By John G. Plumpton
The Nile War over, Churchill returned to England where he immediately became embroiled in controversy over his military and political activities. The Prince of Wales wrote him that “I think an officer serving in a campaign should not write letters for the newspapers or express strong opinions of how the operations are carried out.”
“A General Officer” wrote to the Editor of the Army and Navy Gazette: “Can it be for the good of the Service that young subalterns, however influentially connected and able they may be, should be allowed as Lieut. Churchill is to go careering over the world, elbowing out men frequently much abler and more experienced (in a worldly sense at any rate) than themselves?”
Churchill responded: “Your correspondent’s quarrel is not with me but with the Army authorities. They are antagonists more worthy of his rank. He should not bandy words with subalterns in the columns of the public press. What can be more prejudicial to the discipline for which he professes so extravagant a regard? He should go to the War office with this new grievance….to make personal attacks on individuals, however insignificant they may be, in the publicity of print, and from out of the darkness of anonymity, is conduct equally unworthy of a brave soldier and an honourable man.”
He continued to lay the foundation for a political career. Before returning to India, he made several speeches to Conservative Associations, identifying himself with the progressive wing of the Tory party. “To keep an Empire we must have a free people, an educated and well-fed people.”
In his personal life Churchill was in love with Pamela Plowden but, as his son later wrote; “such were his ambition and his slender means that he was not yet prepared to commit himself.”
Back in England from a cruise on the Duke of Westminster’s yacht, Churchill reflected, “I am very content to have for the first time in my life a little rest, and leisure to look after my own affairs, build my house and cultivate my garden.”
His primary focus was on the second volume of The World Crisis. The periodicals were full of pros and cons about his first volume. Everyone who had participated in the War seemed to want to get a word in. The Morning Post venomously said that Churchill “is mentally incapable of realizing the truth or anything like it” but most reviews were favourable. Stanley Baldwin probably summed up the feelings of Churchill’s colleagues: “If I could write as you do, I should never bother about making speeches.” Baldwin would live to hear Churchill’s immortal speeches of 1940 and 1941.
On the issue of tariffs, Baldwin called an election for December 6. Churchill answered the call to fight Protection as a Liberal. He beat the Conservative but came second to the Labour candidate who had advocated a special tax on high incomes.
Even his Conservative opponents regretted his defeat. “I was at the Carlton Club that foggy Election night,” wrote his aunt. “When your poll was announced, there was a grim silence and stodgy Lord Middleton, who was sitting next to me, said, ‘Well, I am genuinely sorry. We wanted Winston in the House of Commons.'”
His other battle at this time was a libel suit against Lord Alfred Douglas who had accused him of manipulating the stock market during the Battle of Jutland. His victory over Douglas was celebrated by his friends who also encouraged him to continue his efforts to reenter Parliament. “You must get back to the House,” wrote one. “The outlook is dark and troubled; the country will need your energy and vision.”
Aholiday for Winston Churchill was a trying time for everyone around him. His daughter Sarah called him “Hard, hard working wonderful Papa.”
Martin Gilbert records a telephone call between Churchill (in Aixen-Province) and William Deakin (at Chartwell) which illustrates the demands placed on assistants.
“WSC: Bill, I am very hard pressed. I want you to come down right away. Take tomorrow’s plane. I’ll have a car meet you at the airport.
“Deakin: I’m so sorry, Sir, but I can’t get away that early. I have a lot of work to wind up at Oxford and can’t leave for a least four days.
“WSC: What’s that you say? I can’t hear you. I need you down here very much. Get on the plane as fast you can. We’ll arrange everything from this end.
“Deakin: But, Sir, I said I can’t possibly do it. There is work I must finish up here first.
“WSC: This connection is very bad. Can’t hear a word you say. We’ll see you tomorrow then. Good-bye.”
Gilbert also records a poignant story that illustrates the complexity of Churchill’s genius at this time. Walter Graebner, author of My Dear Mister Churchill, dined with Churchill after WSC had spent “a long happy afternoon at Montagne Sainte-Victoire, so beloved of Cezanne. Deep in thought for several minutes, he suddenly broke into the conversation around him, and said rather gravely: ‘I have had a wonderful life, full of many achievements. Every ambition I’ve ever had has been fulfilled – save one/ ‘Oh, dear me, what is that?’ said Mrs. Churchill. ‘I am not a great painter,’ he said, looking slowly around the table.”
On receiving an honorary degree from the University of London, he remarked on “how many more degrees I have received than I have passed examinations.” On his 74th birthday he went riding to hounds with the Old Surrey Burstow Hunt. He appeared in his bowler hat, smoking an enormous cigar. He was hale and hearty and tally-hoed after the fox for two hours.
Finest Hour published The Times‘s photograph of the unveiling of Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, London, with the following account of the official unveiling by Churchill’s beloved Clementine, in the presence of their family and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II:
“The first day of November in the 99th year after his birth saw the apotheosis of Winston Churchill in 12 feet of bronze styled by Ivor Roberts-Jones. He looks east toward Big Ben and is in the shadow of the Parliament that he served, loved, vexed and dominated like a Colossus for sixty-four years. Now his image, atop its 8 ft. plinth, can only cover the other deities in the pantheon of Parliament Square.
“It began twenty years ago with plans for the reconstruction of Parliament Square. Reportedly, Sir Winston himself selected the site on which his statue now stands. Not even The Times doubts that its location is ‘one of the most conspicuous in London for a piece of public sculpture.’ Legend records how Sir Winston decisively drew a circle on the northeast corner of the square, and remained unpersuaded by protests that he was ruining the symmetry of the setting. His reply was at once magisterial and characteristically accurate: ‘That is where my statue will go.'”
FH also reported The Queen’s Speech at the unveiling:
“In the long history of this Kingdom and of our Parliament, there is no man whose name and fame are more certain of an enduring place than Winston Churchill.
“He will be remembered for many things, in peace and in war, in politics and in literature; and for his greatness as a Parliamentarian.
“From the time he came of age to the day of his death, the House of Commons was at the centre of his thoughts and his affections. He faced its hostility without bitterness and lived to receive its standing ovations.
“He was enthusiastic in debate, imperturbable in adversity and generous in triumph. He toiled for many years through the details of committee and report. He was elected a Member in the reign of Queen Victoria and when he left his seat for the last time sixty-four years later, he was loved and revered on the Government and Opposition benches alike.
“I thought that when he resigned as Prime Minister, and would no long play an active role in party politics, I might honour his wholly exceptional achievements by offering him a dukedom. No such distinction had been proposed for nearly a century.
“But he wanted to spend his last years where he had passed almost all his adult life—the House of Commons—and indeed he had no need for distinction greater than the name of Winston Churchill.
“For more than fifty eventful years, Lady Churchill was his deeply loved companion and I think it would be right, therefore, for her to unveil the statue of her husband.”
In Finest Hour 37 (Autumn 1982) I responded to an invitation from Richard Langworth to succeed the late Dal Newfield in writing “Action This Day.” Recording the remarkable career of Winston Churchill, season by season, year by year, has been a wonderful journey through the life of an awe-inspiring man.
I now turn over that journey to Michael McMenamin. But I am not leaving the pages of Finest Hour. I will return to a former column, “Inside the Journals,” to bring you the latest in periodical literature, popular and academic, on Churchill: and I will write about what we’re doing on our website: www.winstonchurchill.org.
Under the sure hands and steady guidance of Dal Newfield and Richard Langworth, Finest Hour has had a remarkable journey of its own. That story is told in our newly published index, The First 100, on our website under “The Finest of Finest Hour,” and in this issue.
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