchill was anxious to leave the country. It was July 1942, and he wanted to go to Cairo and Moscow to confer with his generals and with Soviet leader Josef Stalin, but the pilot assigned to fly him urged caution. “I’d like…a bad night to get out of England to go to Gibraltar,” William J. Vanderkloot told the British prime minister. Years later, he explained to his son, Bill, “I didn’t want to get shot down over England.”

Vanderkloot was recounting, in a taped interview with his son, how he came to be the captain of a B-24 Liberator bomber that had been turned into a VIP transport. “Mr. Churchill said, ‘Go ahead, pick your night,’ ” Vanderkloot recalled. “ ‘I can give you a 10-day envelope.’ ” The long-range Liberator, painted black in an early attempt at stealth, flying at night, with no one but the crew knowing the flight plan, was considered the safest bet to transport a prime minister on a route that was within range of enemy fighters.

In the late summer of 1942, Churchill was faced with critical decisions, notably what to do about weaknesses in the leadership of the British Eighth Army, which was facing Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s formidable Afrika Korps, as well as how to persuade Stalin to reinforce Europe’s eastern front. “It had become urgently necessary for me to go there and settle the decisive questions on the spot,” Churchill wrote in The Second World War. But such a trip would have ordinarily involved six days of flying and several nasty inoculations. “However,” he continued, “there arrived at the Air Ministry a young American pilot, Captain Vanderkloot, who had just flown from the United States in the aeroplane ‘Commando,’ a Liberator plane from which the bomb-racks had been removed and some sort of passenger accommodation substituted…. I could be in Cairo in two days without any trouble about Central African bugs…”

Vanderkloot had been flying U.S.-built bombers across the north Atlantic, known for its deadly weather, for the Royal Air Force’s Ferry Command for some 18 months and had logged over a million miles, occasionally carrying VIPs to exotic sites. Such credentials, along with renowned navigation skills, brought him to the attention of Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, responsible for transporting Churchill through Africa. When Portal asked Vanderkloot how he would fly to Cairo, the Ferry Command pilot told him: “Certainly not through the Mediterranean with the Germans flanking both sides,” and suggested a route with a single stopover in Gibraltar. Portal hired him on the spot, and Vanderkloot chose the B-24. “That was some airplane, the Liberator,” Vanderkloot later said. “Nicely built.”

Commando got under way. In Cairo, Churchill eventually replaced Eighth Army General John Eyre Auchinleck with Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery. On October 24, the Associated Press reported, “Britain’s rebuilt and refreshed 8th Army charged into the Axis’ El Alamein line today in…what may be the battle to decide the fate of the Mediterranean this winter.” Liberators were part of the action. The September 3, 1942 issue of Britain’s Flight magazine ran the headline “Liberators over Egypt: Anglicized Heavies in Western Desert.” In Moscow, Churchill met with Averell Harriman, representing the United States, and Stalin to plan the North African campaign.
Churchill was enthralled with flight. He celebrated his 39th birthday by taking his first flying lesson. According to Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert, when the prime minister’s instructor was killed shortly afterward, Churchill’s wife and family expressed their sentiments about his taking up a pastime “fraught with so much danger to life,” as his cousin, Sunny Charles, ninth Duke of Marlborough, put it. “It is really wrong of you,” the duke continued. After takeoff at London’s Croydon airport, Churchill stalled his trainer in a tight turn, plowing into the ground and injuring his instructor. He vowed never to fly as a pilot again.

But he still enjoyed air travel. “He used to like to come up [to the cockpit],” Vanderkloot said. “He’d stay maybe an hour, and he’d ask questions about things. He was a good old sport, he’d have his scotch up there and look around.”

Commando was usually flown by Vanderkloot and another American, copilot Jack Ruggles. Flight engineers John Affleck and Ronnie Williams and radio officer Russ Holmes were Canadian. Today, Affleck is the only surviving crew member. He joined Vanderkloot on the first run with Churchill in August 1942. At the time, the young civilian flight engineer and racing car enthusiast was in West Palm Beach, Florida, fresh off a Liberator that had flown ammunition to Africa for the Eighth Army. “You didn’t have to be in the military to do that—they’d take anybody,” says Affleck. When asked if he would go to Cairo that night, he said, “Sure, I always wanted to see Cairo.”
At 93, Affleck still walks nine holes at the Saskatoon Golf & Country Club. Relaxing at his home in Saskatchewan in khaki chinos and a golf shirt, he remembered that night in 1942. “So they said, ‘Get the car, get some clothes, and come back.’ I was on the way to Prestwick [Scotland] that night.”

From Prestwick they flew to Lyneham Royal Air Force base and on to London. “And there is where we learned we were to fly Churchill out to Cairo and Moscow,” says Affleck. It was also there that he learned he was to fly with the legendary William J. Vanderkloot. “I didn’t know him well because our paths hadn’t crossed,” says Affleck, “but I knew he was a good pilot—in fact an excellent, super pilot. And a super navigator too.”

In the days of navigation by maps and checkpoints, Vanderkloot’s skills were critical. “It was obvious that if you were really going to stay alive, you better know how to use celestial navigation,” Vanderkloot told his son. During much of his time in England, he had worked on perfecting the art, learning it from RAF navigation officer Bill White, “someone [who] really knew it.” Vanderkloot and a handful of other aspiring celestial navigators would spend night after night on London’s rooftops practicing with the sextant. “Be it summer, winter, rain or whatever, we’d take our shots, then go downstairs and plot them,” said Vanderkloot. “We learned celestial navigation in a hurry. It sure put me in good stead for later on.”

Indeed, Vanderkloot did nearly all of his own navigating. It was unusual for a pilot, “but…I figured if I’m going to get in trouble, I’m going to do it [myself]. I’m not going to have some other guy do it.”


Winston Churchill: How a flawed man became a great leader

On Thursday, the Magazine looked at the greatest controversies of Winston Churchill's career. Here, the BBC's world affairs editor examines how an all-too-human politician became a great wartime prime minister.

In 2002 the BBC broadcast a series called 100 Greatest Britons. After each programme in which particular figures were proposed and examined - they were mostly but not exclusively the usual suspects, such as Darwin, Shakespeare and Elizabeth I - viewers were invited to vote.

In the end, there was no doubt about their verdict - Sir Winston Churchill was the greatest Briton.

The case for him is a powerful one, of course. He was first a government minister in 1908, and occupied most of the top jobs in politics during half a century. He finally retired in 1955, having served as prime minister for a total of nine years.

But it was his extraordinary leadership in World War Two that marked him out. Bold, brave and tireless in his resolve to take on the might of Nazi Germany, he inspired a nervous and hesitant Britain through his sheer energy and force of personality to defy stark odds and never give in.

The entire world's history would have been different if he hadn't come to power in Britain in 1940.

Still, Churchill made huge mistakes in his long political life - Gallipoli, the Black and Tans in Ireland, backing the use of poison gas.

As a particularly inexperienced chancellor of the exchequer in the 1920s, he put Britain back onto the gold standard. John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, believed this was a major factor in bringing about the Great Depression.

In the 1930s, in the political wilderness, he was an angry opponent of Indian nationalism, and his language about Gandhi verged on racism.

He stubbornly supported Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis of 1936, though he was manifestly unsuited to the job.

There were several major strategic mistakes in WW2.

After it, Churchill was old and ill, yet he returned to lead the government from 1951-55, refusing for a long time to stand down.

It's a powerful litany of failure and misjudgement, and a leading academic at Cambridge University, Dr Nigel Knight, has examined it carefully.

"Churchill was fundamentally flawed. This was shown in his military strategy: Gallipoli in World War 1 was replicated in the Norwegian and North African and 'soft underbelly of Europe' campaigns during World War Two."

Nevertheless at the supreme moment, in May 1940, Churchill got it absolutely right.

During the 1930s he had visited Hitler's Germany and seen for himself the potential for evil there. Few people, either in the UK or the US, wanted to know, and he often had a problem selling his articles about the evils of Nazism to the press.

And of course once he was in power, his superb speeches inspired the country and kept it going.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor of London, who recently published a book about Churchill, believes that it was Churchill's characteristic determination to go and find things out for himself that was a mark of his greatness.

"It's an illusion to think he was just a rhetorician, a guy who skated over the issues. He was deeply immersed in all the detail, and all the technicalities. And that helped him to get the right answer."

In 1938-39 British public opinion, as measured by the polling organisation Mass Observation, was strongly against Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement.

But Chamberlain's political position was unassailable, and he forced it through. Even after war had broken out in September 1939 the most likely outcome was that Britain would do a deal with Hitler and stand aside.

However, Chamberlain couldn't keep Churchill out of the Cabinet. He was now back again at the centre of power.

As Hitler smashed his way through Western Europe, Churchill remained utterly faithful to Chamberlain. He forbade his supporters from leaking hostile stories to the press.

Eventually Chamberlain, his policy in ruins, was obliged to resign. He had no moral alternative but to put Churchill forward as his replacement.

Churchill was a decent and honourable man, as well as a charming one, and it was these qualities, not just his famous defiance, that made him prime minister.

He never actually quite said "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it", but that turned out to be the case. His historical works were so good, they earned him the Nobel Prize for literature.

No other British prime minister can remotely match the scope of Churchill's achievement. When he died in 1965 the historian Sir Arthur Bryant said: "The age of giants is over."

Bryant was right - and yet that, in a way, is a measure of Churchill's success. Ever since he destroyed Hitler's despotism, our political leaders haven't needed to be giants.


For More Information

Charmley, John. Churchill, The End of Glory: A Political Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993.

Churchill, Winston S. Memories and Adventures. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. London: Heinemann, 1991.

Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932�. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.

Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 1874�. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.


Watch the video: Winston Churchill (August 2022).