Review by ALLEN PACKWOOD
War and Peace in Twentieth-Century Britain: Studies in Memory of Paul Addison is edited by Antoine Capet and published by Cercles, an online journal of the University of Rouen. It may be viewed and read for free by CLICKING HERE.
I had two immediate reactions upon reading this collection of essays in honour of the late Paul Addison. The first was personal and was to wish that I had made more of my few meetings with Paul; the second was to reflect that an alternative title for this volume might be “Roads to and from 1945,” reflecting the seminal importance of his book The Road to 1945 and its impact on such a distinguished and diverse group of contributors.
Like my reactions, the book is a combination of personal tributes and historical essays inspired by Paul’s research. The opening contributions by former prime minister Gordon Brown and Churchill expert Richard Langworth fall firmly into the first camp, the contributions by Roland Quinault, David Freeman, James Muller and Richard Overy into the latter, while those of Richard Toye, John Campbell and Kenneth Morgan combine elements of both.
Toye writes about the origins and early reception of The Road to 1945 and describes how the work stimulated “a classic debate—not something that all excellent works succeed in doing.” He clearly attributes some of this to the “grace” with which Addison comported himself and to his willingness to acknowledge criticism. Gordon Brown describes Paul as, “a humanitarian whose great personal humility was matched by personal warmth, an endearing geniality and an unimpeachable decency,” while Langworth concludes that “Paul was a gentleman scholar: a man of strong convictions, who never let them interfere with his historical judgement. Hagiography is fatal. Truth matters. That was his cardinal lesson.”
It is then to the great credit of Professor Antoine Capet that he has succeeded in compiling a volume that is true to Paul’s spirit, and which both celebrates and utilises the canon of published work which it details in the appendix. For the most part it does so subtly, by providing starting points for interesting enquiries, some of which fill gaps or offer critiques of aspects of Paul’s research. Quinault uses Churchill on the Home Front 1900–1955 to expand on Churchill’s involvement on the drink question (“the licensing, taxation and regulation of intoxicating liquor”) to show that, in spite of his public reputation as a heavy drinker, Churchill “played a significant role in reducing the national consumption of alcohol.” David Freeman undertakes a similar exercise, highlighting Churchill’s neglected role as “Baldwin’s bulldog” in opposing tariffs and protectionism in the 1920’s. James Muller puts the focus on two essays written by Churchill in the 1930’s, containing grim warnings about the future, while Richard Overy reassesses the People’s Convention of 1940–41 and its role in challenging the wartime consensus and contributing to the road to 1945.
The final essay by Kenneth O. Morgan looks at “The Road from 1945” and offers a perceptive analysis of the record of Attlee’s government in fulfilling its electoral programme. Morgan and Addison first met at Oxford university in the 1960s, and they shared “the same centre-left political views,” views which remain central to an understanding of what motivated Paul.
A recurring theme in these essays is the link between the past and present. Richard Toye cites Addison as saying, “If you think a good historian is one who is interested in the past for its own sake, I would never have been one, I am always thinking about origins.” It is therefore appropriate that at the heart of this work we have two essays, by Richard Toye and John Campbell, dissecting the origins of Paul’s own work and placing him within the broader historiography. After reading these essays and what they reveal about Professor Addison, I think there can be little doubt that he would have been pleased. This volume adds to our knowledge of him but, perhaps more importantly, builds on his work and adds new scholarship to the fields in which he was so interested.
Allen Packwood is Director of the Churchill Archives Centre.