Renovations at Chartwell
In May Stanley Baldwin replaced the dying Andrew Bonar Law as Prime Minister. While his family holidayed at Cromer on the North Sea, Churchill spent the summer at Sussex Square working on the second volume of The World Crisis, with periodic excursions to supervise the renovation of Chartwell. While there he lived at a rented house, Hosey Rigge (which he immediately nicknamed “Cozy Pig”), on the Westerham Road. After her return, Clementine suffered a throat infection so she stayed at Hosey Rigge while Churchill rested in the Mediterranean aboard the yacht of his wealthy friend the Duke of Westminister.
Clementine later told Martin Gilbert that she did not want to go to Chartwell “but Winston had his heart set on it.” She did not wish to leave London and she doubted the family could afford the costs of renovation and maintenance. But Churchill wrote her from the Duke’s yacht:
“My beloved, I do beg you not to worry about money, or to feel insecure, Chartwell is to be our home. We must endeavour to live there for many years and hand it over to Randolph afterwards.” He outlined how he intended to make the necessary money by serving as a consultant with oil companies and writing, primarily the latter. Furthermore, he was confident that “if we go into office we will live in Downing Street!” (Both the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer reside there. He would eventually hold both offices.)
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No Seat, No Appendix…
The Coalition Government of Lloyd George was coming apart. One critic said that it had “produced at the centre an atmosphere more like an oriental court at which favourites struggled unceasingly for position than anything seen in Britain for a century or more.” Another commented, “I never heard principles or the welfare of the country mentioned.”
“…without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix.”
Tory leadership was severely divided on whether to continue supporting the Coalition. Austen Chamberlain and Lord Birkenhead were solid supporters; Andrew Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin were not.
Churchill’s fellow Harrovian Leo Avery invited all Tory MPs to meet at the Carlton Club. He was responding to backbench concerns about their election prospects. Everyone was specifically watching the forthcoming by-election in Newport, where a Tory candidate was running against the Coalition.
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Churchill was consumed by the Irish situation during the summer. The Provisional Government and the Irish Republicans engaged in armed struggle which led to a civil war. In Churchill’s words “the Irish labour in the rough sea.” He supported Michael Collins and wrote him these encouraging words: “…I have a strong feeling that the top of the hill has been reached, and that we shall find the road easier in the future than in the past….there is nothing we should like better than to see North and South join hands in an all-Ireland assembly without prejudice to the existing rights of either….The prize is so great that other things should be subordinated to gaining it. The bulk of people are slow to take in what is happening, and prejudices die hard. Plain folk must have time to take things in and adjust their minds to what has happened. Even a month or two may produce enormous changes in public opinion.”
“…if only we could get a little country home within our means and live there within our means it would add great happiness and peace to our lives.”
Collins asked for the support of Churchill and the British Government in opposing the Local Government Bill for Northern Ireland. He argued that is would “oust the Catholic and Nationalist people of the Six Counties from their rightful share in local administration.” His pleading was unsuccessful. The cause of peace received two serious blows in August with the loss of two signatories to the Irish Treaty. The first was Arthur Griffith, who Churchill described as “a man of good faith and good will.” Eight days later Michael Collins was assassinated in County Cork. Churchill had just received this message from Collins through an intermediary: “Tell Winston we could never have done anything without him.” He now feared his greatest problem would be in dealing with “a quasi-repentant De Valera. It may well be that he will take advantage of the present situation to try to get back from the position of a hunted rebel to that of a political negotiator.”
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Irish Free State Bill becomes law
Concerned about IRA attempts to scuttle the Irish Treaty, Churchill, as Colonial Secretary, wrote to Michael Collins that “an explosion would be disastrous and even a continuance of the present tension tends to stereotype the border line and make it into a fortified military frontier, which is the last thing in the world you want.” After the horrifying murder of a Catholic family in Belfast, Churchill wrote the leaders of the waring parties that “if men carrying weight and influence with the opposing factions were to come together, a way [can] be found to end the horrors.” He told the House of Commons that Britain’s aim was to help the Irish people “shake themselves free from the convulsion and spasm‹due, no doubt, to the tragedies of the past.”
By the end of March Churchill and the Irish leaders had negotiated an agreement designed to end “the religious and partisan warfare” between Protestants and Catholics. On 31 March the Irish Free State Bill became law, with Churchill having earned much of the credit. However, there was considerable hostility in Ireland and republican opposition to the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State continued to grow. Churchill was particularly upset that an electoral pact might be reached between Collins, representing the Provisional Government, and de Valera, representing the republican opposition. On 20 May Collins and de Valera signed a Compact, but Collins informed Churchill that this would not prevent the establishment of an Irish State with a British connection. He argued that accommodation with the republicans was essential to the electoral process itself. Consequently, in the House, Churchill subsequently supported the Collins-de Valera Compact. Ulster supporters were not convinced. They believed that it guaranteed a republican South and continued civil war in the North.
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Toward the Irish Treaty
C.P. Scott reported in his diary that Harold Laski had found Churchill, who had begun negotiating the eventual Irish Treaty, full of threats against Irish extremists, arguing that Britain had utterly broken rebellion in the 16th century, so “why not now with our vastly greater power?” “Yes,” replied Laski, “but the condition of Ireland today is the fruit of our policy then.”
Clementine pressed moderation upon her husband: “Do my darling use your influence now for some sort of moderation or at any rate justice in Ireland. Put yourself in the place of the Irish. If you were ever leader you would not be cowed by severity and certainly not by reprisals which fall like the rain from Heaven upon the Just and upon the Unjust.It always makes me unhappy and disappointed when I see you inclined to take for granted that the rough, iron-fisted `Hunnish’ way will prevail.”
Churchill played a key role in negotiating an acceptable treaty with the Sinn Fein delegates, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. Griffith warned the English that although he would sign the treaty there would be great difficulty getting it approved in Ireland. As for Griffiths’s colleague, Churchill later wrote, “Michael Collins rose looking as if he was going to shoot someone, preferably himself. In all my life, I have never seen so much passion and suffering in restraint.”
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Ireland & Russia
Upon his return from a painting vacation in France and Amalfi, Italy, Churchill took up the challenge from two foes: Bolsheviks in Russia and Sinn Fein in Ireland. He combined the issues in a speech at the King’s Theatre, Dundee, in October. “The cruel tyranny inflicted upon the miserable people of Russia is now admitted even by those most favourable to them. We can take evidence from people like Mr. Philip Snowden and Mr. Bertrand Russell, both most advanced and extreme politicians, both life-long Socialists. [He later cited further evidence from H.G. Wells.] Ireland is a country which, like Russia, is deliberately tearing itself to pieces and obstinately destroying its own prosperity … The measure of autonomy and independence for Ireland ought not to be what the victory of a murder gang in Ireland can extort.”
That summer a special force of the Royal Irish Constabulary called the “Black and Tans” was created to fight Sinn Fein. Although Churchill claimed in a speech to the Union Debate, Oxford, that he was against reprisals, he also said that “I do think that something more than perfunctory lip-service is required in condemning the cold-blooded repeated murders of policemen and soldiers by people in plain clothes coming up with a smile on their faces and then shooting them through their jacket.” He refused to stop the policy of reprisals until Sinn Fein would “quit murdering and start arguing.”
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As the Russian civil war ended in the Crimea with a Bolshevik victory, Churchill feared another Red triumph at the gates of Warsaw. He wrote Lloyd George, Bonar Law and Balfour that “we are deliberately throwing away piecemeal the friends who could have helped us. Half-hearted war is being followed by halfhearted peace. We are going I fear to lose both: and be left alone … we are just crumbling our power away. Before long we shall not have a single card in our hands.”
He also worked for a peace treaty which would place British support on the side of Turkey against Greece. When he could not carry the Cabinet or the Prime Minister he worried that war would ensue in Palestine and Mesopotamia.
One concern was the expense of British intervention in an Arab uprising in Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, he also believed that a restrained response would lead to greater violence. Although he called for “vigorous action and decisive results,” as Secretary of State for War and Air he faced a chronic shortfall in manpower to meet all of Britain’s military commitments.
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Churchill’s tireless role in his “endless moving picture” was evident even when he was on holiday. While staying as a guest at Sir Philip Sassoon’s luxurious coastal home, he would excuse himself for several hours to work on his war memoirs.
Aware of his propensity to work all the time, he wrote Clementine from the Duke of Westminster’s villa in March that he was enjoying painting and riding. “1 have not done a scrap of work. This is the first time such a thing has happened to me. I am evidently ‘growing up’ at last.”
The threat of Bolshevism remained his prime concern. In a speech at Sunderland he asked his audience: “Was there ever a more awful spectacle in the whole history of the world than is unfolded by the agony of Russia?” One of his fears was that Prime Minister David Lloyd George would concede too much to Russian interests at the Paris Peace Conference.
Frances Stevenson recorded the following exchange between Churchill and Lloyd George: “Winston still raving on the subject of the Bolsheviks, and ragging D [David] about the New World. ‘Don’t you make any mistake,’ he said to D. ‘You’re not going to get your new world. The old world is a good enough place for me, and there’s life in the old dog yet. It’s going to sit up and wag its tail.’
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Two of the great antagonists in Russia’s post revolutionary years were Churchill and Trotsky. Churchill was British Secretary of State for War; Trotsky commanded the Red Army. Trotsky won.
Many of Churchill’s colleagues felt that his concern over the Bolshevik victory in Russia was turning into an obsession, excluding all else from his mind. The press called it “Mr. Churchill’s Private War.’ Lloyd George’s jibe that Churchill’s ‘ducal blood revolted against the wholesale liquidation of Grand Dukes” may have had some truth. Churchill likened the conveyance of Lenin across Germany to Russia in a sealed train to ‘a plague bacillus and more deadly than any bomb” and he called Bolshevism “foul baboonery.’ After he warned the House of the dangers of world-wide revolution, A.J. Balfour told him, ‘I admire the exaggerated way you tell the truth.”
The final blow came when Lloyd George and French Premier Clemenceau refused to provide further aid to the White Russian forces. At year’s end Churchill warned that very great evils will come upon the world, and particularly upon Great Britain, as a consequence of the neglect and divided policies of this year on the part of the Allies and of ourselves. We shall find ourselves confronted almost immediately with a united Bolshevik Russia highly militarised and building itself up on victories easily won over opponents in disarray.”
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