Churchill gave many of his paintings away as gifts (so although there are around five hundred-plus paintings by him known to exist, there are almost certainly more than this as records of these gifts weren’t always kept – and paintings still keep coming to light. President Roosevelt was only one such recipient. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower all received paintings from him, as did Viscount Montgomery, David Lloyd-George and US General George C. Marshall – as well as several young women in his family and social circle.
‘This picture … is about as presentable as anything I can produce. It shows the beautiful panorama of the snow-capped Atlas mountains in Marrakech. This is the view I persuaded your predecessor [Roosevelt] to see before he left North Africa after the Casablanca Conference [in 1943].’
Churchill’s note, accompanying the painting, to Truman, 1948
Shortly after his return from Fulton in 1946, Churchill began to write his war memoirs. With a team of researchers beavering away on his behalf, he had a very ordered (if somewhat laborious) approach to drafting and editing. He would pull together all his documents (or get his researchers to pull them together) – minutes, telegrams, letters – and then would track down material from other sources, too. Churchill would then begin to draft the text which would link all the documents together, dictating to a team of secretaries, often late into the night. Just as he did with all his speeches, he’d check drafts, check proofs, marking them up at each stage with copious corrections, determined to get the right word, the right phrase. Despite such a laborious process (or perhaps because of it), The Second World War appeared relatively quickly, in six volumes, between 1948 and 1954. Churchill never claimed the memoirs were ‘history’; they were rather a contribution to history. Although their very breadth and coverage gave the impression that they were a definitive account, there were omissions, of course. The Second World War was Churchill’s interpretation of the events, the work of a man seeking to place his role in the war – and in history. The books sold well, with a combined first printing of over 800,000 copies.
Watch newsreel footage of the Conference, with some of Churchill’s speech, here. Churchill stops his speech to take a drink and then says: ‘I don’t often do that’. After laughter and applause, he then adds, with perfect comedic timing, ‘I mean, when I’m making a speech’.
© British Pathé
At the birthday celebrations at Westminster Hall in November 1954, Churchill was presented with a portrait by Graham Sutherland, commissioned by past and present members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It was Sutherland’s practice to prepare detailed sketches, almost completely finished works, often close-ups of the heads of his sitters.
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Churchill felt strongly that Britain had a key role to play in world politics; it was ‘the only country in the world which had an important interest in all ‘three great circles among the free nations and democracies’ (the Commonwealth, the English-speaking world and Europe). He believed he could help Britain play its role in all three and this was one of the main reasons why he refused to retire. He continued to exert his influence and express his views about the need for a new approach to diplomacy in the face of post-war reality.
I am now going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the recreation of the European family must be the partnership between France and Germany.
Churchill, 19 September 1946, ‘The Tragedy of Europe’
Churchill’s speech at Fulton in 1946 was followed by a similarly important speech on the state of Europe later that year. Churchill’s power, influence and prestige internationally meant that his speeches were taken seriously and widely reported, and he became regarded as a leading figure in the European movement. But he wasn’t, as some have said, a committed ‘European’; he always felt that Britain should not be subsumed within a federal Europe. He always remained a British nationalist. His speeches must also be seen in the context of the time.
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In November 1945, Churchill was invited to give one of a series of annual lectures at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri. The letter of invitation was annotated by President Truman who offered to introduce Churchill, and therefore guaranteed a high profile event.
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
Churchill, 5 March 1946
Churchill’s speech, given on 5 March 1946, was to prove enormously influential. Originally entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’, it became better known as the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech because of his use of a phrase now in common use. This was Churchill’s first public declaration of the Cold War, in which he warned the western world about the ‘iron curtain’ that was descending over Europe, drawn down by the Russians, and called for greater Anglo-US cooperation, in what he called a ‘special relationship’, in the battle against Soviet expansionism. Click here to see Churchill give this speech in the presence of US President Harry S. Truman.
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Churchill wanted to see Britain as the interlocking link between three circles – the Empire and Commonwealth, Europe and the United States. But the British Empire was fading fast. The Empire never really recovered from the Second World War. British authority in India had been eroding since the early 1930s and the hand-over of power was now inevitable. But Churchill was still against relinquishing responsibility for the governance of the country to ‘men of straw’.
It is with deep grief I watch the clattering down of the British Empire with all its glories and all the services it has rendered to mankind.
Churchill, 6 March 1947: ‘Europe Unite’ speech
Eventually, Churchill realised that the glory days of the Empire were over and he had to support the Independence of India Bill. Learn more about Indian Independence at the British Library India Office Records.
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In fact, Churchill was more than ready for retirement. Only a year after his resignation, days before his eighty-second birthday, he finally admitted that he was not the man he was; he could not be Prime Minister now. Only a week after his last cabinet meeting, he and Clemmie went on holiday to Syracuse.
I am not the man I was. I could not be Prime Minister now.
Churchill to Lord Moran, 26 November 1956 (cited in Langworth Churchill: In His Own Words)
Even though he was not the man he was, and despite his failing health, Churchill began his ‘retirement’ with some of his old vigour and energy. For an elderly man, he was remarkably resilient and determined. He embarked on holidays, painting tours and new writing projects.
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In January 1950, a general election was called and this time Churchill took a more measured approach in his campaigning, avoiding those outright attacks on socialism he’d made in 1945.
By a tiny margin (six seats), the Labour government won the election.
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In 1951, Churchill finally avenged that devastating defeat of 1945 and was back in Downing Street. He was nearly seventy-seven. During this second period as Prime Minister, what he later referred to as ‘several years of quiet steady administration’, Churchill devoted much of his energy to foreign affairs; to Cold War issues, strengthening Anglo-American relations (that ‘special relationship’) and to retaining Britain’s position as a global power.
I want so much to lead the Conservatives back to victory. I know I am worth a million votes to them.
Quoted in Churchill, Michael Wardell, ‘Churchill’s Dagger: A Memoir of La Capponcina’, Finest Hour 87, Summer 1995
He didn’t do much in the way of domestic policy-making – stating once that the government’s priorities were ‘houses and meat and not being scuppered’ (John Colville, 22–23 March 1952).
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Churchill didn’t enjoy being in opposition after 1945 and he didn’t attend the House of Commons very often, leaving the day-to-day party management to others. He didn’t seem particularly interested in economic issues, and the Conservatives came to seem increasingly out of step with the drive towards welfare and reconstruction.
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, then, he ‘looked like a dinosaur at a light engineering exhibition’ (Aneurin Bevan, ‘History’s Impresario’). Vulnerable at home, unable to influence policy (and generally unwilling to), Churchill played to his strengths. He knew that he had the most to offer in his role as the great elder statesman who had ‘won the War’, and for the second time in his career, he turned his attentions abroad – and to the US.
The best that can be said for Churchill as leader of the Conservative Party is that he exercised a vague but olympian authority and kept the show on the road.
Paul Addison, review of Gilbert, Never Despair
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On 2 June 1953, following the death of her father, George VI, the young Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England, the occasion filmed by television cameras – against Churchill’s wishes. He felt the Queen would find it a strain and that ‘[i]t would be unfitting that the whole ceremony … should be presented as if it were a theatrical performance’ (speech to House of Commons).
The future queen insisted and the filming went ahead. Churchill became a Knight of the Garter, becoming Sir Winston Churchill in April 1953 in time for the Coronation. He’d refused the honour when offered it by George VI after his election defeat in 1945, famously saying (but not to the king): ‘How can I accept the Order of the Garter, when the people of England have just given me the Order of the Boot?’.
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After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Churchill wanted his wartime coalition government to continue until the defeat of Japan which wasn’t anticipated for another year at least. But Labour and the majority of the Liberals refused and pulled out of the coalition. Churchill headed a Conservative ‘caretaker’ government for a brief period until Parliament was dissolved and the first general election for ten years was held.
I must tell you that in spite of all our victories a rough road lies ahead. What a shame it would be, and what a folly, to add to our load the bitter quarrels with which the extreme socialists are eager to convulse and exploit these critical years. For the sake of the country and of your own happiness I call upon you to march with me under the banner of freedom towards the beacon lights of national prosperity and honour which must ever be our guide.
Churchill, 21 June 1945
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Shortly after his return from Fulton, Churchill began to write his war memoirs. With a team of researchers working on his behalf, and a very ordered (if somewhat laborious) approach to drafting and editing, he soon had the first volume finished. appeared in six volumes between 1948 and 1954.
Churchill never claimed the memoirs were ‘history’; they were rather a contribution to history. Although their very breadth and coverage gave the impression that they were a definitive account, there were omissions, of course. was Churchill’s interpretation of the events, the work of a man seeking to place his role in the war – and in history. The books sold well, with a combined first printing of over 800,000 copies.
Read More >
Finest Hour 174, Autumn 2016
By Andrew Stewart
Andrew Stewart is Reader in Conflict and Diplomacy in the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London and the Director of Academic Studies (KCL) at the Royal College of Defence Studies. The views, analysis, and opinions expressed here are his own.
For Britain and its Empire, a period of intense reflection and debate followed the conclusion of the bloodbath that had been the First World War. One of the main themes discussed was how in the event of another war, military resources and forces that were scattered around the world could be better prepared, co-ordinated, managed, and led. This was not new. Similar discussions had taken place since at least 1890, when the Hartington Commission had proposed the establishment of a naval and military council. In 1904 Arthur Balfour took over the chairmanship of a Cabinet Defence Committee, and, with the prime minister in the chair, it was renamed the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) and seen “as an attempt to create an Imperial General Staff on a temporary basis.”1 It had its own dedicated secretariat, but, with no executive powers, its ability to function effectively was seriously hampered. Following the outbreak of war in 1914, the CID ceased to meet. It was more than four years later, in November 1919, before it re-convened, by which point it was clear that there had been significant changes not just to the international system but also to the imperial network which held such an important role within it.
Questions were now raised about whether the CID was the most effective means for the co-ordination of imperial defence. Aside from the tremendous loss of life suffered by all of the territories that had fought for King George V, the conflict had left Britain’s finances in a parlous state. In the summer of 1921 David Lloyd George had established a special committee to review expenditure chaired by Sir Eric Geddes, a businessman who had played a prominent wartime role in helping organise military transportation. The interim report was presented to the prime minister in December and within its recommendations were proposals for major cuts to the military. Although he no longer had any direct involvement in the War Office or Air Ministry, having moved in November 1921 to take control of the Colonial Office, amongst the report’s most vocal critics was Winston Churchill.
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