Iain Carter is Director of the Conservative Research Department. He has previously been Political Director of the Conservative Party and a special adviser to the Leader of the House of Lords.
Winston Churchill said, “Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.”1 There are few who have experienced the gravity of politics quite so acutely as he did, and during his own time in 10 Downing Street Churchill served alongside five men who went on to follow him as Prime Minister. Three of them, Attlee, Eden, and Macmillan, worked much more closely with him than did Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath. Yet the relationship all five of them had with Churchill played a part in their individual ascents to the pinnacle of British politics.
Ally and Rival
Perhaps the most interesting relationship between Churchill and those who followed him is the one he had with Clement Attlee. Without Attlee’s backing, it is far from certain that Churchill would have become Prime Minister in 1940. Attlee went on to serve with distinction in the War Cabinet, including as Deputy Prime Minister from 1942 onwards. His loyalty saw him back Churchill on major issues of strategy in discussions with the chiefs of staff, as well as facing down criticism from Labour colleagues. Despite this wartime unity, Attlee went on to become one of Churchill’s greatest political rivals, beating him in both the 1945 and 1950 general elections before the Conservatives were returned to power in 1951.
Philip Williamson is professor of History at Durham University and author of Stanley Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (1999) and co-editor (with Edward Baldwin) of The Baldwin Papers. A Conservative Statesman 1908–1947 (2004).
Stanley Baldwin (1867–1947) was one of the most successful and important political leaders of twentieth-century Britain. In October 1935, Winston Churchill described him as “a statesman who has gathered to himself a greater volume of confidence and goodwill than any other man I recollect in my long political career”—and Churchill had been familiar with the greatest figures in British public life during the previous forty years. When Baldwin retired in 1937, he was in Churchill’s words “loaded with honours and enshrined in public esteem,”1 receiving tributes not just from members of his Conservative party and its partners in the National coalition government, but also from leading figures in the Labour and Liberal opposition parties. Yet his reputation declined precipitously after the outbreak of the Second World War. For various periods Baldwin and Churchill had been colleagues and opponents: Baldwin revived Churchill’s political career in 1924, but at other times he had a large part in excluding him from government office. They differed on many of the great issues of the 1930s, and Churchill’s later memoirs for these years, The Gathering Storm, entrenched a persistently harsh historical verdict on Baldwin’s leadership.
Party Leader and Prime Minister
Baldwin was Conservative party leader for fourteen years, from 1923 to 1937, and prime minister three times: 1923–24, 1924–29, and again—after four years from 1931 as deputy prime minister Read More >
Stuart Ball is Emeritus Professor of Modern British History at the University of Leicester. His books include Portrait of a Party: The Conservative Party in Britain, 1918–1945 (Oxford, 2013).
Although very different in personality, the self-contained and often inflexible Neville Chamberlain and the emotional and often impulsive Winston Churchill had four things in common during their formative years.
First, both had fathers who were amongst the most dynamic and controversial figures in late-Victorian politics. Lord Randolph Churchill rose and fell meteorically in the Conservative Party of the 1880s, whilst the radical Liberal Joseph Chamberlain broke with his party over Home Rule for Ireland in 1886, joined a coalition government with the Conservatives in 1895, and then shattered that party’s unity by resigning from the cabinet in 1903 to advocate “tariff reform”—the campaign for protectionism that led Winston Churchill to cross the floor of the House of Commons and join the Liberal Party in 1904.
Second, neither was expected by his father to have a political career, but instead Churchill was to enter the army and Chamberlain to go into business; in both cases, they did not enter the House of Commons until several years after their fathers’ death. Read More >
Kenneth O. Morgan is author of books about Lloyd George, James Callaghan, and Michael Foot. He serves in the House of Lords as Baron Morgan of Aberdyfi.
During his years in the Liberal party from 1904 to 1923, Winston Churchill served under three prime ministers. The third of these was unique. For unlike his relationships with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and H. H. Asquith, towards David Lloyd George, Churchill was almost in awe. Robert Boothby, who served as Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary when Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer, told a famous story in his memoirs about a meeting between the two great war leaders that took place in the 1920s. The old relationship, Churchill told Boothby ruefully, was quickly restored, “the relationship between Master and Servant. And I was the Servant.”1
Of course, Lloyd George was eleven years older than Churchill. He entered parliament in 1890, while Churchill was still a schoolboy at Harrow, and was first appointed to the Cabinet two and a half years before Churchill. But the ascendancy was personal and psychological as well as political. Even though Lloyd George had been a fierce critic of the South African War while Churchill was an imperialist, when the latter crossed the floor to join the Liberals in 1904, he chose to sit next to the Welshman in the Commons, after a controversial maiden speech, and they joined in onslaughts on the failing Unionist government. Churchill had nothing to do with Lloyd George’s ventures in politics on Welsh and other matters down to 1906 and was first appointed to the Colonial Office as a junior minister while his colleague went to the Board of Trade (with Churchill the more zealous free trader of the two). But after 1908 the pair formed a bold and dynamic partnership as pioneers of social reform. Churchill went down to the Criccieth home of Lloyd George, who was now Chancellor, to plan out a vast prospectus of social insurance, following up his colleague’s visit to examine the insurance system in post-Bismarck Germany. The outcome was a double triumph, Lloyd George brilliantly carrying through the 1911 National Health Insurance Act, and Churchill starting up labour exchanges to tackle unemployment before advancing to the Home Office. Read More >
T. G. Otte is Professor of Diplomatic History at the University of East Anglia. His next book, Statesman of Europe: A Life of Sir Edward Grey, will be published later this year by Allen Lane.
Next to the monarch who lent his name to the Edwardian era, H. H. Asquith (1852–1928) was its chief representative.1 The period is bathed in the nostalgic afterglow of a late-summer afternoon, but underneath its sedate surface this was a time of searing political and social conflicts. And then there was the war that ended the era, and in which modern Britain began.
It fell to Asquith to deal with these challenges. It was he who promoted Winston Churchill to the Cabinet and under whom Churchill served the longest. Asquith “was a man who knew where he stood on every question of life and affairs in altogether unusual degree….He always gave the impression…of measuring all the changing, baffling situations… according to settled standards and sure convictions.”2
Twenty-two years Churchill’s senior, Asquith belonged to a different generation; his background was different, too, middle-class and meritocratic. At Oxford he won early fame for effortless intellectual brilliance, but he had to work hard to establish himself at the Bar. Elected to Parliament in 1886, his assurance, heightened by his infrequent but well-chosen interventions, Read More >
Kevin Ruane is author of Churchill and the Bomb (2016) and teaches history at Canterbury Christ Church Univeristy.
David Cohen, Churchill and Attlee: the Unlikely Allies Who Won the War, Biteback Publishing, 2018, 356 pages, £22. ISBN: 978–1785903175
As a cursory internet search will confirm, the popular perception of the Winston Churchill-Clement Attlee relationship is largely shaped by two purportedly Churchillian remarks. The first—the wording alters marginally depending on where one looks— goes thus: “An empty taxi drew up outside Number 10 Downing Street and out stepped Mr Attlee.” The second has Churchill dismissing Attlee “as a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” From these quotes, it is reasonable to infer that Churchill regarded Attlee, the Labour Party leader (1935–55) and his deputy as Prime Minister during the Second World War, as a vacuous non-entity. There is, though, a problem with such an inference: Churchill did not actually utter the remarks upon which it rests. Indeed, when apprised of the barbs he was supposed to have shot in Attlee’s direction, Churchill became angry and upset.
Popular perceptions are quick to set but slow to shift. In 2002, the BBC commissioned a public television poll to determine the “Greatest Britons” of all time. Churchill came top. Attlee did not even make the top 100. In contrast, David Cohen reminds us in his new book Churchill and Attlee that in 2004 British historians were polled on the most successful UK Prime Minister of the twentieth century. Attlee came first, Churchill second. Historians, then, as opposed to the public, have never lost sight of Attlee and his importance.
Timothy Riley is Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum
On Tuesday, 10 April 1945, the Allied Forces and Winston Churchill had every reason to be confident that the end of the war was near. It was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. It marked the day the American Ninth Army captured Hanover, the day Soviet forces entered central Vienna, and it was the day the 8th Air Force set a new single-day record by destroying 245 Luftwaffe aircraft. The road to Berlin was open and ultimate victory at hand.
Churchill’s spirits were high. The day before, the confident Prime Minister told the War Cabinet he hoped the victory celebration, when it ultimately arrived, should be called “VE Day.”1
10 April was also the day the London Gazette, the venerable journal of record of the British Government, published the news that “Junior Commander Mary Spencer Churchill of the Auxiliary Territorial Service” was awarded the MBE. Churchill’s youngest daughter would become a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of her military service.2
Alexander, Churchill, and Montgomery in North Africa
Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018
By Bradley Tolppanen
Bradley Tolppanen is author of Churchill in North America, 1929 (2014).
In the summer of 1942, after two years of fighting in the desert, British fortunes in North Africa reached their lowest ebb. Rommel and his German-Italian army inflicted a severe defeat on the Eighth Army at Gazala in May, captured Tobruk in June, and forced the British into a tumultuous retreat from Mersa Matruh deep into Egypt later that same month. With smoke billowing over Alexandria as the British burned their papers in the expectation of Rommel’s imminent arrival, the Afrikakorps reached the Alamein line. Under Sir Claude Auchinleck, the Middle East Commander-in-Chief who had sacked Neil Ritchie and taken personal command of the Eighth Army, the British halted the Axis advance in stiff fighting through the first week of July. Poorly coordinated counter-attacks through July, however, failed to dislodge Rommel. In a stalemate, the two exhausted armies paused to resupply, and both “settled down in acute discomfort plagued by flies, heat, desert sores, and all-pervading sand as they dug, wired, and mined their respective front lines.”1
As fighting petered out at Alamein, Prime Minister Winston Churchill grew increasingly concerned. He had watched the disastrous events of the summer unfold from both Washington, where he was in conference with the American president, and on his return to London. The surrender of Tobruk, which had withstood a siege in 1941, had been a particular blow. Now, with Rommel sixty miles from Alexandria, Churchill was little disposed to brook excuses. He would later exclaim, “Rommel, Rommel, Rommel, Rommel, what else matters but beating him?”2
In 1915, Kermit Roosevelt, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt, was appointed an honorary captain in the British Army. Roosevelt served under General Allenby in Palestine, saw active service in Mesopotamia with the Royal Field Artillery, and was awarded the Military Cross. In 1916, Roosevelt transferred to the US Army’s First Division and commanded an artillery battery from 1917 to 1918. When the Second World War began, Roosevelt once again sought to serve in the British military.
Fred Glueckstein is author of Churchill and Colonist II (2015) and a regular contributor to Finest Hour
When Kermit Roosevelt first arrived in London in the fall of 1939, it was believed that he would accept a position in the ministry of shipping, since he had been vice president until 1938 of the United States Lines and a friend of Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Like his celebrated father, however, Roosevelt, expressed a preference for action. In October, Roosevelt saw Churchill at the Admiralty and asked for his assistance in obtaining a regular commission in the British Army. With Churchill’s help, Roosevelt was commissioned as a major in the Middlesex Regiment, where he trained as a machine gun expert.
Historians commonly represent Winston Churchill’s relationship with Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig as antagonistic. Churchill was one of the British government’s most outspoken proponents of an “eastern” strategy during the First World War, urging operations against the junior members of the Central Powers. Haig’s own views on strategy, on the other hand, were resolutely orthodox. A committed “westerner,” the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) believed that victory could only be achieved through offensives against the main force of the German army in France, and he was suspicious at best of any diversion of resources and manpower to subsidiary theaters.
Churchill and Haig’s disagreements over such fundamental issues made the two men obvious opponents in wartime debates as well as the controversies that persisted long after the war had ended. According to one historian, Churchill’s postwar publications “set many of the terms for the debates which would rage around Haig’s reputation for the rest of the twentieth century.”1 Churchill played a key role in perpetuating the misleading image of Haig as an inept “butcher” who sacrificed a generation of Britons in futile offensives like the Somme and Passchendaele.
Winston Churchill was a professionally trained army officer. It would have been surprising if he had started out as anything else. From boyhood, he was fascinated by military history and deeply proud of his descent from one of Britain’s greatest generals, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Identifying these traits in his son, Lord Randolph Churchill steered him in the direction of the army. The rest is history.
Major General P. A. E. Nanson, the present Commandant of The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, begins this issue for us reflecting on the impact his institution had on Gentleman Cadet Winston Churchill. Douglas Russell then surveys Churchill’s army career in peace and war—a period that lasted nearly thirty years and was not without danger.
125 Years ago
Spring 1893 • Age 18 “A Little Paternal Advice”
Winston spent the spring of 1893 “cramming” with Captain Walter James for the Sandhurst Entrance Examination scheduled for late June. Having twice failed the examination, Winston would have been expected to redouble his efforts, especially after Captain James had written to Lord Randolph in early March to say that Winston “means well but he is distinctly inclined to be inattentive and to think too much of his own abilities” and was “too much inclined up to the present to teach his instructors instead of endeavouring to learn from them.”
True to form, Winston did not meet those expectations in the seven weeks following that letter. On 29 April, Captain James once more wrote to Lord Randolph that, while he had no definite complaints to make, “I do not think his work is going on very satisfactorily.” James told Lord Randolph that he had spoken to Winston about this and suggested that he give his son “a little paternal advice and point out, what I have done, the absolute necessity of single-minded devotion to the immediate object before him.” Read More >
General David Petreaus (Ret) at the 34th International Churchill Conference
The 2017 Winston S. Churchill Leadership Award was presented to General David Petraeus at the Thirty-fourth International Churchill Conference. In presenting the award, International Churchill Society Chairman Laurence Geller stated that the general perfectly exemplified Churchillian Leadership. Read More >
In giving up his government post to go out to the horrific battlefields of Flanders and ‘take some active part in beating the Germans’, Churchill demonstrated again the courage he’d displayed in those battlefields of the North West Frontier and Sudan. And he certainly experienced the horrors and dangers of the trenches first hand.
He wrote to Clemmie of ‘[f]ilth and rubbish everywhere, graves built into the defences & scattered about promiscuously, feet & clothing breaking through the soil, water and muck on all sides; & about this scene in the dazzling moonlight troops of enormous rats creep & glide, to the unceasing accompaniment of rifle & machine guns & the venomous whining & whirring of the bullets which pass overhead’ (Churchill to Clementine, 23 November 1915).
Here you can listen to Churchill’s recordings of many of his key speeches made over his long career. Some of these recordings are contemporary (recorded at the time), others were made by Churchill after the war, in 1949 at Chartwell, and issued by Decca in 1964
‘The printed page is not the correct medium for them, of course. To feel the shiver down one’s spine at Churchill’s words, only recordings will do. They alone can convey the growls, the strange pronunciation of the letter ‘s’, the sudden leonine roars, the cigar-and-brandy toned voice.’
Andrew Roberts, Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership
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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.