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.
The estate of film legend Vivien Leigh (below left) will go under the hammer this summer at Sotheby’s in London. The auction brings to light a little known but exceptionally fine painting by Winston Churchill (below right), which he presented as a gift to his favorite actress.
Depicting roses from the garden at Chartwell displayed in a glass vase, the still life may have been done in the 1930s and given to Leigh in the late 40s or early 50s. The actress treasured it so much that she hung it on the wall opposite her bed. In her own words: “Whenever I feel particularly low or depressed I look at those three rosebuds. The thought and the friendship in the painting is such a great encouragement to me…and I have the determination to go on.”
Leigh’s friendship with Churchill ran deeper than many people knew, as attested to by a 1957 letter in which Churchill secretly promised to donate money to the St James’ Theatre, which the actress was trying to save at the time. And it seems Churchill himself inspired Leigh to take up painting, after he gave her an inscribed copy of his book Painting as a Pastime. Both the letter and book are included in the sale.
Giles Milton, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat, Picador, 2017, 368 pages, $28.00. ISBN 978–1250119025
At the start of his book, Giles Milton, a renown British journalist and author, appropriately quotes from the famous Second World War film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: “Clive, my dear fellow, this is not a gentleman’s war. This is a life-and-death struggle. You are fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by a human brain—Nazism. And if you lose there won’t be a return match next year, perhaps not even for a hundred years!”
Morality aside, fighting a war to a successful conclusion against a determined enemy such as Nazi Germany, was never going to be anything but a difficult and dirty business. Sometimes it required extraordinary means to achieve the ends desired, but one always remained cognizant of the enemy’s capacity to do worse. In the final analysis, the parameters of the conflict, in terms of morality, had already been breached by Hitler’s legions, as they cut a path of destruction and genocide through Europe. Winston Churchill recognized that war’s tactics involved more than moving a few division markers across the maps within the Cabinet War Rooms. He understood that to bring Hitler to heel he needed to use whatever offbeat methods and tactics could be invented (or dreamed up) to achieve this end; hence the so-called “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”
Jonathan Black, Winston Churchill in British Art, 1900 to the Present Day: The Titan with Many Faces, Bloomsbury, 2017,287 pages, £25.
Even in the twenty-first century, Winston Churchill remains a dominant figure in the political realm, a benchmark against which any budding leader of the Conservative Party must first measure up, before hurtling into the fray that is the House of Commons. But Churchill also had a sensitive side to his character. He was a keen artist, painting landscapes invested with light and colour, and forming close friendships with other artists, including Walter Sickert and Oscar Nemon. Politics, painting, and sculpture often intersected in Churchill’s life. He took lessons from the Chicago-born artist Hazel Lavery, and had his portrait painted by her husband, the hugely successful Irish artist John Lavery. Painted in 1915, Lavery’s portrait of Churchill (Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin) is one of the artist’s best works. Bleak and uncompromising, it shows a young man, full of ambition but weighed down by the responsibilities he faced as First Lord of the Admiralty—a position from which he resigned in May of that year, as a result of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign.
Lavery’s portrait is one of the first illustrations in a handsome book by Jonathan Black, Winston Churchill in British Art, 1900 to the Present Day, which documents the many representations of the British leader created both during and after his lifetime. Friendship with Hazel and John Lavery remained important to Churchill throughout the 1920’s; they played a key role in providing a communications link between the British and Irish sides during the negotiations that led to the founding of the Irish Free State—so much so that a portrait of Hazel by her husband John adorned Irish banknotes for much of the twentieth century. The 1915 Churchill portrait was followed a year later by one painted by another successful Irish artist in London, William Orpen, and commissioned by Lord Rothermere.
The roles in the Second World War of the leaders of the two English-speaking nations, Churchill and Roosevelt, have inevitably been much studied. But even proponents of the Great Man theory of history must acknowledge that the successful outcome of the war was made possible by a cast of supporting players—advisers, emissaries, military leaders, industrialists, as well as experts in numerous fields, not to speak of the many soldiers. These secondary characters make brief appearances in the histories of the war and the biographies of the leaders. It is the goal of Lewis E. Lehrman’s book to bring them into the foreground and provide character sketches of them. It is good to have the more important of these men presented in detail, including their physical infirmities, as these affected their meetings and deliberations.
Having read widely, Lehrman often quotes various sources at key junctures. This book therefore provides a helpful digest of the scholarly literature in this field. It usually does not quote from primary sources—diaries, memoranda, letters, interviews—and therefore has no startling new information. Nor does it aim to do so; Lehrman confines himself to offering a compendium of received wisdom about the personages discussed.
John Harte, How Churchill Saved Civilization: The Epic Story of 13 Years That Almost Destroyed the Civilized World, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017, 384 pages, $24.99. ISBN 978–1510712379
How Churchill Saved Civilization is John Harte’s first history book after a career that began as an underage RAF volunteer during the Second World War and later included stints as a journalist and playwright in the UK and South Africa and work in the advertising industry. His “Author’s Preface” sets a lofty goal explaining that the book “is intended to resolve the lingering mysteries about the circumstances that caused the Second World War and what transpired.” Harte, who now lives in Ottawa, tees up a wide range of questions such as, “How did it happen?”; “Why were the Allies unprepared?”; “What were the Nazis really up to?” and what he calls “the inevitable Jewish question.” He boldly announces, “This book was designed to answer all of them.
The effort of any first-time author should be respected, but the result in this case is mostly superficial, and the book quickly dissolves into a meandering, unfocused, and fairly prosaic account of the international history of the 1930s and 40s with an emphasis on the military campaigns of the Second World War. The title is misleading since, while Churchill appears periodically in many of the book’s twenty-eight chapters, he by no means fills the narrative. The author flits through so many subjects that the book ends up, like Churchill’s pudding, having “no theme” and failing to live up to its ambitious title.
David Owen, Cabinet’s Finest Hour: The Hidden Agenda of May 1940, Haus Publishing, 2016, 276 pages, £18.99.
It has become quite a trend for senior British politicians in their retirement to turn to writing history. Following the example of Roy Jenkins, Cabinet veterans Douglas Hurd, William Hague, Roy Hattersley, and others have produced books of some distinction. Some years ago David Owen— Foreign Secretary for two years in the 1970s, but a neurologist before entering politics—brought his medical training to bear in an interesting and original book entitled In Sickness and in Power examining the effect of ill health, usually covered up, on heads of government over the past hundred years, ranging from Churchill and Roosevelt through Anthony Eden and John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush and Tony Blair. In the last two cases he diagnosed, in relation to the Iraq war, a condition he called “Hubris Syndrome,” which he has been trying to popularise ever since. His latest book, disguised as history, is in reality a renewal of his indictment of Blair by means of a clumsily-constructed revisiting of the discussion of possible peace terms in Churchill’s War Cabinet in May 1940.
The ostensible starting-point of the book is that Churchill, in writing his history of the war, glossed over these discussions by asserting that “the supreme question of whether we should fight on alone never found a place on the War Cabinet agenda.” Though literally true, this was, as has long been recognised, seriously misleading, since the six-man War Cabinet did in fact, over nine meetings in three days between 26 and 28 May, wrestle with the question of how to respond to the proposal of Paul Reynaud, the French Prime Minister, to ask Mussolini to broker some sort of peace settlement before France collapsed, leaving Hitler free to launch the invasion of Britain. Churchill was determined not to be dragged down any such slippery slope but to fight on alone; but his position as a new Prime Minister widely mistrusted by much of his own Conservative party was precarious. Lord Halifax, as Foreign Secretary, was still anxious to explore every possible Read More >
Larry P. Arnn and Martin Gilbert, eds., The Churchill Documents, Volume 19, Fateful Questions: September 1943 to April 1944, Hillsdale College Press, 2017, 2752, $60.
The latest volume of the Churchill War Papers gives us a day-to-day picture of the prime minister at a crucial moment for him, and for Britain. In September 1943, Britain was still, in terms of forces engaged, the dominant partner in the Anglo-American alliance. Churchill (and Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff) had imposed a Mediterranean focus on alliance strategy, pushing the cross channel assault (which both dreaded) back until 1944. And that strategy had yielded the hoped-for results. Italy had been knocked out of the war; the Mediterranean was again open to traffic, easing the strain (which had reached crisis proportions) on allied shipping resources. The prospect of conquering most of peninsular Italy, bringing southern and eastern Germany, as well as the Reich’s Balkan satellites, within range of allied heavy bombers, beckoned. So did opportunities further east such as seizing Italian islands in the Aegean, seen as a preliminary to rallying Turkey to the allied cause, feeding the insurrections already burgeoning in Greece and Yugoslavia and perhaps causing the defections of Germany’s nervous Balkan allies. It was a heady moment. Seven months later these dreams lay in ruins. The Italian campaign had stagnated in the face of daunting terrain and a determined, wellconducted German defense. Churchill’s attempt to jump start it (Operation Shingle, the Anzio landing)—its mounting the result of an heroic effort by a man who had just come back from death’s door due to pneumonia—had itself stalled, the victim of lackluster American generalship. The attempt to seize Aegean islands, Churchill’s special project in September 1943, had ended in the last significant victory the Wehrmacht won over Britain. Turkey remained stubbornly neutral. The Balkan satellites remained in Germany’s orbit. Above all Britain and its leader, despite still fielding more troops, very clearly were now the junior partners in the Grand Alliance.
125 Years ago
Summer 1892 • Age 17 “I Shall Think about Putting Him in Business”
Throughout his long life, Winston was often his own worst enemy. It began at an early age. The summer of 1892 for Winston is best known for his first failure to pass the entrance exams to Sandhurst. Yet on 30 June, the day after he finished the exams, he wrote a characteristically optimistic letter to his father (“I did very well”) about the marks he believed he had achieved in the exams on the last day.
In the event, success eluded him. The total points for all eight subjects were 12,000, and the minimum passing score was 6457 or roughly 54%. Winston’s score was 5100 or 42.5%. He fell below a passing mark on six of the eight exams. The only two subjects in which he was above the average were French (1218 of 2000 or 61%) and English Composition (305 of 500 or 61%). Out of 693 candidates, only the top ninety passed the exams. Winston placed 390th.
Important New Work by National Humanities Medal Recipient Lewis E. Lehrman
“Lewis E. Lehrman’s arresting and deeply researched study of the Anglo-American alliance during the Second World War brilliantly establishes how Roosevelt and Churchill … found and relied on the right people …. Rich in historical immediacy, Churchill, Roosevelt & Company demonstrates how generals, diplomats, spies, businessmen, economists, and other key figures served the needs of both Prime Minister and President in their unyielding defense of democratic government.” – Prof. Richard Carwardine, Rhodes Professor of American History at Oxford University
“Lewis E. Lehrman demonstrates an almost uncanny feel for all the senior personalities around Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Second World War; he understands their characters, viewpoints, and motives … coupled with an impressively objective judiciousness ….[the book is] well researched, well-written, and profoundly thoughtful …” – Prof. Andrew Roberts, King’s College, London, author of Masters and Commanders and Storm of War.
“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 Read More >
Specialized Churchill bookseller Barry Singer directed a query by Churchill collector Michael Barrington to me regarding the colour of the endpapers on copies of his one-volume edition of The River War (Longmans Green, 1902). Mr. Barrington was understandably concerned that the white endpapers were not original, as I had described the binding in my Bibliography as having coated black endpapers [see Cohen A2.2], and their appearance might have reflected the rebinding or other alteration of a copy of the abridged edition.
Let me first remind readers of a few points regarding Churchill’s second work, which chronicled his time as a war correspondent attached to the 21st Lancers, one of the regiments despatched to join Kitchener’s forces in the re-conquest of Sudan. Churchill left London on 27 July 1898 to board a ship at Marseilles bound for Egypt, where he arrived on 2 August, with a Morning Post contract to report on the conflict (at £15 per despatch). He filed the first of his fifteen letters to the paper on 8 August (it was published on 31 August) and the fourth on 2 September, describing the famous Cavalry charge at Omdurman (which was published on 23 September). By the time he had filed his sixth letter, he had determined to write a book on the campaign (which he dubbed the “River War”) and which lasted from April 1896 through February 1899.
Within weeks after his resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty in the aftermath of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign in 1915, a despondent Winston Churchill—together with his younger brother Jack and sisterin-law Gwendeline Churchill—rented a cottage at Hoe Farm in Surrey. “I had great anxiety and no means of relieving it,” he recalled in his 1921 essay “Painting as a Pastime.” With Gwendeline’s encouragement, Churchill found relief: in painting. For the rest of his life—at home, on holiday, and even, occasionally, on the battlefield—Churchill’s oils were rarely far from hand. Painting was a joy and a consolation, a source of sustenance and an intellectual challenge.
Among Churchill’s nearly 600 canvases, two of them, created nearly thirty years apart, reveal Churchill’s affection for—indirectly and directly—the Royal Navy. A close examination of these two canvases may reveal something more: nostalgia.
Portrait of Lady Churchill at the Launching of HMS Indomitable, is Churchill’s affectionate portrait of his wife Clementine. Likely created in 1955 (Indomitable was sold for scrap that same year), the painting hangs at Chartwell today. The work is a striking and nostalgic painting of Clementine looking resplendent in a sumptuous hat. Clementine’s joyous face is surrounded by rough-hewn background, giving the canvas an unfinished look. To create the composition, Churchill used a projector to enlarge one of his favorite photographs. The image was projected— in reverse of the original—onto the canvas, allowing Churchill to make a faithful, albeit larger, copy of the photo. The photograph was taken on 26 March 1940, the day Clementine formally christened HMS Read More >
In his war memoirs, Winston Churchill wrote of the danger in the Atlantic: “Besides the constant struggle with the U-boats, surface raiders had already cost us over three-quarters of a million tons of shipping. The two enemy battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Hipper remained poised at Brest under the protection of their powerful A. A. batteries, and no one could tell when they would again molest our trade routes. By the middle of May  there were signs that the new Battleship Bismarck, possibly accompanied by the new 8-inch-gun cruiser Prinz Eugen, would soon be thrown into the fight.”1
Based on naval intelligence, Churchill knew the German battleship was a fast and powerful vessel and the most heavily armored ship afloat. The Bismarck had eight 15-inch guns in four turrets, two fore and two aft. It also had eighty-one smaller guns, mostly anti-aircraft.
The Bismarck also had a special anti-torpedo belt made of nickel-chrome steel, which the Germans believed would ensure that no torpedo in use by the British could penetrate. With some reason, Germans were convinced that the Bismarck was nearly unsinkable.
Both in his second stint as First Lord and then as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Winston Churchill refused to leave the waging of the war at sea to the admirals alone. Rather he sought to impose his imprint on the navy. With Churchillian energy, he suggested strategy and tactics, argued with his admirals in meetings that dragged into the early morning hours, proposed schemes and operations, rained signals on admirals at sea, and allowed no detail no matter how small to escape his attention. At every turn, he encouraged the offensive and did not hesitate to prod the navy’s flag officers. He badgered those he thought lacking in fire, sacked or sidelined those who had incurred his wrath, respected those who had proven ability even if they disagreed with him, and promoted those he admired. Churchill’s relationship with the senior admirals illustrates the long and difficult, but ultimately victorious, struggle in the war at sea.
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound
“My trusted naval friend.”1
Churchill inherited Pound as First Sea Lord upon taking office as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1939, but quickly grew to like and trust the rather dour old admiral who lacked charisma. He thought Pound, although cautious, had the best brain in the navy.2
After announcing the declaration of war on 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appointed Winston Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty. This had been the position held by Churchill when the First World War began a quarter of a century earlier. In 1914 Churchill took a typically proactive role, drafting signals and having a problematical relationship with his First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Royal Navy, Lord Fisher. This culminated in a very public clash over the Dardanelles campaign in 1915 and marked a major reverse in Churchill’s career.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s, Churchill fought a campaign against the Admiralty’s shipbuilding plans. He seemed much more interested in the Royal Air Force than the Royal Navy when he adopted rearmament as a cause in the 1930s. Only late in the decade did Lord Chatfield, the First Sea Lord masterminding naval rearmament, mobilise Churchill to the navy’s cause by granting him access to secrets and obtaining his support for a successful campaign to bring the Fleet Air Arm under full naval control. Given this somewhat chequered record, the signal “Winston is back!”—often believed but not proven to have been sent out to the fleet in 1939— would have been as much a warning to senior officers as a morale booster for the younger generation.
A Privilege and Honour
Churchill was visibly moved by his return to the Admiralty. Third Sea Lord Bruce Fraser remembered: “As he took the First Lord’s chair in the famous Board Room, Churchill was filled with emotion. To a few words of welcome from the First Sea Lord [Sir Dudley Pound], he replied by saying what a privilege and honour it was to be again in that chair, that there were many difficulties together we would overcome. He surveyed critically each of us in turn and then, adding he would see us all later on, he adjourned the meeting, ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘to your tasks and duties.’”1
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On this day in 1940, Winston Churchill gave to the House of Commons what many consider to be his most famous speech: "Their Finest Hour". This speech was made following France’s armistice, and espoused British national survival in the face of Nazi tyranny.
This speech can be read in full in Winston Churchill’s "The War Speeches", found in the first volume "Into Battle" (which was published in the U.S. and Canada under the title "Blood, Sweat and Tears"). We have many fine copies of "The War Speeches", including a newly acquired, Churchill-signed copy that can be found on our website by searching "208643".
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.