The Stricken World: 1917-1922
As Churchill celebrated the New Year at Blenheim, he realized that his chances of coming back to power were not good. As he wrote Lord Fisher: "Our common enemies are all powerful today and friendship counts for less than nothing. I am simply existing."
The return to power would follow only exoneration by the Dardanelles Commission of Enquiry. In a letter to the Commission Churchill declared: "If ever there was an operation in the history of war which once having been taken should have been carried through with the utmost vigour and at the utmost speed it was the military attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula." The War Office, he charged, was aware of the incompetency of the generals even if the Cabinet was not. After the military defeat, the politicians were also found wanting in failing to renew the offensive.
Upon receipt of a draft copy of the Commission Report from Lloyd George, Churchill wrote a long response to the Commission which concluded: "Public opinion is unable to measure the true proposition of events. Orthodox military opinion remains united on the local view that victory in 1915 could only be found by pouring out men and munitions in frantic efforts to break the German entrenchments in the West. The passage of a few years will throw a very different light on these events. They will then be seen in a truer proportion and perspective. It will then be understood that the capture of Constantinople and the rallying of the Balkans was the one great and decisive manoeuvre open to the allied armies in 1915. It will then be seen that the ill-supported armies struggling on the Gallipoli Peninsula, whose efforts are now viewed with so much prejudice and repugnance, were in fact within an ace of succeeding in an enterprise which would have abridged the miseries of the World and proved the salvation of our cause. It will then seem incredible that a dozen old ships, half a dozen divisions, or a few hundred thousand shells were allowed to stand between them and success. Contemporaries have condemned the men who tried to force the Dardanelles —History will condemn those who did not aid them."
He repeated these sentiments in the Commons debate on the Commission’s Report: "When this matter is passed in final review before the tribunal of history, I have no fear where the sympathies of those who come after us will lie. Your Commission may condemn the men who tried to force the Dardaneiles, but your children will keep their condemnation for all who did not rally to their aid.
The Churchills purchased a new home at Lullenden in Sussex. Lady Randolph signed the Deed shown recently on ICS’ visit), suggesting that she provided backing or some other form of support.
After the report of the Dardanelles Commission, the political fate of Churchill lay in the hands of his old friend, Lloyd George. Churchill opposed the attack on the Western Front, wanting to wait until American forces could arrive in Europe. Lloyd George realized that it would be better to have his friend in the Government rather than criticizing from the outside, but his Tory allies were adamantly opposed to Churchill’s inclusion. Churchill later wrote that he was told by Lloyd George that he would eventually be brought in: "I became to a large extent his colleague. He repeatedly discussed with me every aspect of the war and many of his secret hopes and fears."
In late May, Churchill returned to the continent, where he met Marshal Foch, Sir Henry Wilson, and Sir Douglas Haig, among others. One of the others was Lord Esher, Liaison Officer between the British and French War Offices and a pillar of the political establishment. A letter from Esher to Haig outlines the views that many had of Churchill at the time: "A true appreciation of Winston Churchill — of his potential uses — is a difficult matter. The degree to which his clever but unbalanced mind will in future fulfill its responsibiities is very speculative. He handles great subjects in rhythmical language, and becomes quickly enslaved by his own phrases. He deceives himself into the belief that he takes broad views, when his mind is fixed upon one comparatively small aspect of the question.
"The power of Winston for good and evil is very considerable. His temperament is of wax and quicksilver, and this strange toy amuses and fascinates L George, who likes and fears him ... To me he appears not as a statesman, but as a politician of keen intelligence lacking in those puissant qualities that are essential in a man who is to conduct the business of our country through the coming year. I hope therefore that he may remain outside the Government."
Notwithstanding these views, in July Churchill returned to the Government as Minister of Muntions.
The Prime Minister, Lloyd George, wanted to bring his old friend Winston Churchill back into the Cabinet. Following the advice of Lord Beaverbrook that the anti-Churchill sentiment could be overcome, he appointed Churchill as Minister of Munitions on 17 July.
The response was as expected and was as intense in the Government coalition as anywhere. The Morning Post warned that "neither the War Office nor the Board of Admiralty is likely to be safe from his attention" and both the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary for War threatened to resign. A delegation of Tory MPs demanded the intervention of Andrew Bonar Law but the Tory leader did not think it was worth risking the dissolution of the coalition. Churchill expressed surprise at the vehemence of the concerns, particularly because it came from more than his political opponents.
The Morning Post was the most outraged of the press. The appointment, it stated, "proves that although we have not yet invented the unsinkable ship, we have discovered the unsinkable politician. " It still blamed the Dardanelles on Churchill, "whose overwhelming conceit led him to imagine he was Nelson at sea and a Napoleon on land."
At this time the Churchills changed residences. In London they moved back to 33 Eccleston Square and purchased an Elizabethan house called "Lullenden," near East Grinstead in Kent. Churchill left his country home that summer only to campaign in Dundee in a by-election, required because of his ministerial appointment. He was re-elected by a margin of over 5,000 votes.
Clementine noted that the depression which had afflicted Winston since the Dardanelles quickly disappeared with the challenges of his new office. But the 12,000 officials of the Ministry of Munitions were not a sufficient challenge. Although he had promised that he would make weapons, not plans, he quickly threw himself into every aspect of the war, much to the expectations and consternation of his Cabinet colleagues.
He used his position to influence military strategy and tactics in a number of ways. When invited to the War Cabinet as an observer, he was never reticent in expressing unsolicited opinions and he directed the distribution of materials in a fashion to influence policy.
He visited the Front and toured the devastation of the Somme. While his relations with General Haig were cordial, the British Commander had "no doubt that Winston means to do his utmost to provide the army with all it requires, but at the same time he can hardly stop meddling in the larger questions of strategy and tactics; for the solution of the latter he has no real training, and his agile mind only makes him a danger because he can persuade Lloyd George to adopt and carry out the most idiotic policy."
Churchill's encouragement of the production and use of tanks was later noted by a Royal Commission: "It was due to a receptivity, courage and driving force of the Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Churchill that the general idea of the use of such an instrument of war as the tank was converted into practical shape. " In April the United States had declared war on Germany and all of Europe awaited the arrival of American troops - forty-eight divisions were heading for Europe. It was Churchill's challenge to produce many of the weapons they would require. In doing so he met the Chairman of the United States War Industries Board, Bernard Baruch, who would become his lifelong friend.
The horror of the attacks at Passchendaele, which began 12 October is best described by Churchill himself: "The British offensive against Passchendaele unrolled its sombre fate. The terrific artillery pulverized the ground, smashing simultaneously the German trenches and the ordinary drainage. By sublime devotion and frightful losses small indentations were made upon the German front. In six weeks at the farthest point we had advanced four miles. Soon the rain descended, and the vast crater fields became a choking fetid mud in which men, animals and tanks floundered and perished hopelessly."
Fully aware of the consequences of what was happening on the Western Front, Churchill asked: "If we lose three or four times as many officers and nearly twice as many men in our attack as the enemy in his defence, how are we wearing him down?"
On the Eastern Front, Russia was collapsing from within. In October Lenin returned from exile and on 6 November Bolshevik mobs joined by soldiers and sailors, and the workers' Red Guards, stormed the Czar's Winter Palace in Petrograd. With civilian and military casualties well over ten million, Russia wanted peace but a civil war between the Bolsheviks and Kerensky's government ensued. Hostilities between Russia and Germany would end with the December signing of a treaty at Brest Litovsk in Byelorussia.
Churchill was also frustrated over the inappropriate use of tanks on the Western Front. They had been useless at Passchendaele because the battlefield had been a quagmire. As the Passchendaele battles ended, a new offensive began at Cambrai. Tanks contributed to a penetration of six miles, more than any previous British offensive, and the capture of more prisoners with considerably fewer casualties. The War Cabinet began to show more interest in what Churchill called "moving power." He later claimed that if he had been able to convince them of the potential of the tank in 1915, the war would have ended that year.
Ironically, these attacks coincided with the execution of the notorious spy, Mata Hari, who had provided valuable knowledge about tanks that allowed the Germans to develop gas and other weapons to repel them.
On 10 December Churchill made a speech at Bedford on Allied War Aims. Acknowledging that the country was facing its greatest danger since the battle of the Marne had saved Paris, he said that they could not rest until Prussian militarism is unmistakably beaten and the German people are saved from its evil spell."
He made several visits to France and to the Front, usually flying across the Channel. Since most airplanes were required at the Front, the machines at the disposal of politicians were often not safe. He had several narrow escapes and once almost crashed into the Channel before limping back to safety.
Prime Minister Lloyd George wanted Jerusalem for his Christmas present and General Allenby led his forces into the city on 9 December. Although Palestine was now British, the Government had already informed Jewish leaders that it would support Zionist aspirations for a permanent national homeland in Palestine. Although Churchill spoke within Cabinet circles for British disengagement from Palestine, he was not formulating British policy.
Alarmed at the implications of a Russian peace with Germany, Churchill admonished Prime Minister Lloyd George for giving priority to Naval recruiting: "The imminent danger is on the Western front: & the crisis will come before June. A defeat here will be fatal. . The Germans are a terrible foe, & their generals are better than ours"
In February Churchill visited France. Returning to his old trenches at 'Plugstreet' (Plaegsteert) he found only desolation and ruin. He could not even recognize the church and the ruins of the farm- houses. He commented that "the little graveyard has been filled and then smashed up by the shells."
On a visit to Ypres he found "absolutely nothing except a few tree stumps in acres of brown soil pockmarked with shell holes touching one another. This continues in every direction for 7 or 8 miles."
Despite the carnage on the continent he did not forget the threat at home. He wrote Clementine that the full moon increased the danger of attack on London and asked her to remove herself and the children from danger.
Churchill's comments about re- storing Germany to respectability after the war left an indelible and unusual impression on Lord Bertie, the British Ambassador to France who wrote Lord Stamfordham, "I did not argue with W Churchill for it would have been loss of time ... Has he a longsighted eye on the leadership of a Labour-Pacifist Party with eventually Premiership?" Not many accused Churchill of pacifism! Indeed, he was furious when he heard rumours in London that the Allies were considering peace with Germany. ". . . I shd greatly fear any settle- ment with them unless and until they have been definitely worsted. At present they think they have won . . . "
On his return to England he warned his countrymen that "the German hordes, released from Russia, must either hurl them- selves in attack upon the British and French armies, or must expose the fact that they are incompetent to launch an offensive." in a series of memos to his Cabinet colleagues he argued that trench warfare and the British attacks since 1915 has be-en enormously costly in lives and had gained little. He proposed a scheme of mechanized warfare that would win the war in 1919. The British High Command, however, still advocated the traditional artillery and infantry at- tacks.
On 21 March the Germans launched a final 'knock-out, blow along a fifty-mile front before American forces could move into position. It almost succeeded. The battle would eventually decide the war and would cost the British 300,000 casualties. Churchill was in France, at the Prime Minister's request, when the battle began. Unlike Lloyd George, he thought that Haig was the best commander for the situation because he would stubbornly refuse to retreat. On his return to London, Churchill reassured the Prime Minister that the offensive would loose its force as it proceeded: "It is like throwing a bucket of water over the floor. it first rushes forward, then soaks forward, and finally stops altogether. "
As the news from France darkened, Lloyd George asked Churchill to return to France to see what the French were doing: "Go and see everybody. See Foch. See Clemenceau. "
French Premier Clemenceau, the "Tiger," and Churchill were "cut from the same cloth" as they journeyed into the heart of the battle zone. Fearless within sight and sound of both rifle and artillery fire, the seventy-six-year-old French leader exhausted Churchill, but convinced him that Britain and France would win. Together they wrote U.S. President Woodrow Wilson that " . . . whatever happens, we shall contest the ground step by step... "
Churchill was in France where he spent much time with French Premier Clemenceau. Although very impressed with the old man, he was also cautious. To Clementine he wrote: "He makes the same impression on me as Fisher: but much more efficient, and just as ready to turn round and bite! I shall be vy wary."
From France Churchill successfully conveyed the need for additional military support, first to Lloyd George and then to Woodrow Wilson. Soon 480,000 more U.S. troops would be sent to Europe.
After the surrender of Russia, the Germans had launched a massive assault in the west. In response, Sir Douglas Haig issued an ’order of the day' to his troops: "There is no other course open to us but to fight it out! Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement.' Churchill never doubted the end result. He wrote to his friend the Duke of Westminster: "... the English-speaking world is settling down to war and becoming more fiercely devoted to it month by month. Presently the British will be more bitter than the French. Later on, the Americans will be more bitter even than the English. In the end we shall beat the heart out of Prussian militarism."
Churchill had established munitions factories in France and in order to be nearer to them he established continental offices at Chateau Verchocq. The biggest problem, however, was manpower, and the Ministry of Munitions was releasing 1,000 men per day to serve in the army.
Early in June the German advance reached the Marne, from which they had been expelled nearly four years ago. Churchill wrote Clementine: "The fate of the capital hangs in the balance - only 45 miles away." With the help of the newly arrived Americans, British, French and Canadians held the line. The German attack did not progress beyond Chateau Thierry.
In The World Crisis, Churchill analyzes why he thought that victory was inevitable: For forty days "the main strength of Germany had been ceaselessly devoted to the battery and destruction of the British Army ... Doggedly and dauntlessly [the men) fought with out a doubt that, whatever their own fate, Britain would come Victoriously through as she had always done before ... the British inflicted upon the Germans losses even greater than those they themselves endured, losses irreparable at this period in the war, losses which broke the supreme German effort for victory at the outset, and range the knell of doom in the cars of the overwrought German people."
On 1 June sixty-four-year-old Lady Randolph married Montagu Porch, a member of the Nigerian Civil Service, who was three years younger than Winston.
Toward Final Victory On 4 July Churchill spoke to the Anglo-Saxon Fellowship at Westminster about the war. 'I am persuaded that the finest and worthiest moment in the history of Britain was reached on that August night, now nearly four years ago, when she declared war on Germany.' He saw the war as "an open conflict between Christian civilisation and scientific barbarism' and declared that not only must Germany be beaten but 'she must feel that she is beaten' in order to 'deter others from emulating her crime.'
Labour problems plagued the production objectives of the Minister of Munitions. In some cases he blamed management. The Government assumed control of the Alliance Aeroplane Works because Churchill disapproved of their labour relations practices. In another case, he argued for conscripting the workers whose strike impeded tank production.
On 8 August the British offensive in France began and Churchill insisted on being present in order to observe the effectiveness of tanks in the battles. East of Amiens he came within a few thousand yards of the front. What he saw convinced him that, despite the apparent inferiority of some British equipment, the tide had turned and victory was inevitable. He returned to Paris where he lived comfortably at the Ritz and met with allied leaders regarding munitions problems. He also visited French Premier Georges Clemenceau, who complained about British manpower shortages. Churchill, for his part, argued against the transfer of manpower from munitions production to the fighting forces. He wanted priority given to tank production. He also wanted to increase the production of airplanes for bombing. "This is the moment to attack the enemy, to carry the war into his own country, to make him feel in his own towns and in his own person something of the havoc he has wrought in France and Belgium. This is the moment to affect his morale, and to harry his hungry and dispirited cities without pause or stay.'
On their tenth wedding anniversary Churchill wrote to his wife that "I am vy happy to be married to you my darling one, and as the years pass I feel more and more dependent on you and all you give me.' He acknowledged the fear she felt about his flying but could not give it up because 'it gives me a feeling of tremendous conquest over space.'
Throughout the frenetic pace of his work, the poet in Churchill was seldom far below the surface. After quoting some anti-war poetry by Siegfried Sassoon, he expressed the desire to make amends to the novelist and poet for how he had been treated because of his anti-war views. When advised to be careful Churchill replied: "I am not a bit afraid of Siegfried Sassoon. That man can think. I am afraid only of people who cannot think." He later met Sassoon who made the following remarks in his book, Siegfiied’s Journey: ".. To my surprise he seemed interested to hear my point of view ... he evidently wanted me to have it out with him ... for him war was the finest activity on earth. Nevertheless he was making me feel that I should like to have him as my company commander in the front line."
Speaking to munitions workers in Glasgow in early Ortober, Churchill said, "I cannot say that I am over-sanguine at the present time of the speedy termination of the conflict ... We must make certain that whatever may be the course of the war in 1918, the year 1919 will see our foe unable to resist our legitimate and rightful claims..." He particularly opposed a negotiated peace. Unconditional surrender was the only arrangement he would accept.
The moment for which he and his nation had fought occurred on November 11th. Churchill would later describe it in The World Crisis. "It was a few minutes before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I stood at the window of my room looking up Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square, waiting for Big Ben to tell that the War was over. My mind strayed back across the scarring years to the scene and emotions of the night at the Admiralty when I listened for these same chimes in order to give the signal of war against Germany to our Fleets and squadrons across the world. And now it was all over! ... All the Kings and Emperors with which we had warred were in flight or exile. All their Armies and Fleets were destroyed or subdued ...
"The minutes passed. I was conscious of reaction rather than elation. The material purposes upon which one's life had been centred ... crumbled into nothing ... leaving a void.
"And then suddenly the first stroke of the chime ... The bells of London began to clash ... I could see that Trafalgar Square was swarming ... Flags appeared as if by magic ... Almost before the last stroke of the clock had died away, the strict war- straitened, regulated streets of London had become a triumphant pandemonium. Yes, the chains which had held the world were broken.
"My wife arrived and we decided to go and offer our congratulations to the Prime Minister ... in the midst of a widely cheering multitude we were impelled forward through Whitehall ... We had driven together the opposite way along the same road on the afternoon of the ultimatum. There had been the same crowd and almost the same enthusiasm.'
The Churchills lived at 3 Tenterden Street, near Hanover Square. On November 15th, Clementine gave birth to their fourth child, Marigold Frances.
Looking beyond Germany, Churchill noted that "Russia is being rapidly reduced by the Bolsheviks to an animal form of barbarism. On the final day of the year he was invited to attend the Imperial War Cabinet where, in opposition to the views of the Prime Minister, he supported intervention in the Russian civil way by the Allied Powers.
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."
His forebodings never left him and years later he wrote in Great Contemporaries: "... the dull squalid figures of the Bolsheviks are not redeemed in interest even by the magnitude of their crimes. All form and emphasis is lost in the vast process of Asiatic liquidation. Even the slaughter of millions and misery of scores of millions will not attract future generations to their uncouth habiliments and outlandish names."
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.’
"‘Winston,’ said the PM, ‘is the only remaining specimen of a real Tory.’
"‘Never mind,’ laughed Winston, ‘if you are going to include all parties, you will have me in your National Party.’
"‘Oh no!’ was D’s retort. ‘To be a party you must have at least one follower. You have none."'
On another occasion they had a more serious exchange which an observer recorded in his diary: ‘At the Cabinet this morning the PM gave Winston a dressing down about Russia. Winston had been complaining that we had no policy. This the PM described as ridiculous. Our policy was to try to scrap the results of the evil policy which Winston had persuaded the Cabinet to adopt. Winston was not only backing a wrong horse but a jibbing horse like Denikin."
Churchill, unable to withstand the growing desire for peace and trade with Russia led by his own Prime Minister, wrote Lloyd George that "since the armistice my policy would have been ‘Peace with the German People, war on the Bolshevik tyranny.’ Willingly or unavoidably, you have followed something very near the reverse." But Churchill’s support for the Russian General Denikin finally waned throughout the spring months.
While working on his own memoirs of the Great War, he also read the accounts of others. He commented to Clementine on Philip Gibbs’s Realities of War. "If it is monotonous in its tale of horror it is because war is full of inexhaustible horrors. We shall certainly never see the like again. The wars of the future will be civil and social wars, with a complete outfit of terrors of their own."
Despite the opposition of Sinn Fein, the Government introduced a Home Rule Bill for Ireland in February. As violence grew in the Emerald Isle, Churchill urged restraint in dispatching regular British soldiers. He suggested a special force of former soldiers to back up the Royal Irish Constabulary.
As the Irish Home Rule Bill was being debated in June Churchill, writing in the illustrated Sunday Herald, called for tough measures against the murderers in Ireland while holding out hope for a real reconciliation with the Irish people.
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.
In early September Churchill went to the South of France for a holiday while Clementine stayed at home with Randolph, Diana and Sarah. The former two were constant behaviour problems. They had been educated at home but Randolph was now sent to Sandroyd, a preparatory school in Surrey. After the family moved into a new home on Sussex Square, Diana would be sent to Nottingham High School.
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."
In a speech at the Cannon Street Hotel in London, Churchill surveyed world events. He warned that the labour movement, "a great and, on the whole, beneficient influence" would have to guard against the activities of a minority of "hotheads" who were "trying to wreck the whole system of society." He noted that Lenin had said that "fifteen percent ought to be enough to dominate Great Britain, provided they were all out-and-out Communists."
His perceived foes were not only internal. Churchill saw enemies in India and Egypt, as well as Turkey and Mesopotamia: "When we see all these movements from so many different quarters springing up simultaneously, does it not look as though there is a dead set being made against the British Empire?
It is becoming increasingly clear that all these factions are in touch with one another, and that they are acting in concert. In fact, there is developing a world-wide conspiracy against our country, designed to deprive us of our place in the world and to rob us of the fruits of victory."
But, he promised, these enemies would "feel the weight of the British arm. It was strong enough to break the Hindenburg Line, it will be strong enough to defend the main interests of the British people, to carry us through these stormy times into calmer and brighter days."
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."
Basically, the treaty gave Ireland Dominion status similar to that of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The more radical, led by De Valera, opposed it, demanding complete separation from Britain. The treaty also left the destiny of the six Ulster counties for future resolution. Churchill believed that eventually Ulster would join Southern Ireland but that the decision would have to be Ulster's.
Given the responsibility for guiding Irish legislation through the House of Commons, Churchill with his rhetoric was an important factor in winning its acceptance. Speaking of the role of the Irish in British politics and the role of the Irish nation abroad, he told the House: "It is a curious reflection to inquire why Ireland should bulk so largely in our lives. How is it that the great English parties are shaken to their foundations, and even shattered, almost every generation, by contact with Irish affairs? When did Ireland derive its power to drive Mr. Pitt from office, to drag down Mr. Gladstone in the summit of his career and to draw us who sit here almost to the verge of civil war, from which we were only rescued by the outbreak of the Great War? Whence does this mysterious power of Ireland come? It is a small, poor, sparsely populated island, lapped about by British sea power, accessible on every side, without iron or coal. How is it that she sways our councils, shakes our parties, and infects us with great bitterness, convulses our passions, and deranges our action? How is it she has forced generation after generation to stop the whole traffic of the British Empire in order to debate her domestic Affairs? "Ireland is not a daughter State. She is a parent nation. The Irish are an ancient race. `We are too,' said their plenipotentiaries, `a far-flung nation.' They are intermingled with the whole life of the Empire, and have interest in every part of the Empire wherever the English language is spoken, especially in these new countries with whom we have to look forward to the greatest friendship and countenance, and where the Irish canker has been at work How often have we suffered in all these generations from this continued hostility? If we can free ourselves from it, if we can to some extent reconcile the spirit of the Irish nation to the British Empire in the same way as Scotland and Wales have been reconciled, then indeed we shall have secured advantages which may well repay the trouble and uncertainties of the present time." Such was the impact of Churchill's speech that only about sixty Tories voted against the Irish Treaty in the Commons; but this group formed the nucleus of a potential Conservative revolt against Lloyd George's leadership of the governing coalition.
Churchill also became Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Ireland which met regularly throughout December. His activities give credence to the suggestion that he is the founder of the modern Irish State. Churchill left for southern France the day after Christmas, hoping to rest, play and work on his Great War memoirs. Clementine was to join him but she was held at home by the illness of all of her children, a situation which brought about her own collapse. From her bed she wrote, "I wandered in the miserable valley too tired to read much and all the sad events of last year culminating in Marigold passing and re-passing like a stage Army through my sad heart."
Winston replied, "What changes in a year! What gaps! What a sense of fleeting shadows! But you sweet love and comradeship is a light that burns. The stronger as our brief years pass."
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.
In mid-June the Irish people gave the most seats in the Dail Eireann to pro-Treaty supporters of Michael Collins and approved the new Constitution. Republican opposition was not stilled. They controlled many areas of Ireland and showed their power by murdering Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, on the steps of his home in London. No one felt safe, least of all the Colonial Secretary. He was known to be on the IRA list for assassination. He was guarded by armed detectives and an armchair in his room was reinforced with metal. He slept in the attic of his house behind a metal barrier, with a gun at his side. He was always prepared to "fight it out" if necessary. While this must have caused considerable stress, their daughter Mary said that her mother "never made much of it, either at the time or afterwards."
Lloyd George was determined to grant recognition to the five-year-old Bolshevik Russia, but he had to overcome the opposition of his good friend Winston, who insisted that the Russians must promise not to export their revolutionary propaganda. With a general election looming, the Prime Minister chose not to press the issue in order to avoid a political crisis.
Whenever Churchill had a free moment, which ordinary mortals would never have found in a schedule like his, he worked on the first world war memoirs which he hoped would tell his side of the Gallipoli saga.
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."
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."
While Michael Collins was being ambushed, Churchill was returning from a holiday in France which was marred by cold and wet weather. On their fourteenth wedding anniversary Clementine wrote "...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." Unknown to his wife, on the next day he offered to buy Chartwell Manor near Westerham in Kent for £4,800. It would bring him great happiness and peace but not his wife, principally because they could not maintain it "within our means." On that very same day, however, another event occurred which brought great and lasting peace and pride to them both: the birth of their daughter, Mary, now Lady Soames, Patron of The Churchill Center and the International Churchill Societies.
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."
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.
The Tory victory in the by-election swung the Carlton Club MPs against the Coalition. Lloyd George resigned and Bonar Law became Prime Minister upon his election as Tory leader. Parliament was quickly dissolved and a general election was called, to be fought on party lines.
Churchill, who would have been in the middle of all of this, missed much of it. He was undergoing surgery for appendicitis. Maurice Hankey's diary, as recorded by Martin Gilbert, tells this wonderful story: "On coming to from his anesthetics Churchill immediately cried, 'Who has got in for Newport? Give me a newspaper.' The doctor told him he could not have it and must keep quiet. Shortly after, the doctor returned and found Winston unconscious again with four or five newspapers lying on the bed."
As soon as he could, Churchill wrote his Dundee constituency saying he would stand as a Liberal and asked for their support against the Labour and Communist candidates, hoping that the Conservatives would stay with him. He would eventually have to face not only Conservatives but also an anti-Coalition Asquith Liberal candidate.
Appendicitis was a much more serious illness than it is today and Churchill had to fight the election from his bed in a nursing home. To represent him in his constituency he sent his wife, who took her seven week old daughter Mary with her. The local press, no friends of the Churchills, maliciously referred to Mary as Clementine's "unbaptised infant."
Clementine spoke at six meetings and gallantly faced hostile crowds, even to the extent of having sneezing powder break up one meeting.
Four days before the election, Churchill arrived at Dundee's Royal Hotel and prepared to address a friendly crowd at Caird Hall. Two days later he faced a much less friendly group at Drill Hall, which he described as follows: "I was struck by the looks of passionate hatred on the faces of some of the younger men and women. Indeed, but for my helpless condition, I am sure they would have attacked me." Clementine had earlier written her husband that he should not be seen with a bodyguard. "If you bring Sgt. Thompson tell him to conceal himself tactfully as it would not do if the populace thought you were afraid of them."
Churchill received less than fourteen percent of the total vote. He was out of Parliament for the first time in twenty-two years. He later told the King that he had always held Dundee by speeches and argument, which required three weeks campaigning. He could not do it in three days. (As he would later say to Roosevelt about Yalta, "Even the Almighty took seven.") Nationally, Bonar Law's Tories won a commanding majority in the Commons.
Churchill did not believe that his political career was finished. When told that his activity of writing a book about the previous war was like "digging up a cemetery" he replied: "Yes, but with a resurrection." As the year ended, Churchill was, in his own words, "without an office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix."
Last Updated on Monday, 15 September 2008 11:23