April 29, 2023

The World of Churchill Collectables: Lend Lease Badge


The rare and historical 7/8” celluloid badge shown here was worn by supporters of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposed Lend Lease legislation. The “Tools for Churchill” slogan is derived from the Prime Minister’s  February 9, 1941 radio broadcast, in which he declared, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job!” This comment was made in response to a letter of introduction written by President Roosevelt on behalf of his 1940 Republican election opponent, Wendell Willkie, who was visiting London. At the bottom of that letter, the President had handwritten inspirational poetry by Longfellow. Churchill’s response, on live radio, is considered one of his finest wartime statements.

Prior to America’s entry into the Second World War, the prevailing public mindset was one of isolationism. This sentiment was echoed in Congress. Rallies for “America First” and chants of “No Foreign Wars” predominated. FDR, however, knew Britain needed foreign aid to survive. Britain had been paying in gold for war necessities under the “cash and carry” policy mandated by the US Neutrality Acts of the 1930s. By 1941, however, Britain had liquidated so many assets that it was running short of cash, thus running short of weapons and other necessary supplies.

In response, Roosevelt proposed the “Lend-Lease” bill. If passed by the Congress and Senate, it would permit him to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of” military aid to any foreign governments whose defense he deemed vital to the defense of the United States. In December 1940, FDR proclaimed the US the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Isolationists were strongly opposed, but opinion began to shift as the public began to see that America could assist Britain while not committing American troops. Opinion was also turned by propaganda depicting the devastation of the Blitz and images depicting Germans as savages.

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The House of Representatives approved Lend-Lease on March 11, 1941. The bill passed the Senate in April. President Roosevelt then approved $1 billion in Lend-Lease aid to Britain at the end of October 1941. This little badge is a rare memento of a tumultuous time in Britain’s history, when there was  definite uncertainty as to whether the United States would provide vital and necessary assistance.

Brian Krapf’s forthcoming book We Want Winston!—A Treasury of Memorabilia will be published later this year.

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