The Churchill Centre has formed a partnership with the George Washington University, Washington, DC, to establish the National Churchill Library and Center, which willl be housed on the first floor of the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library. This will be the first major research facility in the nation’s capital dedicated to the study of Sir Winston Churchill.
As both scholar and statesman, Winston Churchill is an inspiring figure in leadership and diplomacy. The new Center, through its collections, interdisciplinary academic programs, and educational exhibits, will offer students, faculty, researchers, and the public the opportunity to examine Churchill’s life and legacy. The Churchill Centre is raising $8 million to fund:
• Facilities – $2 million (estimate)
• Endowed Professorship of Churchill Studies & 20th Century British History – $2.5 million Read More >
The River War: Churchill’s Firsthand Account of the Charge at Omdurman
Lines printed in bold italics appeared in the first edition of The River War but not in later editions.
As the 21st Lancers left the ridge, the fire of the Arab riflemen on the hill ceased. We advanced at a walk in mass for about 300 yards. The scattered parties of Dervishes fell back and melted away, and only one straggling line of men in dark blue waited motionless a quarter of a mile to the left front. They were scarcely a hundred strong. I marvelled at their temerity. The regiment formed into line of squadron columns, and continued at a walk until within 300 yards of this small body of Dervishes. I wondered what possessed them. Perhaps they wanted to surrender. The firing behind the ridges had stopped. There was complete silence, intensified by the recent tumult. Far beyond the thin blue row of Dervishes the fugitives were visible streaming into Omdurman. And should these few devoted men impede a regiment? Yet it were wiser to examine their position from the other flank before slipping a squadron at them. The heads of the squadron wheeled slowly to the left, and the Lancers, breaking into a trot, began to cross the Dervish front in column of troops. Thereupon and with one accord the blue-clad men dropped on their knees, and there burst out a loud, crackling fire of musketry. It was hardly possible to miss such a target at such a range. Horses and men fell at once. The only course was Read More >
Anthony Churchill, Winston’s Island, Chale, Isle of Wight: Cross Publishing, 2015, 112 pages, £40.00.
To purchase, go to www.winstonsisland.co.uk
What’s in a name? Anthony Churchill describes himself as “a very minor” Churchill on his father’s side through the Dorset branch of the family, and “a very minor” Spencer on his mother’s. He had, he insists, never bothered too much about his famous family name until he retired some years ago and put down roots on the Isle of Wight, where he kept discovering snippets of history linking his illustrious ancestor to the island. As an ocean racer who had sailed with Ted Heath on all his Morning Cloud yachts, winning the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as navigator strategist, he was frequently in Cowes and noted that Winston Churchill’s parents had met and fallen in love there in 1873 after an intense three-day romance. When he realised that the 140th anniversary of that meeting would fall in 2013, he set about organising a gala dinner on the island, inviting as many of the family as he could muster. After that he decided there had to be a book recording all the links.
Now in his ninth decade and living on the south side of the island at Ventnor—he prefers the rougher seas that side—Anthony Churchill has lovingly assembled a profusely-illustrated volume detailing every connection between Read More >
Michael Jago, Rab Butler: The Best Prime Minister We Never Had?London: Biteback, 2015, £25, 464 pages.
In his memoirs The Art of the Possible Rab Butler describes one of his predecessors as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain, as “the Uncrowned Prime Minister.” In time, the sobriquet has become one ever attached to Butler himself, three times a possible prime minister, and one reflected in the subtitle of this carefully researched and authoritative new biography.
However, Butler’s supporters, and they were manifold, should not grieve, but, in Wordsworth’s words, “rather find strength in what remains behind.” For Butler, like two other “nearly men,” Joseph Chamberlain (Austen’s father) and Roy Jenkins, left more of an imprint on his times than many who did make it to 10 Downing Street. Butler’s great monument is the 1944 Education Act, the foremost piece of domestic legislation enacted by Churchill’s war-time government, which transformed the possibilities for generations of young people after the Second World War. Read More >
Michael Jago, Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister, Biteback, 2014, 400 pages, £25.
Much like Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee is a prime minister about whom many biographies are written. This output attests to his importance in British history for several reasons: as the longest-serving leader of the Labour Party; as the person whose refusal to serve in a coalition government with Neville Chamberlain helped bring Churchill to power; as the Deputy Prime Minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition; and as the head of the postwar Labour government that created a welfare state and nationalized several industries.
The life Michael Jago outlines differs little from previous biographies. He skims through Attlee’s upper-middle-class childhood in the London suburb of Putney, his education at Haileybury and Oxford, and his turn from a legal career to social work in the East End. Jago’s narrative then slows with Attlee’s entry into politics and focuses closely on his ascent to the leadership of the Labour Party in 1935. Jago argues that Attlee’s rise was far from the product of accidental circumstances, as has so often been claimed. Yet while the description of Attlee’s undoubted skills is convincing, it is hard to deny that the decimation of Labour’s parliamentary leadership in the 1931 general election helped clear the way for Attlee’s subsequent selection as party leader four years later. Read More >
Alonzo Hamby, Man of Destiny: FDR and the Making of the American Century, Basic Books, 2015, 512 pages, $35.00.
As with Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt is a historical figure about whom there is no end of biographies regularly produced. Alonzo Hamby is the latest contributor to this genre, and he brings to it a long career as a scholar of Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman, as well as his previous work as the author of an examination of the New Deal within the comparative context of the response to the Great Depression by the other nations of the West. The perspective Hamby brings is reflected in his main thesis about Roosevelt, whom Hamby sees as the man whose efforts in saving liberal democracy during the Second World War brought about the “American century” and the world in which we still live today.
Hamby divides his study of Roosevelt into three parts, consisting of his life before the presidency, the years of his administration devoted to the domestic policies of the New Deal, and his handling of the international crises of the 1930s and the wars that followed. The division represents the trade-off Hamby faced in compressing such a detailed life into 436 pages of text, with the book’s focus on Roosevelt’s twelve years as president coming at the cost of a detailed examination of the fifty years of his life that preceded them. The other major choice Hamby makes is to focus on Roosevelt’s public career, reducing his private life to the background for most of the book. This is understandable given Hamby’s view of Roosevelt’s relationships with most people as defined by political utility rather than true friendship, but it marginalizes the presence in the book of his wife Eleanor to a far greater degree than it should be, given the outsized role she played in his career.
When he reaches the second section of his book Hamby slows his pace and expands his focus, providing a broad account of the development and implementation of the New Deal. While recognizing Roosevelt’s considerable efforts to ease the toll the Depression had taken upon millions of Americans, Hamby is critical of the New Deal overall, viewing it in the end as a barrier to economic recovery both domestically and in the larger global economy as well. Yet the American voters credited his efforts rather than their results, delivering a resounding endorsement of his policies by reelecting him to a second term in 1936. Roosevelt followed this triumph, though, with a series of ill-judged missteps that solidified the conservative opposition to his policies in Congress, and Hamby argues that it was the deteriorating international situation that provided him with a second chance to define his historical reputation.
The prospects for success were not promising. Roosevelt faced the militaristically aggressive regimes in Europe and Asia as the leader of a nation that was strongly isolationist in its sentiments. Despite this, Roosevelt moved towards opposition to Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, a move that took on added import with the outbreak of war in September 1939. Here Hamby focuses more upon Roosevelt once again, recounting his many personal efforts to prepare the nation for the prospect for war and provide support for the nations fighting Germany and Japan. Among the measures that Hamby describes is the personal relationship that he began building with Churchill, starting with Roosevelt’s personal note to Churchill soon after his return to the Admiralty. Hamby stresses the similarities between the two men, namely their charismatic leadership, inspirational rhetoric, and determination in confronting the Axis powers. The difference he notes was in terms of their ideologies, with Churchill’s belief in imperialism distinguishing him from Roosevelt’s unalloyed belief in liberal democracy.
The disagreement between the two men on this matter, however, was minor compared to their shared goal of defeating the Third Reich. Hamby credits Roosevelt with making bold gestures given the context of American public opinion, providing aid to Britain within the limits of what was politically possible. With the formal entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, the informal partnership became a formal alliance, one that would survive policy disagreements and Roosevelt’s occasional twitting of the prime minister. Roosevelt hoped to develop a similar personal connection with Joseph Stalin as well, but Hamby is far more critical of the President’s efforts here, seeing him as more accepting of the Soviet leader’s ambitions than Truman would be.
Overall Hamby’s book provides a capable survey of Roosevelt’s public life and political achievements. While there is little that is new within its pages (and an unfortunate perpetuation of the stale misconception about Churchill’s level of alcohol consumption), his command of his material is assured and his judgments clear. Readers seeking an introductory overview of Roosevelt’s career will find this biography fits the bill most satisfactorily, though those who desire a deeper understanding of such subjects as the Roosevelt-Churchill relationship should plan on supplementing it with more specialized works.
Mark Klobas teaches history at Scottsdale College in Arizona.
Michael Arnold, Hollow Heroes: An Unvarnished Look at the Wartime Careers of Churchill, Montgomery, and Mountbatten, Casemate, 2015, 304 pages, $34.95.
There are as many biographies as there are biographers: some serious, some not. Plus others that purport to be serious, but are not. Into which category does Michael Arnold’s Hollow Heroes fall?
A former insurance salesman, Mr. Arnold has a passion for polemic. His first book, The Bodyline Hypocrisy, was a book of conversations (with Harold Larwood) about the great cricket conundrum: should bowlers be allowed to bowl straight at the batsman to intimidate him, as in the famous 1932–33 Ashes tour between England and Australia?
After this, Mr. Arnold plunged into another form of polemic: military history. His work when published was titled Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill’s Biggest Blunder. According to the publisher’s blurb: “when, inevitably, Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Churchill attempted to deflect criticism by accusing the defenders there of spineless capitulation. Recently released information from the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington reveals that United States President Franklin Roosevelt not only knew of the impending attack on Pearl Harbour but actually instigated it. Although Roosevelt promised a shield of B-17 aircraft for Singapore from Manila, General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines had been told to do nothing until after the Japanese attacks there and at Pearl Harbor so that the United States could claim an unprovoked assault that would allow them to declare war on Japan.” Read More >
Brian Hodgkinson, Saviour of the Nation: An Epic Poem of Winston Churchill’s Finest Hour, Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers LTD, 2015, 186 pages, £10.00, US $15.95, CAN $18.95.
Ulysses. Aeneas. Dante. Satan. Winston Churchill. An epic poem focusing on Winston Churchill’s rise to power and defiance of Adolf Hitler attempts to join the ranks of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Well, why not? Churchill is an apt subject, after all, a historical figure of transcendent importance in twentieth-century history and the defeat of what many consider the most concentrated form of evil known to man. What better hero to choose for a modern epic poem?
Reading Saviour of the Nation is a pleasant experience, providing a kind of History-Channel summary of Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany, beginning with a few scattered chapters touching on Hitler’s rise in 1932 and 1933, then rapidly moving to the heart of the tale, Churchill’s ascension to prime minister through to the Japanese attack on Pearl
John Kelly, Never Surrender: Winston Churchill and Britain’s Decision to Fight Nazi Germany in the Fateful Summer of 1940, New York: Scribner’s, 2015, 370 pages, $30.
Churchill, at his disingenuous best, wrote in his war memoirs that “the supreme question of whether we should fight on alone never found a place upon the War Cabinet agenda.”
Roy Jenkins, in his 2001 biography Churchill, called this “the most breathtakingly bland piece of misinformation to appear in all those six volumes” because, over a three-day period from 26 through 28 May, there were what Jenkins termed “nine tense meetings of the War Cabinet” on that very subject.
John Kelly has written a compelling narrative about the events leading up to the decision by Britain’s War Cabinet on 28 May 1940 not to take even preliminary steps to ascertain Hitler’s terms for peace. Read More >
Richard M. Langworth, Churchill and the Avoidable War: Could World War II have been Prevented? Moultonborough, NH: Dragonwyck, 2015, 122 pages, $7.95.
The origin of Mr. Langworth’s book is Churchill’s 1945 labeling of the Second World War as “The Unnecessary War.” Churchill proceeded to offer two “ifs,” one having to do with the United States and the other with the League of Nations. It should be noted that of the four ubiquitous conjunctions, “and” is decidedly dull, “or” involves choice, “but” is often a weasel word (“I believe in absolute free speech, but this is too much,” meaning you do not believe in absolute free speech), and “if” is a reality re-constructor (“If pigs had wings”). “If” presumes to improve on God’s creation of the world, as well as to challenge our reliance on the factual and the mundane. It is a product of, and tribute to, the imagination. And it is, of course, at the heart of counterfactual history. “Much virtue in ‘if,’” says the Bard.
Langworth lines up, like balls on a pool table, the key junctures when events could have taken a different course. The writing is compelling, the documentation rich, the arguments persuasive. Other biographers and historians have, to be sure, dealt with these flashpoints, but only in the setting of a narrative that encompasses numerous other issues. The virtue of this approach is to focus entirely on several isolated incidents and trace their common theme. The power of Langworth’s handling of the theme is that he avoids dogmatic folly. He repeatedly invokes a necessary skepticism: “We will never know,” “We do not know,” “We know now” what was not known “at the time.” Read More >
Steve Cliffe, Churchill, Kitchener, and Lloyd George: First World Warlords, Fonthill, 2014, 160 pages, £14.99.
Of the three “First World Warlords” who are the subject of this enjoyable volume, it is Horatio Kitchener who presents the greatest enigma. Churchill was an extremely prolific writer and speaker. Although he was not always straightforward, he frequently wore his heart on his sleeve; he sometimes attempted to be devious but he was not very good at it, so it was generally fairly clear to other people what he was up to. Lloyd George was—in his prime—a much more effective manipulator and, unenthusiastic about letter writing, left a much less extensive paper trail for historians to follow. Nevertheless, the records of three key diarists (Lord Riddell, Frances Stevenson, and A. J. Sylvester) allow a great deal of insight into his views and actions.
Kitchener, by contrast, was closed-off and inscrutable. He had insight and talent—if not quite as much as was popularly attributed to him—but was a difficult colleague, particularly after he joined the cabinet at the outbreak of war in 1914. He was one of the first to predict that the conflict would be long and drawn-out and would require an enormous number of Read More >
It is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the young Winston Churchill that, before he had even completed his basic military training, he should seek to have first-hand experience of the perils of modern warfare.
Churchill was twenty years old and undergoing his basic cavalry training as a recently-recruited subaltern in the 4th (Queen’s Own) Hussars when he took the quixotic decision to spend his annual vacation visiting Cuba, which was then in the midst of a brutal civil war.
Throughout his long and distinguished life, one of Churchill’s defining characteristics was his determination to go his own way, even when it met with considerable opposition. His support for the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign during the First World War, as well as his less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards the D-Day landings in 1944, are some of the more memorable instances where Churchill displayed a single-minded determination to demonstrate his independent spirit. Read More >
Martin Gilbert, ed., The Churchill Documents, volume 17: Testing Times, 1942, Hillsdale College Press, 2014, 1652 pages, $60.
Martin Gilbert and Larry Arnn, eds., The Churchill Documents, volume 18: One Continent Redeemed, January –August 1943, Hillsdale College Press, 2015, 2471 pages, $60.
When Sir Martin Gilbert died, the monument to Winston Churchill of which he was both architect and craftsman was left incomplete. Larry Arnn, who worked with Gilbert, and who now serves as president of Hillsdale College, picked up the blueprint and tools and is carrying the project forward.
But is the project still necessary? After all, Churchill’s papers have now been digitized, and online access to many other relevant collections is increasing. Researchers are becoming more accustomed to working online than visiting archives, which is time-consuming and expensive. While not all will agree, I continue to endorse the holding of these volumes in hand (or, given their bulk, resting them on the lap) and reading through them (despite some problems with the format). Read More >
David Lough, No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money, New York: Picador, 2015, 534 pages, $32.
The Churchill archive is much like that of other politicians— only more so. And the political part of his papers has accordingly been deeply mined by historians. Beyond this, however, is what we could call the hidden archive—not because the archive staff hid it away but because researchers generally ignored it. I am referring especially to the holdings of literary papers that testify to Churchill’s other career as an author and to the mass of business correspondence, financial documents, bank statements, tax files, household bills, and other kinds of paperwork. Because Churchill came from a class that was accustomed to hoard such papers along with their correspondence, virtually nothing was ever thrown away, and the Churchill Archives Centre has likewise respected the intrinsic interest for historians in having this sort of material available.
In recent years, moreover, there have been a number of books that explored this hidden territory. David Reynolds’ In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (2004) illuminated the financial implications of how this particular author operated. This prompted me to follow up on the story by putting Churchill’s composition of his History of the English-Speaking Peoples at the heart of my book, Mr. Churchill’s Profession (2012). So I happily declare an interest in commenting on David Lough’s welcome addition to the literature in his meticulously documented book, No More Champagne. Its eighty pages of references are overwhelmingly to materials held in the “hidden archive,” the holdings of which are now further exposed in the light of history. Read More >
125 Years ago
Winter 1891 • Age 16 “I Am Going to Lunch with Mama”
The winter of 1891 was quite cold, and Winston and his brother Jack spent their holiday at Banstead, their parents’ new country house, which they had found during the summer. Though their parents were not there, the boys had a good time. Winston wrote to his mother on 1 January that “the Pond is frozen 8 inches—The ground is covered with 4 inches of snow. Pipes are frozen—Oil freezes in the kitchen. No wind. V-happy V.well. We are enjoying ourselves very much. We exist on onions and Rabbits & other good things. The ferrets are very well & send their love so do the guinea-pig & rabbit I have bought. If I hear the result of my Examination I will wire.”
Winston received a 19 January letter from the Harrow headmaster J. E. C. Welldon congratulating him on passing the Army’s Preliminary Examination for Sandhurst. Lady Randolph wrote a letter on 26 January to Lord Randolph advising him of this and suggesting that he “might make him a present of a gun as a reward. He is pining for one and ought to have a little encouragement.”
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.