News improves for the Britain on the Eastern Front and North Africa
In early October Churchill went to Scotland to receive the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh and to visit the Home Fleet. The Prime Minister was showing great fatigue and stress and so he made several journeys to rest at Chequers, but he was seldom alone. Among his visitors were Smuts, Attlee, Cripps and numerous senior military officers. His stress showed in his response to an article in the New Statesman about British policy in India. He protested to Bracken: “Pray stop any repetition of any New Statesman comments outside this country till you have been personally consulted on the text of each message.”
This period saw the turning of “The Hinge of Fate.” As the Russians stopped the Germans at Stalingrad, the British opened an offensive at El Alamein. As Rommel’s forces were in full retreat in East Africa, the Allies landed in the West, under “Operation Torch.”
“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
After Alexander advised Churchill to “Ring out the bells” to celebrate victory in Egypt, Churchill told a Lord Mayor’s luncheon at Mansion House: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Churchill’s Private Secretary, John Martin, recorded the visit to Mansion House in his diary: “These have been exceptionally active days. I do not remember any more so since the summer of 1940. For the Lord Mayor’s luncheon the PM and Mrs. Churchill drove into the City in an open car … loudspeaker vans had announced his coming and we made a triumphal progress along the Strand and Fleet Street, up Ludgate Hill and past St. Paul’s. There were huge and enthusiastic crowds, with scarcely enough police to control them, and at the last stage we had difficulty in getting through.”
On the German side, Hitler was determined to stand firm and ordered no retreat in both Russia and Africa. British cities were still not completely safe. On 31 October waves of German bombers blasted the cathedral city of Canterbury in the biggest daylight raid since the Battle of Britain.
Vichy France became more overtly pro-German. It broke off diplomatic relations with the United States and in response Canada severed relations with Vichy. However, it did not save them: the Germans invaded Unoccupied France. Britain became a virtual prisoner and Laval a puppet of the Germans. French naval commanders were ordered to scuttle the fleet in Toulon and all obeyed. Some captains went down with their ships. Admiral Darlan abandoned Vichy after the Allied landing in North Africa and ordered resistance fighters to side with the Allies. Darlan was assassinated and succeeded by General Giraud as High Commissioner and Commander in Chief in French Africa.
In a broadcast to the Italian people, Churchill told them to oust their leaders or face shattering Allied air blows.
The Beveridge scheme for compulsory social insurance, the basis of the postwar welfare state, was announced in early December.
Churchill made some changes in his Government. Herbert Morrison replaced Sir Stafford Cripps. Lloyd George advised his old friend that he did not want a role in this war: “I’ve had my show. This is your show and I don’t want to interfere with it.”
Eleanor Roosevelt came to Britain to see firsthand the effect of the war on the British people, particularly the women. She was accompanied on a number of her activities by Clementine, who visibly showed the strain in keeping up to the pace set by the First Lady.
Although Churchill greatly admired the work of both the Roosevelts, according to Mary Soames he and Eleanor “never really got on.” One evening the British Prime Minister and the American First Lady had a “slight difference of opinion over Loyalist Spain” and required the conciliating role of Clementine. Nevertheless, when Eleanor left Britain, Churchill wrote her a note that included the comment that “you certainly have left golden footprints behind you.”
As the year ended, fierce fighting raged on Guadalcanal, the Germans were in full retreat at Stalingrad and the Allies were closing in on Rommel’s forces in North Africa.