The Place to Find All Things Churchill


The Munich Crisis

Not satisfied with only Austria, Hitler began demanding parts of Czechoslovakia, too. In September 1938, with war against Germany seeming increasingly likely, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich (according to a British Pathe newsreel, his first trip in an aeroplane), to meet the German leader. His aim of this ‘mission of peace’ was to secure a guarantee that there’d be no further German aggression.

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The Gathering Storm

On 12 March 1938, Austria was annexed into the German Third Reich. Despite pressure from both Austrian and German Nazis, Austria’s Chancellor had tried to hold a referendum for a vote on whether the Austrian people wanted to remain autonomous but a well-planned attack on Austria’s state institutions by the Austrian Nazi Party, on 11 March, meant the vote was cancelled. Power was transferred to Germany and Hitler’s troops entered Austria and on 13 March, Hitler proclaimed: the union of Austria and Germany.

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The Abdication Crisis

Following his blunder over India, Churchill’s judgement was again called into question in late 1936 and early 1937. The new king, Edward VIII, wanted to marry the American divorcée Mrs Wallis Simpson, a situation that prompted a constitutional crisis (kings weren’t allowed to marry divorced ‘commoners’; if the king went ahead, he’d have to ‘abdicate’, or step down as king).

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Autumn 1939 (Age 65)

Churchill now faced his second major war with Germany as First Lord of the Admiralty. On his return to his old Admiralty office he found the same charts he had used when he left in May 1915 with the locations of the ships still intact.

Consistent with his previous behaviour, Churchill was a very active leader. He wrote voluminous memos to everyone, giving, instructions and opinions, or asking for their comments. He often ended with “pray inform me” or “pray send me.” These minutes quickly became known throughout the Admiralty as the “First Lord’s Prayers.”

He involved himself in almost every issue – production of dummy ships for naval harbours, the neutrality of Eire, the return of the Duke of Windsor. His colleagues were often overwhelmed by his energies and one, remembering Churchill’s The World Crisis remarked: “He is writing his new memoirs.”

But he was convinced that Britain must not be hesitant in its efforts to win the war and, as part of the Land Forces Committee, he recommended an Army of 55 divisions by 1941 with 20 divisions ready to stand beside the French by the spring of 1940. Critics charged that an Army this size would inhibit development of the Air Force and Navy. Churchill defended his position with the comment: “Pardon me if I put my experience and knowledge, which were bought, not taught, at your disposal.”

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Summer 1939 (Age 64)

“Winston is back!”

Churchill was frustrated by the Government’s reluctance to enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union. He was also disturbed by the apparent desire of Chamberlain and Halifax to come to some accommodation with Hitler. He wrote Halifax: “I am sure you realize that to talk about giving back colonies, or lebensraum or any concession, while nine million Czechs are still in bondage, would cause great division among us.”

Some of Britain’s allies doubted her ability to be victorious over Germany. Among them was the United States Ambassador, Joseph P. Kennedy. Churchill challenged Kennedy’s use of the “dreadful word” defeat. He told Walter Lippmann that he would willingly die before admitting defeat but that if it should happen then “it will be for the Americans to preserve and maintain the great heritage of the English-speaking peoples.”

He was convinced that American involvement was inevitable in any future conflict. After outlining how Britain should respond to the atrocity of bombing attacks on her cities, he predicted that “of these grievous events, the people of the United States may soon perhaps be the spectators. But it sometimes happens that the audience become infuriated by a revolting exhibition. In that case we might see the spectators leaving their comfortable seats and hastening to the work of rescue and retribution.”

In June Churchill published a collection of newspaper articles under the title Step by Step. Clement Attlee spoke for many when he said: “It must be a melancholy satisfaction to see how right you were. ” Many, both within and outside the Government, wanted to see him appointed to the Cabinet as the clouds formed over Poland, but his supporters tended to be younger members and the old guard around Chamberlain was still strongly opposed to him.

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Autumn 1938 (Age 64)

On the day Chamberlain left for Germany Churchill made the following comments in the Daily Telegraph. “. . . from the moment that German troops attempt to cross the Czechoslovakian frontier, the whole scene will be transformed and a roar of fury will arise from the free peoples of the world, which will proclaim nothing less than a crusade against the aggressor.”

Chamberlain returned to inform his Cabinet colleagues that Hitler’s objective was only the Sudetenland. When French Prime Minister Daladier arrived to explore the possibility of a united front against Germany, he was told by his British colleague that Britain had no army to march to Czechoslovakia and it was a long way to send an air force.

On 20 September Churchill flew to Paris with General Spears to converse with Paul Reynaud and Georges Mandel, members of the French Cabinet who wanted to resist Hitler. On his return to England, Churchill issued a press statement which charged that a surrender to the Nazi threat of force would bring, not peace or safety, but ever-increasing weakness and danger. The loss of Czechoslovakia would free twenty-five German divisions and open a path to the Black Sea.

He personally, considered sending the following telegram to the President of Czechoslovakia but realized that he had no power to ensure the fact: “Fire your cannon, and all will be well.”

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Summer 1938 (Age 63)

Throughout this whole period Churchill wrote incessantly on military and political affairs for the Daily Telegraph and the News of the World. Most of the articles would eventually be reprinted in Step by Step. His son Randolph was finishing the manuscript of his father’s previous speeches and articles. This volume was published under the title of Arms and the Covenant (While England Slept in USA), although Churchill preferred the title, The Locust Years.

In another article published in Collier’s entitled Dictators on Dynamite (Woods C393), Churchill presented his view of why the world faced the ferocious dictators, Hitler and Mussolini. He attributed the basic cause to the war, the changes wrought in their personal lives and the opportunity it brought them:

“Hitler is an instrument of destiny. He embodies the revolt of Germany against the hard fortune of war, the soul-compelling surge of a warrior nation against defeat, its passion for rehabilitation and revenge. He exemplifies and enshrines the will of Germany … Signor Mussolini is not the prisoner nor the instrument of forces outside himself. He follows no path but his own. He uses the events and circumstances of post-war Italy as he would have used those of any other clime and century.”

Despite the threat each of these dictators and their nations presented, Churchill was confident of ultimate victory: “Dictatorship nurses within itself the canker that must destroy it. The dictators wear out their countries. They demand permanently what men and women are only willing to give in an emergency. And in the end they kill those very qualities of leadership that make them redoubtable.”

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Spring 1938 (Age 63)

In March Churchill was informed by the Evening Standard that his contract to write a series of articles for them on foreign affairs was being terminated because his views were not in agreement with those of the newspaper’s proprietor, Lord Beaverbrock. He quickly reached agreement with the Daily Telegraph, although its owner, Lord Camrose, insisted on a six-month trial because “our policies might well be at serious variance.” These articles were interspersed with others in the News of the World. Millions of readers were reading his views every week as they were syndicated throughout Europe and the Empire.

He reached fewer, but more influential, audiences in his public speeches. He believed that a national defence campaign was necessary and was doing his utmost to contribute his share to it. His goal was to unite England on the issue. “Our party must carry the Trade Unions with them. Non-Conformists, Churchmen and Catholics must work for the common end.” His son Randolph published a collection of his speeches on defense under the title Arms and the Covenant in England and While England Slept in the United States (Woods A44).

Distressed by proGerman and anti-French propaganda in Britain, he flew to France to advocate an Anglo-French alliance. When he was received with full honours by the French, the Cabinet let it be known that he spoke only for himself and not the Government. He believed that “if France broke then everything would break, and the Nazi domination of Europe, and potentially of a large part of the world, would seem to be inevitable.” In April, Leon Blum’s Government fell and Edouard Daladier became Premier. “A capable and sincere man,” said Churchill.

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Winter 1937-1938 (Age 63)

Motivated by a real fear of war based on his own WW I experiences, a knowledge that Britain was militarily weaker than Germany, and a belief that Germany understood “realpolitik,” Prime Minister Chamberlain pursued his policy of appeasement. Winston Churchill had the same dread of war and awareness of Britain’s weakness – but there his concurrence with Chamberlain ended. He believed that the totalitarian tigers had voracious appetites, which would only increase after each feeding.

Excluded from councils within both the Government and the Conservative Party, Churchill used numerous opportunities to extend his contacts. His “Focus on Freedom and Peace” luncheons brought together Tories, Liberals and Socialists who agreed with his objective of gathering support from all Parties, especially those of the “left,” for British rearmament, for the association of France and Britain, and “for the maintenance of peace through British strength.”

Early in January he left for a month’s vacation in the south of France. While there working on Volume IV of Marlborough (Woods A40), he heard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was requesting a total reduction of £12 million in Service estimates.

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Autumn 1937 (Age 63)

While rejecting the charge that he was an enemy Of Germany, except in wartime, Churchill expressed the view that he liked neither the new institutions nor the racial and religious intolerance of the Nazis, but he was willing to co-exist. What he most feared was a rearmed Germany “which almost single-handed fought nearly all the world and nearly beat them.”

He looked to the United States for economic as well as political and military leadership of the Free World. He worried about the zealous New Dealers who, by waging a ruthless war on private enterprise, were actually leading the world back into a depression.

Sir Maurice Hankey, a sometime confidante, expressed grave concern that Churchill had so many informants within the military, government and civil service. “It shocks me not a little that high Officers in disciplined Forces should be in direct communication with a leading Statesman who notoriously patriotic beyond criticism, is nevertheless in popular estimation regarded as a critic of the Departments under whom these officers serve.”

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Spring 1937 (Age 62)

Anticipating Neville Chamberlain’s succession of Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister, Churchill told his wife that he planned to leave politics for business and writing two long works – Marlborough (Woods A40) and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Woods A 138).

Before a Royal Commission on Palestine, he testified on his actions as Colonial Secretary in 1922: “We did not adopt Zionism entirely out of altruistic love of starting a Zionist colony … It was a potent factor on public opinion in America.” Privately, he told David Ben Gurion that after England woke up and defeated Mussolini and Hitler the Jews’ hour’ will also come” and a Jewish state in Palestine would be created.

In March Austen Chamberlain, a former Cabinet colleague and long- time friend, died, followed by Freddie Guest, a cousin and life-long friend, in April.

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Summer 1937 (Age 62)

Churchill’s literary efforts were prodigious. While he worked on A History of the English-Speaking Peoples he came closer to the completion of Marlborough with the assistance of William Deakin.

He continued his criticisms of government defense policies. particularly the Air Force but also the Royal Navy. But his credibility was at an all-time low following his stand on the Abdication. As his daughter, Lady Soames, later wrote: “His warnings of the national peril ahead had been practically unheeded, and now discredit was cast on him by the feeling that his support of the King sprang from ulterior motives, and was largely prompted by antipathy to Baldwin.” Clementine realistically recognized that only a national crisis would now bring her husband to power and, for his part, Winston believed that his life was probably in its closing decade.”

Together the Churchills attended the Coronation of King George VI. As Queen Elizabeth was being crowned, Winston turned to his wife and whispered, “You were right, I see now that ‘the other one’ wouldn’t have done.”

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Winter 1936-1937 (Age 62)

During December Churchill was in the forefront of the defence of King Edward VIII.

Notwithstanding his loss of popular and political support over that issue, the country continued to listen to him on military preparedness. Much of his information came from allies within the Government and he was grieved when one of them, Ralph Wigram, committed suicide on New Year’s Eve.

“Some pretty good duds are in the big positions.”

Although he advocated non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War, he aroused resentment with his sympathy for what he called “the Anti-Red Movement.” But he saw both Nazism and Communism as “those non-God religions.” He compared Fascism and Communism to the Arctic and Antarctic Poles – both similar in their wastes of snow and icy winds.

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Autumn 1936 (Age 62)

While in France Churchill began work on a series of articles on “Great Events of Our Time” which would eventually appear in the News of the World (Woods C337).

Although he publicly maintained neutrality on the Spanish Civil War, he wrote Clementine, “I am thankful the Spanish Nationalists are making progress … better for the safety of all if the Communists are crushed.”

After observing the French army he commented, “The officers of the French army are impressive…. One feels the strength of the nation resides in its army.” He rejected the growing view that Europe must go either fascist or communist. “Between the doctrines of Comrade Trotsky and those of Dr. Goebbels there ought to be room for you and me, and a few others, to cultivate opinions of our own.”

His speeches received close attention both at home and abroad and his stature within the Conservative Party increased, as many saw him the logical choice for Prime Minister in a crisis. He was also observed closely by the Germans. who accused him of favouring their “encirclement and oppression.”

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Summer 1936 (Age 61)

As Churchill gathered evidence on the Government’s inability to meet the growing German challenge, he was urged to be cautious by his friend and cousin, Freddie Guest: “I am convinced this is the psychological moment in your career. . . . You can lead the Conservative Party, but you cannot break the Conservative machine.”

Others encouraged him to continue to speak out. He followed the latter advice, charging that “half- measures and procrastinations are the order of the day.” Throughout the summer his speeches, in and out of Parliament, widened the breech with the Conservative leadership.

He joined with Austen Chamberlain and the 4th Marquis of Salisbury In leading a Parliamentary deputation to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin on the need for rearmament. Baldwin told them that most of them sat for safe seats, yet there was a strong pacifist and collectivist feeling in the country: “People will only learn, unfortunately, in a democracy, by butting their heads against a brick wall.” He warned of the difficulty in “scaring the people without scaring them into fits.”

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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.

At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.