Finest Hour 133, Winter 2006-07
Q: Stalin’s foreign minister Moiotov maintains in his memoirs (Conversations avec Moiotov, Paris: Albin Michel 1995, 75), that Sir Winston Churchill in 1959 spoke in laudatory terms about Stalin: (“Staline a ete un homme d’une energie exceptionelle”). Is this true?
—Andrea Graziosi, Professor of History, Universita di Napoli “Federico II”
A: Although Churchill made no • speech about Stalin in 1959 (indeed no speeches at all in the Commons after his retirement in 1955), the words “Staline a ete un homme d’une energie exceptionelle” rang a bell. I found something similar in Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on 8 September 1942. From Churchill, The End of the Beginning (War Speeches 1942), London: Cassell, 1943, 216-17:
It was an experience of great interest to me to meet Premier Stalin. The main object of my visit was to establish the same relations of easy confidence and of perfect openness which I have built up with President Roosevelt. I think that, in spite of the accident of the Tower of Babel which persists as a very serious barrier in numerous spheres, I have succeeded to a considerable extent. It is very fortunate for Russia in her agony to have this great rugged war chief at her head. He is a man of massive outstanding personality, suited to the sombre and stormy times in which his life has been cast; a man of inexhaustible courage and will-power, and a man direct and even blunt in speech, which, having been brought up in the House of Commons, I do not mind at all, especially when I have something to say of my own. Above all, he is a man with that saving sense of humour which is of high importance to all men and all nations, but particularly to great men and great nations. Stalin also left upon me the impression of a deep, cool wisdom and a complete absence of illusions of any kind. I believe I made him feel that we were good and faithful comrades in this war – but that, aftet all, is a matter which deeds, not words, will prove. One thing stands out in my mind above all others from this visit to Moscow—the inexorable, inflexible resolve of Soviet Russia to fight Hitlerism to the end until it is finally beaten down. Premier Stalin said to me that the Russian people are naturally a peaceful people, but the atrocious cruelties inflicted upon them by the Germans have roused them to such a fury of indignation that their whole nature is transformed.
Churchill has occasionally been hoisted on the petard of this speech, given when Hitler was still ascendant. But perspectives change, as Churchill recalled in his war memoirs:
In April, 1945, as the victorious Western and Russian Forces were joining hands in victory, I wrote to Stalin: “Do not, I beg you, my friend Stalin, underrate the divergencies which are opening up. There is not much comfort in looking into a future where you and the countries you dominate, plus the Communist Parties in many other States, are all drawn up on one side, and those who rally to the English-speaking nations and their associates or Dominions are on the other. It is quite obvious that their quarrel would tear the world to pieces and that all of us leading men on either side who had anything to do with that, would be shamed before history. Even embarking on a long period of suspicions, of abuse and counterabuse, and of opposing policies, would be a disaster hampering the great developments of world prosperity for the masses which are attainable only by our trinity.” —RML
Q: Churchill was involved with or held commissions in several different military units throughout his life. Since he took his commission upon graduating from the Royal Military College Sandhurst (now Royal Military Academy) was there ever a period in which he was not affiliated with a military unit? —BRIAN DAVIS
A: Churchill graduated from the RMC in December 1895, but his commission in 4th Queen’s Own Hussars dated from February 1896; during the interval he had no duties and was on leave.
Note now the distinction between a commission and a posting. Churchill held commissions in only three regiments (apart from those entailing honorary colonelcies, etc.). All his other postings were on attachment from his parent regiment. While holding a commission in 4th Queen’s Own Hussars he was detached from regimental duty and posted or attached to the Spanish Army in Cuba (1895-96), 35th Sikh Infantry (India, 1897), 31st Punjab Infantry (India, 1897), and 21st Lancers (Egypt & Sudan, 1898).
After resigning from the 4tJi Hussars (and from the British Army itself) in 1899, and following his escape—as a war correspondent—from the Boers later that year, his second— temporary—commission, which he held for some six months, was in the South African Light Horse.
His third and final commission (1902) was in a regiment of the Territorial Force (TF), comprising part-time reservists, which changed its name to Territorial Army (TA) in 1908. This regiment was the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. During World War I he was detached from QOOH on posting to: 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards (1915) and 6th Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers (1916). Churchill held his TA commission from 1902 until 1924 (apart from 1916-1920, when he he was on the reserve list). —PHC
• Contact FH for more details of the TA commission and WSC’s honorary colonelcies, by Paul Courtenay.