March 20, 2015

Reflecting on the war

Upon his return from a holiday in Italy, Churchill began a series of speaking engagements which provided an opportunity to reflect on the war and comment on the post-war situation. One of the first was a particularly moving event because Winston and Clementine received together the Freedom of the Borough of Wanstead and Woodford, which Churchill had represented since 1924. To his constituents Churchill promised that “I shall not waste your time or mine with vain repinings, but on the contrary you may be sure that I shall devote myself unswervingly to whatever duties may come my way…” Mrs. Churchill recalled that “at the first meeting of women I attended I said that I hoped we would be with you ‘for keeps’. It has turned out to be so, and when the tale is told it will be seen that our association with you is woven into the pattern of our lives in rich and happy colours.”

Their daughter, Mary Soames, wrote her mother that while both parents were “… noble beasts” her mother’s particular triumph was that “you really have been — and are — everything to Papa. Many great men have had wives who ran their houses beautifully and lavished care and attention on them — but they looked for love and amusement and repose elsewhere. And vice versa. You have supplied him with all these things — without surrendering your own soul or mind …”

Speaking at the Alamein Reunion Dinner at Albert Hall he predicted that the victory would become one of the most famous in British history and called it a turning point in the war. “Up till Alamein we survived. After Alamein we conquered.” He praised Field Marshal Montgomery as “one of the greatest living masters of the art of war.”

In late October Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King visited the Churchills at Hyde Park Gate, being greeted by Randolph and Mary on the pavement (sidewalk). King and Churchill discussed the British political scene and relations with the Soviet Union. Hoping that he was not betraying the trust of the British Government and basing the conversation on the fact that they were both Privy Councillors, King told Churchill about the defection of Igor Gouzenko from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa and the extent of Soviet spying in Canada and the United States. Churchill responded that “Communism is a religion” in that “they were using any means to gain an end.” Churchill approved of concerted UK, USA and Canada action and asked King to do all he could to keep the United States and Great Britain together.

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The Canadian Prime Minister recorded in his diary that Churchill informed him of the invitation from President Truman to speak in Missouri, “to give a course of lectures on European conditions … Truman had scribbled in his own hand across the letter that he would like very much to see him come and deliver the course. He mentioned a large honorarium, etc. He said that he thought he might go and deliver one lecture on the condition of the world. He would not wish any honorarium but this might give him a chance to talk with Truman and he might be helpful to British and American relations in that way.”

At the end of October Churchill told the boys at Harrow School that “as a youth I wanted to play the kettledrum, and when that could not be arranged I thought I would like to be a leader of the school orchestra … After a great deal of perseverance I rose to be the conductor of quite a considerable band [which] played very strange and formidable instruments. The roar and thunder of its music resounded throughout the world. We played all sorts of tunes, and we finished up the concert with Rule Britannia and God Save the King.

In November, accompanied by his daughter Mary, he visited Paris, where he was profoundly touched by the welcome and recalled the joy of liberation in his visit the previous year. After indicating that he supported France’s return to great power status, he visited Brussels, where he spoke on the “Foundations of Freedom” and “The Future of Europe.” He told Brussels University that “the champions of freedom can never afford to sleep” and a Joint Meeting of the Belgian Senate and Chamber that the “supreme task” was “the building of a world instrument of security, in which all peoples, treat and small, have a vital interest, and assuredly none more than those who dwell in the famous cockpit of Europe.”

He was also actively engaged in domestic politics in Britain, particularly in the fight against socialism. He had hoped for Liberal allies in that cause but noted that “animal hatred of the Conservative Party is the sole remaining theme of Liberalism.” Speaking to the Conservative Central Council Meeting at Friends House in London, he began with “you give a generous welcome to one who has led you through one of the greatest political defeats in the history of the Tory Party. It may perhaps be that you give me some indulgence for leading you in some other matters which have not turned out so badly.”

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