The International Churchill Society is pleased to announce the 34th International Churchill Conference , “Churchill as International Statesman.” The Conference will be held at the historic Essex House hotel in New York City on October 10–12, 2017. This will be the first-ever International Churchill Conference held in New York, the city that Churchill first visited in 1895 and where he suffered his 1931 “misadventure”—being run over by a car on 5th Avenue. The history of the world hung in the balance just blocks from where we shall meet this autumn.
Those who register by May 31, 2017, will receive a 10% discount
on all tickets. Return the form enclosed with this issue or
go to www.bit.ly/Churchill2017 to register
First-time conference speakers will include Lord Owen, former British foreign secretary and author of Cabinet’s Finest Hour: The Hidden Agenda of May 1940; Lord Bew, author of Churchill and Ireland; and Lewis Lehrman, co-founder of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History and author of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Company. Return favorites will include Andrew Roberts, and David Lough on “Churchill and the Art of the Deal.”
One of the conference’s many highlights will be an interview by Celia Sandys, Churchill’s granddaughter, with Lady Williams (formerly Jane Portal), personal secretary to Churchill during his second premiership.
An Emeritus Professor of the University of Edinburgh, Ged Martin is a native Londoner who now lives in Ireland. He took First Class Honours in History at Cambridge, where he later earned his Ph.D. During his career he taught in Australia, Ireland, and Canada and received the United Kingdom’s first permanent Chair in Canadian Studies. As a schoolboy, he witnessed a notable intervention of Sir Winston in Parliament.
Aged fourteen, I was given a ticket for the gallery of the House of Commons. My family were Conservative, and I was reared with a fixed belief that Labour were decidedly not up to the mark. Hence it came as something of a surprise to spot that the Conservative Minister of Education answering questions had evidently inherited every advantage that privileged birth could give, except brains. A very shrewd Labour MP, I think from Southampton, wanted to know why the government had been offered land for a new school for £8,000, turned it down—and eventually bought it for £80,000.
I suspect that the Government’s spin-doctors, for I am sure they existed then, had Churchill ready and wound up in the wings and got a “send-him-now” signal from the Treasury Bench. For it was 30 November 1959—the old boy’s eighty-fifth birthday. Sir Winston entered the chamber just under the gallery, and at first I could not see him. But the House erupted, waving order papers. He stood there, and Labour Leader Hugh Gaitskell jumped up to ask: “I hope that it will be in order, Mr. Speaker, if I offer to the rt hon. Gentleman, the Member for Woodford (Sir Winston Churchill) our warmest congratulations and best wishes and affectionate greetings, on his 85th birthday.” The Leader of the House, R. A. Butler, added: “May I support the Leader of the Opposition, Sir, and on behalf of the whole House include in the rt hon. Gentleman’s and hon. Friends’ offer our most heartfelt good wishes to my rt hon. Friend.” An obviously moved Churchill rose and replied: “May I say that I most gratefully and eagerly accept both forms of compliment.” And ’twas for all the world as if Southampton had never existed.
Thomes E. Ricks, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, Penguin, 2017, 352 pages, $28. ISBN 978–1594206139.
This book explains what Churchill and Orwell meant by freedom, how they fought for it, and why that battle continues. Explanations are scattered throughout alternating chapters on each man, designed to provide parallel lives. Coverage is cradle to grave, with focus on the 1930s and 1940s. The book seems intended as either review for those familiar with both, or as an introduction for neophytes. It is best as review. Ricks’s thesis is that “Churchill helped give us the liberty we enjoy now. Orwell’s thinking about liberty affects how we think about it now.” In his “Afterword: The Path of Churchill and Orwell,” Ricks urges readers to walk that path.
Because available pages are insufficient for ample biographies, the intertwined narratives too often seem like erratic Cliffs Notes with odd inclusions and omissions. Unfortunately omitted are any discussions of Savrola, My Early Life, Marlborough, or even the Nobel committee’s explanation of Churchill’s Nobel Prize for literature. Coming up for Air is merely listed among “close to unreadable” fiction by Orwell.
The oddest inclusion, as companion to analysis of Homage to Catalonia, is two short paragraphs from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls quoting unpleasant characters without any attempt to distinguish between what they say and what the novel intends by including their remarks. Ricks ends his glance at Hemingway by quoting “Orwell’s friend Malcolm Muggeridge” dismissing Hemingway as “boozy, preoccupied with the image rather than the reality.” So much for Papa.
Susan Elia MacNeal, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, Bantam, 2015, 352 pages, $16. ISBN 978–0804178709
Worth Reading ***
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope Mystery series and is easily as good as, if not better than, the first four novels. Maggie is back as Churchill’s secretary and accompanies him on his post-Pearl Harbor visit to Washington. Churchill wants her not only for her typing and Special Operations Executive (SOE) training, but also to translate for him, as Maggie has been raised in America, and, in Churchill’s words, the United States and Great Britain are “Two nations divided by a common language.”
One of Mrs. Roosevelt’s young female secretaries is murdered early in the novel and made to look like a suicide. In the process of solving the murder, Maggie uncovers a plot by Southern isolationists to blackmail and tarnish the First Lady’s reputation with accusations of sexual improprieties on her part towards the dead secretary, who has seemingly left behind a damning suicide note claiming Mrs. Roosevelt’s behavior toward her was the reason she killed herself. There are also subplots involving the Nazis’ V-1 and V-2 rocket program, the pending execution in Virginia of an innocent black man wrongly convicted of murder, and—for good measure—a visit by Maggie’s former RAF lover to Hollywood to meet Walt Disney about making propaganda cartoons (and conveniently get her ex out of the way so Maggie can rekindle a romantic friendship with a journalist with whom she went to college).
邵力競 (Shao Lijing) 亂世領袖 學: 邱吉爾二戰英雄記 (Leadership in an Age of Turbulence: the Heroic Legacy of Winston Churchill in World War II), Enrich Publishing and Hong Kong Economic Journal, 2015, 254 pages, HK$118. ISBN 978–9888292653
Western writers have long explored the unique legacy of Winston Churchill. Chinese writer Shao Lijing takes a reflective approach, arguing that only when politicians learn the art of politicking itself can effective leadership be established for upholding democracy.
Born in Shanghai, Shao was educated in Hong Kong and earned his Ph.D. at Oxford. Previously he wrote a series of articles called 十四年亂象回顧 (The Reflection on Fourteen-Year Frenzied Phenomena). These articles analyze in depth the issues involved in the governing of Hong Kong. Shao suggests that Hong Kong’s leadership should borrow Churchill’s knowledge of statecraft and adapt it to today’s rapidly-changing and more challenging world, that people need to ponder how the British Parliament kept running even during the most difficult times of the War, and that historians and government officials need to rethink in what way the post-war powers were reconstructed, how colonialism and nationalism evolve, and what challenges democracy is facing today.
To find lessons in the most effective methods for running a democratic government facing a mortal threat, Shao examines Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War. For Shao, to learn the lessons of war is to avoid the actuality of war. He argues that wars in the 1920s, economic and political, led to the Second World War. Future tragedies can result if people do not now reflect upon the causes of these earlier conflicts. Taking the surrender of Singapore as an example, Shao suggests that many politicians in Hong Kong need to learn from Churchill and not act like “事後孔 明 [the wise man after the event]” (85).
Many Finest Hour readers will no doubt be familiar with François Kersaudy’s 1981 monograph Churchill and de Gaulle. As the most eminent Churchill scholar in France, Kersaudy has also widely published on the great man in French magazines, and his biography of Churchill in French (revised & enlarged in 2009) is unanimously regarded as the best in the language.
Professor Kersaudy did his thesis on the Norway Campaign of 1940 and has kept a life-long interest in Second World War studies— so much so that, in a way, he is himself the “passionate strategist,” which he sees in Churchill. Nobody is better qualified, therefore, to write the volume on Churchill as “Maître de Guerre”(master of war) in the series of the same name, which Kersaudy also co-edits.
Kersaudy does not quote Churchill’s reflection on the night of 10 May 1940, as given in the last paragraph of The Gathering Storm (“I felt…that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial”), but his chapters on 1940 to 1945 are entirely impregnated with this underlying idea, especially Chapter 8, concerning June to October 1940 and predictably titled “La plus belle heure” (the finest hour). Now the “strategist” was able to give full vent to his inspiration and intuitions.
“But this unequalled organiser, inventor, propagandist and tactician,” Kersaudy warns the reader, “doubles up as a disquieting strategist: confusing the desirable with the possible, neglecting logistics, immersing himself in details at the expense of the whole picture, this conductor of genius is constantly tempted to leave his rostrum to play the scores of the violinist or trumpeter. If most false notes were in fact avoided, it is only because this flamboyant maestro was surrounded by professionals who, if notably less inspired, were far more reflective.” Churchill’s team saved him from many errors.
Andrew Dewar Gibb, With Winston Churchill at the Front, Frontline Books, 2016, 256 pages, $39.95/£19.99. ISBN 978-1848324299
In the past few years renewed interest in Winston Churchill’s military career has been accompanied by publication of new books on his active service in Cuba in 1895, on the North-West Frontier of India in 1897, in Sudan in 1898, and in the Second Boer War, 1899– 1900. Frontline Books has done a signal service to Churchillians and military historians by returning to print an important contemporary account of Churchill’s frontline service in the Great War.
With Winston Churchill at the Front by “Captain X” (Andrew Dewar Gibb) was originally published in 1924 by Cowens & Gray, Ltd., as a small (3-1/4 by 6-3/8 inch) paperback priced at one shilling. Long out of print, first editions are now rare and priced in the hundreds of dollars. This reprint, however, is a handsome, hardcover book with a striking dust jacket. This is a welcome addition to the Churchill literature of an almost forgotten classic.
The new edition is much expanded from the original. There is a forward by Churchill’s great-grandson and ICS President Randolph Churchill and an introduction by Gibb’s son Nigel. Also included are excellent photographs and maps of “Plugstreet,” the area of the Western Front defended by the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers while under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Churchill from January through May 1916.
The current edition is divided into three parts. The first consists of four well-done essays written by John Grehan, a senior editor at Frontline Books. These set out Churchill’s army service in four earlier wars together with a capsule history of the Gallipoli Campaign, which led to his leaving the cabinet and rejoining the army to serve in France. Part II contains the original nine-chapter text written by Gibb. Part III provides a streamlined summary of Churchill’s political career from the time he left the front until he became prime minister. There is also a detailed “Visitor’s Guide to Plugstreet” for the modern traveller.
Jonathan Asbury, Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, Imperial War Museum, 2016, 224 pages, £30/$45. ISBN: 978–1904897491
Visiting the Churchill War Rooms is a powerful experience. The secrecy, urgency, and importance housed within the walls immediately surround and intoxicate your senses. Solemnly pacing the halls, peering into the map room, and perusing the exhibits gives you a feeling of their immense historical importance. You can almost smell wafts of Churchill’s cigar smoke as you contemplate how he and others like General Brooke and General Ismay directed the war. Replicating that experience with a book might prove a difficult task. Jonathan Asbury’s Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, however, does so with aplomb. Published by the Imperial War Museum, the book provides an informative and engaging account of life in Churchill’s bunker.
Asbury’s book joins the ranks of several other texts written on the subject including The Cabinet War Rooms (1996), The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms (2005), and more recently Richard Holmes’s final book, Churchill’s Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of the War (2011). Like those books, Asbury relies a great deal on the account of the first “inhouse” historian at the War Rooms, Peter Simkins. Asbury admirably pays respect to Simkins’s work, The Cabinet War Rooms (1968) in his acknowledgements and notes that Simkins himself “played a major role in the preservation and restoration of the site” (219). But as a testament to Asbury’s thoroughness and thoughtfulness, he reminds his readers of the role Nigel de Lee, a historian from the Royal Military Academy, played in preparing an unpublished history of the War Rooms. De Lee’s work informed both the accounts of Simkins and that of Jon Wenzel, the first Curator of the War Rooms, in his curation of the site right down to the correct furniture required.
Richard Toye, ed., Winston Churchill: Politics, Strategy and Statecraft, Bloomsbury, 2017, 231 pages, $29.95/£21.99. ISBN 978–1474263856
Readers of Finest Hour know better than anyone that there is no end to the outpouring of books about Winston Churchill, focussing on ever more obscure corners of his titanic life. This slim volume, on the contrary, seeks to encompass the most important elements of his whole career, not in another full-scale biography—there have surely been enough of those—but in fifteen short essays on different strands or themes.
It is not entirely clear who it is aimed at. It aspires simultaneously to be “suitable for those coming to Churchill for the first time” while also “providing new insights for those already familiar with his life.” But inevitably it falls between stools—too academic for the first category, but too brief to offer much to the second. It is best seen as a concise survey of how a number of distinguished scholars view Churchill today.
What is original, however, is that the endnotes provide full references to the papers held at Churchill College, Cambridge, now digitised and available online, while an e-book edition provides links to the original documents. So perhaps the real target audience is students. The fifteen essays are of variable quality. The first two or three, covering Churchill’s early career, are a bit perfunctory, adding little to the received picture, though Peter Catterall defends Churchill’s controversial 1925 decision as Chancellor of the Exchequer to put Britain back on the gold standard, arguing that it could have worked and was less responsible for provoking the general strike the following year than has often been alleged.
Nigel Hamilton, Commander in Chief: FDR’s Battle with Churchill , 1943, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 480 pages, $30.00. ISBN 978-0544279117
“I am everlastingly angry only at those who assert vociferously that the four freedoms and the Atlantic Charter are nonsense because they are unattainable. If these people had lived a century and a half ago they would have sneered and said that the Declaration of Independence was utter piffle.”
This 1943 statement by President Franklin Roosevelt is a stellar example of visionary rhetoric and is one of many examples of FDR’s drive to use the Four Freedoms (Freedom of Speech and Worship; Freedom from Want and Fear) as his compass to lead the war effort. In his latest book on Roosevelt during the Second World War, Nigel Hamilton continues his quest to give FDR his “day in literary court.”
This engaging read is Hamilton’s second volume (Mantle of Command being the first and reviewed in FH 168) investigating Roosevelt’s continued maturation into the role of commander in chief. Hamilton’s narrative goes beyond Roosevelt’s challenges commanding the US war effort. This account captures the myriad trials associated with galvanizing world leaders toward a vision of the post-war world. FDR used notions that, although they may have been novel at the time, have now been accepted as foundational for organizations such as the United Nations and NATO. Thus, this latest account engagingly describes a seminal moment in world history created by a dynamic leader, which changed the world permanently.
Churchillstarring Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson, written by Alex Von Tunzelmann, directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, released by Lionsgate Films: June 2017
Historical dramas require some artistic license. The events of several days, months, or years must be compressed into a viewable timespan. In assessing such films, the reviewer should ask two questions: 1) Does the story remain true to the historical framework? and 2) Does it entertain? Sadly this Churchill fails on both counts.
With regards to accuracy, much can be forgiven up to a point. Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, and The King’s Speech all won the Best Picture Oscar as dramas that entertained while remaining within the essential framework of history. Directors Mel Gibson and Oliver Stone have shown that even when that framework is willfully disregarded, the results can still sometimes make compelling viewing. Alas, Churchill, starring Brian Cox in the title role, commits the greatest of all cinematic sins: it’s boring.
A film about the events leading up to the Normandy invasion in June 1944 should not want for drama, but a low budget, indifferent acting, uninspiring direction, and—above all—a hopelessly insipid script have made it so. It is incredible to think that this is intended to be a theatrical release and not simply a made-for-television movie.
The producers were so anxious to save money that there are only about a dozen speaking parts. None of what is spoken comes from the Churchill canon. Rather than pay a license fee to the estate, the filmmakers opted for phony, pseudo-Churchill speeches. For once we have a film about the D-Day landings that includes no action scenes from the beaches, not even stock newsreel footage. The most aggressive moment on screen comes when an angry Churchill swipes his breakfast off the table.
125 Years ago
Spring 1892 • Age 17
“His Quick and Dashing Attack”
Winston ’s parents knew of his interest in fencing, but he modestly downplayed his talents, telling his father in a mid-February letter, “I am getting on with my fencing and hope, with luck, to be school champion.” A month later he wrote his mother: “I am awfully excited about the fencing which comes off on Tuesday. I know I shall get beaten yet…!”
On 24 March, Winston wrote his mother, telling her that he had “won the Fencing” at Harrow and received a “very fine cup.” His earlier modesty was cast aside as he went on to say, “I was far and away the first. Absolutely untouched in the finals.” He had also written to his father about it, and Lord Randolph replied on 25 March: “I congratulate you on your success. I only hope fencing will not too much divert your attention from the army class.” His father enclosed a twopound note “with which you will be able to make a present to yr fencing master.”
Winning the fencing championship at Harrow meant that Winston would represent his school at the all-Public Schools gymnastic, boxing, and fencing competition to be held at Aldershot in early April. He wrote to his father on 27 March asking him if he would be able to attend, as “I would so much like you to go.” Unfortunately, he also asked his father if he “could send me a sovereign for myself,” since it “would be great service in making up my accounts.”
Title page of the National Churchill Museum manuscript
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
An eleven-page essay by Winston Churchill entitled “Are We Alone in the Universe?” in the archives of the National Churchill Museum has developed into an international news story that revealed Churchill was clearly open to the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on other planets.
Churchill drafted his first version of the essay in 1939 and then revised the text slightly in the 1950s. The manuscript of the revised version was among four boxes of materials that were donated to the museum some thirty years ago by Wendy Reves, widow of Churchill literary agent Emery Reves. There it sat unnoticed until its rediscovery last year.
Seeking insights about the validity or the accuracy of Churchill’s astronomical perspective, Timothy Riley, Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum, provided the essay to Westminster science faculty as well as renowned astrophysicist Mario Livio, during his Hancock Symposium lecture at Westminster College last fall.
Excitement grew when Livio and the Westminster science faculty expressed great amazement over Churchill’s faith in science and his belief in potential alien life on other planets. Riley gave support to Livio, who wrote an extensive article about the essay for the 16 February 2017 issue of Nature, the prestigious science journal.
The article touched off an avalanche of news stories in the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, The Huffington Post, U.S. News and World Report, The Guardian, the South China Morning Post, the Times of Israel, El Universio, and El Diario and was carried by the newsagencies Reuters, Agence France-Press (AFP), AFP Japan, and Xinhua, the official news agency of the People’s Republic of China. And the story continued to grow.
Newsweek, Smithsonian, the Christian Science Monitor, The Independent, The Times of London, and hundreds of other publications began using the news story, followed by regional, national, and international broadcast outlets from NBC and Fox News to NPR and the BBC, as well as Yahoo and dozens of major online news portals worldwide. Read More >
The Wall Street Journal Featured Review
By Arthur Herman, Pulitzer Prize nominee for “Gandhi and Churchill”
“Lewis Lehrman’s “Churchill, Roosevelt & Company” offers a detailed look at the special relationship, especially during World War II, when Anglo-American cooperation achieved its most impressive results and faced its most formidable challenges. The book is packed with fascinating detail and illuminates not only the past but the challenges of the present day. The subtitle is “Studies in Character and Statecraft”: Mr. Lehrman makes it clear that, in geopolitics, the two go together.”
Synthesizing an impressive variety of sources from memoirs and letters to histories and biographies, Lewis Lehrman explains how the Anglo-American alliance worked–and occasionally did not work–by presenting portraits and case studies of the men who worked the back channels and back rooms, the secretaries and under secretaries, ambassadors and ministers, responsible for carrying out Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s agendas while also pursuing their own and thwarting others’. Scrupulous in its research and fair in its judgments, Lehrman’s book reveals the personal diplomacy at the core of the Anglo-American alliance.
In peace and in war, Abraham Lincoln became a master of his craft by intense study. Military historian T. Harry Williams argued that President Lincoln was “a great natural strategist, a better one than any of his generals.” But the commander-in-chief had also studied the works of great military strategists in books drawn from the Library of Congress. As President during the Civil War, Lincoln found himself in uncharted territory—legally and militarily. He needed to feel and study his way into both spheres.1 General Grant wrote in his memoirs of Lincoln: “All he wanted, or had ever wanted was someone who would take the responsibility and act, and call on him for all the assistance necessary, pledging himself to use all the power of the government in rendering such assistance.”2
The presidency of Abraham Lincoln began and ended in a civil war of national survival. The first prime ministership of Winston S. Churchill began and ended in a global war of national survival. Churchill had inherited his war. Lincoln’s war had not yet begun when he took office. Many generals in America and Britain scoffed at the military strategy and tactics of Lincoln and Churchill. Both proved essentially sound in their strategy of deploying an anaconda-like armed embrace of the enemy to squeeze the life from it. Subordinates would chafe at their suggestions.
Developing a Strategy
T he reality of the Civil War presented itself as largely an ad hoc affair—necessarily with ad hoc strategy and tactics. Corelli Barnett wrote of Lincoln: “Unlike Churchill in 1940, he had no previous experience as a member of a wartime administration. Unlike Churchill again, he had never taken a deep interest in military and naval history.”3 Yet during the first year of the war, Lincoln developed his own strategy for a coordinated series of actions in both the eastern and western United States, which he defined in a letter to General Don Carlos Buell: “I state my general idea of this war to be that we have the greater numbers, and the enemy has the greater facility of concentrating forces upon points of collision; that we must fail, unless we can find some way of making our advantage an over-match for his; and that this can only be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points, at the same time; so that we can safely attack, one, or both, if he makes no change; and if he weakens one to strengthen the other, forbear to attack the strengthened one, but seize, and hold the weakened one, gaining so much.”4
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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.