The Royal Air Force (RAF) was twenty-one years old at the start of the Second World War, very much junior to the Royal Navy and British army. Winston Churchill had been closely involved with the development of the RAF. As First Lord of the Admiralty before the First World War, he had overseen the creation of the Naval Air Service, which later combined with the Royal Flying Corps during the war in 1917 to create the RAF. After the war, Churchill served as Secretary of State for Air from 1919–21. As a backbencher in the 1930s, he had been consumed with air matters during his long fight against appeasement. As Prime Minister and Minister of Defence during the Second World War, Churchill immersed himself in the air campaigns. He argued, cajoled, and debated with the RAF’s air marshals over the expansion of the air force and its deployment to all theatres of war, from the skies over the Atlantic Ocean to the campaign in Burma. Like his relationship with Britain’s leading generals and admirals, Churchill’s relationship with the leading air marshals was one of both tension and admiration while the air force played its critical role in achieving victory. Here we look at five of them.
The Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Winston Churchill, MP, with men of the 50th Division who took part in the D-Day landings. Behind the Prime Minister is General Sir Bernard Montgomery. Image was created and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence. Malindine E G (Capt), No 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit.
By Edward E. Gordon and David Ramsey
The special relationship between Great Britain and the United States was key to the development and execution of the Normandy campaign. It began with the close collaboration of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt even before America’s entrance into the war. During 1940 and 1941 the two countries developed very close ties as German victories threatened all of Europe. Their joint military and logistical planning foreshadowed their ultimate alliance.1
The Debate Begins
D-Day’s seeds were first planted on Dunkirk’s beaches. Almost from the day in 1940 when the British and French forces were evacuated from France, the British began to consider where, when, and how they would return to free northwestern Europe from Nazi occupation. Much of this speculation was premature. Only when the United States dropped its neutrality would the combined manpower and firepower of Britain and America be available to guarantee the success of such a massive amphibious invasion of northwestern Europe. However it still remained very difficult for the Allies to decide on when and where to launch this invasion.
C.S. Lewis (1898–1963) was a scholar of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford and Cambridge. Through his Chronicles of Narnia series and books such as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, he also established a reputation as one of the most successful Christian apologists of the twentieth century. But did Lewis have strong opinions on British politics? Well one of Lewis’s former students at Oxford recalled that the “most astringent” comment Lewis ever made was that “it cannot be doubted that Mr. Attlee is an agent of the Devil.” Granted, Lewis “never read a newspaper and was proud of it.” Even so, while Lewis disliked Prime Minister Clement Attlee, he had a much more favourable view of Winston Churchill. Attlee was prime minister from 1945 to 1951, while Churchill was the prime minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
I remember the excitement. I had a ticket. I was going to hear one of my heroes: the man I would later describe as “the greatest person of the twentieth century.” It was 24 April 1951, and I had just opened an envelope and seen the invitation card confirming that Winston Churchill, former wartime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was going to be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania in the “Philadelphia Municipal Auditorium at eight-thirty o’clock in the evening, Tuesday, May the eighth,” which would be the sixth anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
A marble statue in front of the Old Palace of Justice in Rome of Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was known as one of the greatest orator’s of the Ancient empire.
The 2017 movie the Darkest Hour focuses on the Nazi war on Western Europe in May/June 1940. In the film, Prime Minister Winston Churchill is portrayed as a wordsmith and orator that uses his powers of persuasion to move British policy away from appeasing Hitler and toward engaging him militarily. The Prime Minister is shown dictating drafts and redrafts of speeches on the Nazi threat and related to his personal secretary, Ms. Elizabeth Layton –rarely sitting at his desk (e.g., pacing in his bare feet, laying on a bed, or taking a bath), often making last minute changes.
King John signs the Magna Carta. Doyle, James William Edmund (1864) “John” in A Chronicle of England: B.C. 55 – A.D. 1485, London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, pp. p. 226. Wikipedia
On 10 March 2015, The Guardian published an untold story titled: “How wartime Britain planned to give the U.S. a copy of the Magna Carta.” The Guardian reported: “A secret British plan to butter up the US during the Second World War by handing over a copy of Magna Carta has been revealed by the British Library.”1
Previously unpublished documents included March 1941 Minutes prepared by the Foreign Office. It proposed that the well-preserved Lincoln Magna Carta, which belonged to Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln, England, be presented as a gift to the United States. Its purpose was to help muster American public opinion in support of the war.
A review of the Foreign Office Minutes prepared for Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s approval embodied a remarkable proposal.
The story begins with the Lincoln Magna Carta on display in the British Pavilion at the 1939 New York’s World Fair. This first overseas loan of Magna Carta was made on the advice of the Department of Overseas Trade, which hoped that, by reasserting the common origins of British and American liberties, displaying that document would strengthen Anglo-American relations.
Mr Lee delivered this keynote address at the Churchill conference ‘Winston Churchill: Aspects in Focus’ at the Polish Hearth Club in London on the 13th of September 2017. The day-long conference was organised by the Churchill Society of Tennessee.
While Winston Churchill is known as the ‘greatest Briton’ that ever lived, and is widely recognised as the saviour of Western civilisation for his leadership during the Second World War and his understanding of the Cold War, far fewer people are aware of the extraordinary contribution he made in the First World War. While the proverbial ‘man in the street’ might have heard his name linked to Gallipoli, it is less likely that Antwerp 1914, the development of the tank, infantry service on the Western front or control of the Ministry of Munitions is so well known.
We know that in August 1914 Winston was First Lord of the Admiralty and many historians say that, had he died about then, his immortal epitaph would have been: “When war came, the Fleet was ready”. We can’t really understand Winston’s role in the early part of the war without explaining how he came to be in that position.
Always remember that Winston, having abandoned the Conservative Party, was on the Radical wing of the Liberal Party. His ideas on taxation, land valuation and controlling unelected aristocrats in the House of Lords make him sound dangerously revolutionary. He inherits a lot of his politics from his father, Lord Randolph, the ultimate one-nation Tory. Peace, retrenchment and reform were his guiding principles. Defence spending was for the Royal Navy; the army was to be cut to the bone; but he wanted to keep the new Dreadnought programme to a bare minimum. He considered himself a friend of Germany.
There is the question of the relations between Germany and Japan. It seems to me that that is a matter which must be in the thoughts of everyone who attempts to make an appreciation of the foreign situation.
The extant published sources, however, include a disabused letter to his wife dated 17 January 1936, in which he wrote that ‘One must consider these two predatory military dictatorship nations, Germany and Japan, as working in accord’ and an important article following the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan, published in November 1936 and reprinted in Step by Step (1939).
It is important because in it Churchill stresses (pace Carlton again) that all forms of anti-Communism are not virtuous – something of course which he would never have admitted fifteen years before:
Communism in Japan as in Germany is held fast in the grip of a highly efficient, all-pervading police force, eagerly waiting to smite the smallest manifestation. Yet these two great powers in opposite quarters of the globe use the pretext of their fears of Communism to proclaim an association the purpose of which, and the consequences of which, can only be the furtherance of their national designs.
But unfortunately, one has to take the complexity of the character into account. His position of advocating a strict neutrality during the Spanish Civil War – a neutrality which in fact favoured the Fascist camp – showed that he still believed that the Right, even the extreme Right, had a duty to fight what he saw as Communist infiltration:
[I]t seems certain that a majority of Spaniards are on the rebel side. Four and a half millions of them voted only last spring for the various Conservative parties of the Right and Centre against four and a quarter millions who voted for the parties of the Left. One must suppose that those people who were then opposed to constitutional Socialism, are to-day all the more hostile to the Communist, Anarchist and Syndicalist forces which are now openly warring for absolute dominance in Spain.
MacDonald, the Leader, declared in connection with Churchill’s anti-Bolshevik campaigns ‘If the Labour Party can’t fight this, it can fight nothing’. Technically, however, he was still a Liberal. He only crossed the Floor of the House again in 1924, standing as an Independent Anti-Socialist candidate at a by-election in March, in which he was narrowly defeated by the official Conservative candidate, and as a Constitutionalist candidate at the October General Election, with official Conservative backing. He won the seat of Epping, which he kept until 1964. In November 1924, he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Government led by Baldwin.
In May 1926 he was at the forefront of the Government’s efforts to defeat the General Strike, notably editing the British Gazette, the official Government newspaper in the absence of the usual commercial newspapers. Churchill emerged from the episode with a reinforced reputation as the enemy of the working man, the more so as he initially opposed the distribution of welfare payments to the coalminers who continued with the strike until the autumn. He was presented as the extremist of the General Strike, not without justification.
His image as a man of the authoritarian Right was made even worse by his disastrous public pronouncements following his trip to Rome in January 1927, when he met the Pope and Mussolini. In fact he had already expressed his admiration for Mussolini in January 1926, in a speech before Treasury officials :
Italy is a country which is prepared to face the realities of post-war reconstruction. It possesses a Government under the commanding leadership of Signor Mussolini which does not shrink from the logical consequences of economic facts and which has the courage to impose the financial remedies required to secure and to stabilise the national recovery.
This is what we could call the ‘classic’ defence of Fascism – its economic efficiency at a time when the democracies were at a loss to find a coherent economic policy. Mosley was to put it more concisely later when he repeated that the British Fascists wanted to turn Parliament ‘from a talk-shop to a work-shop’. When Churchill praised Mussolini’s Italy for its economic realism, it was of course the British Chancellor of the Exchequer envying the Fascist dictator for the room for manoeuvre which the absence of an effective opposition gave him.
Ashley Jackson is Professor of Imperial and Military History at King’s College London and a Visiting Fellow, Kellogg College Oxford. This article is the unabridged version of a briefer, unfootnoted account in Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014. Ditchley Park was a venue for the 2015 International Churchill Conference.
This article has two points of origin. The first was the desire to explore Winston Churchill’s Oxfordshire connections more thoroughly than is usual in biographical accounts of his overloaded life. The second was the invitation of the Churchill Centre (UK) to give a talk at Ditchley Park on the 139th anniversary of Churchill’s birth. This afforded an opportunity to conduct further research into Churchill’s wartime visits to this secluded Oxfordshire estate, the results of which are presented in this article. 
Like many famous individuals, Winston Churchill’s name is associated with numerous geographical locations. He was a freeman of numerous towns in Europe and beyond, and an acclaimed visitor to a diverse range of places including the White House, the Atlas Mountains, the French Riviera, Cairo, Marrakech, and Tehran. He is most famously associated with London, the political heartland to which he was tethered for over half a century, the city in which he resided for much of his life and in which he died. Second to that, his purchase of Chartwell in 1924 forged an abiding link with Kent, and his delight in the place (as well as Clementine’s comparative despair) is well-known. But Oxfordshire also has a claim on this most famous of Britons, and not just because of his birth in Blenheim Palace and burial in the nearby churchyard of St Martin’s Bladon. The county’s claim rests on additional factors, such as the sense of place and of English history that Churchill developed during childhood days in idyllic Oxfordshire surroundings, his family’s links with the town of Woodstock that adjoins the Marlborough estate, and his service in the yeomanry regiment the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. 
Anthony Montague Browne Finest Hour 50, Winter 1985-86
My very kind hosts. Mary and Christopher. Ladies and gentlemen. I won’t start off with a pun. I was truly moved by what Mary said. It was, and I”m not exaggerating, more than I deserved. Certainly the rewards of those 13 years were worth more than the little dust that there was. You expressed yourself very movingly, and I am deeply grateful to you. As for the privilege I had of that association at that time, I don’t think that I would have enjoyed it more, whatever the period of your father’s great life it had been. I am moved by your words. I will say no more about that.
Speaking now between Mary and Christopher. I feel rather like a priest in a small Italian village, getting up to make a sermon and finding not one but two popes sitting there. Read More >
Lady Soames, Patron of the Churchill Societies, is Sir Winston and Lady Churchill’s only surviving child and her mother’s biographer. Naim Attallah talked to her about life with them and sought her views on the current reevaluation of her father’s legacy.
Published by kind permission of Sarah Wasley and Quartet Books Ltd., London.
Finest Hour Issue 91, Summer 1996.
NAIM AITALLAH: When writing about your childhood you say that although elements of anxiety, sorrow and disappointment began to appear as the years went by, in your own recollection it is the happiness which pre dominates. Is that in effect a tribute to your parents, who helped shield you from the darker side of life?
LADY SOAMES: I wrote those lines after describing life at Chartwell and the wonderful Christmases we had there. As life went on and I became a teenager I began to know that life wasn’t a garden of Eden, and it was disquieting to me because of my idyllic childhood at Chartwell. The first time I saw my mother cry was one of the most traumatic moments of my young life. I had very rarely seen grown-ups cry and to see this beautiful woman, whom I loved and admired and also rather feared, weeping and completely disintegrated with grief was a terrible shock to me. I saw my parents a lot because we children were never kept away in the nursery wing, and also I was very much the Benjamin, so I strayed around all over the house and never felt I was excluded from my parents’ life when they were at Chartwell. Read More >
NAIM AITALLAH : When writing about your childhood you say that although elements of anxiety, sorrow and disappointment began to appear as the years went by, in your own recollection it is the happiness which predominates. Is that in effect a tribute to your parents, who helped shield you from the darker side of life?
LADY SOAMES: I wrote those lines after describing life at Chartwell and the wonderful Christmases we had there. As life went on and I became a teenager I began to know that life wasn’t a garden of Eden, and it was disquieting to me because of my idyllic childhood at Chartwell. The first time I saw my mother cry was one of the most traumatic moments of my young life. I had very rarely seen grown-ups cry and to see this beautiful woman, whom I loved and admired and also rather feared, weeping and completely disintegrated with grief was a terrible shock to me. I saw my parents a lot because we children were never kept away in the nursery wing, and also I was very much the Benjamin, so I strayed around all over the house and never felt I was excluded from my parents’ life when they were at Chartwell.
“He rides in the game like heavy cavalry getting into position for the assault. He trots about, keenly watchful, biding his time, a matter of tactics and strategy. Abruptly he sees his chance, and he gathers his pony and charges in, neither deft nor graceful, but full of tearing physical energy – and skillful with it too. He bears down opposition by the weight of his dash, and strikes the ball. Did I say strike? He slashes the ball.”1
Thus Patrick Thompson, a contemporary writer, compared “Churchill’s angle in life” to his game of polo. An apt comparison it was, for Churchill loved the sport, which he always called ”The Emperor of Games.”
From obscure beginnings in the Orient, the modern version of polo was developed in 1863 by British army officers stationed in the Punjab, India; they had learned the game from the Manipuri, an Indian border tribe. Six years later, polo was introduced in England.2 Read More >
Famed for her beauty and the “durable fire” of her marriage to Alfred Duff Cooper, First Viscount Norwich, Lady Diana Cooper was early admitted to a delightful friendship with Winston and Clementine Churchill. Few write better of the happiness they shared.
From the solemn moment when the world knew that Winston Churchill had breathed his last, a roll of honour of some seventeenth-century poet elusively haunted me. To lay it I asked friends, poets, and publishers, even All Souls College. All remembered it, but none could place the lines that say:
O that Sir Philip Sidney should be dead
O that Sir Walter Raleigh should be dead.
Many another glorious name be listed, and now we can add:
O that Sir Winston Churchill should be dead. Read More >
Join or Renew NowPlease join with us to help preserve the memory of Winston Churchill and continue to explore how his life, experiences and leadership are ever-more relevant in today’s chaotic world. BENEFITS >BECOME A MEMBER >
Finest Hour Image
The most recent issues of Finest Hour are available online to members. Join to automatically receive a subscription to BOTH Finest Hour and the Churchill Bulletin.LEARN MORE >VISIT FINEST HOUR ARCHIVE >
The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.