Finest Hour 145, Winter 2009-10
Action This Day- Winter 1884-85, 1909-10, 1934-35, 1959-60
By Michael McMenamin
125 years ago
Winter, 1884-85 • Age 10
“Will you go out on a tiger hunt?”
With his father away in India, Winston continued to improve at school. His mother wrote to Lord Randolph on 30 January: “The children are flourishing and I hear a much better account of Winston.”
Winston kept a regular correspondence with his parents, some of his letters growing longer. On New Year’s Day he wrote his father in India: “We had a Christmas tree and party here this year, which went off very well. My Stamp Book is gradually getting filled. I am very glad to hear you arrived safely. Will you write and tell me all about your voyage, was it rough at all?” On 28 January he asked his mother: “Do you think Papa will stay long in India? Have your heard from him lately? Is Jacky quite well and happy? Does he cry at all now? I am quite well and, very happy. And to his father in February: “…tell me about India, what it’s like….It must be very nice and warm out there now, while we are so cold in England. Will you go out on a tiger hunt while you are there? Are the Indians very funny?”
100 Years Ago
Winter, 1909-10 • Age 35
“The Peers v. the People”
The general election in January 1910 did not go as Churchill and the Liberals hoped or expected. Prime Minister Asquith dissolved Parliament when, on 30 November, the House of Lords rejected his government’s budget. The Liberal campaign theme, echoed nationwide by Churchill, was “The Peers v. the People.” He published a collection of his speeches, The People’s Rights, on Free Trade, land and social reforms, and “settlement for ever of the evil, ugly veto of the Peers, which they have used so ill so long.”
Churchill did well in Dundee, increasing his margin from 2000 votes in 1908 to 6000, but the Tories gained 116 seats and reduced the Liberal majority to only two: 274 to 272. Seventy-one Irish Nationalists and forty of the growing Labour Party held the balance of power.
Asquith tried to persuade Churchill to become Secretary of State for Ireland. In a February letter marked “Secret,” Asquith wrote: “…in view of the character & composition of our re-arranged forces, you might see your way to take what is bound to be one of our most delicate & difficult posts—the Irish Office. Twice in my experience, it has been held, under not more arduous conditions, by men (on each side) of the weightiest caliber— Balfour & Morley.”
Churchill was now a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule, but he did not want to head the Irish Office unless it was to bring about the passage of a Home Rule Bill—something he did not believe possible without another general election. But it is a delicate task for a politician to say no to a Prime Minister who wants you to take a post while you want a different one. WSC’s son Randolph wrote in the official biography that his father made two handwritten drafts of his reply to Asquith before sending the final:
I am sensible of the compliment you pay to my personal qualities in suggesting that I should go to Ireland at this juncture, & I realise the peculiar importance to the Government of the successful conduct of that post. I am the more grateful to you for not pressing me to undertake it. The office does not attract me now. There are many circumstances connected with it which repel me. Except for the express purpose of preparing & passing a Home Rule Bill I do not wish to become responsible for Irish administration. And before that situation can be reached, we must—it seems to me—fight another victorious battle in the constituencies.
Churchill then expressed his preference for either the Admiralty or the Home Office. In the event, Asquith appointed him Home Secretary, the youngest man to hold the position since Sir Robert Peel. (See “Top Cop in a Top Hat,” Finest Hour 143:20).
Seventy-Five Years Ago
Winter, 1934-35, Age 60
“If we were both young again”
In December, Clementine departed on a six-month holiday cruise to the Dutch East Indies on Lord Moyne’s yacht, Rosaura. It was a small party, consisting, for the first 6000 miles, only of Mr. & Mrs. Lee Guinness, Clementine and Terence Philip, a 42-year-old bachelor. At Rangoon, the Guinnesses departed and Lord Moyne arrived with his lady friend, Lady Broughton, wife of Sir Delves Broughton. The remainder of the cruise consisted only of Moyne, Philip and two wives of other men.
It was an unusual arrangement and, as Mary Soames writes in her biography of her, “Clementine fell romantically in love” with Terence. Clementine’s marriage survived the voyage; that of Lady Broughton did not, and she subsequently divorced.
Their letters in January 1935 illustrate the love the Churchills had for each other, come what may. On New Years Day, CSC wrote: “Oh my Darling, I’m thinking so much of you and how you have enriched my life. I have loved you very much but I wish I had been a more amusing wife to you. How nice it would be if we were both young again.” Winston replied:
…I always feel so overwhelmingly in yr debt, if there can be accounts in love. It was sweet of you to write this to me, & I hope & pray I shall be able to make you happy and secure during my remaining years….Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms & stresses of so many eventful & to millions tragic & terrible years.
Perhaps without her benign influence, Churchill continued to alienate the Conservatives over his opposition to centralized Home Rule for India and his support for the alternative of limited provincial autonomy. He was not helped by his son, who stood in January for Parliament in a by-election at Wavertree, against the official Conservative candidate. Churchill, who campaigned for his son, thought Randolph had a chance, but in the event Randolph split the Tory vote, giving the seat to Labour. The party votes were 15,000 to 13,700, with Randolph third at 10,500.
Churchill is still criticized for his stand against centralized Indian Home Rule, but few recall his support for provincial autonomy: the safeguarding of individual liberties, to which the India Bill turned a blind eye. During one debate, India Bill supporters questioned Churchill’s belief in democracy. His reply to that question in a subsequent speech illustrates his belief that democracy and personal liberty are not synonymous. With an American political mentor and an American mother, he knew that America’s founding fathers had this question well in hand:
Do you or do you not believe in democracy?” That is a fairly large question. We all remember the gentleman who, on being shown an elephant for the first time, said he did not believe it; and there was the lady who wrote a metaphysical treatise [which began] with the words “I accept the Universe.” And, as we all know, Mr. Carlyle made the celebrated comment: “Gad, she’d better.” That is rather like my feeling about democracy. I accept it. But I am a good deal more doubtful whether democracy believes in Parliamentary institutions…. We have only to look across the Channel in Europe to see how democracy tends in its present manifestation to be injurious to the Parliamentary system and to the personal liberties which are dear to the Liberal heart. I should like to ask the Hon. Member, does he call this Bill democracy? Is the communal franchise democracy? Is caste reconcilable with democracy? Is the idea of 60,000,000 untouchables reconcilable with any sort of democratic system?
Earlier, in a BBC broadcast on 29 January, 1935, Churchill tried to link the India Bill with the growing threat posed by Nazi Germany:
The storm clouds are gathering over the European scene. Our defences have been neglected. Danger is in the air….The mighty discontented nations are reaching out with the strong hands to regain what they have lost; nay, to gain a predominance which they have never had….Is this, then, time to plunge our vast dependency of India into the melting-pot? Is this the time fatally to dishearten by such a policy all those strong clean forces at home upon which the strength and future of Britain depends?
On 19 March, in a debate over a proposed defense spending increase of £10 million, Churchill made the controversial assertion that Germany had already reached air parity with Britain, and that geography favored the Germans:
The frontiers of Germany are very much nearer to London than the sea-coasts of this island are to Berlin, and whereas practically the whole of the German bombing air force can reach London with an effective load, very few, if any, of our aeroplanes can reach Berlin with any appreciable loads of bombs. That must be considered as one of the factors in judging between two countries. We only wish to live quietly and to be left alone.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air, Sir Philip Sassoon, complained of Churchill’s use of a “morass of figures” and said in rebuttal that Britain had 690 first line aircraft in 1934: “So far as we can at present estimate, we shall still, at the end of this year, possess a margin of superiority.”
A week later, Hitler himself effectively confirmed Churchill’s warnings. He told British Foreign Secretary John Simon and League of Nations Minister Anthony Eden, that Nazi Germany had reached air parity with Britain, which he believed to be 1045 first line aircraft. Simon replied that Britain only had 690. If Germany indeed had 1045, then Germany’s air force was already 50 percent greater than Britain’s.
Fifty Years Ago
Winter, 1959-60, Age 85
“Snow and Sleet”
Churchill and Clementine journeyed to Monte Carlo and stayed at the Hotel de Paris, writing to John Colville on 9 January that the weather was superb. That changed a week later, and Churchill wrote in a letter to his first love, Pamela Lytton complaining of the “snow and sleet.”
The couple returned to Britain in February, and left again on 8 March by air for Tangier where they were met by Aristotle Onassis’s yacht Christina. From there, the luxurious yacht cruised to Barbados, arriving on 21 March.
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