Ruth Lavine with Mary Soames at the
20th International Churchill Society conference in Bermuda in 2003.
Finest Hour 189, Third Quarter 2020
This spring the oldest member of the International Churchill Society celebrated her 100th birthday. Ruth Lavine was born in Germany in 1920. Her family came to the United States when she was thirteen in order to escape the Nazis. Ruth earned her law degree from the University of Southern California in 1943 and became an estate planning attorney.
“My husband was in the US military during the Second World War. When we started dating in 1940, he would read Winston Churchill’s most recent speeches to me, and we avidly followed his career. Our son Raymond told us about the Churchill Society, and joining was one of the best decisions we made. We took wonderful trips with other Churchillians and got to meet Lady Soames and Celia Sandys.
“After my husband died in 1994, I continued attending Churchill gatherings. I look forward to each one and meeting with all the wonderful people. I love history, and each conference gives me more insight about one of the greatest statesmen in history.
Leon J. Waszak is author of Agreement in Principle: The Wartime Partnership of Wladyslaw Sikorski and Winston Churchill (1996).
Derek Leebaert, Grand Improvisation: America Confronts the British Superpower, 1945– 1957, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019, 612 pages, $35.00. ISBN 978–0374250720
American leaders at the end of the Second World War, not yet confident of their nation’s new role as the principal defender of Western democracy, initially looked to the British for guidance. That Britain thus assumed a role in animating US policy for the remainder of the 1940s and well into the late 1950s is the focus of a new study that author and historian Derek Leebaert calls the “grand improvisation.”
Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 is viewed by Leebaert as a symbolic “passing of the torch,” when the gravity of responsibility started to shift from Britain to the US. This was not, however, a cut-and-dried departure. The speech was not widely appreciated at the time on either side of the so-called “special relationship.” Many Americans thought that Britain sought to drag the US into yet another foreign entanglement, while British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin attacked Churchill, who had been voted out of office less than a year before, as a dangerous egotist and manipulator: “’E thinks ’e’s Prime Minister of the world.” Nevertheless, within a few years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Churchill had more or less called for, had been created. Read More >
Robert A. McLain is Professor of History at California State University, Fullerton.
Damien Lewis, Churchill’s Shadow Raiders: The Race to Develop Radar, WWII’s Invisible Secret Weapon, Citadel Press, 2020, 389 pages, $27. ISBN 978–0806540634
It is lamentable that the role of technology in the Second World War has received relatively little attention when compared to major campaigns, particularly given its importance to winning the war. The conflict was fundamentally a technological race for better military intelligence and improved weaponry. In this regard, Damien Lewis’s Churchill’s Shadow Raiders reveals the crucial role of radar in defeating the Luftwaffe, itself a precedent for the Anglo-American landings in 1944.
A journalist by training, Lewis has written extensively on special operations. This was furthered in the summer of 2018, when he had the good fortune to gain access to the archives of the Telecommunications Research Establishment [TRE], which was Britain’s principal wartime effort at radar intelligence and counterintelligence. R. V. Jones, one of the TRE’s key scientists, suspected that the Germans had developed a short-range radar system to complement their longer-range “Freya” units. The deadly short-range Würzburg parabolic radars were in fact vectoring German night fighters to RAF bomber streams that resulted in staggering losses for the British. Jones was fascinated by photo reconnaissance and spent significant time at Danesfield House, the manor where young Sarah Churchill served as a skilled interpreter of aerial photos. There, in late 1941, Jones and an assistant examined images that seemingly confirmed the presence of a Würzburg emplacement on the French coast at the village of Bruneval. Read More >
Max Hastings, Operation Chastise: The RAF’s Most Brilliant Attack of World War II, Harper, 2020, 400 pages, $35 ISBN 978–006295363X
Mark Klobas teaches history at Scottsdale College.
Max Hastings’ newest book, a history of the British effort to destroy three dams in the Ruhr Valley in May 1943—codenamed Chastise—allows him to draw upon the interviews he conducted for his 1979 classic Bomber Command. Building on new archival labors and recently published studies, Hastings provides a more detailed examination of the attack than in his previous book.
The basic facts are familiar to viewers of the 1955 film The Dam Busters, which dramatized the attack on the Möhne, Sorpe, and Eder dams. Breaching these three structures, it was argued, would cause enormous devastation in a region important to Germany industry. At the time, however, the airborne munitions capable of destroying the dams did not exist. Enter Barnes Wallis, a brilliant engineer employed by Vickers, who created a weapon called Upkeep, designed to explode in the reservoirs just behind the dams and collapse them under hydrostatic pressure. The attack on 16–17 May partly succeeded. The Möhne and Eder dams were both breached and much death and destruction inflicted in the communities downriver. Read More >
Annie Gray, Victory in the Kitchen: The Life of Churchill’s Cook, Profile Books, 2020, 400 pages, £16.99. ISBN 978–1788160445
Katherine Carter is the Collections and House Manager at Chartwell.
Health Warning: While reading this scrumptious book, be prepared to crave deliciously rich-sounding recipes. I first spoke with Annie Gray early in 2018 when she had got in touch as part of her research for the book she was writing about Georgina Landemare, the Churchills’ cook. She was keen to visit Chartwell and get a feel for the house where Mrs. Landemare had spent so much time and where I am fortunate enough to work. Annie wanted to learn what had been the layouts of the house both before and after the Second World War so as to understand what had been the logistics involved in Mrs. Landemare’s job.
Many people write about Chartwell, and lots of them visit over the course of their research, but on her first visit I sensed in Annie a real desire to understand Mrs. Landemare’s life there. Where had the kitchens been? Which were the stairs she would have used? How close were these in relation to the service lifts, and where had the family dined? Annie was combing meticulously through menus, fridge bills, wine lists, and other archival documents.
The increasing attention to the staff that served the upper classes of early twentieth-century society has been interesting to observe for those of us who run historic houses in Britain. “The Downton Abbey effect,” as I call it, means that the team at Chartwell are now asked almost as much about butlers, maids, secretaries, bodyguards, and cooks as about the Churchills themselves. But can the stories of the staff make interesting histories unto themselves? With Victory in the Kitchen, Annie Gray emphatically proves that they can. Read More >
Celia Lee, Jean, Lady Hamilton 1861–1942: Diaries of a Soldier’s Wife, Pen and Sword, 2020, £19.99. ISBN 978–1526786585
Andrew Roberts’most recent book is Leadership in War (2019). ,
Readers of Finest Hour who are familiar with Winston Churchill’s role in initiating the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 will instantly recognise the name of Sir Ian Hamilton, the commander of that tragically doomed expedition. Churchill had recommended Hamilton, a distinguished Edwardian soldier and long acquaintance, to Lord Kitchener, the secretary for war, for that high command, which turned out to be an utterly poisoned chalice.
The young cavalry officer had been thrilled to come to the attention of the famous soldier, Ian Hamilton, who was twenty-one years his senior. Churchill’s sixth book, Ian Hamilton’s March, was written to honour his achievements in the South African war. They remained firm friends and shared many of the liberal, and indeed Liberal, beliefs of the day. Both were opposed to harsh peace settlements with the Boers in 1902 and the Germans in 1918.
Celia Lee has an unrivalled knowledge of the invaluable and detailed diaries kept by Jean, Ian Hamilton’s wife, and has written a remarkable biography based on those intimate daily records of the life of a member of the Edwardian power elite. Jean, the daughter of a millionaire Scottish entrepreneur, had a profound effect on Hamilton’s career at crucial moments. And through her deliciously gossip-ridden diaries we get many wonderful anecdotes about life in that gilded age. Read More >
125 Years Ago Summer 1895 • Age 20 “I Shall Never Know Such a Friend Again”
Mrs. Everest, Winston’s beloved childhood nanny, died on 3 July. He wrote to his mother the same day: “She was delighted to see me on Monday and I think my coming made her die happy. Her last words were of Jack. I shall never know such a friend again.
” Churchill continued to have his mind on politics and had no intention of making a career in the Army. Writing to his mother on 16 August, he said, “It is a fine game to play—the game of politics—and it is well worth waiting for a good hand—before really plunging….The more I see of soldiering—the more I like it—but the more I feel convinced that it is not my métier. Well, we shall see—my dearest Mama.”
On 24 August, Churchill again wrote his mother: “I find I am getting into a state of mental stagnation….It is a state of mind onto which all or nearly all who soldier—fall. From this ‘slough of Despond’ I try to raise myself by reading & re-reading Papa’s speeches—many of which I almost know by heart—but I really cannot find the energy to read any other serious work.” He went on to tell her that he intended, once situated in London, to study one or two hours a week with a scholar in Economics or Modern History because “I need someone to point out some specific subject to stimulate & to direct my reading in that subject.” Read More >
Program for honorary degree ceremony at the University of Aberdeen.
Finest Hour 189, Third Quarter 2020
By Ronald I. Cohen
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill (2006).
Readers will be surprised to learn how few honorary degrees were conferred on Winston Churchill in the course of his long life. Although the practice of granting a degree honoris causa is more than five centuries old, the practice was not common until this past century. Even then, when such recognitions began to proliferate, Churchill was granted only fourteen in all. Only one of these came before he was prime minister (he was at the time Chancellor of the Exchequer). Three more came during the Second World War, all from North America, and ten more followed after the hostilities. The first of the post-war degrees that he received from universities in the United Kingdom was presented by the University of Aberdeen.
In some respects, the recognition from Scotland was not surprising. Churchill had already received the Freedom of the City and Royal Burgh of Edinburgh in October 1942, the first of forty-two City Freedoms that he ultimately garnered worldwide. On that occasion, Churchill said to the audience in Usher Hall: Read More >
To return to power in 1951, Winston Churchill needed support in Scotland as much as he did anywhere else. During the general election campaign, therefore, he dutifully traveled to Glasgow, where he spoke at St. Andrew’s Hall on 17 October. If the Conservatives were to win, Churchill told his audience, “We shall advise the creation of a new Minister of State for Scottish Affairs of Cabinet rank, to work in Scotland as Deputy to the Secretary of State.”1
The strategy worked. The Tories eked out a seventeen-seat majority in the election by securing thirty-five of the seventy-one Scottish seats. Churchill became prime minister for the second time and appointed his former Chief Whip, James Stuart, as Secretary of State for Scotland. Stuart in turn recommended that Alec Douglas-Home, who had recently succeeded his father to become the 14th Earl of Home, be appointed as the promised Minister of State.
The selection of the middle-aged earl did not appeal to Churchill. As a member of the House of Commons, then styled Lord Dunglass, Douglas-Home had been Parliamentary Private Secretary to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and had accompanied his leader to the infamous Munich Conference, which Churchill had vociferously denounced. Stuart stood firm, however, and Churchill relented. “All right— have your Home sweet Home,” he huffed. “The Prime Minister’s personal directive to me was characteristic and terse,” Douglas-Home later recalled, “‘Go and quell those turbulent Scots, and don’t come back until you’ve done it.’”2 There was indeed to be turbulence. Read More >
David Stafford is author of Oblivion or Glory: 1921 and the Making of Winston Churchill (Yale University Press, 2019), from which this article is adapted. He formerly served as Project Director of the Centre for the Study of the Two World Wars at the University of Edinburgh.
By 1921 the popularity of Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s Liberal-Conservative coalition was waning, and election talk was in the air. As a senior member of the Cabinet, Winston Churchill’s own political future was seriously at stake. Since 1908 he had been a Liberal MP for Dundee. He once described it as “a seat for life,” but the rise of the Labour Party meant he could no longer take this for granted. The city, Scotland’s third largest, was dominated by the jute industry, and the population was heavily working-class. As a result of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, the electorate had tripled and now also included thousands of women. The city’s slums were notorious for poor housing; drunkenness was rife; and the post-war slump meant unemployment had reached crisis proportions. Children walked hungry and shoeless in the streets.
Churchill rarely visited the city more than once a year. It was a long and tedious journey by rail from London. Besides, in local businessman Sir George Ritchie, he benefited from an excellent constituency agent who kept him in touch with the city’s affairs. By now, however, even the normally sanguine Ritchie was seriously worried about the impact of Labour on local Liberal support. Disenchantment with the Government’s austerity programme, he warned Churchill in June, was a serious threat to his seat. The influential Secretary of the Jute Workers’ Union in the city, John Sime, thundered publicly and often that Churchill was “born a Tory, is still a Tory, and always will be a Tory.” Furthermore, Churchill’s violent denunciations of Sinn Fein meant that the city’s Irish voters, once his strong supporters, had also turned against him. A local anti-drink campaigner and socialist, Edwin Scrymgeour, had by now emerged as a serious electoral rival.1Read More >
This is the first in what will be a series of four issues to be published over four years examining Churchill’s connections with the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The rich but scarcely explored field of Scotland comes first, and we are honored to have a foreword from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Churchill’s affiliations with Scotland began with his birth on 30 November 1874—the feast day of St. Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint. Despite the many connections that followed, Scots today have all but forgotten Churchill. Alastair Stewart looks at the reasons for this and explains why it would profit the country to embrace the Churchill legacy.
More egregious than collective amnesia has been a campaign of deliberate misrepresentation of Churchill’s record in Scotland. Gordon J. Barclay untangles the malicious myths that have been fabricated and explains the reasons for the militant assertion of fake history.
Churchill Barrier 1 built at Scapa Flow in response to sinking of HMS Royal Oak
Finest Hour 189, Third Quarter 2020
By Robin Brodhurst
Robin Brodhurst is author of Churchill’s Anchor: Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound (Pen and Sword, 2000)
It was in Scotland that Winston Churchill was first offered the position of First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill, as Home Secretary, was staying with Prime Minister H. H. Asquith at Archerfield late in September 1911 and had been playing golf when the Asquith asked him “quite abruptly” whether he would like to go to the Admiralty. Churchill immediately responded that he would. The driving force behind this appointment was the need to impose on the Admiralty a Naval Staff, and the first choice had been Richard Haldane, a Scot, who had created an Army Staff at the War Office. Haldane, however, was by then in the House of Lords, and both Asquith and Churchill deemed it essential that the leader of such a high-spending department should be in the Commons, so Haldane gave way, although holding the view that it would have been better if he had gone to the Admiralty for a year, so as to impose the new Naval Staff, while Churchill held the War Office for that year and then went to the Admiralty.1Read More >
Piers Brendon is author of Churchill’s Bestiary: His Life Through Animals (2018) and former Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre.
On a visit to Lord Rosebery’s palatial country house Mentmore in 1880, the radical politician Sir Charles Dilke noted that his host was “the most ambitious man I had ever met.” Years later Dilke added a marginal comment, “I have since known Winston Churchill.”1 Needless to say, young Winston was ambitious, occasionally telling—and convincing—complete strangers that he was destined to lead his country. But Rosebery’s ambitions were more diffuse. They were famously summed up in his expressed desire to marry an heiress, win the Derby and become Prime Minister. Perhaps this story is apocryphal since the three wishes were apparently made at the Mendacious Club, which he formed with the American socialite and political fixer Sam Ward. Yet all three were fulfilled, which did not prevent Rosebery’s life from becoming what the journalist A. G. Gardiner called a “tragedy of unfulfilment.”2 That life fascinated Churchill. As he wrote in a sparkling essay on Rosebery in Great Contemporaries, “With some at least of those feelings of awe and attraction which led Boswell to Dr. Johnson, I sought occasions to develop the acquaintance of childhood into a grown-up friendship.”3
Archibald Primrose (1847– 1929), who became fifth Earl of Rosebery at the age of twenty, had been two years ahead of Winston’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, at Eton. They forged a close bond at Oxford where they were both members of the fast, aristocratic set whose main activities were drinking, gambling and sport. Unlike Lord Randolph, younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, Rosebery was immensely rich, inheriting over 20,000 Scottish acres and a clutch of stately homes to go with them. So while Lord Randolph merely kept his own pack of harriers at Merton College, Rosebery spent a small fortune on the Turf. The Dean of Christ Church was not amused, insisting that Rosebery must either give up his race-horses or his undergraduate studies. Characteristically Rosebery chose to sacrifice the latter, departing from the university without a degree. This was the sort of grand gesture that appealed to Lord Randolph, who shared Rosebery’s intense pride of caste whereby, as an Eton contemporary wrote, “a man seems to ascend in a balloon out of earshot every time he is addressed by one not socially his equal.”4Read More >
BGNGB6 Scottish national flag flying above a rocky outcrop, Scotland, UK.
Finest Hour 189, Third Quarter 2020
By Winston S. Churchill
In the first volume of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill surveys the final two centuries of medieval Scottish history, when internal strife and periodic battles with England afflicted the lives of many generations, and identifies the true foundation of Scotland’s emergent power.
The disunity of the [Scottish] kingdom, fostered by English policy and perpetuated by the tragedies that befell Scottish sovereigns, was not the only source of Scotland’s weakness. The land was divided, in race, in speech, and in culture. The rift between Highlands and Lowlands was more than a geographical distinction. The Lowlands formed part of the feudal world, and, except in the SouthWest, in Galloway, English was spoken. The Highlands preserved a social order much older than feudalism. In the Lowlands the King of Scots was a feudal magnate; in the Highlands he was the chief of a loose federation of clans. He had, it is true, the notable advantage of blood kinship both with the new Anglo-Norman nobility and with the ancient Celtic kings. The Bruces were undoubted descendants of the first King of Scots in the ninth century, Kenneth MacAlpin, as well as of Alfred the Great; the Stuarts, claimed with some plausibility, to be the descendants of MacBeth’s contemporary, Banquo. The lustre of a divine antiquity illumined princes whose pedigree ran back into the Celtic twilight of Irish heroic legend. For all Scots, Lowland and Highland alike, the royal house had a sanctity which commanded reverence through periods when obedience and even loyalty were lacking, and much was excused those in whom royal blood ran. Read More >
Churchill and fellow officers of the
6th Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1916
at Ploegsteert, Belgium
Finest Hour 189, Third Quarter 2020
By Alastair Stewart
Alastair Stewart is a Scottish public affairs consultant and freelance writer. His mum, granny, and grandad gave him a lifelong interest in Winston Churchill.
In the United Kingdom today, there is a debate about our history and our statues. Raised are two perennial questions: what is truth and what is an acceptable legacy? That debate has literally and physically targeted the Ivor Roberts-Jones statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square.
Yet Scots, forever ready for a feisty debate, are left looking around for a comparable statue of Churchill even to protest. While most communities are proud of their connections to significant historical figures, a Dundee historian has said of his city, where Churchill served as the local MP for nearly fifteen years, “A statue of Winston Churchill here would be as welcome for many as a swim through vomit.”1 Does he speak for all Scotland?
The Invisible Man
In 2019, an elected Member of the Scottish Parliament courted controversy and praise when he tweeted that Churchill was a “white supremacist” and a “mass murderer” interspersed with hand-clapping emojis.2 The shock value aside, the post quickly revealed the pantomime view of Churchill, which underpins his legacy in Scotland. Read More >
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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.