Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010
Action This Day – Summer 1885, 1910, 1935, 1960
125 years ago
Summer 1885 • Age 10
“I can’t enjoy myself at all.”
As the school term at Brighton came to an end, Winston wrote his mother on 30 June: “I am quite well, and hope you are the same. I have been to the dentist today. I have rec.d the long promised hamper. We are going for a picnic on the 17th of July. There are only 28 more days before the end of the term.”
Earlier in June, the Liberal government fell and the Conservatives formed a minority caretaker government until the autumn, when the Reform Bill of 1884 would take effect and increase the electorate from three million to five million. Lord Randolph was named Secretary of State for India and, as Winston wrote in his biography of his father, having “accepted ‘an office of profit under the Crown’ his seat at Woodstock was vacated and he had to submit himself to re-election.”
Lord Randolph did not campaign personally, claiming his new duties made it “impossible for me to leave London.” Lady Randolph loyally agreed to his request that she take the lead in campaigning for him, along with his sister, Lady Georgiana Curzon. As Jennie later wrote in her autobiography:
Revelling in the hustle and bustle of the Committee rooms, marshaling our forces, and hearing the hourly reports of how the campaign was progressing, I felt like a general holding a council-of-war with his staff in the heat of battle. A. was doubtful, B. obdurate, while C’s wife, a wicked abominable Radical, was trying to influence her husband whom we thought secure, to vote the wrong way. At once they must be visited and our arsenal of arguments brought to bear on them.
Lord Randolph won the election on 4 July by 532 votes to 405 for the Liberal candidate, almost twice the majority he had received at the previous election. He telegrammed Jennie: “Brilliant success almost entirely due to you and Georgie.” The Prince of Wales sent his congratulations. Jennie and her sister-in-law had campaigned in a horse-drawn tandem sporting Randolph’s chocolate and pink racing colors. The campaign, by two attractive women in a tandem, brought congratulations from the Attorney General, who, tongue-in-cheek, suggested new legislation was needed:
My gratification is slightly impaired by feeling I must introduce a new Corrupt Practices Act. Tandems must be put down and certainly some alteration must be made in the means of ascent and descent therefrom; then arch looks will have to be scheduled and nothing must be said “from my heart.” The graceful wave of a pocket handkerchief will have to be dealt with in committee.
Winston was neglected by his mother during this period and a letter in early September reflects his dissatisfaction: “I am not enjoying myself very much. The governess is very unkind, so strict and stiff, I can’t enjoy myself at all. I am counting the days till Saturday. Then I shall be able to tell you all my troubles. I shall have ten whole days with you.”
One Hundred Years Ago
Summer, 1910 • Age 35
“Reading, bathing and bridge.”
One of Churchill’s responsibilities as Home Secretary was to submit reports on Parliamentary events to the King. His report of 14 July concerned the respective naval strength of Britain and Germany. His grasp of the subject foreshadowed his eventual appointment as First Lord of the Admiralty:
Mr. Secretary Churchill with his humble duty to Your Majesty: Naval estimates occupied the House today. Mr. Dillon moved a reduction of the vote for Shipbuilding of £2,000,000….The Prime Minister replied at once. Your Majesty would find it advantageous to read his statement in full. He surveyed the relative state of naval construction in England & Germany. Now we have 10 Dreadnoughts ready for battle: Germany has 5. We have 6 launched: Germany has 5. We have 4 on the slips: Germany has 3—total 20 against 13 available in March 1912.…Assuming that 4 ships were laid down in 1911 as the programme for the year our total strength available for an emergency in 1913 would reach the astonishing figure of 33 British Dreadnoughts to 17 German. The preponderance in all other classes (except Mr. Churchill believes in torpedo boat destroyers) is of course even greater.
The following month, Winston and Clementine took a two-month holiday in the Mediterranean and Aegean aboard Baron de Forest’s yacht Honour. On 8 August he wrote to his secretary, Edward Marsh: “We have a pleasant journey so far, though we had one rough night, and I was very sea-sick. I am now better, and am, I think, getting accustomed to the less devilish forms of motion attendant upon marine adventure. You will be glad to hear that I visited the Monte Carlo Gambling Hell [sic] on four occasions and took away from them altogether upwards of £160.”
A month later, he wrote to Sir Edward Grey of a restful holiday:
We have visited all the most beautiful places in the most luxurious manner—Monte Carlo (where I won £160), Elba, Naples (Vesuvius & Pompeii), Messina still utterly in ruins, Syracuse, Ithaca, Corinth, Athens, Delos, Santorin (a wonderful volcanic island), Crete, Rhodes—the fortress of the knights is still perfect—the best & largest specimens of 14th Century fortifications I have ever seen—then to the coast of Asia Minor—Marmarice, Boudrum, Smyrna….The days have passed by rapidly—reading, bathing & bridge their only occupations—& I am astonished to find six weeks already flown.
Seventy-Five Years Ago
Summer, 1935 • Age 60
“I stand for butter.”
While warning publicly of gathering German air power, behind the scenes Churchill was offering practical advice to colleagues based on his own experience in their posts. In July, when Air Minister Philip Cunliffe-Lister asked the new Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, if Churchill could be appointed to the Air Defence Regional sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Baldwin agreed and Churchill accepted, because the subcommittee was “highly technical in character & quite non-controversial ….I have a few ideas wh[ich], if of any value, would be quite unfit for publication.” Conscious of maintaining political independence, Churchill added: “I must remain free to debate all the general issues of Air strength, Air Policy, Air Programmes.” Baldwin quickly reassured him: “My invitation was not intended as a muzzle, but as a gesture of friendliness to an old colleague.”
Churchill soon submitted to Cunliffe-Lister a detailed memorandum on air defense. Two weeks later, based upon his years at the Ministry of Munitions, Churchill wrote again with advice foreshadowing his wartime “Action This Day” style:
The Germans are spending £1000 millions this year on military preparations direct and indirect. Can you doubt what this portends? Their lead in the Air is growing hourly greater….I wonder that you do not institute a “Following-up” branch. I found this invaluable in the Ministry of Munitions. If, say, a decision was taken on Monday, on Thursday this branch would ask “Where is the paper? What has been done about it, etc.” If any hold-up was detected, the Follow-up branch went to that point and had full power to refer at once to high authority. Thus everything rolled forward, faster than any Minister however energetic could make it.
Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare also received WSC’s advice, after Mussolini threatened to invade Abyssinia that autumn. On August 21st, Hoare wrote, WSC “more than once pressed strongly for the reinforcement of the Mediterranean Fleet. In his view, the situation was mainly due to our naval weakness in the Mediterranean.”
Churchill’s concern for the Mediterranean was serious. On 25 August he again wrote Hoare referring to his experience as First Lord of the Admiralty:
I am sure you will be on your guard against the capital fault of letting diplomacy get ahead of naval preparedness. We took great pains about this in 1914. Where are the fleets? Are they in good order? Are they adequate? Are they capable of rapid and complete concentration? Are they safe? Have they been formally warned to take precautions? Remember you are putting extreme pressure upon a Dictator who may get into desperate straits….I spent some time today looking up the cruiser and flotilla construction of the two countries since the war. It seems to me that you have not half the strength of Italy in modern cruisers and destroyers, and still less in modern submarines. Therefore it seems to me that very searching questions should be asked of the Admiralty now.
The same day he wrote to his constituents on the India Bill: “We have done our best and we have done our duty. We cannot do more.” Quoting Lord Salisbury, he added:
It is the duty of every Englishman, and of every English party to accept a political defeat cordially, and to lend their best endeavours to secure the success, or to neutralise the evil, of the principles to which they have been forced to succumb.”
Churchill practiced what he preached. On 25 August his luncheon guest was G.D. Birla, one of Gandhi’s leading supporters. The meeting, Birla later told Gandhi, was “one of my most pleasant experiences.” Far from a “fire eater,” Birla found Churchill “a most remarkable man”:
As eloquent in private talk as he is in public speech….He did 75 per cent of the talking, the other 25 per cent was divided between myself and Mrs. Churchill. I only occasionally interrupted by correcting him and putting a question or two but I enjoyed the conversation. It was never boring. He asked what Mr. Gandhi was doing. I explained. He was immensely interested and said “Mr. Gandhi has gone very high in my esteem since he stood up for the untouchables.”
I said, “What is your test of success?” He said, “My test is improvement in the lot of the masses, morally as well as materially. I do not care whether you are more or less loyal to Great Britain. I do not mind about education, but give the masses more butter. I stand for butter….Oh yes, I am every time for butter. Reduce the number of cows but improve their breed. Make every tiller of the soil his own landlord.”
Fifty Years Ago
Summer, 1960 • Age 85
“Current topics were only touched upon lightly.”
In July, Sir Winston and Lady Churchill flew to Venice for another holiday on Aristotle Onassis’ yacht Christina. They cruised the Adriatic from Split to Dubrovnik, Corfu, Athens and Crete. At Split, Churchill met with Tito of Yugoslavia, whom he had met and liked since their first meeting in Naples in 1944. The British Ambassador reported to the Foreign Office: “President Tito’s reception of Sir Winston was cordial in the extreme….Their conversation was concerned principally with wartime memories; and current topics were only touched upon lightly.”
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