Winter 1918 (Age 43)

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… “

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