Summer 1939 (Age 64)

“Winston is back!”

Churchill was frustrated by the Government’s reluctance to enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union. He was also disturbed by the apparent desire of Chamberlain and Halifax to come to some accommodation with Hitler. He wrote Halifax: “I am sure you realize that to talk about giving back colonies, or lebensraum or any concession, while nine million Czechs are still in bondage, would cause great division among us.”

Some of Britain’s allies doubted her ability to be victorious over Germany. Among them was the United States Ambassador, Joseph P. Kennedy. Churchill challenged Kennedy’s use of the “dreadful word” defeat. He told Walter Lippmann that he would willingly die before admitting defeat but that if it should happen then “it will be for the Americans to preserve and maintain the great heritage of the English-speaking peoples.”

He was convinced that American involvement was inevitable in any future conflict. After outlining how Britain should respond to the atrocity of bombing attacks on her cities, he predicted that “of these grievous events, the people of the United States may soon perhaps be the spectators. But it sometimes happens that the audience become infuriated by a revolting exhibition. In that case we might see the spectators leaving their comfortable seats and hastening to the work of rescue and retribution.”

In June Churchill published a collection of newspaper articles under the title Step by Step. Clement Attlee spoke for many when he said: “It must be a melancholy satisfaction to see how right you were. ” Many, both within and outside the Government, wanted to see him appointed to the Cabinet as the clouds formed over Poland, but his supporters tended to be younger members and the old guard around Chamberlain was still strongly opposed to him.

The public demand to bring back Churchill continued to grow. A large poster, paid for by an unknown Churchill supporter, appeared in the Strand on 24 July asking: “What Price Churchill?” From most of the newspapers, with the notable exceptions of the Daily Express and The Times, came what the Evening Standard called a “terrific barrage from the newspaper artilleries.” The Observer probably expressed it best: “That one who has so firm a gap of the realities of European politics should not be included in the Government must be as bewildering to foreigners as it is regrettable to most of his countrymen. “

The Times called this newspaper campaign “mischievous and futile.” It was indeed futile because the one man who counted, Neville Chamberlain, believed that Churchill’s inclusion in the Cabinet would frustrate his efforts to appease Hitler. Chamberlain was still determined to reach some agreement with the German leader. He wrote his sister: “It is very difficult to see the way out of Danzig but I don’t believe it is impossible to find, provided we are given a little kime and also provided that Hitler doesn’t really want war.”

Churchill supporter Harold Nicolson lamented in his diary: “Chamberlain’s obstinate exclusion of Churchill from the Cabinet is taken as a sign that he has not abandoned appeasement and that all gesture of resistance is mere bluff.”

General Ironside recorded Chamberlain’s views in his diary. “Neville Chamberlain is not a war Prime Minister. He is a pacifist at heart. He has a firm belief that God has chosen him as an instrument to prevent this threatened war. He can never get this out of his mind. He is not against Winston, but he believes that chances may still arrive for averting war, and he thinks that Winston might be so strong in a Cabinet that he would be prevented from acting.”

Ironside also offered some comments on Churchill’s personal circumstances: “What a man. Whisky and cigars all the time. A fascinating house overlooking the Weald of Kent. He inherited the house from someone and has made it worth living in. His own room is very big, some 60 feet long and is like a barn with its own rafters and beams. Crammed with books and papers and notes. He remarked that he would have to pull in his horns considerably if he ever took office, because he would have to cease making money by writing. ” Ironside was of course incorrect regarding the circumstances by which Churchill obtained Chartwell. He purchased it for £5000 in 1922.

Churchill carefully kept his distance from the political clamour. “I am quite sure that any such denmarche on my part would be unwise, and would weaken nm in any discussion that I might have to have with the gentleman in question.” He spent most of his time at Chartwell working with Deakin and Bullock on History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Woods A138). “It is a relief in times like these to be able to escape into other centuries. ” After a bitter political battle in early August, Chamberlain invoked party discipline and forced a parliamentary adjournment for two months.

In a broadcast to the United States on August 8, Churchill commented on the holiday mood. “How did we spend our sumnier holidays twenty-five years ago? … Why, those were the days when Prussian militarism was – to quote its own phrase – ‘hacking its way through the small weak neighbour country’ whose neutrality and independence they had sworn not merely to respect but to defend.”

He visited France several times during the summer and on 15 August he toured the Maginot Line and was admitted to highly confidential sections never shown to other foreigners. He then took a short vacation at Consuelo Balsan’s chateau in Normandy. On 22 August while painting for relaxation, he turned to another guest and said: “This is the last picture I shall paint in peacetime for a very long time.”

When he arrived back in London he learned of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact. The next day Chamberlain recalled Parliament. That evening a very gloomy Churchill, Eden, Sinclair, Sandys and Duff Cooper dined at the Savoy.

At 8:30 AM on 1 September he was awakened by telephone to be told that German armies had entered Poland. Later in the day he drove to London to meet the Prime Minister, who advised him that he would now like Churchill to enter the Government.

But the call did not come immediately. Despite his comments that “the die is cast, ” Chamberlain still hoped for a peaceful settlement. Churchill thought the general mood was otherwise: “There was no doubt that the temper of the House was for war. I deemed it even more resolute and united then in a similar scene on August 3, 1914, in which I had also taken part.”

Many politicians from all parties gathered at Churchill’s home at Morpeth Mansions to express dismay at Chambelain’s hesitation. Finally, at 11:15 AM on 3 September, Chamberlain broadcast that Britain was at war with Germany. Churchill was to join the War Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. The signal went out to all ships and naval bases: “Winston is Back!”

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