On 13 November, Jennie Churchill, great-granddaughter of Sir Winston, presented on behalf of the International Churchill Society unique silver medallions to forty-five veterans of the Second World War who are residents at the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC). Additionally, the RHC was presented with the Society’s annual Winston S. Churchill Leadership Award.
Founded by King Charles II in 1682, the RHC is a retirement and nursing home for some 300 veterans of the British Army. Established as an alms house, the ancient sense of the word hospital, the RHC sits on a sixty-six acre site in central London, with buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the same architect responsible for St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Any man or woman who is over the age of sixty-five and served as a regular soldier may apply to become a Chelsea Pensioner, as the residents are known, if they have found themselves in a time of need and are “of good character.” Pensioners are easily distinguished by their famous scarlet coats, which they wear for many occasions.
The Crown, Netflix’s hit series dramatizing the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, is back for its third season, which premiered on Sunday, November 17. Gone after the first two seasons is the bulk of the cast, including Claire Foy (Elizabeth) and Matt Smith (the Duke of Edinburgh), who are replaced by Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies respectively. Cast rotation is intended to be every two seasons, with seasons three and four set to cover the Queen’s reign from Harold Wilson through Margaret Thatcher.
A familiar face, however, does return to start season three: John Lithgow as Winston Churchill. Improbable casting, at least in this writer’s eyes when first announced, Lithgow’s Churchill was one of the many strong points of the first two seasons. Putting aside the American actor’s towering height (at times he appeared to be leaning over Foy), Lithgow performed admirably within a heavily-dramatized script: from crying over the death of a girl in a London “Pea-Souper” fog to his gruff treatment of the young Queen. His Churchill “accent” is one of the best ever performed on screen, and Lithgow epitomizes Churchill’s natural intellect and magnetism without veering into parody.
Winston Churchill loved movies, and for about fifty years now movies have loved Winston Churchill. He has been portrayed by many of the cinema’s biggest stars on both film and television. John Lithgow’s portrayal in season one of The Crown proved so popular that he has now been brought back by popular demand to reprise the role in the first episode of season three, even though this has required some ahistorical contrivance to accomplish.
How appropriate, then, that a British filmmaker has finally made a documentary about the entirely true story of Churchill’s friendship with the founder of the British film industry! Alexander Korda was a Hungarian immigrant who fled the persecution of the Jewish people in his homeland during the 1920s. He embraced his adopted nation with panache, naming his company London Films and using Big Ben as the studio’s calling card. He also took to smoking Churchill-size cigars.
Korda’s first box-office smash, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), won an Oscar for Charles Laughton and the praise of Churchill, who stirred to the King’s call for tripling the size of the fleet: “To do this will cost us money, Sire,” says the King’s counseor. “To leave it undone will cost us England!” rejoins the King. Against the backdrop of the Nazis coming to power in Germany only a few months before, the tone of the film explains why Korda and Churchill became fast friends.
Tim Bouverie, Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War, Tim Duggan Books, 2019, 496 pages, £14.90/$30.00. ISBN 978–0451499844
W. Mark Hamilton is author of The Nation and the Navy: Methods and Organization of British Navalist Propaganda, 1889–1914 (1986).
It is impossible to overstate the devastating impact the First World War had on the British nation and people. The loss of lives and treasure was immense, with 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day alone of the Battle of the Somme. This enduring impact is front and center in Tim Bouverie’s Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War. King George V, whose reign spanned the Great War, once shouted late in his life, “I will not have another war. I will not!” It is against this backdrop that journalist and historian Bouverie provides a fascinating narrative history of the policy of appeasement and its ultimate ramifications in 1939 for Great Britain, Europe, and the world.
The scope of the book runs from when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. In their dealings with a revitalized Germany under Nazi control, both Britain and France pursued appeasement—a foreign policy of making concessions to avoid armed conflict—believing that Germany had been unfairly punished under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Underscoring Britain’s deep reluctance to fight another war, the Oxford Union approved in early 1933 the motion: “This House will under no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” In response, Winston Churchill, who was emerging with a small group of supporters as the archenemy of the appeasement policy, called the Oxford Union motion a “disquieting and disgusting symptom” of the times. Bouverie notes that because of Churchill’s aristocratic connections and high social standing, he had access throughout the 1930s to classified information about German motives that was not available to the general public. As a result, Churchill never doubted Germany’s aim to dominate Europe. Read More >
125 Years Ago
Autumn 1894 • Age 20 “Wild With Excitement”
Winston was still smitten with Molly Hackett. On 8 October he wrote his mother, who was on a round the world holiday with his ailing father, “I have seen Miss Hackett a good deal lately & she is most constant in her enquiries after you.” Winston knew his father was ill but not how ill. He was allowed to read reports from Dr. Keith to his grandmother. In a 21 October letter to his mother, Winston wrote that he was “very much disturbed by Dr. Keith’s last letter which gives a very unsatisfactory report about Papa. I hope however that there is still an improvement and no cause for immediate worry.” But Winston soon learned the full gravity of the situation and wrote his mother on 2 November: “I persuaded Dr. Roose to tell exactly how Papa was… he told me everything and showed me the medical reports….I had never realized how ill Papa had been and had never until now believed that there was anything serious the matter.”
On 3 November, Winston gave his first public speech. It involved “a riot” at the Empire Theatre, once a stage for serious ballet, and now a music hall where unchaperoned women gathered in the promenade behind a wooden partition that purported to separate them from young men. A public campaign was underway to shut the Empire down. Winston opposed this effort and treated the incident as a lark, writing to his brother on 7 November: “Did you see the papers about the riot at the Empire last Saturday? It was I who led the rioters—and made a speech to the crowd. I enclose a cutting from one of the papers, so that you may see.”
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, 3 vols. (2006).
When I first thought of this article, I had been struck by the number of recent Eastern Bloc editions. Then I thought, “Why only recent?” It seems intriguing to contemplate a longer time span. After all, while Churchill’s writings have been translated into thirty-one languages, thirteen of these are in Eastern Bloc languages, and, of the recent translations (since 2014), even Savrola and My Early Life are included, as well as the more predictable Second World War.
Intriguingly, the oldest of Churchill’s works to be translated was his very first, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (A1). It is also one of the more recent books to be translated into an Eastern Bloc edition. First published in March 1898, it was translated into Czech as Příběh malakandského sboru (Brno: Jota, 1997). Savrola(A3), Churchill’s only novel, which was first published in volume form in 1900, has been translated into eight languages, finally attracting Eastern Bloc treatment in Hungary as Savrola: forradalom Laurániában (Budapest: Metropolis Media, 2010) and Ukraine, as Саврола (Zhupansky: Kiev, 2017).
Churchill visiting Eisenhower in Washington, 1959, with his private secretary Sir Anthony Montague Browne
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Sir Winston S. Churchill
Winston Churchill’s views on the Cold War are fairly represented in two different sets of remarks that he composed at the time. The first came in a speech he made in Washington. The second came in what was his last work of original writing intended for publication.
IN CONGRESS, 17 JANUARY 1952
Shortly after he became Prime Minister for the second time in October 1951, Churchill travelled to Washington for high-level meetings with President Truman (see story on page 18). During this visit, Churchill was invited to speak before a meeting of both houses of Congress for the third time. Here follow excerpts from that speech:
The changes that happened since I last spoke to Congress [in 1943] are indeed astounding. It is hard to believe that we are living in the same world. Former allies have become foes. Former foes have become allies. Conquered countries have been liberated. Liberated nations have been enslaved by Communism.
Russia, eight years ago our brave ally, has cast away the admiration and good will her soldiers had gained for her by their valiant defence of their own country. It is not the fault of the Western Powers if an immense gulf has opened between us. It took a long succession of deliberate and unceasing works of acts and hostility to convince our peoples—as they are now convinced—that they have another tremendous danger to face and that they are now confronted with a new form of tyranny and aggression as dangerous and as hateful as that which we overthrew. Read More >
Secretary of the State Dean Acheson addressing the North Atlantic Treaty signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., April 1949
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Klaus Larres
Throughout his long political life Churchill frequently was confronted with the “German Question.” In fact, even prior to the First World War, dealing with Germany became a major preoccupation for him. From the 1930s to his retirement from politics in 1955, it was the German Question that dominated Churchill’s political life and turned him into one of the world’s most successful and most famous politicians.1
Churchill’s first serious encounter with the German Question came just before the cataclysm of 1914 when, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he had to deal with the German-British naval race. At that time he grew so worried about the escalating tension between the world’s foremost empire and the globe’s most aggressive rising power that the young politician reached out to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Foreign Minister Edward Grey with the suggestion that he should be given permission to approach formally the German naval minister, the formidable Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, to convene a high-level meeting. Churchill wanted to overcome the naval race through personal negotiations. Read More >
A sitting of the Potsdam Conference in Berlin, July 1945
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Kevin Ruane
Kevin Ruane is Professor of Modern History at Canterbury Christ Church University, an Archives By-Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and author of Churchill and the Bomb in War and Cold War (Bloomsbury, 2016), a BBC History “Book of the Year.”
In 2013, a short fragment from a British Royal Family home-movie came to light. Dating from October 1952, the silent footage shows the young Queen Elizabeth II enjoying a family fishing expedition at Balmoral in Scotland. Also prominent is the unmistakable figure of Winston Churchill, returned as Britain’s Prime Minister the year before; he can be seen sitting on the riverbank chatting to Prince Charles.1 He is relaxed, but he is not off-duty. His thoughts, we now know, were focused on the Montebello Islands, a barren outpost of the Commonwealth eighty miles off the north-west coast of Australia. It was there that the United Kingdom’s first atomic bomb, a plutonium weapon, was about to be tested.
Much rested on the success of “Hurricane,” as the test was codenamed, not least the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. “Pop or flop?” an anxious Churchill asked his scientific experts as the test neared. “Pop” came the reassuring reply.2 And pop it was. On 3 October 1952, Churchill, still at Balmoral, learned that the “Hurricane” device had detonated with a destructiveness equivalent to twenty-five kilotons of TNT, a yield which surpassed the A-bombs used against Japan in 1945.
Churchill and Truman meet in the White House during Churchill’s visit to Washington in 1952.
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Alan P. Dobson
Alan P. Dobson teaches at Swansea University and is editor of International History Review. He is co-author with Steve Marsh of US Foreign Policy since 1945 (2007).
Winston Churchill presided over Britain’s finest hour in 1940 and celebrated victory over the Axis Powers in 1945, but was then unceremoniously turned out of office by the British electorate. In opposition, he was only able to watch as victory gave way to Cold War, and his much-vaunted Special Relationship with the US declined in intimacy and substance. Thus, when opportunity beckoned with success in the General Election in the autumn of 1951, he determined to inject new purpose into British foreign policy and was quick to tend to the “intimate relationship with the United States, which had been a keynote of his policy in the war….” For Churchill that meant above all establishing a close relationship with President Harry S. Truman in order to emulate the successful and rewarding personal relationship that he had experienced with Roosevelt.
Churchill and Truman had little in common by background; Churchill born into a historic and privileged family, Truman born in a simple farmhouse, and their life experiences were also so different, culminating in Churchill being hailed as the greatest man of his age and Truman as the accidental president. Even so, in 1946 when Churchill travelled with the President to Fulton Missouri for his famous Iron Curtain Speech aboard FDR’s old armored railroad car the Ferdinand Magellan, they got on well and established a firm friendship. That was despite Churchill losing over $200 playing poker until the early hours with Truman and his card-playing cronies. Truman and Churchill were now on first-name terms, though Truman confessed to finding that difficult at first because of Churchill’s standing. Sometime later, in July 1948, Truman in the throes of his re-election campaign wrote to Churchill: Read More >
Edwina Sandys is an award-winning artist based in New York City. Her books include Winston Churchill: A Passion for Painting (2015).
“May we dedicate ourselves to hastening the day when all God’s children live in a world without walls, that would be the greatest empire of all.”
President Ronald Reagan, 9 November 1990, Fulton, Missouri
Thirty years ago on 9 November 1989 along with the rest of the world, I was glued to the television screen, watching the Berlin Wall crumble and fall. The souvenir hunters immediately started chipping away. It was, however, only when I learned that the East Germans had removed long stretches of the Wall intact and were selling them that an idea came to me.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I thought, “to get a piece of the wall, make a sculpture out of it, and then place it at Westminster College?” This would forever link the Berlin Wall with my grandfather Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech made at the college in Fulton, Missouri in 1946 and in which he famously said:
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe…in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject…not only to Soviet influence, but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.
In July 1945, while on a fishing holiday on Minnesota’s North Star Lake, Westminster College President Franc L. McCluer, had a casual conversation with his wife Ida Belle. Though the scene was tranquil, McCluer— known by the nickname “Bullet” for his rapid-fire debating style—was consumed with thoughts about the college’s John Findley Green Foundation Lectureship. After a three-year hiatus, when the all-male college saw reduced enrollment due to the war effort, McCluer hoped to revive the fledgling but promising lecture series that previously had brought international luminaries to his Fulton, Missouri campus.
The endowed lectureship was established in 1937 by Mrs. Eleanor I. Green of St. Louis to honor the memory of her husband, a Westminster alumnus. The aim of the Green Foundation Lectureship was then, and remains today, to present lectures that would promote “a better understanding of economic and social problems which are international in their concern.” Read More >
Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall “came tumblin’ down.” The largely peaceful end to the Cold War came “quite suddenly and quite unexpectedly,” as Churchill once described the end of the First World War, to the relief of a world that had long lived in fear of nuclear war.
Churchill did not begin the Cold War— as early as 1943 Stalin was directing his armies with an eye towards building his Iron Curtain— but it was Churchill’s famous speech at Fulton, Missouri in March 1946 that alerted the world to the situation that had developed. Timothy Riley tells the story of how Churchill’s remarks at Westminster College were subsequently complemented by those of Mikhail Gorbachev in the aftermath of the Cold War. Edwina Sandys then explains how she conceived the idea for her sculpture Breakthrough that now stands near where her grandfather first outlined the “Sinews of Peace.”
Churchill accepted the invitation to speak in the Show-me State when he saw that it had been endorsed by Missouri’s most famous son, President Harry S. Truman. Alan P. Dobson looks at how Churchill tried working with Truman to preserve the special relationship, even as the Prime Minister took exception to details in the organization of NATO that he felt diminished British importance. Read More >
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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.