Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002
By Michael McMenamin
125 Years Ago:
Summer 1877 • Age 2
“Radiant, Translucent, Intense”
Lord Randolph’s summer routine in Dublin was described in his biography, written years later by Winston:
“Often on a summer’s afternoon he would repair to Howth, where the east coast cliffs rise up into bold headlands which would not be unworthy of the Atlantic waves. Here in good company he would make the ‘periplus’ as he called it— or, in other words, sail round ‘Ireland’s Eye’…catch lobsters, and cook and eat them on the rocks of the island. In the evenings he played half-crown whist in Trinity College or at the University Club or dined and argued with…his friends. Before long he had been in Donegal, in Connemara, and all over the place—‘Hail fellow, well met’ with everybody except the aristocrats and the old Tories.”
Meanwhile, Churchill’s mother was making her own impression. Edgar Vincent, an international banker in Turkey and former Ambassador to Berlin, wrote in his memoirs his impression of Lady Randolph:
“I have the clearest recollection of seeing her for the first time. It was at the Viceregal Lodge at Dublin. The Viceroy was on the dais at the farther end of the room…but eyes were not turned on him or on his consort, but on a dark, lithe figure, standing somewhat apart and appearing to be of another texture to those around her, radiant, translucent, intense, a diamond star in her hair, her favourite ornament—its lustre dimmed by the flashing glory of her eyes. More of the panther than of the woman in her look, but with a cultivated intelligence unknown to the jungle. Her courage not less great than that of her husband—fit mother for descendants of the great Duke. With all these attributes of brilliancy, such kindliness and high spirits that she was universally popular. Her desire to please, her delight in life, and the genuine wish that all should share her joyous faith in it, made her the centre of a devoted circle.”
100 Years Ago:
Summer 1902 • Age 27
“Elsewhere Regarded as a Crime…”
The outbreak of four arsons at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, was the occasion for Churchill once more publicly to criticize the government. An inside job was suspected. When a fifth fire broke out on 25 June in “C” Company, the Army’s Commander-In-Chief, Lord Roberts, ordered that all cadets in “C” Company would be sent home without taking their examinations and all servants would be dismissed unless (a) they had an alibi and could prove they were not present when the fire was set, or (b) those who set the fire confessed. No one came forward, twenty-nine cadets were sent home and three servants dismissed when they could not furnish alibis.
To The Times on 7 July 1902, Churchill wrote: “I will not take occasion here to comment upon this travesty of justice further than to point out three cardinal principles of equity which it violates—that suspicion is not evidence; that accused persons should be heard in their own defence; and that it is for the accuser to prove his charge, not for the defendant to prove his innocence. But it is necessary to observe the effects. Twenty-nine cadets have been rusticated, and will, in consequence, forfeit six months’ seniority, a matter of vast importance to a soldier….
“Mr. Brodrick has stated in the House of Commons that he approves and that Lord Roberts approves of these proceedings. I therefore invite them to answer three questions: What is the charge against these twenty-nine cadets? What is the evidence in support of it? When and before whom has it been proved? These are short, plain questions, which not only involve the interests of innocent and deserving people, but also raise various ancient and valuable principles; and, if fair play is still honoured in the British Army, they ought to be answered.”
When Rev. Frederick Westcott, the headmaster of Sherborne, wrote to The Times that “The innocent, doubtless, suffer with the guilty; but then they always do. The world has been so arranged,” Churchill replied: “Has it indeed? No doubt he has taken care that the little world over which he presides is arranged on that admirable plan, but it is necessary to tell him that elsewhere the punishment of innocent people is regarded as a crime or as a calamity to be prevented by unstinted exertion.”
Eventually Lord Roberts reversed course and promised that each case would be reviewed individually and investigated again. In the event, all three servants were reinstated, along with twenty-seven cadets.
Churchill spent the late summer of 1902 holidaying in Scotland, staying with the Duke of Sutherland, as well as visiting with the King at Balmoral Castle.
75 Years Ago:
Summer 1927 • Age 52
“A Vast Wet Blanket”
Tax cuts were high on Churchill’s agenda. In May, he had written to a Treasury official and offered a harsh critique of British economic policy since the war: “We have assumed since the war, largely under the guidance of the Bank of England, a policy of deflation, debt repayment, high taxation, large sinking funds and Gold Standard. This has raised our credit, restored our exchange and lowered the cost of living. On the other hand it has produced bad trade, hard times, an immense increase in unemployment involving costly and unwise remedial measures, attempts to reduce wages in conformity with the cost of living and so increase the competitive power, fierce labour disputes arising therefrom, with expense to the State and community measured by hundreds of millions….This debt and taxation lie like a vast wet blanket across the whole process of creating new wealth by new enterprise.”
Churchill’s solution was “an immense reduction in the burden of local rates” on factories and farmers to the tune of £30 million. Churchill wrote to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin on 6 June: “It would be a steam roller flattening out all the petty interests which have obstructed Block Grants and rating reform….Industry would be stimulated, Agriculture placated, and the immense mass of the ratepayers would be astonished and gratified. Every town and every part of the country, as well as every class, would share the boon. It might even be possible, without starving local services, to shift the basis of assessment from property to profits; and if this could be done, the relief would come with increasing effect to the depressed and struggling industries and factories, with reactions upon our competitive power and upon employment of the utmost benefit.”
Churchill spent much time at Chartwell, painting and building walls, ponds, and dams; there also he was working on his autobiography.
In July, Kevin O’Higgins, Justice Minister in the Irish Free State and a close associate of Michael Collins, was assassinated by the IRA. On July 12th Churchill saluted “the remarkable strength of his character.”
In September, Churchill visited the King at Balmoral and painted a highland scene from his window: “It is not often that the paths of duty and enjoyment fall so naturally together,” he wrote. “I had a particularly pleasant luncheon with the King when we went out deer driving, and a very good talk about all sorts of things. I am very glad that he did not disapprove of my using the Ministerial room as a studio, and I took particular care to leave no spots on the Victorian tartans.”
50 Years Ago:
Summer 1952 • Age 77
“Parliament is Having a Holiday”
Cutting taxes was again on Churchill’s mind as he met with his Cabinet on 20 August. The topic was the need for a tax-free education allowance for the children of members of the Armed Forces. But as Churchill told his colleagues, “Service parents were not alone in this difficulty: all middle-class parents were finding it increasingly difficult to send their children to boarding schools by reason of the high level of taxation….Should not the Government aim rather at reducing taxation to a level which would enable people to meet their obligations out of taxed incomes?”
Privately, Churchill was hoping General Eisenhower would secure the Republican nomination for President of the United States, though in the election he would favor Adlai Stevenson. He wrote to his wife, on holiday in Italy: “I am relieved at Ike’s progress over Taft. Once the American election is over we may be able to make real headway. Either Ike or the Democrats wd be all right. A Taft MacArthur combine wd be vy bad.” His Private Secretary, Jock Colville, noted in his diary: “He told me that if Eisenhower were elected President, he would have another shot at making peace by means of a meeting of the Big Three. For that alone it would perhaps be worth remaining in office. He thought that while Stalin lived we were safer from attack than if he died and his lieutenants started scrambling for the succession.”
In early September, Churchill spent two weeks at Lord Beaverbrook’s villa in the south of France, painting and working on his memoirs. Shortly before leaving England he had addressed his constituency in Woodford: “Parliament is having a holiday. That is a very good thing for the House of Commons….There is another reason which I must not forget for Parliament having a holiday. We felt it would be a good thing for the Opposition to have a little leisure to think over their political position, and arrive at some more coherent form of thought, and consistent line of policy. Something better than class warfare is surely needed at a time when parties are so evenly balanced that it is really like setting one-half of the nation against the other.”
Lord Moran noted in his diary upon Churchill’s return: “The PM… says he feels better for it; he has more vigour. ‘I had no money to gamble at the tables, but I did three pictures while I was away, and worked five hours every day at my book.’ In France he got a second wind. He said to me today: ‘The Government position is stronger than it was a year ago. I have not yet decided when to resign. It might do me no good when the curtain is down.’”