Summer 1916 (Age 41)

On July 1 the tragic Allied off ensive began near the Somme River. On the first day the British suffered eighty thousand casualties, including twenty thousand dead. Although Churchill was an admirer and friend of the British commander, Sir Douglas Haig, he was sickened and revolted by the carnage. Later he compared Haig to a competent and confident, but distanced, surgeon who would not reproach himself if the patient died.

When Lloyd George was appointed to the War Office to replace the deceased Lord Kitchener, Churchill thought he might be brought back into the Government as Minister of Munitions but the position went to Edwin Montagu. Churchill’s disappointment was great but he had to reconcile himself to the implacable bitterness towards him exhibited by leading Tories. Lord Derby told Lloyd George that any party formed after the war must exclude Winston. “Our Party will not work with him … he is absolutely untrustworthy as was his father before him and he has got to learn that just as his father had to disappear from politics so must he, or at all events from official life.”

Churchill’s anguish appears in letters he wrote to Archie Sinclair:

“I do not want office, but only war direction . . I am profoundly unsettled: & cannot use my gift” and to his brother Jack: “Is it not damnable that I should be denied all real scope to serve this country, in this tremendous hour? … I writhe hourly not to be able to get my teeth effectively into the Boche… Jack my dear I am learning to hate.” He was greatly frustrated to think that if he had not gone to the front but “had stayed Chancellor of the Duchy and shut my mouth and drawn my salary, I should today be one of the principal personages in direction of affairs.”

Churchill believed that his reinstatement depended upon his vindication in the Dardanelles inquiry. To that end he requested the appropriate minutes of the War Council because they would show that Asquith, Grey, Kitchener and Balfour and others had supported the plan, but Asquith refused to let him have them. Even the establishment of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Dardanelles did not satisfy him.

The Commission began hearings on August 17. Churchill had hoped to be able to attend most of the sessions but was informed that they would be held in secret. Nevertheless he devoted most of his time to preparing his defense, but the terrain was slippery. Lord Kitchener was already entering the state of myth and his lack of competence could not be emphasized, nor would the military commissioners take kindly to criticisms of the officers at the front.

Churchill was not to return to the Government of Asquith who he called “supine, sodden and supreme,” but Asquith would not be supreme for longand Churchill’s fortunes would soon to be linked to those of Lloyd George.

Meanwhile he painted his canvasses and allowed himself to be painted by William Orpen. Many years later, John Colville wrote the following to Martin Gilbert about dining with Churchill in 1964:

“His memory had already faded and conversation was exceedingly difficult. During the first two or three courses at dinner I tried every subject in which I knew him to be interested, without success.”

Finally, over the savoury, I looked at the Orpen, which was hanging in the dining room behind his chair, and made the not very original remark that it was far and away the best portrait of him which had ever been painted. Suddenly his brain cleared. His voice became exactly as it had been years before. He replied, ‘I am glad you think so. I gave him eleven sittings, which is more than I have ever had time to give any other painter. It was in 1916, at a very unhappy time of my life when I had nothing whatever to do. Rothermere gave me the portrait, which was very generous of him, and almost my only occupation was to sit to the artist.’ His mind then clouded over again and we had no coherent conversation for the rest of the evening.”

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