The Place to Find All Things Churchill

Finest Hour 139


Finest Hour 139, Summer 2008

Page 8


Quotation of the Season

“There is nothing improper in belligerents meeting to discuss their affairs even while actual battles are going on. All history abounds in precedents. All the time that Napoleon was fighting his desperate campaigns in France in 1814 the International Council, composed of his representatives and those of the allies, were in constant conference at Châtillon-sur-Seine.”


LONDON, MAY 25TH— Pursuit of filthy lucre extends sadly to a typescript of Churchill’s famous speech paying homage to “The Few” (RAF fighter pilots) on 20 August 1940. According to Christie’s, the three-page typescript is “the only surviving draft of one of the great speeches of the 20th century,” and they estimate “£100,000 to £150,000.” Provenance appears to be the estate of Sir John Colville.

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Riddles, Mysteries, Enigmas

Finest Hour 139, Summer 2008

Page 7

Did he want a deal with Stalin?

Q-While it is beyond question that Churchill’s leadership of embattled Britain during 1940-41 prevented the war from being lost, don’t you think that some sort of arrangement with the Soviet Union before August 1939 could have checked Hitler’s designs and saved mankind much misery? True, he was not at the head of affairs then, but did he try to influence his Party to move in that direction? Or was his hatred of communism too strong for him to see the opportunity? Could you kindly let me know if you have published anything on this subject?
—MANMOHAN SINGH, LONDON ([email protected])

A-Good question. Churchill did xfavor a Soviet alliance, or at least an understanding, in the period you mention—and for several years leading to it. He was convinced that Stalin’s reach was confined to Soviet borders, while Hitler’s ambitions were at least pan-European. (See following articles.) The problem was that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who by then was pretty much his own foreign secretary, was not convinced, and Churchill had less influence with Chamberlain at this time than the Labour Party. The Prime Minister sent low-level diplomats to talk to Moscow, while the Germans sent their foreign minister, and the outcome was the Nazi-Soviet Pact of late August 1939. Stalin was convinced the British weren’t serious, and saw major advantages in a deal, however temporary, with Hitler. Churchill had no influence in this period.

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Editor’s Essay – The Fine Art of the Selective Quote

Finest Hour 139, Summer 2008

Page 6

In this issue we do something we’ve never done before. We move “Books, Arts & Curiosities” to the “front of the book.” This is not to give undue attention to Nicholson Baker’s and Pat Buchanan’s simultaneous attack-books, but to equip our readers with facts that support Churchill’s honor, judgment and good name—and to demonstrate how easily history may be bent.

A problem illustrated by Pat Buchanan’s Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War is the rampant use of selective quotes. No animus toward the author: “I like a man who grins when he fights,” as Churchill said. But selective quotations edited to distort the facts and to fit a predetermined mindset are out of bounds.

To establish Churchill’s “lust” for World War I, for example, Buchanan quotes him on 28 July 1914: “Everything tends towards catastrophe & collapse. I am interested, geared up and happy. Is it not horrible to be built like that?…” (28). But he omits the rest of that passage: “…The preparations have a hideous fascination for me. I pray to God to forgive me for such fearful moods of levity. Yet I w[oul]d do my best for peace, and nothing w[oul]d induce me wrongfully to strike the blow.” (Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume II, Part 3, published 1969, 1989.)

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Despatch Box

Finest Hour 139, Summer 2008

Page 4


Congratulations to Richard Langworth for his excellent article. It will do much to set the record straight.

As a Belgian who was in France and Belgium in May and June 1940, I was deeply interested in Richard Langworth’s “Feeding the Crocodile: Was Leopold Guilty?” (pages 42-46). He fully and convincingly shows that Leopold was justified in concluding that further Belgian Army resistance was impossible, and that he had given timely warning to the British and French Allies of its inevitability.

I believe Churchill misspoke in his first reference to the King’s capitulation because at that time (mid-May 1940), he was preoccupied in making common cause with the French, whose will to fight was waning. The first public announcement of King Leopold’s capitulation was made in a speech by Paul Reynaud, French Prime Minister on 28 May, when he attempted to blame the Belgians for the French military debacle. For Churchill to have publicly distanced himself from Reynaud would have been injurious to what remained of the Allied war effort.

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The Strange Case of the Prime Minister and the Fighting Prophet


Winston was often right…But when he was wrong, well, my God.” —F.E. Smith



Raymond Callahan is Professor of History Emeritus, University of Delaware. In 1988 he was among the first group of academics invited to present papers at the International Churchill Conference at Bretton Woods. His latest book is Churchill and His Generals.

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Prince of Wales and Repulse: Churchill’s “Veiled Threat” Reconsidered



The author is Professor Emeritus of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he taught from 1972 to 2004. His next book is Titans at the Admiralty: Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Fisher. This paper was delivered at the 2007 International Churchill Conference in Vancouver.

“I was opening my boxes,” Churchill wrote in his war memoirs,[1] “when the telephone at my bedside rang. It was the First Sea Lord [Admiral Sir Dudley Pound]. His voice sounded odd. He gave a sort of cough and gulp, and at first I could not hear quite clearly. ‘Prime Minister, I have to report to you that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse have both been sunk by the Japanese—we think by aircraft. [Vice Admiral] Tom Phillips is drowned.’ ‘Are you sure it’s true?’ ‘There is no doubt at all.’ So I put the telephone down. I was thankful to be alone. In all the war I never received a more direct shock. The reader of these pages will realise how many efforts, hopes, and plans foundered with these two ships. As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbour, who were hastening back to California. Over all this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.”

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F.E. by Himself: Birkenhead’s Best Ripostes

F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead is probably best remembered as one of Winston Churchill’s closest friends and political allies. 

Judge Willis: “Mr Smith, have you ever heard of a saying by Bacon-the great Bacon-that youth and discretion are ill-wedded companions?”

F.E. Smith: “Yes, I have. And have you ever heard of a saying of Bacon-the great Bacon-that a much-talking judge is like an ill-tuned cymbal?”

Judge Willis: “You are extremely offensive, young man.”

F.E. Smith: “As a matter of fact, we both are; but I am trying to be, and you can’t help it.”

Judge Willis: “What do you suppose I am on the Bench for, Mr. Smith?”

F.E. Smith: “It is not for me, your honour, to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence.”1

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Singapore Reprise


1. The Imperial Imperative


Professor Kimball is Robert Treat Professor of History at Rutgers University, author of several books on Roosevelt, Churchill and World War II, and editor of Roosevelt and Churchill: The Complete Correspondence (Princeton, 1984).

The excellent papers published in FH 138 about the fall of Singapore frame the debate nicely. I would add just one all-important perspective.

By the 1920s, probably earlier, Great Britain had become the victim of Imperial over-reach. The Empire was too big, too complex, too full of energy and challenges, to be controlled without being able to discipline the wayward. Yet the tool Britain had used before—the aura of power and strength that was only sparingly, even “surgically” applied—had become hollow. The aura remained, but the power and strength had to be rationed—and what the British called the “Far East” got short rations. Because of those short rations, what I call the Imperial Imperative asserted itself. The concept was simple: Never address the stark reality that Britain could no longer afford to provide physical protection for its entire Empire. Choices had to be made, but those choices—the Ten-Year Rule, for example—were always disguised as postponements or sensible efficiencies. Rare was the admission that Britain could not perform its dominant role—only play it.

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Churchill’s Feline Menagerie

 “Cats Look Down on You…”


 Mr. Glueckstein is a freelance writer from Maryland and a frequent FH contributor. He thanks Lady Soames for kindly reviewing this article. His previous pieces were “Winston Churchill and Colonist II” (FH 125) and “The Statesman John Kennedy Admired Most” (FH 129).

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill left such a large record, so much of it crafted by himself, that even the best scholars fail to get their arms around him. And there are so many fascinating side issues to distract us! Take for example his passion for and genuine love of animals.1

Cats were part of Churchill’s life at both his official and private residences. Grace Hamblin, who was both his secretary and his wife’s at Chartwell from 1932 to 1965, addressed the unportentous side of his life at the 1987 International Churchill conference:

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Cover Story: The Friendship Between Churchill and F.E. Smith

“It was one of my most precious possessions.” —WSC


 Professor Freeman, a regular contributor to Finest Hour, teaches History California State University Fullerton.

He was tall, dark, slender and a little over-dressed. His eyes and hair were lustrous; the first from nature, the second from too much oil. His mouth had always a slightly contemptuous droop, his voice was a beautiful drawl. He had acquired, not diligently but with too much ease, the airs of a fox-hunting man who could swear elegantly in Greek. Many people loved him, most distrusted him, some despised him, and he despised almost everybody. In his later career as Earl of Birkenhead he served himself more faithfully than his God or his country, and has been left naked to his biographers; who, when they come to dealing with him, will discover among other less creditable attributes that he was without question the most fascinating creature of his times.”1

So wrote the historian George Dangerfield in 1935, only five years after the death of his subject, Frederick Edwin Smith, First Earl of Birkenhead, invariably referred to by those who knew him as “F.E.” One who knew him personally remembered him as possessing the “most powerful mind with which I had ever been brought in contact.”2 This was said by Sir John Masterman, the respected Oxford historian best known for directing counter-espionage activity in Britain during the Second World War, and a man who knew his fair share of geniuses. Asked late in life if he really meant what he said, “Masterman replied impatiently that he did not write what he did not mean.”3

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Lion’s Roar: Churchill’s Words and Vision in World War II


Lion’s Roar: Churchill’s Words and Vision in World War II

By Jessica Hart

Ms. Hart is a 2008 National Security Affairs candidate at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University. This article, adapted from a thesis, was recommended to us by Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge. The author acknowledges the advice and assistance of Professor of English Paul Alkon, University of Southern California.

Asked to list the greatest political leaders, few including his critics omit the name of Winston Churchill. His period as Prime Minister in World War II must rank as a prime example of wartime leadership. As we consider that leadership we see images of his famous speeches and broadcasts to his embattled countrymen. More than sixty years after the war ended, “We shall fight on the beaches…we shall never surrender” and “Men will still say, ‘this was their finest hour'” resound in the conscience of free peoples. Churchill changed the world with words.


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