The First World War was to provide the first major setback to Churchill’s political career.
In December 1914, at the age of forty, Churchill was eager not just to run the Navy but to manage the war itself. Demonstrating his usual self-confidence, drive and determination, Churchill looked for creative ways to engage the enemy, including an attack on the Dardanelles Straits.
The high-risk offensive operation went ahead. It soon became clear that the planning of the operation was beyond the capabilities of the British leaders who had no system in place for effective combined operations. Despite the Dardanelles Straits being heavily mined and the Navy’s ships coming under attack from all sides by Turkish guns, Churchill continued to encourage the Navy to persevere. The failure to force the Straits by ships alone led to the landing of Allied troops including ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand forces) on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
In April 1915, he wrote to his brother, Jack, who was with the forces in the Dardanelles, saying ‘the vital thing is not to break off because of losses but to persevere. This is the hour in the World’s history for a fine feat of arms and the results of victory will amply justify the price’. (19 April 1915)
The situation deteriorated into chaos and disaster. The human cost of the campaign was enormous.
The mass slaughter of Allied troops led to Churchill’s fall into disgrace and humiliation and cost him his job.
On 24 May 1915, Churchill’s first tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty came to an ignominious close. Given a token post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he thought he could still influence policy but soon found this was impossible. He retired to the country, to Hoe Farm, with Clementine and the children, and took up painting to fill the void.
Finally, unable to bear political impotence any longer, he resigned from the Government in November 1915. Churchill forsook the House of Commons for the trenches of Flanders.
After a brief interlude, as a Major with the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards and then as a Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front, he found his way back into government.
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