June 4, 2013

Finest Hour 143, Summer 2009

Page 12

Action This Day – Spring 1884, Summer 1909, Summer 1934, Summer 1959

By Michael McMenamin

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125 years ago
Spring, 1884 • Age 9
“He has no ambition”

At the end of the summer term, Winston’s parents removed him from St. George’s School in part because his nanny, Mrs. Everest, saw evidence of the canings Winston had received at the hands of the school’s sadistic Headmaster, Sneyd-Kynnersley, whose assessment of the young man on June 20th was that “He has no ambition.” His final report on July 21 grudgingly admitted: “He might always do well if he chose,” noting that Winston’s diligence was “fair on the whole,” but that he still “occasionally gives a great deal of trouble.” It is more than likely that Winston was happiest at St. George’s School while he was giving the Headmaster “a great deal of trouble.”

Lord Randolph and the Fourth Party were once more at odds with their leaders in the Conservative Party who were seeking to amend the Reform Bill on voter eligibility to exclude Ireland. During his formative years, Winston read and re-read all of his father’s speeches. The following excerpt from Lord Randolph’s biting comments on the subject illustrates that, as a speaker, Winston’s acorn did not fall far from his father’s oak:

The Tories had argued that no votes should be given to Irish peasants because they lived in “mud cabins.” Lord Randolph replied: “I have heard a great deal of the mud-cabin argument. For that we are indebted to the brilliant, ingenious and fertile mind of the Rt. Hon. Member for Westminster. I suppose that in the minds of the lords of suburban villas, of the owners of vineries and pineries, the mud cabin represents the climax of physical and social degradation. But the franchise in England has never been determined by Parliament with respect to the character of the dwellings. The difference between the cabin of the Irish peasant and the cottage of the English agricultural labourer is not so great as that which exists between the abode of the Rt. Hon. Member for Westminster and the humble roof which shelters from the storm the individual who now has the honour to address the Committee.”

Winston later noted in his biography of his father that “cheers and laughter” had greeted Lord Randolph’s comment

100 years ago
Summer, 1909 • Age 34
“It was a great coup”

Churchill became a father for the second time on July 11th with the birth of his daughter Diana, whom he nicknamed “the cream-gold kitten.” Three weeks later, Churchill’s personal intervention in the coal miners’ strike produced a satisfactory resolution, as he wrote his mother on 4 August:

I had a great triumph….We had 20 hours negotiations in the last two days and I do not think a satisfactory result would have been obtained unless I had personally played my part effectually. I had a nice telegram from the King, and letters from Asquith and Grey all very eulogistic. It was a great coup, most useful and timely.

Prime Minister Asquith may have been eulogistic over Churchill’s settling of the strike, but the same was not true of WSC’s recent speech in Edinburgh in July, where Churchill had criticized the House of Lords for threatening to reject Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget”—which included, among other things, a 20 percent tax on increased land values.

Churchill wrote defending himself, enclosing a speech he had given in Birmingham in January with which Asquith had expressed satisfaction. “Nothing in my speech in Edinburgh goes beyond this. Indeed it seems to me to be a mere restatement.” Churchill wrote, quoting this excerpt from the Birmingham speech:

I do not, of course, ignore the fact that the House of Lords has the power, though not, I think, the constitutional right, to bring the government of the country to a standstill….If they really believe, as they so loudly proclaim, that the country will hail them as its saviours, they can put it to the proof….And, for my part, I should be quite content to see the battle joined as speedily as possible [cheers], upon the plain simple issue of aristocratic rule against representative government [cheers], between the reversion to protection and the maintenance of free trade [cheers], between a tax on bread and a tax on—well, never mind. [Cheers and laughter.]

75 years ago
Summer, 1934 • Age 59
“First requisite of peace”

On June 30th Churchill’s first cousin, “Sunny,” the Ninth Duke of Marlborough, died. Churchill wrote of him in a subsequent letter to The Times as my “oldest and dearest friend.” By a gruesome coincidence Sunny died on the same day as the true face of National Socialism was revealed in Germany during the “Night of the Long Knives,” when Hitler ordered the wholesale slaughter of his political adversaries, including Ernst Röhm, head of the SA, and all of his top lieutenants.

Even political retirement did not spare those who had incurred Hitler’s enmity, including the Nazi Party’s former number two man, Gregor Strasser—or Hitler’s predecessor as Chancellor, General Kurt von Schleicher, who, along with his wife, was murdered by no fewer then six gunmen from Himmler’s SS. Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw estimates the death toll at between 150 and 200.

Sunny’s death deeply affected Churchill and may explain why, in the days that followed, Churchill did not explicitly condemn Hitler’s cold-blooded killing of his political enemies. But, in a long article in The Daily Mail on 9 July, Churchill left no doubt about the implications for the future peace of Europe. No one else in England or anywhere else for that matter had by that time so succinctly summarized what Germany had become under National Socialism:

That mighty race who fought and almost vanquished the whole world is on the march again. The whole nation is inspired with the idea of retrieving and avenging their defeat in the Great War. They have arisen from the pit of disaster in a monstrous guise: hatred internal and external, organized as if it were a science; debts repudiated to buy the means of making cannon; treaties broken to construct a gigantic Air Force; schools placarded with maps of territories to be regained; all Parliamentary safeguards, all internal criticism trampled down; even Christianity itself conscripted to a tribal purpose; the whole German nation, seventy millions of the most industrious, valiant, gifted people in the world, in the hands of a small group of fierce men.

When shall we learn that Britain’s hour of weakness is Europe’s hour of danger? When shall we comprehend that for so great and wealthy a power with such rich possessions to remain in a position where it can be blackmailed is to commit an offence against the cause of peace?

Surely at the very least we ought to put ourselves in as good a position as we were before the Great War. Then, we were at any rate under the shield of the Navy. We could enter or stand outside Continental struggles as we pleased. The first requisite of peace is that Britain should be capable of self-defence.

In England’s balmy summer of 1934, few were listening.

50 years ago
Summer, 1959 • Age 84
“The greatest Englishman”

In July, 1959, Churchill was cruising near Greece and Turkey aboard Aristotle Onassis’ yacht Christina, accompanied by, among others, his physician Lord Moran, Anthony Montague Browne and his wife, and Onassis’ mistress, the opera singer Maria Callas. During the tour, Sir Winston met both the Turkish and Greek Prime Ministers.

Later that summer, Churchill was invited by President Eisenhower to meet him during his state visit to London. They were together at two dinners on 31 August and 1 September.

Earlier, in the South of France, Churchill invited the Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, to lunch after learning that Ben-Gurion was also in France. Unfortunately, by the time the invitation arrived, Ben-Gurion’s ship had already departed for Israel. Ben-Gurion wrote to Churchill:

I need hardly assure you that I should have been delighted to accept the invitation, if only it had found me still in France. Like many others in all parts of the globe, I regard you as the greatest Englishman in your country’s history and the greatest statesman of our time, as the man whose courage, wisdom and foresight saved his country and the free world from Nazi servitude [as well as] one of the few men in the free world to realize the true character of the Bolshevik regime and its leaders.

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