1910-1919

Winter 1914-1915 (Age 40)

Relations between Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces, and the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, were not harmonious. Churchill tried to mediate between them.

He planned to visit Dunkirk to observe operations firsthand but the Prime Minister agreed with Kitchener that the First Lord should not visit the Army Commander’s head-quarters. Kitchener charged that the First Lord was meddling in Army matters and exacerbating relations between French and himself. Asquith forbade any future Churchill visits to the continent. Churchill and Kitchener never again had a congenial relationship.

French and Churchill continued covert correspondence through Churchill’s relatives who were on the Field Marshal’s staff, his brother Jack and his cousin Freddie Guest. Perhaps the best advice for all was Churchill’s remark: “We are on the stage of history. Let us keep our anger for the common foe.”

In Parliament Churchill was criticized by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Charles Beresford for recent naval defeats and for his propensity for telling the admirals how they were to carry out policy. Churchill defended himself by stating that judgments could be made only from a close examination of the documents and that military security made it impossible to disclose the evidence. He did acknowledge “the acute discomfort under which our great newspapers are living at the present time” and asked that particular incidents not be given too much attention because they were merely part of a larger strategy all over the world.

Read More >

Spring 1915 (Age 40)

The season began with Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty in command of an expedition in the Dardanelles which might bring the war to a dramatic conclusion. It ended with him out of office at a rural retreat called Hoe Farm, looking for solace with family and a newly-discovered leisure activity of painting.

While Churchill was visiting the Belgian coast on 18 March the Anglo-French naval attack at the Dardanelles began. The costs were heavy with several ships sunk or grounded by unlocated mines and the attack was called off. It was unknown at the time that the German were expressing considerable concern and that their transmissions indicted that ammunition supplies in the forts were low.

Admiral de Robeck, who was so depressed by his losses, particularly the battleships Irresistible and Ocean, that he expected to be recalled, quickly lost his taste for battle.

The next day the War Council authorized de Robeck to continue the attack “if he saw fit” but Kitchener could not yet present plans for the landing of troops. Meeting with the field generals, de Robeck told them that he was quite certain that the naval ships could not get through unless the Army captured the defending forts.

Read More >

Summer 1914 (Age 39)

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria, there seemed to be little immediate threat to European peace. Churchill continued with his plans to effect economics in the Naval Estimates and a test mobilization of the Third Fleet replaced the usual summer manoeuvres.

On July 24 the Austrian Government issued a stringent ultimatum to Serbia, as a result of which, Churchill wrote his wife, “Europe is trembling on the verge of a general war.”

On 26 July Churchill and the First Sea Lord, Prince Louis Battenberg, cancelled the demobilization of the Third Fleet. Churchill also signalled the Mediterranean Fleet: “European political situation makes war between Triple Alliance and Triple Entente Powers by no means impossible.”

When Germany declared war on Russia, Churchill implemented emergency measures throughout the country, even though these actions were forbidden by the Cabinet. Watchers were placed along the coastline, harbour were cleared, bridges were guarded and all boats were searched. The First Fleet was quietly moved from Portland Head and took up war stations in the North Sea.

Read More >

Autumn 1914 (Age 40)

Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, was now a cabinet colleague and fellow member, in the Other Club, of the War Minister, Lord Kitchener. In his early days as a subaltern he had been an ambitious critic of the famous general, but now his senior colleague told him: “Please do not address me as Lord as I am only yours, K.”

Kitchener assisted him in a reconciliation with his cousin, “Sonny,” the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Two years previous the Churchills had severed social relations with the Duke over his behaviour when Clementine had used Blenheim Palace paper to correspond with the hated enemy, Lloyd George. At Churchill’s request, Kitchener now gave the Duke a position in the War Office which was suitable to his title and age.

The Churchills were apart during the first month the war and they worried about each other. Clementine was at Cromer, a Norfolk coastal town. Winston, concerned about an invasion, suggested that she “strike your flag and come ashore.” She worried about his workload and made some suggestions on how he could avoid exhaustion: “Never missing your morning ride. Going to bed well before midnight and sleeping well and not allowing yourself to be woken up every time a Belgian kills a German. Not smoking too much and not having indigestion.”

Read More >

Spring 1914 (Age 39)

Churchill was becoming increasingly embroiled in Irish politics as die Government spokesman, partly because of his natural bent for leadership. As his son would later comment: “If there was a battle he always aspired to be in the front line, even if not in actual command.”

The prospect of civil war in Ireland was very real and Tory anger was unmitigated at Liberal proposals to enforce Home Rule. Churchill was the target for most of their attacks. He was called everything from a “Lilliput Napoleon” to “Lord Randolph’s renegade son.”

Europe was hurtling toward war and Churchill was working fervently to have the Navy ready. This included a well-equipped and well-armed Royal Navy Air Service of 120 pilots. The First Lord’s attraction to flying himself brought this admonition from his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough: “I consider that you owe it to your wife, family and friends to desist from a practice which is fraught with so much danger to life. ” Others had similar concerns. Churchill wrote his wife: “My business proposals do not go smoothly – for the reason that the insurance companies try to charge excessive premiums on my life – political strain, short-lived parentage and, of course, flying are the reasons they give.” Reluctantly he agreed to stop flying but only because of his love for his wife. “This is a gift – so stupidly am I made – wh costs me more than anything wh cd be bought for money. So I am vy glad to lay it at your feet, because I know it will rejoice and relieve your heart. Anyhow I can feel I know a good deal about this fascinating new art. I can manage a machine with ease in the air, even with high winds, and only a little more practice in landings wd have enabled me to go up with reasonable safety alone. I have been up nearly 140 times, with many pilots, and all kinds of machines, so I know the difficulties, the difficulties and the joys of the air – well enough to appreciate them, and to understand all the questions of policy wh will arise in the near future.”

Read More >

Winter 1914 (Age 39)

In November 1913, Austen Chamberlain visited Churchill aboard the Admiralty yacht Enchantress, and then wrote a long memorandum to Bonar Law on their discussions. Churchill had told him that Ulster would never be allowed to veto Home Rule for Ireland but he did not exclude the possibility of separate treatment for Ulster.

Churchill believed that public opinion required a shock to force a solution to the impasse. “Both sides had to make speeches full of party claptrap and no surrender, and then insert a few sentences at the end for the wise and discerning on the other side to see and ponder. A little red blood had to flow and then public opinion would wake up.”

Chamberlain was left the impression that Winston genuinely wanted a settlement but had no clear idea how to get it.

In March Churchill addressed 3,000 people in Bradford and outlined the Government’s offer whereby any county could exclude itself from Home Rule for six years by a majority vote in that county.

Read More >

Winter 1913-1914 (Age 39)

In November 1913, Austen Chamberlain visited Churchill aboard the Admiralty yacht Enchantress, and then wrote a long memorandum to Bonar Law on their discussions. Churchill had told him that Ulster would never be allowed to veto Home Rule for Ireland but he did not exclude the possibility of separate treatment for Ulster.

“A little red blood had to flow and then public opinion would wake up.”

Churchill believed that public opinion required a shock to force a solution to the impasse. “Both sides had to make speeches full of party claptrap and no surrender, and then insert a few sentences at the end for the wise and discerning on the other side to see and ponder. A little red blood had to flow and then public opinion would wake up.”

Chamberlain was left the impression that Winston genuinely wanted a settlement but had no clear idea how to get it.

In March Churchill addressed 3,000 people in Bradford and outlined the Government’s offer whereby any county could exclude itself from Home Rule for six years by a majority vote in that county.

Read More >

Autumn 1913 (Age 39)

Britain’s naval strength vis-a-vis the Germans concerned Churchill greatly. He had 59 dreadnoughts in the Royal Navy and planned to add two for every one Germany built. The Dominions’ contributions had to be considered as well. Australia had launched a navy; South Africa was considering a contribution but New Zealand had refused. Canada’s House of Commons had approved the contribution of three dreadnoughts, but the Senate had defeated the bill.

In addition to battleships, Churchill worked to build up the Naval Air Arm and continued his own flying lessons. He was also attempting to respond to the admonition of Lord Fisher: “Re- member that the submarine is now the dominating sea fighting factor and you are not building enough of them.” Churchill knew that he had to take an Empire view on the matter. “It is high time that the Dominions had the true strategic conception on which the Empire is conducted impressed upon them. On general grounds I do not think it is practicable without serious disadvantage to resist the widespread desire of the Dominions to confer on naval matters. “

He had little hope that the Germans would accept any deal to stop the naval race. “They will just butt in on the water as in the air.”

Read More >

Summer 1913 (Age 38)

Ireland was prominent in Churchill’s attention. He had been an early supporter of Home Rule, contrary to the policy espoused by his father. However, when he had moved die second reading of the Home Rule Bill in April 1912, he acknowledged the need for some concessions: “I admit that perfectly genuine apprehensions of the majority of the people of North-East Ulster constitute the most serious obstacle to a thoroughly satisfactory settlement … but whatever Ulster’s rights may be, she cannot stand in the way of the whole of the rest of Ireland.”

He accused the Tory leader, Andrew Bonar Law, of treasonable activity and of inciting the Orangemen. In a letter to The Times he wrote: “In a constitutionally governed country … there is no need and no excuse for violence…. All this talk of violence, of bayonets and bullets, of rebellion and civil war has come from one side alone. ” He charged the Tories with using the fanaticism of the Orangemen as a short-cut to office.

During the previous winter the debate on Ulster had become so intense that the Speaker adjourned the House. When Churchill waved his handkerchief in response to a taunt of “rats,” he was hit and cut on the head with a copy of Standing Orders, hurled from the Tory benches.

Read More >

Spring 1913 (Age 38)

On 13 March the First Lord presented his naval estimates of £48 millions to the House of Commons. Concerns over Britain’s ability to compete with Germany overcame the reservations expressed by Lloyd George about the country’s ability to afford it. In fact, other views, expressed by Lord Charles Beresford, argued that the navy was still understaffed and ill- prepared. However, the Daily Telegraph stated that “the Navy has never in its long history had a more persuasive spokesman in Parliament than the present Minister.”

In April Churchill was involved in what came to be known as the Marconi Scandal. His colleague, Lloyd George, was accused of improperly trading in shares of the Marconi Company. Churchill vociferously defended his friend. When the editor of the Financial News testified that Churchill himself had profited by trading, the accused exploded. He charged that anyone who stated anything other than his innocence “was a liar and a slanderer.” Not only was he believed to be innocent by the public but his friends were impressed by his self-defence. One wrote: “it is in affairs like these that breeding asserts itself.”

In May the Churchills set out on a Mediterranean cruise on Enchantress. They were accompanied by the Asquiths and their daughter, Eddie Marsh and Winston’s mother. At the time, Jennie was unhappily divorcing her husband, George Cornwallis-West, who had deserted her. They toured Venice in a gondola, visited Dubrovnick and went fishing in Vallona Bay on the Albanian coast. At a picnic luncheon Winston kept quoting Gray’s Ode to Spring. “At ease reclined in a rustic state. . . . “

Read More >

Winter 1912-1913 (Age 38)

The year ended with a bitter storm in Parliament over Churchill’s behaviour in forcing the resignation of Sir Francis Bridgeman as First Sea Lord. On 20 December an acrimonious debate occurred in the House of Commons. The criticism was led by Andrew Bonar Law and Lord Charles Beresford. Although Churchill vigorously defended his actions, it was generally believed that he had not behaved well and that Bridgeman had been a victim. Criticism of the First Lord within the Navy was considerable.

Ultimately, Churchill required the assistance of the King to quieten the episode. Immediately after his audience with the monarch, Bridgeman withdrew his request for publication of all correspondence.

In January, Churchill accompanied the Prime Minister on a tour of naval facilities in the north of Scotland. Speaking at his home constituency of Dundee, he claimed that the Navy was strong and the Army was efficient, and that that strength would be used “to preserve peace, to bring disputing parties together, to smooth away difficulties and to compact an abiding settlement … based upon justice and equality.” On 30 January he boarded the Admiralty yacht Enchantress and headed south. Four days later he was at Portsmouth and Spithead where he was joined on board by King George V.

Read More >

Autumn 1912 (Age 38)

Disputes with high personages marked this season for the First Lord of the Admiralty.

One was with the Admiralty’s senior commander, Sir Francis Bridgeman, whom WSC urged to retire on the grounds of ill-health because the “burden may be more than you could sustain.” Bridgeman did not wish to go quietly but acquiesced when told that Churchill’s conclusion “must necessarily be final.” The Bridgeman resignation became a major political problem for Churchill in the House and the Press. Five Sea Lords had been retired by Churchill who was accused of wanting to run the show himself. He appointed Prince Louis of Battenberg as the new First Sea Lord and Sir John Jellicoe as Second Sea Lord.

The greatest personage with whom Churchill disputed was King George V over the naming of the Royal Navy’s capital ships. When Churchill proposed the names of King Richard I, King Henry V, Queen Elizabeth and Oliver Cromwell, the Sovereign took serious issue with the last name. Neither side seemed inclined to relent until Prince Louis of Battenberg advised the First Lord that Kings historically had the last word in naming ships. Oliver Cromwell became Valiant.

Read More >

Summer 1912 (Age 37)

Beginning of the arms race with Germany

Historically, Germany had been a land power with hardly any naval tradition, so when the Kaiser announced that “our future ties on the water,” the challenge to Britain’s naval predominance was on. Grand-Admiral Tirpitz’s naval building program inflamed this rivalry and Churchill’s entire summer was devoted to responding to the crisis.

The support of the Empire was crucial and Churchill spent most of his time hosting a contingent of Canadian ministers led by Prime Minister Robert Borden. He hoped to entice Borden to contribute funds to pay for the construction of three dreadnoughts. Despite Borden’s acquiescence, there was considerable opposition within Canada to this proposal.

The argument over the disposition of the Fleet in the Mediterranean and Home waters was resolved by recognizing the needs of the North Sea as a priority but keeping a Mediterranean battle fleet equal to the “one-power Mediterranean standard, excluding France,” which meant that Britain would equal the challenge of any single power on the body of water, excluding her ally. This response to the German challenge was expensive but Churchill willingly assumed responsibility.

Read More >

Spring 1912 (Age 37)

Tour of the Mediterranean on the Admiralty yacht HMS Enchantress

In late March Churchill went to Portland to review the Fleet, conquering his seasickness with a medicine called Mothersill. Winston greatly admired the counsel of Admiral “Jackie” Fisher, but he offended the great man with three of his naval appointments. Fisher thought that the First Lord had been unduly influenced by the King to appoint Court favourites. On 22 April he wrote Churchill: “I fear this must be my last communication with you in any matter at all … I am sorry for it but I consider you have betrayed the Navy…”

Nevertheless, when Churchill and Prime Minister Asquith toured the Mediterranean on HMS Enchantress, Fisher was pleased to come aboard at Naples. In addition to wooing Fisher, the purpose of this extensive voyage with a considerable entourage was to provide information for Churchill in his campaign to alter the disposition of the Fleet from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, to counter the growing German naval challenge.
Read More >

Winter 1911-1912 (Age 37)

Leadership changes at the Admiralty 

As Churchill assumed control of the Admiralty he became more convinced that Germany was intent on a war for control of Europe, and that the Naval War Staff was required to prepare the Royal Navy for the coming struggle. In order to reorganize the Royal Naval high command he asked for the resignation of the First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Wilson, and replaced him with Sir Francis Bridgeman.

As Second Sea Lord he appointed Prince Louis of Battenberg. His views on the Royal Navy were later expressed in The World Crisis: “…when I went to the Admiralty I found that there was not a moment in the career and training of a naval officer when he was obliged to read a single book about naval war…. The Royal Navy had made no important contribution to naval literature.”

Read More >

Join Now

Join NowPlease join with us to help preserve the memory of Winston Churchill and continue to explore how his life, experiences and leadership are ever-more relevant in today’s chaotic world. BENEFITS >BECOME A MEMBER >

WinstonChurchill.org

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.