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Finest Hour 171

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 06

By Con Coughlin


pashtun Tribesmen
In 1897, British forces launched a bloody campaign against Afghanistan’s Pashtun tribesmen—forebears of the Taliban—on India’s North-West Frontier (now the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan). It was the first time Winston Churchill, then twenty-two and a junior cavalry lieutenant as well as an aspiring war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, had taken part in military action as a combatant. The experience would have a profound bearing on his subsequent career as a writer and politician.

A week into the campaign, Churchill was still a knight of the pen, rather than one of the sword, so he concentrated his energy on finding good copy for his Telegraph dispatches. He kept himself busy by accompa- nying the daily reconnaissance patrols and observing their map-making efforts. As he told his friend Reggie Barnes, he spent most days with the 11th Bengal Lancers and the evenings in the general’s mess. When out riding with the Lancers, Churchill was always on the lookout for action, but had little luck. “I take every opportunity and have accompanied solitary patrols into virgin valleys and ridden through villages and forts full of armed men—looking furious—but without any adventure occurring. It is a strange war. One moment people are your friends and the next they are shooting. The value of life is so little that they do not bear any grudge for being shot at.”

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 18

By Douglas Russell



“Plugstreet” under shellfire, early 1916 (painted by Winston S. Churchill)“Plugstreet” under shellfire, early 1916 (painted by Winston S. Churchill)When the Great War began for Winston Churchill on 4 August 1914, he was at his war station, the Admiralty in London, where he had served as First Lord since 1911. After several signal successes in that office at the outset of the conflict, the mounting casualties and looming failure of the Dardanelles campaign in Turkey led to his forced resignation from the cabinet on 21 May 1915. He was then appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which was a cabinet office but one with no duties related to management of the war. His cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, wrote to him, “I gather you have been thrown a bone on which there is little meat.”1 Try as he might to be heard in cabinet meetings, Churchill’s influence on war policy was at an end.

When the Cabinet War Committee was reorganized in October 1915, Churchill was not included, and he resigned as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the same day. Being excluded from an effective political role in the direction of the war was a humiliating blow to Churchill, who feared his political career was over. As his wife Clementine later told Martin Gilbert, “When he left the Admiralty he thought he was finished. He did not believe he would ever be asked back into the government. I thought he would never get over the Dardanelles. I thought he would die of grief.”2

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 34

By Michael McMenamin


ATD-Label copy copy
125 Years ago
Winter 1891 • Age 16
“I Am Going to Lunch with Mama”

The winter of 1891 was quite cold, and Winston and his brother Jack spent their holiday at Banstead, their parents’ new country house, which they had found during the summer. Though their parents were not there, the boys had a good time. Winston wrote to his mother on 1 January that “the Pond is frozen 8 inches—The ground is covered with 4 inches of snow. Pipes are frozen—Oil freezes in the kitchen. No wind. V-happy V.well. We are enjoying ourselves very much. We exist on onions and Rabbits & other good things. The ferrets are very well & send their love so do the guinea-pig & rabbit I have bought. If I hear the result of my Examination I will wire.”

Winston received a 19 January letter from the Harrow headmaster J. E. C. Welldon congratulating him on passing the Army’s Preliminary Examination for Sandhurst. Lady Randolph wrote a letter on 26 January to Lord Randolph advising him of this and suggesting that he “might make him a present of a gun as a reward. He is pining for one and ought to have a little encouragement.”

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 30

By Brendan Sofen



Winston Churchill was always somewhat ambivalent about education. He recalled that his schooldays were “the only barren and unhappy period of my life,” and he never attended university.1 Yet he received many honorary degrees in the United States, Great Britain, and Europe. The occasions for these awards gave him the opportunity, originally as Britain’s wartime prime minister and later as an international statesman, to discuss the benefits of education and make wide-ranging assessments of the state of the world. He delivered speeches at universities all over Europe, from Bristol to Brussels, from Leiden to London. But it was his American addresses at Harvard University, the University of Miami, Westminster College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from the years 1943 to 1949, which were the most significant.

At the beginning of this period, Churchill was Britain’s wartime prime minister and a fervent believer in the Anglo-American alliance. Later, after his election defeat in 1945, he became the leader of the Conservative opposition. Desiring to rebuild his political career, he saw the advent of the Cold War as an opportunity to revive the Anglo-American relationship, which he feared had lapsed after the Allied victory in 1945. In calling for Great Britain and the United States to take concerted action against the expansionist aims of the Soviet Union, he was also re-establishing himself as someone with important things to say about the state and the future of the contemporary world. The ideal place for him to speak his mind on these topics proved to be on American campuses. He utilized these opportunities not only to promote the importance of the Anglo-American relationship, first against Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union, but also to offer his thoughts on the general importance of higher education.

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 48

Review by Anne Sebba

Anthony Churchill, Winston’s Island, Chale, Isle of Wight: Cross Publishing, 2015, 112 pages, £40.00.
ISBN 978-1873295540
To purchase, go to  www.winstonsisland.co.uk



winstons island-960x700What’s in a name? Anthony Churchill describes himself as “a very minor” Churchill on his father’s side through the Dorset branch of the family, and “a very minor” Spencer on his mother’s. He had, he insists, never bothered too much about his famous family name until he retired some years ago and put down roots on the Isle of Wight, where he kept discovering snippets of history linking his illustrious ancestor to the island. As an ocean racer who had sailed with Ted Heath on all his Morning Cloud yachts, winning the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race as navigator strategist, he was frequently in Cowes and noted that Winston Churchill’s parents had met and fallen in love there in 1873 after an intense three-day romance. When he realised that the 140th anniversary of that meeting would fall in 2013, he set about organising a gala dinner on the island, inviting as many of the family as he could muster. After that he decided there had to be a book recording all the links.

Now in his ninth decade and living on the south side of the island at Ventnor—he prefers the rougher seas that side—Anthony Churchill has lovingly assembled a profusely-illustrated volume detailing every connection between

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 45

Review by Mark Klobas

Alonzo Hamby, Man of Destiny: FDR and the Making of the American Century, Basic Books, 2015, 512 pages, $35.00.
ISBN 987-0465028603



hambyAs with Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt is a historical figure about whom there is no end of biographies regularly produced. Alonzo Hamby is the latest contributor to this genre, and he brings to it a long career as a scholar of Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman, as well as his previous work as the author of an examination of the New Deal within the comparative context of the response to the Great Depression by the other nations of the West. The perspective Hamby brings is reflected in his main thesis about Roosevelt, whom Hamby sees as the man whose efforts in saving liberal democracy during the Second World War brought about the “American century” and the world in which we still live today.

Hamby divides his study of Roosevelt into three parts, consisting of his life before the presidency, the years of his administration devoted to the domestic policies of the New Deal, and his handling of the international crises of the 1930s and the wars that followed. The division represents the trade-off Hamby faced in compressing such a detailed life into 436 pages of text, with the book’s focus on Roosevelt’s twelve years as president coming at the cost of a detailed examination of the fifty years of his life that preceded them. The other major choice Hamby makes is to focus on Roosevelt’s public career, reducing his private life to the background for most of the book. This is understandable given Hamby’s view of Roosevelt’s relationships with most people as defined by political utility rather than true friendship, but it marginalizes the presence in the book of his wife Eleanor to a far greater degree than it should be, given the outsized role she played in his career.

When he reaches the second section of his book Hamby slows his pace and expands his focus, providing a broad account of the development and implementation of the New Deal. While recognizing Roosevelt’s considerable efforts to ease the toll the Depression had taken upon millions of Americans, Hamby is critical of the New Deal overall, viewing it in the end as a barrier to economic recovery both domestically and in the larger global economy as well. Yet the American voters credited his efforts rather than their results, delivering a resounding endorsement of his policies by reelecting him to a second term in 1936. Roosevelt followed this triumph, though, with a series of ill-judged missteps that solidified the conservative opposition to his policies in Congress, and Hamby argues that it was the deteriorating international situation that provided him with a second chance to define his historical reputation.

The prospects for success were not promising. Roosevelt faced the militaristically aggressive regimes in Europe and Asia as the leader of a nation that was strongly isolationist in its sentiments. Despite this, Roosevelt moved towards opposition to Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, a move that took on added import with the outbreak of war in September 1939. Here Hamby focuses more upon Roosevelt once again, recounting his many personal efforts to prepare the nation for the prospect for war and provide support for the nations fighting Germany and Japan. Among the measures that Hamby describes is the personal relationship that he began building with Churchill, starting with Roosevelt’s personal note to Churchill soon after his return to the Admiralty. Hamby stresses the similarities between the two men, namely their charismatic leadership, inspirational rhetoric, and determination in confronting the Axis powers. The difference he notes was in terms of their ideologies, with Churchill’s belief in imperialism distinguishing him from Roosevelt’s unalloyed belief in liberal democracy.

The disagreement between the two men on this matter, however, was minor compared to their shared goal of defeating the Third Reich. Hamby credits Roosevelt with making bold gestures given the context of American public opinion, providing aid to Britain within the limits of what was politically possible. With the formal entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, the informal partnership became a formal alliance, one that would survive policy disagreements and Roosevelt’s occasional twitting of the prime minister. Roosevelt hoped to develop a similar personal connection with Joseph Stalin as well, but Hamby is far more critical of the President’s efforts here, seeing him as more accepting of the Soviet leader’s ambitions than Truman would be.

Overall Hamby’s book provides a capable survey of Roosevelt’s public life and political achievements. While there is little that is new within its pages (and an unfortunate perpetuation of the stale misconception about Churchill’s level of alcohol consumption), his command of his material is assured and his judgments clear. Readers seeking an introductory overview of Roosevelt’s career will find this biography fits the bill most satisfactorily, though those who desire a deeper understanding of such subjects as the Roosevelt-Churchill relationship should plan on supplementing it with more specialized works.


Mark Klobas teaches history at Scottsdale College in Arizona.

Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 39

Review by Con Coughlin

Hal Klepak, Churchill Comes of Age: Cuba, 1895, The History Press, 2015, 288 pages, £25, $46.95.
ISBN 978-0750962254

Follow this link to purchase your copy. 


kelpakIt is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the young Winston Churchill that, before he had even completed his basic military training, he should seek to have first-hand experience of the perils of modern warfare.

Churchill was twenty years old and undergoing his basic cavalry training as a recently-recruited subaltern in the 4th (Queen’s Own) Hussars when he took the quixotic decision to spend his annual vacation visiting Cuba, which was then in the midst of a brutal civil war.

Throughout his long and distinguished life, one of Churchill’s defining characteristics was his determination to go his own way, even when it met with considerable opposition. His support for the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign during the First World War, as well as his less-than-enthusiastic attitude towards the D-Day landings in 1944, are some of the more memorable instances where Churchill displayed a single-minded determination to demonstrate his independent spirit.

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 43

Review by Robert James

Brian Hodgkinson, Saviour of the Nation: An Epic Poem of Winston Churchill’s Finest Hour, Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers LTD, 2015, 186 pages, £10.00, US $15.95, CAN $18.95.
ISBN 978-0856835063



saviourUlysses. Aeneas. Dante. Satan. Winston Churchill. An epic poem focusing on Winston Churchill’s rise to power and defiance of Adolf Hitler attempts to join the ranks of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Well, why not? Churchill is an apt subject, after all, a historical figure of transcendent importance in twentieth-century history and the defeat of what many consider the most concentrated form of evil known to man. What better hero to choose for a modern epic poem?

Reading Saviour of the Nation is a pleasant experience, providing a kind of History-Channel summary of Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany, beginning with a few scattered chapters touching on Hitler’s rise in 1932 and 1933, then rapidly moving to the heart of the tale, Churchill’s ascension to prime minister through to the Japanese attack on Pearl

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 44

Review by Nigel Hamilton

Michael Arnold, Hollow Heroes: An Unvarnished Look at the Wartime Careers of Churchill, Montgomery, and Mountbatten, Casemate, 2015, 304 pages, $34.95.
ISBN 978-1612002736



hollow heroesThere are as many biographies as there are biographers: some serious, some not. Plus others that purport to be serious, but are not. Into which category does Michael Arnold’s Hollow Heroes fall?

A former insurance salesman, Mr. Arnold has a passion for polemic. His first book, The Bodyline Hypocrisy, was a book of conversations (with Harold Larwood) about the great cricket conundrum: should bowlers be allowed to bowl straight at the batsman to intimidate him, as in the famous 1932–33 Ashes tour between England and Australia?

After this, Mr. Arnold plunged into another form of polemic: military history. His work when published was titled Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill’s Biggest Blunder. According to the publisher’s blurb: “when, inevitably, Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Churchill attempted to deflect criticism by accusing the defenders there of spineless capitulation. Recently released information from the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington reveals that United States President Franklin Roosevelt not only knew of the impending attack on Pearl Harbour but actually instigated it. Although Roosevelt promised a shield of B-17 aircraft for Singapore from Manila, General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines had been told to do nothing until after the Japanese attacks there and at Pearl Harbor so that the United States could claim an unprovoked assault that would allow them to declare war on Japan.”

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Finest Hour 171, Winter 2016

Page 41

Review by Manfred Weidhorn

Richard M. Langworth, Churchill and the Avoidable War: Could World War II have been Prevented? Moultonborough, NH: Dragonwyck, 2015,  122 pages, $7.95.
ISBN 987-1518690358



langworthThe origin of Mr. Langworth’s book is Churchill’s 1945 labeling of the Second World War as “The Unnecessary War.” Churchill proceeded to offer two “ifs,” one having to do with the United States and the other with the League of Nations. It should be noted that of the four ubiquitous conjunctions, “and” is decidedly dull, “or” involves choice, “but” is often a weasel word (“I believe in absolute free speech, but this is too much,” meaning you do not believe in absolute free speech), and “if” is a reality re-constructor (“If pigs had wings”). “If” presumes to improve on God’s creation of the world, as well as to challenge our reliance on the factual and the mundane. It is a product of, and tribute to, the imagination. And it is, of course, at the heart of counterfactual history. “Much virtue in ‘if,’” says the Bard.

Langworth lines up, like balls on a pool table, the key junctures when events could have taken a different course. The writing is compelling, the documentation rich, the arguments persuasive. Other biographers and historians have, to be sure, dealt with these flashpoints, but only in the setting of a narrative that encompasses numerous other issues. The virtue of this approach is to focus entirely on several isolated incidents and trace their common theme. The power of Langworth’s handling of the theme is that he avoids dogmatic folly. He repeatedly invokes a necessary skepticism: “We will never know,” “We do not know,” “We know now” what was not known “at the time.”

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