1943-1945

Autumn 1945 (Age 70)

Reflecting on the war

Upon his return from a holiday in Italy, Churchill began a series of speaking engagements which provided an opportunity to reflect on the war and comment on the post-war situation. One of the first was a particularly moving event because Winston and Clementine received together the Freedom of the Borough of Wanstead and Woodford, which Churchill had represented since 1924. To his constituents Churchill promised that “I shall not waste your time or mine with vain repinings, but on the contrary you may be sure that I shall devote myself unswervingly to whatever duties may come my way…” Mrs. Churchill recalled that “at the first meeting of women I attended I said that I hoped we would be with you ‘for keeps’. It has turned out to be so, and when the tale is told it will be seen that our association with you is woven into the pattern of our lives in rich and happy colours.”

Their daughter, Mary Soames, wrote her mother that while both parents were “… noble beasts” her mother’s particular triumph was that “you really have been — and are — everything to Papa. Many great men have had wives who ran their houses beautifully and lavished care and attention on them — but they looked for love and amusement and repose elsewhere. And vice versa. You have supplied him with all these things — without surrendering your own soul or mind …”

Speaking at the Alamein Reunion Dinner at Albert Hall he predicted that the victory would become one of the most famous in British history and called it a turning point in the war. “Up till Alamein we survived. After Alamein we conquered.” He praised Field Marshal Montgomery as “one of the greatest living masters of the art of war.”

In late October Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King visited the Churchills at Hyde Park Gate, being greeted by Randolph and Mary on the pavement (sidewalk). King and Churchill discussed the British political scene and relations with the Soviet Union. Hoping that he was not betraying the trust of the British Government and basing the conversation on the fact that they were both Privy Councillors, King told Churchill about the defection of Igor Gouzenko from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa and the extent of Soviet spying in Canada and the United States. Churchill responded that “Communism is a religion” in that “they were using any means to gain an end.” Churchill approved of concerted UK, USA and Canada action and asked King to do all he could to keep the United States and Great Britain together.

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Summer 1945 (Age 70)

July election turns out the Conservatives

Despite Churchill’s war record his Party’s prospects for reelection were discouraging. Since 1942 the Gallup poll had shown a large Labour lead. Eight Conservative candidates, unopposed by Labour because of a wartime electoral truce, had already been beaten by independents.

The Conservatives focused on Churchill as the leader who had won the war. Churchill reminded the overseas troops that there was “no truth that you can vote Labour or Liberal without voting against me.” As grateful as they were, many people expressed concern that the great war leader would not be a good peace leader. He was even heckled at Walthamston Stadium. He responded to that challenge by telling the hecklers that he forgave them because they were about to receive a thrashing.

“I thank the British people for many kindnesses shown towards their servant.”

From the beginning he struck hard against his opponents. Controversy ensued when he said the Socialists “would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo.” His daughter Mary later recounted how her mother begged Churchill “to delete the odious and invidious reference to the Gestapo. But he would not heed her.” His daughter Sarah told him that Socialism as practiced in the war did no harm, and did quite a lot of people good.” Churchill’s views were influenced by the recently published Road to Serfdom, which argued that economic planning resulted inevitably in totalitarian government and the extinction of personal liberty. Years later Churchill told the author of the book that while his ideas were good they would never work in Britain.

Polling day was 5 July in Britain but it took three weeks to count the service vote. Meanwhile Churchill flew to Bordeaux to rest before moving on to Berlin. Shortly after arriving in the German capital Churchill, with his daughter Mary, toured its ruins including Hitler’s Chancellery. When Churchill observed the German populace he said his “hate died with their surrender.” On the same day he met President Truman for the first time. A few days later the two leaders agreed to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

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Spring 1945 (Age 70)

VE-Day celebrations

Looking forward to final victory, Churchill glumly but prophetically commented: “I think the end of this war may well prove to be more disappointing than was the last.”

In February he met Roosevelt and Stalin in the Crimea where they signed the Yalta Agreement. With full understanding of the Anglo-American relationship with the Soviets, Churchill commented that “the only bend of the victors is their common hate.” His parting toast to Marshal Stalin was that the Soviet leader would live “to see his beloved Russia not only glorious in war, but also happy in peace.”

Churchill was deeply anxious about the fate of Poland and Greece. On his return from Russia he visited Athens where he was wildly received in Constitution Square. The Acropolis was floodlit for the first time since the beginning of the war.

In Egypt he met his friend Franklin Roosevelt for the final time. As they parted, Churchill recalled that “I felt he had a slender contact with life.”

“I think the end of this war may well prove to be more disappointing than was the last.”

Back home his worst fears were realized concerning the Soviets’ intention not to uphold the Yalta Agreement regarding Poland. Specifically, he learned that soldiers of the Polish Home Army were being rounded up. Jock Colville recorded: “The PM and Eden both fear that our willingness to trust our Russian ally may have been vain and they look with despondency to the future.”

As Churchill crossed the Rhine River on 26 March his old friend and political ally, David Lloyd George, died. Churchill told the House of Commons that “there was no man so gifted, so eloquent, so forceful, who knew the life of the people so well.”

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Winter 1945 (Age 70)

Dividing the Balkans

Churchill was compelled to deal with some of the very people he had so opposed in 1919. By then the Soviet Union was needed to defeat Germany, and it would be the strongest land force in Europe after victory.

In October 1944 Churchill flew to Italy, where he met Alexander and Wilson, then to Cairo, then on to Moscow, where the ‘Tolstoy Conference” began. Churchill wanted to deal candidly with Stalin so he said, “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans.” While his comments to Stalin were being translated Churchill wrote on a half-sheet of paper- “Rumania: Russia 90%. The others 10%; Greece: Great Britain (in accord with USA) 90%, Russia 10%; Yugoslavia. 50-50%; Hungary: 50-50%; Bulgaria: Russia 75%. The others 25%.” Stalin took out his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it.

The greatest problem was the Polish situation, particularly the boundary between Poland and the Soviet Union and the relationship between the Polish Government and the Lublin Poles, whose leader Churchill characterized as “a kind of Quisling.” Churchill left Moscow without a settlement.

“Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans.”

In a letter to President Roosevelt, Churchill made the following interesting comments on his discussions with Stalin: “We also discussed informally the future partition of Germany. U.J. wants Poland, Czecho, and Hungary to form a realm of independent, anti-Nazi, pro-Russian States, the first two of which might join together. Contrary to his previously expressed view, he would be glad to see Vienna the capital of a federation of South German States, including Austria, Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Baden. As you know, the idea of Vienna becoming the capital of a large Danubian federation has always been attractive to me, though I should prefer to add Hungary, to which U.J. is strongly opposed.’

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Summer 1944 (Age 69)

Liberation of Paris

In a note to Stalin, Churchill summed up the military situation: “The enemy is burning and bleeding on every front at once.”

The enemy was still capable of inflicting serious injury, however, and many casualties resulted from the flying bomb attacks against London. Unfavorable weather made it difficult for Allied planes to find the launch sites. An even greater threat was imminent from V2 rockets being tested by the Germans.

On 7 July Churchill received a full report on the situation in Auschwitz. His instructions to Eden were to provide as much assistance as possible to prevent the Germans from transporting prisoners to the concentration camp, and to “invoke my name if necessary.”

“The enemy is burning and bleeding on every front at once.”

Churchill’s family was very important to him. Whenever possible he took some time to be with them at Chequers. On one occasion, as he left to return to London, his grandchildren, Winston Churchill and Celia Sandys, cried to the departing car: “Don’t go Grandpapa.” Churchill commented to his secretary: “What a world to bring children into.” He was relieved to hear that Randolph had survived an air crash upon his return to duty in Yugoslavia, but greatly distressed when the marriage of Randolph and Pamela broke up.

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Spring 1944 (Age 69)

Three Miles from the Enemy: While eagerly and anxiously awaiting the invasion of Europe, Churchill also worried about possible perfidy by the Soviets. “Once we get on to the Continent with a large commitment, they will have the means of blackmail, which they have not at the present, by refusing to advance beyond a certain point, or even tipping the wink to the Germans that they can move more troops to the West.” Force and facts, he believed, were the only realities the Communists understood. Later he would comment: “Never forget that the Bolsheviks are crocodiles.” At home his government purged known British Communists from D-Day planning.

“he could still always sleep well, eat well, and especially drink well, but that he no longer jumped out of bed the way he used to.”

Clementine’s fifty-ninth birthday was the occasion for a family gathering except for Randolph who was in Yugoslavia. They partied until 4:30 a.m., playing Gilbert and Sullivan and old musichall songs on the gramophone. Churchill wrote Randolph: I am keeping Winston with me in the country where he is safe from the London bombings and has room to play about… Mary is in action two or three nights a week.”

Churchill’s disagreement with the Americans on strategy in Italy continued. He feared that their insistence on an invasion of the south of France after Normandy, on top of Alexander’s “desolating delay,” would destroy future success in Italy. He and his American allies also disagreed on whom to support in Yugoslavia.

On Good Friday, he spoke to the senior British and American generals on plans for D-Day. General de Gaulle was not yet aware of those plans. It was decided not to tell him until June 4th.

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Winter 1944 (Age 69)

Preparing for “Overlord”, the invasion of Europe

Churchill entered his wife’s room on New Year’s morning and exclaimed: ‘I am so happy. I feel so much better.” They lunched in bright warm sunshine in an olive grove. Montgomery was visiting before he left to assume command of the Allied land forces preparing for Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Montgomery was overheard commenting that his chaplains were more important to him than his artillery and that he thought the 8th Army would follow his instructions in voting in an election.

“… you will bear witness that I do not repeat my stories so often as my dear friend, the President of the United States.”

Lord Beaverbrook also visited and after an evening of reminiscences about their experiences in two world wars, Churchill turned to Commander Thompson and said, “But, Tommy, you will bear witness that I do not repeat my stories so often as my dear friend, the President of the United States.”

Exiled Czech President Benes came to lunch and expressed his belief that Russia would have come to the aid of Czechoslovakia at the time of Munich and that he could reach an accommodation with Stalin on the border between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia after the war, which he thought would end this year.

Fitzroy Maclean and Randolph Churchill visited while they awaited their drop into Yugoslavia to meet Tito’s forces. Colville noted that the Yugoslavian situation was next to Anzio in Churchill’s attention while in Marrakesh.

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Autumn 1943 (Age 69)

Malta, Alexandria, Tunis, Carthage then recovery in Marrakech

While “closing the ring’ the issue of postwar boundaries in Eastern Europe had to be resolved. Stalin desired a resolution now but Churchill wanted to wait until after the war was won. Concerning Poland, die British Prime Minister said, “we should do everything in our power to persuade the Poles to agree with the Russians about the Eastern frontier, in return for gains in East Prussia and Silesia. We could certaiinly promise to use our influence in that respect.”

“Unless there is a German collapse, the campaign of 1944 will be far the most dangerous we have undertaken and personally.”

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin did agree on the surrender terms for Italy and, on October 15th, the Royal Italian Government declared war on Germany, even though Rome would not be liberated for many months.

Churchill’s attention then turned to freeing the islands of the Aegean where he had long had strategic interests. His plan, however, was not supported by Roosevelt, who agreed with Eisenhower that re- sources should not be diverted from the planned invasion of Normandy.

Stalin’s distrust of his allies’ intention to establish a second front would have to be addressed at a meeting of the “Big Three.” The appointment of a supreme commander was essential and Churchill was confident it would be George Marshall. In December Roosevelt informed him that he needed Marshall in Washington and that the appointment would go to Dwight Eisenhower.

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Summer 1943 (Age 68)

On to the Quebec Conference

As the Allies bombed targets in Sicily in preparation for invasion, Churchill pressed for another meeting with FDR. Churchill knew that this was a propitious moment. In a communication with Roosevelt and Eisenhower, he quoted Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune … And we must take the current when it serves Or lose our ventures.” The present venture was to get onto the Italian mainland as quickly as possible, with Rome as “the bull’s-eye.” Even if the Americans hesitated he was prepared to use British troops, and perhaps Polish troops stationed in Persia, to achieve his objectives in “the soft underbelly.” When he learned that General Marshall agreed he responded, “I am with you heart and soul” and he told Smuts that “we all go the same way home.”

“…we all go the same way home.”

Notwithstanding their troubles in Italy and the fact that the Allies had won the Battle of the Atlantic, the Germans opened an offensive on the Eastern Front; but it was stopped by mid-July after the great tank battle at Kursk. Churchill’s attention was also on the Balkans and the “hardy and hunted guerrillas” of Tito as he prepared to leave for Quebec and a meeting with the American President.

Traveling under the code-name Colonel Warden, Churchill boarded RMS Queen Mary on the Clyde. Despite the attempt at secrecy, large crowds met them at Halifax and at every train stop on the way to Quebec. Churchill’s V-sign was extremely popular. The Churchills were accommodated in the Citadel, the residence of the Governor-General of Canada. The remainder of the 200 people in the British party stayed at the Chateau Frontenac Hotel. The conference was not to begin for a few days so Roosevelt invited Churchill to his home in Hyde Park, New York. Leaving his wife in Quebec, Churchill and his daughter Mary traveled by private rail-car donated by the Canadian National Railways. He wanted to show his daughter Niagara Falls where he was asked what he thought of the natural wonder. “I saw them before you were born,” he replied. “I came here first in 1900.” “Do they look the same?,” he was asked. “Well,”he responded, ‘the principle seems the same. The water still keeps falling over.” For two oppressively hot days Churchill and his daughter visited the Roosevelt home, where they swam and picnicked on hot dogs and hamburgers.

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Winter 1943 (Age 68)

The Casablanca Conference

As he prepared to leave for Casablanca Churchill also considered his plans for postwar Britain. Full employment, improved education, increased housing, better health care with no increase in cost of living were to be his priorities.

On 12 January he left for Casablanca where the leaders of Britain and the United States planned the invasion of the European continent. Churchill thought that it was essential for them to alleviate the pressure on the Soviets in 1943 with an attack on Sicily and then a cross-Channel invasion. The allies also had to reassure each other of mutual support. The British feared that the Americans might give priority to the Pacific front and the Americans were concerned that Britain would pull out of the war after the defeat of Germany. French unity was also important and General de Gaulle was invited to meet with and hopefully accept the authority of General Giraud in North Africa.

The Conference had been kept secret until the press conference on 24 January. The press, wrote Churchill, could hardly believe their eyes and then their ears when they heard that the Conference had been meeting for two weeks. Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed to continue convoys to Russia, send support to American forces in China, begin plans for a June landing in Sicily, and build up American forces in Britain. They also announced (against Churchill’s inner judgment) that Unconditional Surrender was the only term which the Allies would accept to end the war. This decision would bring the criticism that it unduly prolonged hostilities.  

The leaders drove to Marrakech, where Churchill showed Roosevelt the Atlas Mountains and enjoyed his only opportunity to paint during the war. Then Churchill flew on to Cairo, where he was advised by his former research assistant, William Deakin, to support Tito in Yugoslavia. He continued up the coast where he met the President of Turkey, He returned to Cairo via Cyprus where he again met with the Fourth Hussars, of which he was Colonel in Chief. Back at Cairo he learned of the surrender of the Germans at Stalingrad.

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Spring 1943 (Age 68)

Churchill’s tensions were often manifested in his treatment of his staff. A secretary, Elizabeth Layton (now Nel), wrote her parents that “sometimes he is just as merry and on edge as he could be and barks at you for nothing at all.” On another occasion she told her parents that they had a grand time at Chequers because “the boss was in a grand temper and … he treated us like human beings for once!” Churchill had earlier told another secretary, Marian Holmes, that “you must never be frightened of me when I snap. I’m not snapping at you but thinking of my work.”

“Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?”

He had much both to snap about and to be in a grand tem-per over. Relations with Russia were strained by the news of the discovery of the remains of 8,000 Polish officers executed in the Katyn forest near Smolensk. Polish General Sikorski accused the Russians of the atrocity. An angry Stalin retaliated by breaking relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile. Churchill was caught in the middle between his two allies. Acknowledging that the Russians could be very cruel, he argued that the Poles must “shift the argument from the dead to the living and from the past to the future.’ There was no use, Churchill wrote Eden, prowling morbidly around the three-year-old graves of Smolensk.” He successfully softened the public wrath of the Polish communique.

At the same time Churchill learned that ‘the Germans had developed rockets capable of hit- ting London and it appeared that Operation Sledgehammer, the invasion of Europe in 1943, was not going to happen. The good news was that the Allies were advancing in North Africa. Churchill wrote his son: “What a change this is from the days when Hitler danced his jig of joy at Compiegne.’ [Actually there was no jig, as has since been noted. -Ed.]

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Churchill’s Fighting Speech to US Congress

Churchill tells the US Congress that Britain is committed to fighting Japan

“It is the duty of those who are charged with the direction of the war to overcome at the earliest moment the military, geographical and political difficulties and begin the process so necessary and desirable of laying the cities and other munition centres of Japan in ashes, for in ashes they must surely lie before peace comes back to the world. ”

‘And here let me say: let no one suggest that we British have not at least as great an interest as the United States in the unflinching and relentless waging of war against Japan. But I am here to tell you that we will wage that war side by side with you, in accordance with the best strategic employment of our forces while there is breath in our bodies and while blood flows in our veins.

The African war is over. Mussolini’s African Empire and Corporal Hitler’s strategy are alike exploded. One continent at least has been cleansed and purged forever from Fascist and Nazi tyranny.

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