Although disappointed at not being given command of a brigade, Churchill settled in as commander of a battalion, the 6th Royal Scots Fusilers. He blamed Asquith, whom he called a “weak and disloyal chief. “Clementine met the Asquiths socially and wrote her husband: “You know what the P.M. is – He loathes talking about the War or work of any sort.”
Initially Churchill was not popular with his men and his cavalry training did not prepare him for command of infantry, but he learned quickly. He cared for his troops but neither he nor his men expected him or his officers to forego their own physical pleasures. Among other suggestions to his officers were these gems: “Keep a special pair of boots to sleep in and only get them muddy in a real emergency and live well but do not flaunt it.”
In late January he led his troops into battle near the Belgian town of Ploegsteert, commonly called “Plug Street.” His own bravery in battle won the respect of his men.
In March he returned to England and spoke in Parliament. Incredibly, he demanded that the First Lord of the Admiralty recall Lord Fisher to the post of First Sea Lord. His friends and family were aghast. Worse still, First Lord Arthur Balfour’s response in Parliament ridiculed Churchill. Upon returning to Ploegsteert Churchill wrote his wife that he intended to leave the army as soon as possible. The war he wanted to fight was at Westminster.
When his battalion was merged with another, General Haig offered him command of a brigade, but he still wanted to return to London to fight for conscription. On 7 May, he entertained his officers at a farewell luncheon at Armentieres. One later recalled: “I believe every man in the room felt Winston Churchill’s leaving us a real personal loss.
He returned to England believing that he actually had a chance of succeeding Asquith. More realistically he thought that Bonar Law or Lloyd George would lead a new Government and he might get the Admiralty again or perhaps the Air Ministry. However, when Lord Kitchener was killed enroute to northern Russia, Churchill was excluded in the Cabinet reorganization.
Although there was still great opposition to him – the Conservatives would not serve with him and even Lloyd George kept a discreet distance – he refused to lessen his support for the men in the trenches at the front. “The part of the army that really counts for ending the war is this killing, fighting, suffering part.”
On 1 July, the British army launched a full-scale attack north of the Somme River, despite Churchill’s warning that victory would not be gained “simply by throwing in masses of men on the western front.”