Pressure by David Haig premiered in Edinburgh in 2014 and played at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, through 1 September 2018.
Jane Flaherty teaches history at Texas A&M University.
Pressure brings to life the taut, dramatic days before the launch of Operation Overlord. At the Southwick House headquarters in Portsmouth, England, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower has assembled the Allies’ leading strategists to finalize plans for the cross-channel D-Day invasion. Included in the team are weather trackers led by American Colonel Irvin P. Krick and Scotsman Dr. James Stagg, portrayed with great intensity by the playwright himself David Haig. Keeping the group coordinated and Eisenhower focused during these tense days is Lieutenant Kay Summersby, Eisenhower’s driver, confidential assistant, and alleged paramour.
The play opens on Friday, 2 June 1944, with Stagg’s arrival at his spare room. Stagg complains to Summersby that he does not have all the “urgent” equipment he requested. “Everything, Dr. Stagg, is urgent,” she replies coolly in the most understated moment of the play. Indeed, “7,000 vessels, 160,000 ground troops, 200,000 naval personnel, 15 hospital ships, 8,000 doctors, and 4 airborne divisions” await Eisenhower’s signal to go, and Ike demands accurate forecasts from the team of meteorologists every four to six hours to fix the timing of the attack.
The Renault FT-17 French tank, on display at the National World War I Museum, Kansas City
Finest Hour 182, Fall 2018
By Megan Spilker
Megan Spilker is Social Media Manager at the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
For the past four years, the centenary of the Great War, I have been managing social media content for the National World War I Museum of the United States in Kansas City, Missouri. The challenge of the job is holding the attention of more than 150,000 followers. The 24/7 business of reaching new audiences with bite-sized history works best when we combine pithy quotes with vibrant imagery in a steady flow of articles that keep our younger demographic engaged and interested in learning about an often-forgotten war and people like Churchill, who survived the experience and learned from it.
The complex legacy of soldier-statesman Winston Churchill during the First World War is not easy to share in 280 characters or less, but our collection shows snippets of his experience through objects and documents from the Royal Navy (which he oversaw in 1914–15) and photographs from the Royal Scots Fusiliers (with which he served in 1916). A clipping from The Sydney Mail in 1916, for instance, declares: Read More >
Susan Elia MacNeil, The Prisoner in the Castle: A Maggie Hope Mystery, Bantam, 2018, 320 pages, $26. ISBN 978-0399593826 Portrayal *** Worth Reading ***
Michael McMenamin and his son Patrick are co-authors of the Winston Churchill Thrillers The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, The Gemini Agenda, The Berghof Betrayal, and The Silver Mosaic.
The Prisoner in the Castle is the eighth Maggie Hope Mystery. This one has Maggie a prisoner in a castle on a remote Scottish island where the government confines Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents who know too much. It is 12 November 1942 when the novel begins, and Maggie has been there since 22 June 1942. The book is vague as to what exactly Maggie knows, but it includes “The secret of Pas-de-Calais and Normandy and the invasion of occupied Europe.” Well, Maggie does not really know about Normandy because in June 1942 the selection of Normandy as the location for the invasion of Europe had not been made and was not to be made until late 1943 after the Tehran Conference.
Nigel West, Churchill’s Spy Files: MI5’s Top Secret Wartime Reports, The History Press, 2018, 464 pages, $35/£25. ISBN 978–0750985499
David Stafford is author of Churchill and Secret Service (1997), Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets (2000), and Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943–1945, the official history (2011).
In April 1943, as the North African campaign approached its climax in Tunisia, MI5, Britain’s Security Service, began sending monthly reports on its activities to the Prime Minister. Churchill and secret intelligence had been companions-in-arms for most of his political career. As Home Secretary before the First World War, he authorized the use of general warrants for the clandestine opening of the suspected mail and presided over the passing of a draconian Official Secrets Act. At the Admiralty in 1914 he created Room 40, its code breaking operation, and delighted in reading its reports. Since becoming prime minister in May 1940, he had regularly been receiving the products of its successor operation based at Bletchley Park. Its “Ultra” reports based on intercepts were delivered to him personally each day by Sir Stewart Menzies, head of the Secret Intelligence Service.
Matthew S. Seligmann, Rum, Sodomy, Prayers, & the Lash Revisited: Winston Churchill and Social Reform in the Royal Navy, 1900–1915, Oxford University Press, 2018, 183 pages, £60/$78 (hardcover). ISBN 978–0198759973
W. Mark Hamilton is author of The Nation and the Navy: Methods and Organization of British Naval Propaganda, 1889–1914 (1986).
Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915 was not the archconservative politician he is sometimes thought of as today. In fact, in the period before the First World War, Churchill was viewed by his contemporaries as a social reformer and agent for change.
Arriving at the Admiralty in October 1911, Churchill announced an interest in pursuing needed naval reforms, but the Lords of the Admiralty objected that these would violate Royal Navy traditions. “Naval tradition?” the First Lord supposedly challenged. Although Churchill denied ever having said it, a secondhand account credits him with labeling the traditions in question as “nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers, and the lash.” Historian Matthew Seligmann transforms this famous if disputed riposte into the outline for his book, examining how each of the four social issues affected the Navy and Churchill’s addressed them as First Lord. There is also an opening section on “pay, promotion, and democratization.”
Jill Rose, Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill’s Nurse, Amberley Publishing, 2018, 286 pages, £18.99. ISBN 978–1445677347
Katherine Anne Carter is Project Curator and Collections Manager at Chartwell.
The prospect of another medical history of Churchill is one we might initially approach with caution. A previous history of Churchill in this vein was said to be a breach of patient confidentiality and remains contentious to this day. So how does Nursing Churchill compare?
From the outset, it is clear that the intentions of Doris Miles, the woman who nursed Churchillback to health from life-threatening pneumonia in 1943, were very different from other authors’, including those rumoured to have written notes on their sleeve-cuffs during time spent with the patient so as to write up memoirs at a later date. Miles’s letters were intended as a private correspondence, but through this book her words and memories of her time with Prime Minister Churchill have been preserved and can now be shared. Author Jill Rose is the daughter of Miles, and she approaches the subject with due care and sensitivity. Rose cleverly moves from introducing Churchill to describing international events, outlining their impact on the home front, and then relaying how the unique circumstances of war positioned her mother at the ready when Churchill’s physicians sought out skilled nursing care to aid his recovery.
Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny, Viking, 1105 pages, $40/£35. ISBN 978–1101980996
John Campbell’s books include major biographies of Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath, and the official biography of Roy Jenkins
Given his publisher’s claim that there have already been more than a thousand biographies of Churchill, not counting hundreds of specialist studies ranging from his war leadership to his taste in cigars, one’s first reaction to Andrew Roberts producing another thousand-page biography is incredulity. Can there really be anything new to discover or say? It is as if Churchill has become the Everest, which all biographers feel they must tackle before they hang up their pen, like great actors crowning their career by playing King Lear. Roy Jenkins wrote the last major biography when he was nearly eighty on the back of an equally substantial life of Gladstone; Roberts comes to him just four years after knocking off Napoleon. (But Roberts is only fifty-five, so one wonders where he can go next.) On the other hand, Jenkins has held the field for seventeen years, so maybe it is time for a big new reassessment for a new generation. If so, Roberts has risen magnificently to the challenge. Jenkins’ book was an elegant tour-de-force of interpretation, but based almost entirely on his reading of the existing published sources, shrewdly refracted through a lifetime’s experience of politics. Roberts by contrast is a professional historian whose thorough research draws on a far wider range of sources, old and new. As a result, he has managed to assemble an enormous mountain of detail that will be fresh even to seasoned Churchillians.
125 Years Ago
Autumn 1893 • Age 19 “Sandhurst Has Done Wonders for Him”
Once Winston was at Sandhurst, Lord Randolph’s previously caustic attitude towards his son appears to have softened. After taking Winston to Tring, Lord Rothschild’s country estate, Lord Randolph wrote a letter on 24 October to his mother Frances, the Duchess of Marlborough: “I took Winston to Tring on Saturday….He has much smartened up. He holds himself quite upright and he has got steadier. The people at Tring took a great deal of notice of him but [he] was very quiet & nice-mannered. Sandhurst has done wonders for him. Up to now he has had no bad marks for conduct & I trust that it will continue to the end of term. I paid his mess bill for him…so that his next allowance might not be [encroached] upon. I think he deserved it.”
While there is no record that he ever had Lord Randolph’s new-found sentiments expressed to him directly, Winston nonetheless appreciated his father’s changed attitude and wrote in My Early Life that “Once I became a gentleman cadet I acquired a new status in my father’s eyes, I was entitled when on leave to go about with him, if it was not inconvenient.” This included “Tring, where most of the leaders and a selection of the rising men of the Conservative Party were often assembled,” and meeting Lord Randolph’s racing friends, who provided “a different company and new topics of conversation which proved equally entertaining.”
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, 3 vols. (2006).
This is a behind-the-scenes article. It focuses not on the content of The World Crisis (which former Prime Minister A. J. Balfour described as “Winston’s brilliant Autobiography, disguised as a history of the universe”) but rather on how that multi-volume history of the Great War—Churchill’s twelfth work—came to be published in both the UK and the USA.
As an established author, Winston Churchill had had a number of publishing relationships on both sides of the Atlantic, some of which were more enduring than others. His first was with Longmans Green, which had published his first five books (from the The Story of the Malakand Field Force to Ian Hamilton’s March) in both London and New York between 1898 and 1900. Then, after a brief fling with Macmillan (which had overpaid for the rights to Lord Randolph Churchill), Churchill moved to Hodder & Stoughton in London between 1908 and 1910 for the publication of My African Journey and the speech volumes Liberalism and the Social Problem and the now exceedingly rare The People’s Rights.
Churchill on an inspection as Minister of Munitions Photo: Imperial War Museum
Finest Hour 182, Fall 2018
By Tim Riley
Timothy Riley is Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum.
I was a minister at the time of the Versailles Treaty and a close friend of Mr. Lloyd George, who was the head of the British delegation at Versailles. I did not myself agree with many things that were done, but I have a very strong impression in my mind of that situation, and I find it painful to contrast it with that which prevails now. In those days there were high hopes and unbounded confidence that the wars were over, and that the League of Nations would become all-powerful. I do not see or feel that same confidence or even the same hopes in the haggard world at the present time.
On the other hand I repulse the idea that a new war is inevitable; still more that it is imminent. It is because I am sure that our fortunes are still in our own hands and that we hold the power to save the future, that I feel the duty to speak out now that I have the occasion and the opportunity to do so.
In his memoirs of the First World War published as The World Crisis, Winston Churchill vividly recalls the scene he witnessed at the moment the Armistice took effect.
I t was a few minutes before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I stood at the window of my room looking up Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square, waiting for Big Ben to tell that the War was over. My mind strayed back across the scarring years to the scene and emotions of the night at the Admiralty when I listened for these same chimes in order to give the signal of war against Germany to our Fleets and squadrons across the world. And now all was over! The unarmed and untrained island nation, who with no defence but its Navy had faced unquestioningly the strongest manifestation of military power in human record, had completed its task. Our country had emerged from the ordeal alive and safe, its vast possessions intact, its war effort still waxing, its institutions unshaken, its people and Empire united as never before. Victory had come after all the hazards and heartbreaks in an absolute and unlimited form. All the Kings and Emperors with whom we had warred were in flight or exile. All their Armies and Fleets were destroyed or subdued. In this Britain had borne a notable part, and done her best from first to last.
The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors by Sir William Orpen, 1919
Finest Hour 182, Fall 2018
By Peter Clarke
Peter Clarke is author of Mr. Churchill’s Profession (2012) and former Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
Today, whenever major political leaders come to the end of their careers, we have learned to expect an announcement at no distant point that a contract has been signed for the publication of their memoirs, with large advances mentioned. A hundred years ago, there was no such expectation. Indeed the Armistice can be seen as triggering the inception of a golden century in the modern memoirs industry, signing up authors with the usual motives of political vindication and— not least—financial reward. In this respect, as in many others, Winston Churchill was a pioneer. Moreover, the five volumes that he published under the title The World Crisis (1923–29)—there was later a sixth on the Eastern Front—were not the work of a retired politician. They were begun when he was still in his late forties, written in the midst of an active career. His cabinet colleague Arthur Balfour, a generation older, called it an autobiography disguised as a history of the universe.
That Churchill felt in need of money at this time will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his incorrigible spending habits. He was a cabinet minister in Lloyd George’s postwar government (1918–22) with a salary of £5000 a year, which would be worth over two hundred thousand pounds today. But this was not enough, in his eyes, to provide for the education of his four children nor to fulfil his ambition to purchase a country house of his own. Politics was indeed his vocation but, as I see it, writing was his profession, in the sense that his highly professional commitment as an author always provided an indispensable source of income.1
Matthew S. Seligmann is Professor of Naval History at Brunel University, London, and author of Rum, Sodomy, Prayers, and the Lash Revisited: Winston Churchill and Social Reform in the Royal Navy 1900–1915. See review on p. 44.
Churchill’s contribution to naval affairs in the First World War is a polarizing topic. It divided people at the time and it remains a matter of sharply delineated opinions even now. The reasons for this are not difficult to spot. Although no decisive sea engagement was fought while Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, the opening ten months of the war were nevertheless eventful, and the operations that took place at that time appeared to highlight the worst aspects of Churchill’s character as a civilian naval leader. The reality is—inevitably—more complex, but a quick check of what went visibly wrong and what appeared to go right will illustrate the point.
The First World War began at a fortuitous moment for the Royal Navy: a test mobilization had been carried out in July 1914, and the main fleet of dreadnought battleships and battle cruisers was therefore already assembled and crewed when the moment of destiny arrived. All that was required was to withhold the order to disperse and despatch the ships instead to their designated war stations. That was all well and good, but what would happen thereafter was less clear.
Allan Mallinson’s Fight to the Finish: The First World War—Month by Month is published by Penguin Random House (UK) in October 2018.
A common verdict on Churchill’s First World War is that he was the perpetrator of costly disasters, but that he learned from his mistakes. Consider this, from the Imperial War Museum’s website:
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Churchill was serving as First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1915 he helped orchestrate the disastrous Dardanelles naval campaign and was also involved in the planning of the military landings on Gallipoli, both of which saw large losses. Following the failure of these campaigns, Churchill was demoted and resigned from government. He became an officer in the Army and served on the Western Front until early 1916. In 1917, under Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s coalition government, Churchill was appointed Minister of Munitions, a position he held until January 1919.
Churchill’s First World War in a little more than a hundred unfortunate words.
Andrew Roberts is author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny (reviewed on page 42) and a member of the International Churchill Society Board of Directors.
Winston Churchill famously wrote about his feelings on becoming prime minister in May 1940, “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”1 It was true, and no part of his life had been a better preparation than 1914–18. The way that Churchill learned from his and others’ mistakes of the Great War, putting the lessons to good use in the Second World War, is an object lesson in statesmanship.
On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Churchill set up the Admiralty War Group, which consisted of himself and the four most senior admirals there. It met daily—sometimes several times a day—to take all the most important strategic decisions. This concentration of power worked well, and agreed upon the overriding objectives for the Royal Navy in the conflict. Elsewhere in Whitehall, however, the organization of the war under Herbert Asquith, the prime minster, was ludicrously haphazard. Decisions were taken by a few ministers called together ad hoc in emergencies without minutes being taken. Only at the end of November 1914 was a War Council of eight members formed, which soon grew to thirteen. From his own experience, therefore, Churchill learned how important it was to take a grip on the organization of the central decision-making bodies and to keep the numbers involved as small as possible.
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The next issue of Finest Hour will be about "Churchill, Race, and Religion." In the foreword, Lord Boateng, Chair of the Churchill Archives Trust, writes: “Sir Winston did not run away from controversy in his life and would not expect anything less in that which has followed. We do owe him and each other, however, civility and respect in the conduct of those arguments—not least, since we owe to him and the global anti-fascist fight, which he helped lead to such good effect, the secure freedom to hold those arguments at all.” … See MoreSee Less
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.