April 18, 2013

MOMENTS IN TIME: FINEST HOUR 152, AUTUMN 2011

THE POSTWAR ICON: 1945-46

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LONDON, JUNE 1945
PHOTOGRAPH BY ELMO UFHEIL

Elmo Ufheil, a photographer with the U.S. Army Air Corps, was stationed in London from January to June, 1945, an eye-witness to all the memorable events of those six months: the last-ditch V2 rocket attacks, news of the German surrender, VE-Day, Churchill’s “This is your victory” speech, and the beginning of the general election campaign. This picture of Churchill on the stump was sent to us through the courtesy of his cousin, Kenneth Ufheil, and his niece, Nancy Briggs.

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Elmo Ufheil “can’t remember the exact date or month” he snapped this impromptu photo, but it was “around the time of parliamentary elections.” The likely month is June. Churchill left for the Continent in early July and subsequently attended the first part of the Potsdam Conference with Truman and Stalin. Mr. Ufheil believes he snapped it as Churchill was clambering off his seatback perch at or near 10 Downing Street.

Saddened by his inability to preserve the wartime coalition until the defeat of Japan, Churchill resigned as coalition Prime Minister on May 23rd and formed a Conservative “caretaker” government until the nation rendered its decision at the polls in July. On 29 May, Parliament met for the first time in five years with the Labour Party in Opposition. (Pedants insist that technically, Churchill was Prime Minister three times: this May-July government, Tory not Coalition, was technically his second.)

Many witnesses have contrasted the enthusiasm of crowds during Churchill’s campaign appearances with their intention to vote for his opponents. Curiously, some voters actually thought they could elect a Labour Party majority but retain Churchill at Downing Street. Polling Day was July 5th, but a respite was declared for the military vote to be counted, and the announcement of the results put off to late July. On July 7th Churchill traveled to France for a brief holiday before going on to Potsdam, leaving the conference to receive the results on July 26th. Less than a week later, a new Parliament would assemble at Westminster—with a defeated Churchill now Leader of the Opposition.

GENEVA, 16 SEPTEMBER 1946
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARCEL BOLOMET

Churchill and his wife left Chartwell in late August for three weeks in Switzerland, staying first at the Villa Choisi, on the shore of Lake Geneva. The press and public were carefully kept at bay while he painted and worked on his war memoirs.

On 16 September the Churchills left Choisi for Zurich, where they lunched with the President and Committee of the International Red Cross. He told his hosts of the “kindly reception by all classes of the population,” which they had received as they had ridden through villages on the way.

In Zurich on the 19th, Churchill made his famous appeal for “a kind of United States of Europe”: If Europeans would come together, he said, and “exchange blessings instead of curses, they still have it in their power to sweep away the horrors and miseries which surround them, and to allow the streams of freedom, happiness and abundance to begin again their healing flow.”

Then Churchill added “something that will astonish you….The first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany. In this way only can France recover the moral leadership of Europe. There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany.”

Martin Cousineau sent one of his favorite Churchill photos, which shows WSC responding to the crowds as he entered Geneva: “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it in Finest Hour. I think it is a great image of restrained adulation and heart-felt thanks.” Indeed so—and the Swiss hadn’t even been in the war.

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