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 >
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 >
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 >
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 >
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 >
A comment under an article in the nationalist newspaper the National during the controversies about Churchill’s reputation, early in 2019. By the time I took the screenshot, seventeen people had “liked” it.
Finest Hour 189, Third Quarter 2020
By Gordon J. Barclay
Dr. Gordon J. Barclay is an archaeologist and historian. His most recent book The Fortification of the Firth of Forth 1880–1977: “the Most Powerful Naval fortress in the British Empire” (with Ron Morris) was published in 2019.
The real, complex, and historically important Churchill is increasingly disappearing behind crudely mythologised versions erected by those who wish to defend a political position or a series of values, and those who wish to attack them. On the one hand there is the faultless secular saint; on the other, a villain for all seasons. Oddly, at both extremes, these positions can often be characterised as “nationalistic.” In much of this rhetoric, “Churchill” often seems merely to be a personification of Britain, England, or the Empire for those whose nationalism either idolises or denigrates what they stand or stood for. It appears to have little connection to the real man in the context of the times he lived through.
A particular strand of Scottish nationalism seems to believe that the cause of Scottish independence will be furthered by promoting division and distrust between the Scots and the English. On social media, their rhetoric can cross the line into something like hate speech.
Historical grievances are being resurrected, exaggerated, or just invented. In particular, there are what I have termed the four twentieth-century “military myths,” and it will perhaps come as no surprise to the reader that Churchill features in three of them. It is these three that I discuss here. The fourth, claiming that Scotland suffered disproportionately high casualties in the First World War—between 25% and 28% of enlisted men—has been discredited by Patrick Watt.1
The Right Honourable Gordon Brown was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 to 2010. Prior to that he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and was Member of Parliament for Kirkcaldy and Crowdenbeath for thirty-two years.
So much has been written about every aspect of Winston Churchill’s life that it is surprising that one important area—his relationship with Scotland—has commanded so little attention. That is why it is important that this set of essays in Finest Hour starts to rectify this and rescues Churchill’s Scottish connections from the condescension of posterity.
Churchill’s wife Clementine was born of a Scottish family. His First World War regiment was Scottish. For fourteen years he served as a Scottish Member of Parliament. But there was a political reason why Churchill had no reason to love Scotland. After serving fourteen years from 1908 to 1922 as Member of Parliament for the jute city of Dundee, he was unceremoniously dumped by the East of Scotland electors. Humiliated—he came fourth in the poll—he never set foot in Dundee again and never again stood for a Scottish constituency. Irony of ironies, he was defeated in 1922 in the two-member constituency by a prohibitionist—unsurprisingly, Churchill defended the liquor trade—and by a pacifist. Faced with what he later called “the Order of the Boot,” he found little sympathy—only scorn. “What is the use of a WC without a seat?” one critic joked.
His Dundee sojourn, and particularly his last visit to the city, tells us much about the pre-1940 Churchill. Courageous to a fault, he braved ill health—he had just suffered appendicitis and hostile audiences, some 5,000 strong, and the jeers and the taunts of his opponents—when fighting in that election of 1922 for his political life. Read More >
With the death of Paul Addison, the world of Churchill studies is substantially poorer. No one claiming fully to understand Britain’s Second World War leader can fail to have read his pioneering study Churchill on the Home Front. Equally his biography Churchill: The Unexpected Hero is regarded by many, including myself, as the best short biography. Paul died on 21 January 2020 after a stoic battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Rosemary and his two sons, James and Michael. For many years he was my close friend and colleague at the University of Edinburgh.
Born outside the small cathedral city of Lichfield in the English Midlands, Paul won a firstclass degree in history at Pembroke College, Oxford. As a postgraduate student he benefited from the inspired supervision of the celebrated historian A. J. P. Taylor to write his Ph.D. thesis on the opposition to Churchill’s wartime coalition government. It was Taylor, Paul often said, who fired his passion for history. The thesis formed the foundation of his path-breaking book The Road to 1945, which was published in 1975. Others followed, such as a BBC book accompanying the TV series Now the War Is Over (1985) and No Turning Back (2010). These all helped set the agenda for other British historians and influenced generations of students. Read More >
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 >
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as depicted by “Spy” in Vanity Fair. “CB” was the first Prime Minister to hold the title officially.
Finest Hour 188, Second Quarter 2020
By Fred Glueckstein
Fred Glueckstein is a frequent contributor to Finest Hour and author of Churchill and Colonist II (2015).
On 18 February 1901, Winston Churchill, a member of the Conservative Party, gave his maiden speech in the House of Commons. Churchill presented his views and recommendations concerning the state of affairs in South Africa.
The speech was widely recognized as a success, and Churchill received many congratulatory letters. One was from the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who had been unanimously elected in February 1899 as the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. The letter to Churchill read: “I hope you will allow me to say with how much pleasure I listened to your speech.”1
Three years later, in 1904, Churchill crossed the floor of the House to join the Liberals as a supporter of free trade, a policy the Conservatives were abandoning. On 13 December 1905, Campbell-Bannerman, now Prime Minister, appointed Churchill to the junior ministerial post of Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. The non-Cabinet-level portfolio was Churchill’s first Government position. 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 >
In his multi-volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, published from 1933 to 1938 as Marlborough: His Life and Times, Winston Churchill described the creation of the ancestral seat.
The background: during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), King Louis XIV of France and the Elector of Bavaria sought to knock Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I out of the war by seizing Vienna in the summer of 1704 and gaining a favorable peace settlement. This plan ended in failure in August with the catastrophic defeat of French and Bavarian forces at the Battle of Blenheim at the hands of British and Austrian armies led by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. The battle altered the course of the war, which nevertheless continued to rage for another decade.
Following his spectacular victory at Blenheim, Marlborough returned home from Bavaria in the autumn as “The Conquering Hero” of Queen Anne’s realm. For the moment he was showered with honors, but the protracted conflict later turned political opinion against him. Here follows Winston Churchill’s account of the Duke’s homecoming. 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.