March 20, 2015

VE-Day celebrations

Looking forward to final victory, Churchill glumly but prophetically commented: “I think the end of this war may well prove to be more disappointing than was the last.”

In February he met Roosevelt and Stalin in the Crimea where they signed the Yalta Agreement. With full understanding of the Anglo-American relationship with the Soviets, Churchill commented that “the only bend of the victors is their common hate.” His parting toast to Marshal Stalin was that the Soviet leader would live “to see his beloved Russia not only glorious in war, but also happy in peace.”

Churchill was deeply anxious about the fate of Poland and Greece. On his return from Russia he visited Athens where he was wildly received in Constitution Square. The Acropolis was floodlit for the first time since the beginning of the war.

In Egypt he met his friend Franklin Roosevelt for the final time. As they parted, Churchill recalled that “I felt he had a slender contact with life.”

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“I think the end of this war may well prove to be more disappointing than was the last.”

Back home his worst fears were realized concerning the Soviets’ intention not to uphold the Yalta Agreement regarding Poland. Specifically, he learned that soldiers of the Polish Home Army were being rounded up. Jock Colville recorded: “The PM and Eden both fear that our willingness to trust our Russian ally may have been vain and they look with despondency to the future.”

As Churchill crossed the Rhine River on 26 March his old friend and political ally, David Lloyd George, died. Churchill told the House of Commons that “there was no man so gifted, so eloquent, so forceful, who knew the life of the people so well.”

Shortly after he made the following valedictory comments about the life of his great American friend and ally, Franklin Roosevelt. “As the saying goes, he died in harness, and we may well say in battle harness, like his soldiers, sailors, and airmen, who side by side with ours are carrying on their task to the end all over the world. What an enviable death was his. He had brought his country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon him.”

The end of April brought the death of two of his mortal enemies, Mussolini and Hitler. Jock Colville informed Churchill that German radio had announced that Hitler had died “fighting with his last breath against Bolshevism.” “Well,” commented Churchill, “I must say I think he was perfectly right to die like that.”

The two days of VE-Day celebrations were some of the most celebratory in Churchill’s long life. On 8 May after lunch and an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony with the King and Queen he returned to 10 Downing Street and then drove to the House of Commons in an open car. No engine power was necessary, said his bodyguard. The car was literally forced along by the crowd.

He led a procession of his Cabinet and members of the House of Commons to St. Margaret’s Church for a Thanksgiving Service. Before heading back to Buckingham Palace Churchill asked Inspector Thompson for a cigar. “For once I had forgotten to bring his case,” wrote the Inspector. “Drive to the Annexe and I will get one,” said Churchill. “I must put one on for them. They expect it.”

Returning to the Annexe after his meeting at the Palace, Churchill went to the Ministry of Health balcony overlooking Whitehall. The Times described the scene:

“One of the most moving and remarkable scenes in the national rejoicing took place just before 6 o’clock when Prime Minister Churchill spoke from a balcony in Whitehall to a great crowd, whose self-disciplined orderliness and gaiety were so typical of the proud, unconquerable spirit of London through the dark and perilous days now left behind.

This was London’s own joyous meeting with the Nation’s war leader and with other Ministers who have worked at his side though five exacting years. Mr. Churchill spoke to this assembled multitude of citizens only a few sentences, but they were deeply expressive. ‘This,’ he said to them, ‘is your victory.’”

Late in the evening he again appeared on the balcony and the crowd below him sang “Land of Hope and Glory” and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

The next day he made a tour of London in an open car. At 8:30 that evening he decided to go out again. Informed that the open car had been dismissed he angrily retorted that he would just walk. Going down Downing Street was easy but on reaching Whitehall he realized that it would be impossible to continue so he decided to walk between his two escort cars. Everyone wanted to talk to him and touch him so the Prime Minister decided to climb on the top of the car assisted by Inspector Thompson who describes the incredible scene: “After a while he climbed along the car roof on all fours until he could sit on the front with his legs dangling over the windscreen. He looked very funny and very happy and the crowds cheered their heads off.”

Returning to the balcony at Whitehall he led the crowd in a singing of “Rule Britannia.”

Later in the month Churchill was informed by the Labour Party that the coalition could not continue. At the King’s request he took over a caretaker government while conducting a general election, continuing the war with Japan and creating a post-war Europe with Truman and Stalin.

During June Churchill fought an election, on one day visiting ten cities. As it became clear that the people thought Labour had a better post-war policy and were about to express their long-held resentment against the Conservative pre-war appeasers, Churchill hoped that his own popularity could withstand the tide. He advised the overseas troops that there is “no truth that you can vote Labour or Liberal without voting against me.”

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