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Finest Hour 172

Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 20

By John Campbell

Aneurin Bevan and his wife Jenny Lee in Corwen 15368872658The conventional narrative of the Second World War tends to assume that from the moment he succeeded Chamberlain in May 1940 and rallied the nation with his heroic defiance when Britain stood alone against the Nazi threat, through to the eventual victory of the Allies five years later, Churchill’s ascendancy within Britain was unquestioned.

It is true that he never faced a serious parliamentary challenge nor, even in the darkest days of 1941–42, any plausible rival who might have displaced him, as Lloyd George supplanted Asquith in the middle of the First War. Nevertheless there was a good deal more grumbling, and more unrest in many parts of the country, than is generally remembered in the warm myth of national unity. During the period of electoral truce between the major parties the coalition government lost ten by-elections to a variety of mainly left-leaning Independents: a little-noticed undercurrent of dissent that accurately presaged Labour’s landslide victory in 1945, which so shocked observers who assumed that the electorate would naturally, as in 1918, register its gratitude to the great war leader.

If there was one man who not only anticipated this historic upset but, by his persistent criticism of Churchill’s leadership, contributed to it more than any other, it was the left-wing Labour MP Aneurin “Nye” Bevan. These days Bevan is remembered primarily as the architect of the National Health Service and, on the left, as the socialist hero to whose mantle Labour leaders still lay claim, even when they have long rejected socialism as Bevan understood it.

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 32

By Robin Prior

British Vickers machine gun crew, the Somme, 1916British Vickers machine gun crew, the Somme, 1916The Battle of the Somme raged from 1 July to mid-November 1916. It was the largest battle the British Army has ever fought—or is ever likely to fight. When Winston Churchill came to write his history of the First World War (which he called The World Crisis) it was inevitable that he would pay considerable attention to this—particularly since he held very strong views about the manner in which it had been fought.

However, Churchill faced a particular difficulty in writing about the Somme. Earlier in the war, he had been First Lord of the Admiralty, during which time he had accumulated plentiful contemporary documents. These materials formed the basis of the first two volumes of The World Crisis, which covered the period from 1911 to 1915. Indeed, one-third of the material on this period consists of these papers and memoranda.

But the Dardanelles fiasco forced Churchill to resign. The period of the Somme saw him out of office and cut off from all official government communications. So when he came to write his narrative he lacked the foundation on which his earlier chapters had been based.

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 10

By Sonia Purnell

Quebc 1944Clementine Churchill; the Earl of Athlone; FDR; HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone; WSC; Eleanor Roosevelt; W. L. Mackenzie King at the 1944 Quebec Conference
Winston Churchill was, of course, half-American—an accident of birth that at times (notably during the Second World War) came in rather useful. The relationship with the United States of his Scottish-born wife Clementine was perhaps more complicated but at times also remarkably influential.

As a young woman, Clementine had harboured reservations about America. In the 1920s, she had been wary of the way it was displacing Britain as the world’s greatest superpower and was put out by President Coolidge’s refusal to forgive Britain’s debts from the Great War.

She had taken a detailed interest in politics and the international stage ever since her high society marriage of 1908. Since then her ever-increasing understanding of international affairs, close involvement in her husband’s career, and canny judgement of people had seen her become Churchill’s de facto chief adviser and strategist during the First World War. She continued to play a role demonstrably far greater than any other political wife in Britain for the rest of Winston’s career, but in the 1920s she was clearly no supporter of a great Anglo-American alliance.

Coming to America

It was only when she came to the United States in 1930—initially to convince her impetuous nineteen-year-old son Randolph that he was too young to marry a certain Kay Halle from Cleveland, Ohio— that she began to change her mind.

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 36

By Michael McMenamin

ATD-Label copy copy copy

125 Years ago

Winter 1891 • Age 16

“Your Tooth Tormented...Son”

In April, Winston came down with “an awful toothache” and wrote to his nanny Mrs. Everest to make an appointment with the dentist, which she promptly did. He wrote to his mother that his face was “swelled up double its natural size” and signed the letter, “Your tooth tormented—but affectionate—son.” His mother’s reply indicated this was not the first time Winston’s dental hygiene—or lack thereof—had been addressed by her. “I am so sorry,” she wrote on 29 April 1891, “to hear you have a toothache….I don’t want to lecture on the subject—but I am sure if you wd take a little more care of yr teeth you wd not suffer so much. Quite apart from the ‘pigginess’ of not brushing them!!”

Winston wrote his mother on 19 May that he and four of his Harrow classmates “have just been in a deuce of a row for breaking some windows at a factory…& only 2 of us were discovered. I was found, with my usual luck, to be one of those 2.” Lord Randolph was on his way to South Africa in May and, in a long, chatty letter to him, Winston surprisingly elaborated on what he had told his mother about the factory incident:

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 49

Review by Robert Courts

Churchill’s Secret, First broadcast by ITV on 29 February 2016

Sir Michael Gambon as Churchill in Churchill’s SecretSir Michael Gambon as Churchill in Churchill’s SecretChurchill’s Secret is an adaptation of Jonathan Smith’s 2015 novel The Churchill Secret, KBO (reviewed FH 168), with an all-star cast, and shot in part on location at Chartwell.

It tells the story of Churchill’s 1953 stroke, suffered whilst entertaining an Italian delegation at 10 Downing Street, his struggle to recover before the Conservative Party conference that year, and the extraordinary conspiracy between the press, politicians, and Churchill’s family to keep his critical condition a secret.

The film is beautifully shot, taking full advantage of a pristine sun-dappled Chartwell in June. Like a soft-focus Downton Abbey, the camera lingers on the rooms of the house, the wooden panelling, and the sun shining in brilliant beams through small windows illuminating dust and the busts on Churchill’s desk. And this superb set is not Chartwell; the external shots are, but the internals are incredibly good representations of the originals.

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 50

Review by Michael McMenamin

Mark Woodburn, The Finest Years & Me, Valley Press, 2015,  320 pages, $13.00. ISBN 978-1908853561


Portrayal of Churchill ***

Worth Reading **

The Finest Years & Me is a sequel of sorts to Mark Woodburn’s excellent first novel Winston & Me [reviewed FH 160] that featured a young fifteen-year-old Scottish hero Jamie Melville, who lies about his age to enlist in the Army and ends up in Churchill’s battalion in 1915. Jamie and his age eventually come to Churchill’s attention in an unfortunate way when Churchill’s batman is wounded and Jamie is chosen to take his place. Churchill takes the young man under his wing, and Jamie repays the kindness by saving Churchill’s life when he gets entangled on barbed wire in No-Man’s Land. When Churchill returns to politics in 1916, he takes Jamie with him as an assistant, a position he holds until 1919, when he left to join his brothers in the family business.

Flash forward to February 1942, where The Finest Years & Me begins. We learn through flashbacks that Jamie has remained a close friend of Churchill and Clementine over the years and that he is a widower with three daughters. America is in the war, but things are not going well for Churchill. Hong Kong and Singapore have fallen and, at home, Beaverbrook and Cripps see themselves as Churchill’s replacement. Winston’s spirits are at low ebb, and Clementine decides that her husband needs at his side a loyal friend

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 45

Review by Catherine Katz

All of the books described in this review can be found through online sites such as Amazon.

There are various statistics floating around in the public domain that predict the demise of print books. In 2011, Amazon reported that e-books outsold print books for the first time. There is likely a ceiling, however, on the number of people who prefer e-books to print books, and as a result the print book industry remains healthy and has more recently outpaced e-book sales. Given this audience’s historical inclination and sympathy for the traditional, most subscribers to Finest Hour likely fall into the camp that prefers print.

Despite this preference, e-publishing is not just a wilderness of insipidity. It can provide the Churchill diehard with the ability to enjoy out-of-print books that are otherwise difficult to access outside university libraries. One such work is a 1941 classic by British barrister and witty historical and travel writer Philip Guedalla. Mr. Churchill has now been made available for Kindle for the first time by leading digital publisher Endeavour Press.

Those who have enjoyed Churchill’s own tales of his early adventures in My Early Life and From London to Ladysmith via Pretoria will no doubt relish Guedalla’s account of Churchill’s years before he became Prime Minister. Guedalla emphasizes the long shadow of Lord Randolph’s influence on his son’s early years in politics and places the future Prime Minister firmly within the context of his family’s dramatic history. The author is perhaps at his best when articulating Churchill’s discomfort with the political upheaval in the years following the Great War.

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 48

Review by Robert Courts

Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley, God & Churchill, Tyndale Momentum, 2015, 352 pages, $26.99. ISBN 978-1496406026

SandysWhen St Martin’s Church, Bladon decided to install a stained glass window to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Churchill’s death, the most thorny question was how to commemorate—in a Church—a man who, whilst undoubtedly the saviour of Christian civilisation, was in no intellectually honest sense a Christian. In trying to grapple with that question, the authors of this book make two radical, but ultimately unconvincing, arguments.

First, the authors appear to argue that Churchill was—sort of—a Christian. It was just that he did not realise it himself. Sandys develops this argument more candidly on his blog (which you can find here) where he makes the startling claim, “Churchill not only believed in God and the words in the Bible…his faith was foundational to his character and leadership.” Thus, Churchill quoted the Bible because it formed part of his psychological foundation. Perhaps it did, but he also quoted Shakespeare and Tennyson; because he loved literature. Further, it is counterintuitive to suggest that Churchill’s opposition to Nazism was because of Mrs. Everest’s Biblical lessons, rather than a long-established humanity and geopolitical understanding. Churchill simply valued the morality that underpinned Western life and recognised that as stemming from Christianity. But that did not make him a Christian, be that as a “religious pietist” or otherwise.

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 41

Review by Chris Sterling

Leon Bennett, Churchill’s War Against the Zeppelin 1914–18: Men, Machines and Tactics, Helion, 2015, 406 pages, $59.95. ISBN 978-1909982840

BennettLong interested in both airship history and Churchill, I had high expectations for this book that melds both topics. To a great extent they were met, though with a few frustrations along the way.

Leon Bennett’s book centers on the German Zeppelin (airship) bombing raids against England (and especially London) during the First World War and the defense measures taken to meet the new air threat. German fliers tried to bomb the city for months after the war began in August 1914, but initially managed only sporadic raids against easy-to-find coastal towns. Weather was often the chief culprit—especially capricious winds that could push the huge rigid airships miles off course. Crude nighttime navigation was hit or miss, often the latter. British airships (also covered here) faced the same limitations—a key reason that Churchill, after initial enthusiasm, became a consistent critic of the technology. Despite his misgivings, however, the British continued their expensive airship program after the war until the R 101 tragedy in 1930 shut down the effort.

When the huge and clumsy Zeppelins succeeding in hitting something in the Great War, public panic far exceeded the casualties or physical damage. For here was an invasion for which, at first, there seemed no defense. Gradually the fledgling British Royal Flying Corps and Naval Air Service developed methods of fighting the floating “baby killers,” including the use of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns, plus slowly improving fighter aircraft. The airship’s chief weakness was its reliance on highly flammable

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Finest Hour 172, Spring 2016

Page 40

Review by Chris Sterling

Simon Read, Winston Churchill Reporting: Adventures of a Young War Correspondent, Da Capo Press, 2015, 309 pages, $26.99. ISBN 978-0306823817

ReadRead, a former California journalist born in England, begins his book with a clear disclaimer: “I don’t consider this a biography or a work of history—though it contains elements of both. It is, instead, a true tale of adventure featuring Winston Churchill in the starring role. When writing the book, I described it to friends as ‘Winston Churchill as Indiana Jones’” (ix). And therein lies both the appeal and drawback of this latest addition to the ever- growing “Churchill and _____” shelf.

Read’s breezy style stitches together the adventuresome story of Churchill’s first four wars on which the initial newspaper columns and several of WSC’s early books are based. These include his trip to Cuba to observe Spanish forces fighting rebels (1895–96), the fighting role of the Malakand Field Force in what is now Pakistan (1897), the “river war” in Sudan (1898), and the bitter South African Boer War on which Churchill reported (1899–1900). In all save the first, Churchill was also a serving officer in the British Army, an odd combination that raised eyebrows.

Churchill’s “lucky” placement in four such widespread conflicts over less than five years was no mere happenstance. His well-connected mother Jennie opened the right London doors to reach key government and army officials who surrendered to her charm and persuasion, often against their own better judgment. The seeming Churchill luck created more than a bit of envy and jealousy among many of the soldiers with whom he served.

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