Keith Hunt - The Life of Winston Churchill #3 - Page Three   Restitution of All Things

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The Life of Winston Churchill #3

Lessons of Failure



     Though Churchill entered the Great War readily, if not
eagerly, we must remember that he had warned in speech and print
that it would be a catastrophe for humanity. He was the only one,
apart from that brilliant prophet of the future H. G. Wells, to
predict its horrors so clearly. And they proved worse than either
supposed. Indeed the first of the two world wars proved the worst
disaster in modern history, perhaps in all history, from which
most of the subsequent problems of the twentieth century sprang,
and many of which continue, fortissimo, into the twenty-first. He
saw all these tremendous events from a highly personal viewpoint
and portrayed them vividly, seen from close quarters and invested
with strong emotion. As with every major event in his life, he
told the story as soon as it was over, on an appropriately large
scale. A. J. Balfour, who always viewed him with a salty mixture
of admiration and vitriol, put it: "Winston has written an
enormous book about himself and called it The World Crisis."
Even before the book appeared, he had epitomized its monstrous
nature in glowing words on a sheet of War Office paper:
All the horrors of all the ages were brought together, and not
only armies but whole populations were thrust into the midst of
them. The mighty educated states involved conceived not without
reason-that their very existence was at stake.
     Neither peoples nor rulers drew the line at any deed which
they thought could help them to win. Germany, having let Hell
loose, kept well in the van of terror; but she was followed step
by step by the desperate and ultimately avenging nations she had
assailed. Every outrage against humanity and international law
was repaid by reprisals-often on a greater scale and of longer
duration. No truce or parley mitigated the strife of the armies.
The wounded died between the lines: the dead mouldered into the
soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were
sunk on the seas, and all on board left to their fate, or killed
as they swam. Every effort was made to starve whole nations into
submission, without regard to age or sex. Cities and monuments
were smashed by artillery. Bombs from the air were cast down
indiscriminately. Poison gas in many forms stifled or seared the
soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell
from the air in flames, or were smothered often slowly in the
dark recesses of the sea. The fighting strength of armies was
limited only by the manhood of their countries. Europe and large
parts of Asia or Africa became one vast battlefield on which not
only armies but entire nations broke and ran. When all was over,
torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the
civilised, scientific Christian states had been able to deny
themselves, and they were of doubtful utility.
     At the time, Churchill was too busy to reflect on the
horrors of war. He was responsible for 1,100 warships, with more
joining them every week from the shipyards. But they were
vulnerable. Three cruisers were lost to a U-boat on a single day,
September 22, 1914. In October the battleship Audacious was sunk
and soon after two more cruisers went down in the lost battle of
Coronel. Combined loss of life was over four thousand. The
failure of the Mediterranean fleet to sink two German warships on
their way to Istanbul inspired Turkey to join the war on
Germany's side. On two occasions German warships made hit-and-run
attacks on Yorkshire towns. The fact that the navy had enabled
the six divisions of Britain's expeditionary force to be
transported without loss of a single man was taken for granted,
though it was a notable achievement. Churchill sent fast battle
cruisers to the South Atlantic to avenge Coronel, and they did so
at the battle of the Falklands, the entire German squadron being
sent to the bottom. But that was taken for granted, too. The
public demanded to know what the Grand Fleet was doing, and why
it had not won an overwhelming victory. Why had there been no
Trafalgar? Where was Nelson? The French had saved Paris by their
victory at the Marne in early September, but Britain had made no
spectacular contribution as yet to victory in the war, which all
(except Churchill and Kitchener) believed would be short.
     In his frustration, Churchill involved himself in a typical
personal adventure. He had already created a naval division for
land use and set up a base in Dunkirk, with a naval air squadron,
and commandeered Rolls-Royces protected by sheets of steel armor,
the earliest version of the tank. When news reached the cabinet
that the Belgians were about to surrender Ostend and Antwerp,
thus defeating the whole object of Britain's intervention in the
war, it ordered Churchill, a delighted volunteer, to go to
Antwerp to take charge. He did so and had a tremendous time,
commanding every available man and piece of artillery,
improvising, and inventing new weapons. He afterward described it
in The World Crisis with rhetorical relish. He set up his HQ in
the best hotel, went around in a cloak and a yachting cap, and
held the city for a week, during which the three chief French
Channel ports, essential links between Britain and the
expeditionary force, were made secure. But his proposal that he
resign his office and be appointed commander on the spot, though
approved by Kitchener, was rejected by the cabinet, and he was
ordered home. Antwerp fell, and with it two thousand British
troops who were killed or taken prisoner, and Churchill was
blamed, particularly by the Tories and senior army generals.
Clemmie, who had had a baby (Sarah) while her husband was
fighting, was also critical. But the prime minister was warm in
praise: "He is so resourceful and undismayed, two of the
qualities I like best."
     Churchill later wrote that "the weight of the War" pressed
"more heavily" on him in the last months of 1914 than at any
other time. As the enormous and constantly expanding armies
settled down into static, bloody, and horrible trench warfare in
Flanders, Churchill feared his nightmare vision was coming true:
the vision of an endless, infinitely costly but indecisive war,
in which all would lose, none gain, and the only result would be
the ruin of Europe and her empires. The navy had painfully
succeeded in bottling up Germany, clearing the seas of her
surface ships and maintaining British maritime supremacy on the
oceans. Otherwise it was unoccupied and denied the chance to
strike a vital blow. Admiral Jellicoe, commanding the Grand
Fleet, was rendered cautious, perhaps excessively so, Churchill
felt, by his knowledge that though he could not win the war by
daring, he could "lose it in an afternoon" by one serious
misjudgment. How to restore dynamism to the war? He asked
Asquith (December 29,1914): "Are there not other alternatives
than sending out armies to chew barbed wire in Flanders?
Furthermore, cannot the power of the Navy be brought more
directly to bear upon the enemy?"
     One answer was to make more use of Russia's almost
inexhaustible manpower resources by shipping vast supplies of
modern weapons, especially heavy artillery, to her Black Sea
ports. But this meant knocking Turkey out of the war, or at any
rate clearing the Dardanelles to let the British and French
munitions ships through. This is what Churchill suggested in a
memo to Asquith at the end of 1914. He also offered an
alternative: an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein, which Germany had
conquered from Denmark in Bismarck's day. This, he calculated,
would bring Denmark, perhaps all the Scandinavian countries, into
the war and also open up communications with Russia. But
Churchill preferred an assault on Istanbul, which would be
easier, given overwhelming Franco-British superiority in the
Mediterranean, and bring the Balkan states of Greece, Rumania,
and Bulgaria into the war on the Allied side, probably Italy
     This view was accepted in principle. But now it became
clear, at least in retrospect, that Asquith, as prime minister,
did not know how to run a war on such a scale. What British prime
minister ever had? Aberdeen had made a gruesome mess of British
participation in the Crimean War. Pitt had blundered repeatedly
in the Continental War against Revolutionary France and Napoleon.
Asquith, over six years, had proved a skillful peacetime leader,
steering Britain through several crises by his adroit management
of the House of Commons and the cabinet. But he had no conception
of the right way to win a world war. He could keep the cabinet
together and see that general policy orders were given to the
services. But then he sat back and wrote amorous letters to his
beloved Venetia Stanley or played bridge endlessly at his house,
the Wharf. It is clear now that he should have handed over to a
younger and more energetic colleague such as Lloyd George, or
formed a war cabinet to conduct the actual operations and the
mobilization of the economy. He should also have brought the
other parties into the government and so united the nation. But
he was not willing to do any of those things.
     Hence the attempt to seize the Dardanelles, the narrow strip
which was the key to the Sea of Marmara and Istanbul, was a
disaster. The year before, Churchill had foolishly brought out of
retire ment Admiral Sir John Fisher, the dynamic force-he was
more than a human being-who had created the original Dreadnought
and two more classes of capital ships, to replace Admiral Louis
Battenberg, forced out by popular prejudice because he was of
German blood, as first sea lord. Fisher was now well into his
seventies and increasingly arbitrary and childish (his wild
letters often ended "Yours till Hell freezes"). He could not make
up his mind about the Dardanelles and in the end opposed it. By
this time, January 1915, the Germans and Turks had got wind of
the scheme and were preparing to kill it on the beaches. There
was a foolish tendency, not shared by Churchill, to underrate the
Turks as fighting men. With a large contingent of German officers
to advise and train them, the Turkish army was formidable. On
January 31, Asquith told Fisher, "I have heard Mr. Winston
Churchill and I have heard you and now I am going to give my
decision ... The Dardanelles will go ahead."

     If Asquith had then appointed Churchill supremo of the
operation (and told him to replace Fisher), the campaign might
still have succeeded. But he did no such thing. He was already
thinking of forming a coalition with the Tories and knew they
would require Churchill's departure from the Admiralty as part of
the price. There were endless arguments about the nature of the
naval force and the relative importance of the army in the
attack. The admirals were timid. The land commander, General Sir
Ian Hamilton, was charming but lacked resolution. There were
leaks from the cabinet, which under Asquith had no sense of the
absolute need for security, and by the time the operation began
at the end of April 1915, the assaulting troops, mainly
Australians and New Zealanders, plus Churchill's naval division,
had not a chance. It was a massacre, and the casualties enormous.
The divided command insisted on reinforcing failure, thus
breaking the most elementary rule of strategy, and the death toll
rose. Fisher noisily resigned, and Asquith formed his coalition,
moving Churchill, despite his almost tearful protests, from the
Admiralty to the nonjob of chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
It was the only time in his life that Clemmie Churchill made a
dramatic appeal on behalf of her husband. She wrote to Asquith:
"Winston may in your eyes, and in those with whom he had to work,
have faults, but he had the supreme quality which I venture to
say very few of your present or future Cabinet possess-the power,
the imagination, the deadliness, to fight Germany." This was true
but unavailing: Asquith was beginning to fight for his own
political survival and he saw that the sacrifice of Churchill was
essential to it. Besides, his noisy and dominating wife, Margot,
whose shouted advice was to get rid of Churchill at any cost,
told him: "I have never varied in my opinion of Winston I am glad
to say. He is a hound of the lowest sort of political honour, a
fool of the lowest judgment, and contemptible. He cured me of
oratory in the House, and bored me with oratory in the Home."
     So Churchill was out and had to watch, impotent and silent,
while the politicians, admirals, and generals compounded their
mistakes and the operation, after a quarter of a million
casualties, ended in ignominious evacuation. Though an official
inquiry eventually exonerated him, at the time (which is what
mattered) he got the blame. As Theodore Roosevelt once remarked
of a financial crisis:

"When people have lost their money, they strike out unthinkingly,
like a wounded snake, at whoever is most prominent in the line of

     Here it was not money but lives lost, and there was no
doubt who was most prominent. So the Dardanelles disaster became
identified with Churchill and the fury this aroused persisted
until 1.940, and even beyond, especially among the Tories and a
huge chunk of the public.
     It was the lowest time in Churchill's life. At this point,
Sir William Orpen, Britain's finest painter, did his portrait. It
is the best ever done of Churchill, of the fifty or so that have
survived, and one of the best Orpen himself ever produced: dark,
somber, troubled, defiant--just--but more despairing. When it was
finished, Churchill sighed, "It is not the picture of a man. It
is the picture of man's soul." Orpen used to speak of "the misery
in his face." He called Churchill "the man of misery." No one can
understand him properly without looking long and earnestly at
this great work (now in Dublin). A quarter of a century later,
when Churchill was back at the top and able to look at his life
more philosophically, he said, "Yes, it's good.

     He painted it just after I'd had to withdraw our forces from
the Dardanelles, and I'd got turfed out. In fact when he painted
it I'd pretty well lost everything:' He brooded in his
inactivity, something he had never experienced before. His wife
later told Martin Gilbert, his great biographer, "I thought he
would die of grief."
     At this moment, providence intervened. By pure chance, his
sister-in-law "Goome" Churchill (Lady Gwendeline Bertie, daughter
of the Earl of Abingdon) was painting in watercolor in the garden
of Hoe Farm in Surrey, which they had rented jointly. Churchill:
"I would like to do that." She lent him her paints and soon,
ambitious as always, he sent for a set of oils and canvases. He
loved it. The Scots-Irish master Sir John Lavery, a neighbor,
took him in hand, and his dashing wife, Hazel, also a painter,
gave him excellent advice. "Don't hesitate. Dash straight at it.
Pile on the paint. Have a go!" He did, with growing relish. He
discovered, as other sensible people have done, that painting is
not only the best of hobbies but a sure refuge in time of
trouble, for while you are painting you can think of nothing
else. His first painting, The Garden at Hoe Farm, with Goonie in
the foreground, survives. Soon, misery began to retreat. His
mind, his self-respect, his confidence were restored. He found he
could paint strikingly and loved it; his efforts improved with
each canvas. The colors were strong and cheerful. His friends
liked them and were delighted to have them. He had discovered a
new field to conquer with his audacity. Painting, after politics
and the family, became his chief passion, and he painted for the
rest of his life, as the perfect relaxation from his tremendous
cares. His eventual election as an Honorary Royal Academician
Extraordinary in 1948 may have been colored by his wartime emi-
nence. But it is a compelling fact that in 1925 Lord Duveen, the
leading art dealer of the century, Kenneth Clark, later director
of the National Gallery, and Oswald Birley, one of the top
portrait painters, formed a committee to award a prize to works
of art submitted anonymously by amateur artists. The three gave
it instantly and unanimously to Churchill's submission, Winter
Sunshine, and Duveen found it hard to believe the painter was an
     Enlivened by art, Churchill determined to go back into the
fray by fighting in Flanders. He went to the front on November
18, 1915, and was there till May 1916. After much opposition, he
was given a battalion to command, the Sixth Royal Scots
Fusiliers, and saw action in the trenches. A photograph survives
showing him wearing a French infantryman's helmet, which he
preferred to the British tin hat, and dressed in a uniform so
badly put on and buckled as to cause heart failure in Sir Douglas
Haig, the ultrasmart commander in chief, who as Lloyd George
scathingly put it, was "brilliant to the top of his boots." But
he looks happy.
     The experience restored his faith in himself and winning the
war. He later wrote:

     As, in the shadows of a November evening, I for the first
     time led [my men] across the sopping fields which gave
     access to our trenches, while here and there the bright
     flashes of the guns or the occasional whistle of a random
     bullet accompanied our path, the conviction came into my
     mind with absolute assurance that the simple soldiers, and
     their regimental officers, armed with their cause, would by
     their virtues in the end retrieve the mistakes and
     ignorances of staffs and cabinets, of admirals, generals and
     politicians-including, no doubt, many of my own. But alas at
     what a needless cost! To how many slaughters, through what
     endless months of fortitude and privation, would these men,
     themselves already the survivors of many a bloody day, be
     made to plod before victory was won!

     Churchill's service in the trenches served him well in both
world wars because it enabled him to understand the views of
ordinary soldiers and officers (much better than Sir Douglas
Haig, who never went near the trenches if he could help it: he
thought his nature too tender and that experiencing horrors would
undermine his ability to take hard decisions). He returned to
London exhilarated, eager for work-and to earn money to replace
his ministerial salary writing articles for the Sunday Pictorial
and the Times.
     After demeaning attempts to cling on, Asquith was finally
ousted in December 1916 and replaced by Lloyd George, who began
to do many of the things that should have been automatic from the
beginning of the war. He wanted to bring Churchill back, but the
Tories in his coalition would not hear of it. After a key meeting
with LG behind the Speaker's Chair in May 1917, Churchill became
his unofficial adviser on the war, though holding no office. Thus
"master and servant" were reunited and Churchill, chastened by
his experiences and aware of the risks the prime minister was
taking to talk to him at all, was for a time silent and almost
servile. His position, however, was helped by his alliance with a
new friend, Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian financier
who was rapidly building up one of the most successful newspaper
empires in Britain. They became intimate friends and the
Beaverbrook press sang his praises.

     Clemmie disliked him even more than she did F. E. Smith, and
thought his advice to her husband always wrong and often
inflammatory. In my experience of Beaverbrook I found him shrewd
and often wise, honest, reliable, and truthful. But many thought
otherwise and agreed with Clemmie. At all events, by July 1917
Lloyd George felt strong enough to bring back Churchill and made
him minister of munitions.
     This was a brilliant move, and Churchill rapidly made
himself one of the most efficient departmental ministers in
British history.
     It was a confused ministry which had grown up haphazardly
during the war and was a maze of duplications, contradictions,
and bureaucratic gang warfare. In a short time of fanatical hard
work Churchill made it simple, logical, and efficient. He forged
a close link with the front to ensure the troops got exactly the
right weapons and ammunition they wanted, in the right
quantities. He visited the front constantly, and Haig was so
impressed by the improvement in supplies that he completely
reversed his opinion of Churchill and let him use the Chateau
Verchocq near Calais. Within a year, the British army was better
supplied with weapons of their choice than either the French or
the Germans. The vast quantities of heavy artillery, mobile
cannon, and machine guns Churchill sent played a notable part in
the slaughter inflicted on the German divisions, which attacked
in March 1918, when for the first time in the war the relative
casualty rate was decisively reversed. The German army began to
bleed to death-the prime cause of their plea for an armistice in
November 1918. Churchill was also effective in ensuring that
American forces, arriving at the front in growing numbers from
late 1917, never went short of munitions. There is a vignette of
Churchill, after a day at the front, getting lost in his
Rolls-Royce near Verchocq and shouting to his driver, "Well, it's
the most absolutely fucking thing in the whole of my life." It is
worth noting that Churchill, who disliked swearing in others and
usually restrained himself, occasionally indulged when things
went wrong. His secretary Elizabeth Layton once recorded: "He was
in a very bad temper all this week, and every time I went to him
he used a new and worse swear word."
     Lloyd George also used Churchill in various key roles in the
creation of a unified command with France in 1918. It was at his
suggestion that the prime minister brought General Smuts into the
war cabinet, in recognition of the enormous efforts the
commonwealth had made to help Britain in the war. Soon after the
armistice, LG held a general election, which he won with a huge
majority for his coalition, Churchill defending Dundee again, as
a Liberal (coalition). LG now felt strong enough to make full use
of Churchill, bringing him into the cabinet and putting him in
charge of both the army and the air force. His first job was to
get the soldiers and sailors home as quickly as possible, and
this he did with a brilliant scheme, entirely his own, whereby
priorities were decided simply by length of service, wounds, and
age. As he put it, "I let three out of four go and paid the
fourth double to finish the job." This worked, as did a
surprisingly high proportion of his ideas. It would be hard to
say whether he produced, in his lifetime, more superb ideas or
     His ideas, when they prospered, sometimes had a huge effect
on the future. When they foundered, they left a desolating
feeling of what might have been. He regarded Lenin's Bolshevik
coup of November 1917, his subsequent murder of the czar and his
family, and the creation of a Communist state as one of the great
crimes of history. He was determined to reverse it and sent
troops and armies to Russia through Archangel. This intervention
had begun before Churchill took over the War Office but he
increased its scale and inflated it with his rhetoric, and had he
been allowed he would have done more, and for longer. It did not
seem to be working, and his colleagues insisted he pull out. Once
again, he was "conspicuous," and got all the blame. In a sense it
was another Dardanelles. If it had succeeded, more than 2o
million Russian lives would have been saved from starvation,
murder, and death in the gulag. It is most unlikely that, with
Bolshevism crushed, Mussolini could have come to power in Italy,
or still less, Hitler in Germany. Imagine the postwar world
without either triumphant Communism or aggressive Fascism!
Churchill was never allowed by his critics to forget his failed
attempt to extinguish Communism, but he did not pine himself. He
had too much to do, especially in the Arab world, where he was
much more successful, and his work had immense consequence, and
still does. Throughout the nineteenth century it had usually been
British policy to treat Turkey, "the sick man of Europe," gently
and to try to keep its crumbling empire together. All that
changed when Turkey joined Germany in 1914. Then it became
AngloFrench policy to strip Turkey of its Arab provinces and
divide the spoils. By the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 France
was to get Syria and the Lebanon as protectorates, and Britain
the rest. At Munitions, Churchill became involved by speeding
guns to the advancing army of General Allenby (whom he regarded
as Britain's best general) in Palestine, and by providing rifles
with which to arm Arab rebels organized by Colonel T. E.
Lawrence, the visionary soldier and adventurer who became one of
his close friends. The success of Allenby and Lawrence in
December 1917 and the subsequent collapse of Turkey made a tabula
rasa of the whole vast area which Churchill now began to call the
Middle East, on which Britain - and he himself - could paint the
     He was aware from his Indian service of the variety of Islam
and the ferocious force of its fundamentalist elements. He was
fond of saying, "The British Empire is the world's greatest
Moslem power," with 80 million in India, which was then
undivided, alone. In his two Indian campaigns, and in the Sudan
in 1899, he had been fighting fundamentalists. So, essentially,
had been Britain in the Persian Gulf since the early nineteenth
     The strongest fundamentalist force in the Arab world was the
Wahhabi sect, a confederation of tribes ruled by the Saud family.
Britain built up a series of Gulf peoples-in Muscat and Oman,
Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrainwhose moderate views and trading
interests made them natural allies-to pen the Saudis in and
prevent their piratical dhows from raiding communications with
India. Britain also made friends with the Hashemite family,
hereditary sharifs of Mecca by direct descent from the time of
the Prophet Muhammad.
     When Churchill took over, first as head of the army and air
force, and from early 1921 the Colonial Office, the idea was to
make the Hashemites the pivot of British policy. This was
frustrated by the ferocity of the Saudis who, the moment Turkish
power collapsed, overran most of the Arabian peninsula,
slaughtering their opponents and setting up a kingdom which
included the majority of the Gulf coast, already recognized as
the world's largest oil reserves. Churchill would have liked to
reverse this decision, but war-weary Britain had no relish for
another campaign in the East, and the lesson of the recent
failure to reverse history in Russia was too painful, even for
him. What he did was to concoct with General Trenchard, head of
the air force-which Churchill formed into a separate body -
methods of using bombers to control large areas of sparsely
populated territory. Churchill's backing for the new RAF
was enthusiastic and provident, and by the time he moved to the
Colonial Office it was easily the largest air force in the world.
He also encouraged the expansion of the British air construction
industry which, between the wars, was exceptionally fertile and
dynamic, and was to save the country, under his leadership, in
     He now remodeled the Colonial Office to found a new and
powerful Middle East department, which in the spring of 1921
organized a high-level conference in Cairo to refashion the area
in light of the Saudi triumph. This was one of the highlights of
Churchill's career, and it gave him a taste for summit
conferences he never lost. It was highly productive. Two new
kingdoms were created, Iraq and Transjordan, for the two leading
Hashemite princes, Emir Faisal, sharif of Mecca, and Emir
Abdullah. The role of the RAF was confirmed and a vast new base
in Habbaniya in northern Iraq, still in use by the West, was
created. This settlement lasted half a century and would have
endured longer but for an unfortunate intervention by the world's
largest oil company, Standard Oil. While Britain was using
Anglo-Persian and Anglo-Dutch Shell to develop the fields in
Persia, Iraq, Kuwait, and elsewhere in the Gulf, Standard formed
an alliance with the Saudis to develop fields on their territory,
which proved the richest of all. American policy almost
inevitably backed Standard, and so the Saudis. Thus the Wahhabi
fundamentalists became a great power in the Middle East, immune
from attack because of U.S. support and provided with colossal
sums of oil royalties with which to undermine the moderates
everywhere and the Hashemites in particular.
     Churchill was painfully aware of the shadows this cast over
the future, but there was little he could do about it at the
     What he could, and did, do was to ensure the continuation of
the Jewish experiment in making a National Home in Palestine. To
reinforce worldwide Jewish support for the Allies, Britain had
issued in 1917 a promise known as the "Balfour Declaration" (he
was foreign secretary at the time), under which the government
promised "its best endeavours" to help the Jews found their new
home there "without prejudice to the existing inhabitants." The
declaration, of course, did not exactly envisage the creation of
Israel, and it was internally a contradiction. But it had the
enthusiastic support of Churchill. His time as a Manchester MP
had put him in close touch with a thriving Jewish community. He
was always pro Jewish and became (and remained) pro-Zionist as
soon as it became a practical scheme. At Cairo and later he was
able to defeat attempts to renege on the declaration and wind up
the Jewish National Home in response to Arab pressure. On the
contrary, he gave it every support in his power, and when in 1922
the House of Commons showed signs of turning against the whole
idea, he made one of his greatest speeches, which swung MPs round
into giving the Jews their chance. Without Churchill it is very
likely Israel would never have come into existence. It is not
given to many men to found, or help preserve, one new state: his
score was three.
     Churchill was meanwhile playing a key role in the latest
phase of the Irish problem. He had been at the front, happily,
when the Easter Rebellion broke out in Dublin in 1916 and was not
involved in the subsequent hangings. By the end of the war, the
Irish Republican Army, under the leadership of Michael Collins,
the handsome killer-charmer known as "the Big Fellah," had
reduced much of Ireland to anarchy. Lloyd George's first instinct
was to pacify it by force, bringing in a special army of
ex-soldiers whose uniforms made them known as the Black and Tans,
and whose tendency to match the atrocities perpetrated by the
rebels with similar reprisals made them hated. The net result was
that there was no longer any possibility of coercing Ulster into
accepting Home Rule, i.e., inclusion in a Dublin Parliament. The
problem was: could the rest of Ireland be persuaded to accept a
settlement which left the six counties (of Ulster) under British
rule? By 1921 Lloyd George was determined to negotiate a
settlement along these lines, and he called in to help him
Churchill and his lord chancellor, Birkenhead (as F. E. Smith had
become). These three men, plus Collins, eventually reached one.
Churchill again proved himself, in negotiation, a moderate by
nature, infinitely fertile in imaginative compromises, much
helped by Birkenhead's legal genius, and the Anglo-Irish Treaty
must be counted another of his positive achievements, albeit
shared with the other three in the quadrumvirate. This treaty led
to the establishment of the Irish Free State, under which
southern Ireland had the right to govern itself but retained
allegiance to the Crown and remained part of the empire, Ulster
could opt out, and British forces committed to leaving southern
Ireland. It did not prevent a brief and bloody civil war in the
south, when Eamon De Valera led the extreme nationalists, and
Collins (who had told Churchill, "We would never have done
anything without you") was murdered. But the treaty did include a
provision, on which Churchill insisted, to allow the British navy
to maintain antisubmarine bases on the west coast ("the Treaty
ports"), and it lasted, in most respects, for half a century,
until the next Irish explosion came.
     Meanwhile Lloyd George, who had enjoyed heady personal power
for over three years, engaged in his own Churchill-type adventure
on the Turkish coast, where he tried to come to the rescue of
Greek communities against the newly invigorated Turkish state
under Kemal Ataturk. LG loved small, fierce nations, among whom
he numbered Greece, and he wanted to commit British forces to
preserve these Greek pockets. Churchill, for once, was in favor
of withdrawal from what he saw was an untenable position. LG
broke with him over this issue-their relations had already been
strained by the Irish crisis and the Honours scandal, for which
LG was responsible and when Churchill gave him no sympathy. In
what became known as the Chanak crisis, LG was forced to back
down, and that effectively ended his coalition government. The
Tories had long been restive under a regime in which they
provided most of the votes in Parliament and Lloyd George and his
cronies had most of the jobs. On October 19, 1922, at a meeting
of the Carlton Club, Stanley Baldwin, a newcomer to high
politics, made a persuasive speech in which he accused LG of
splitting the Liberal Party and threatening to split the Tories,
too. The Tories voted to withdraw from the coalition, LG
resigned, Bonar Law formed a Tory government, and a general
election followed in November. During the campaign Churchill was
in great pain (the photos show it) and was rushed to hospital for
an emergency operation: "In the twinkling of an eye, I found
myself without an office, without a seat, without a party and
without an appendix."
     Thus, seven years after the Dardanelles disaster, Churchill
was again sent to the bottom. Or rather, it was like a game of
snakes and ladders, and he had now gone right down a snake and
had to face the task of wearily climbing the ladder again, for
the third time in his life. It was not so easy now he was nearing
     For one reason or another the orthodox Liberals, under the
battered but revengeful Asquithians, the Lloyd George Liberals,
Labourites, and the Tories all hated and distrusted him. He now
had a long record. Seen in retrospect, in the twenty-first
century, it seems a record of astonishing variety, most of it
admirable. Seen in 1922, it appeared alarming. Nothing daunted
Churchill, determined to get back into the Commons. Without that,
nothing was possible. With it, and his astonishing powers of
persuasion and sheer oratory, everything was possible. Dundee was
hopeless: he had come in fourth in 1922. So in December 1923 he
stood for Leicester West, as a Liberal free trader, but was well
beaten by Labour. He stood again in March 1924, in Westminster
(Abbey) at a by-election. This was the famous independent-minded
seat where in the late eighteenth century Charles James Fox had
triumphed against all the might of the Crown, with the help of
the kisses of Whig duchesses. Churchill had no duchesses, for
Consuelo, the rich American lady who had married his cousin, the
9th Duke of Marlborough and who was fond of "Cousin Winston," had
been cast off and had married a Frenchman. But he had a new
admirer: Brendan Bracken, a mysterious Canadian, who had come
from nowhere (many thought, quite wrongly, that he was
Churchill's illegitimate son) and was busy be coming a
millionaire and a power in city journalism, eventually
owning the Financial Times. He became Churchill's closest and
most faithful aide, and thanks to his efforts the seat was nearly
won. But a Tory got in by forty-three votes, and all was to do
     But one of Churchill's strengths, both as a man and a
statesman, was that politics never occupied his whole attention
and energies. He had an astonishing range of activities to
provide him with relief, exercise, thrills, fun, and, not least,
money. By the end of October 1923, he had embarked on his
enormous record of the First World War, The World Crisis, which
appeared in multiple volumes between 1923 and 1927. The
serialization had begun in the Times in February. Together with
its Aftermath (1929), it is his best largescale book, much of it
written with a kind of incandescent excitement, verging at times
on poetry, rage, and even genius. It vindicated his wartime
career, so far as possible, and provided a brilliantly lit guide
through the dark and horrific war. It made a great deal of money
over the years and more than three quarters of a century later is
still in print, and read. Its success opened before Churchill an
endless vista of publishers' contracts all over the earth, for
anything he cared to produce.
     It also justified a new venture: a country house. Hitherto
he had borrowed and let several. But he wanted one he could
fashion as his own. In 1922 an inheritance of a small estate from
an old dowager duchess of Marlborough gave him a chance. He sold
the estate and invested the proceeds in buying Chartwell, a house
of Elizabethan origin, plus three hundred acres, at Westerham in
Kent. It was only twenty-five miles from Parliament and had a
magnificent view. He called in Philip Tilden, the fashionable art
deco-style architect (the mode of the twenties), who had worked
for his friend Philip Sassoon and redone Lloyd George's country
house at Churt, to modernize it. But much of the planning and
design was Churchill's own work. It had never been a beautiful
house, and is not one now (apart from the view). But it is
distinctive, personal, and fascinating, an extension of the man
himself in brick and mortar, beams and decorations. It has big
windows, which Churchill liked: "Light is life," he said. It is
equipped for a writer and revolves round the library and study.
But it also has an art deco dining room, which saw countless
bottles of champagne uncorked, and a dazzling succession of
lunches and dinners, conjuring up the age of Lady Colefax and
Emerald Cunard, the great hostesses.
     The real personality of Chartwell, however, lies in the
surrounding grounds and buildings, which were entirely of his
design and often literally of his creation. As the plaque there
states, he built most of the cottage and a large proportion of
the kitchen garden wall, having learned to lay bricks in a
rough-and-ready manner. He applied for membership in the
bricklayers' trade union but was eventually turned down, after
much argument-trade union prejudice and Tonypandy playing a part.
He excavated mountains of earth in order to create three
connected lakes. He had a mechanical digger for this task, of
which he became very fond. He treated it like his own prehistoric
monster and referred to it as "he." He also laid down railway
tracks to speed the operations, first eighteen inches wide, later
twenty inches-three in all-and used various devices to insulate
the lake bottoms and keep the water in. His youngest child, Mary
Soames, later recalled, "My childhood was beset by leaking
lakes." He populated the lakes with black swans which sang to one
another (unlike the silent white swans), danced minuets, and
performed other tricks. There were also cows, pigs, and fowl,
sheep and goats, budgerigars and a parrot. He took particular
trouble stocking the ponds with freshwater fish, goldfish and
exotics, and his greatest pleasure was to feed them and encourage
guests to do so. As in India, he collected live butterflies and
had a specially designed but to house them. The little estate
thus became a wonderland of creatures and activities, the delight
of countless guests, and the source of provender at Hyde Park
Gate, a place of constant entertainment. Every Monday, a carful
of flowers left Chartwell for the London drawing room, and on
Thursday there was another carful of fruit and vegetables for the
     The Churchill family always lived well. There was a
succession of first-class cooks. The cellars were ample. He
nearly always drank champagne at mealtimes (as was normal among
the richer politicians of his generation). His favorite was Pol
     Toward the end of his life he said the 1928 vintage, of
which he bought a great quantity, was the best ever bottled.
Madame Roger became a friend of his and named a special cru after
him. In turn, when he formed a racehorse stable, he named a horse
after the brand. He had a special room for his cigars, of which
the Romeo Julieta was his chosen Havana. But it is important to
realize that, though he was almost invariably seen and
photographed with a cigar in his hand, his consumption was not
large-never more than twelve a day. He did not inhale. His cigars
were constantly going out and being relit rather than smoked. He
never used a lighter, always very large, specially made matches,
of which he once gave me a specimen. He loved the procedure of
cigar smoking more than the smoking itself-one reason he never
had any smoke-produced trouble with his lungs. As Beaverbrook
said, "He smoked matches and ate cigars." As for his consumption
of hard liquor, he never gulped but sipped, slowly and at long
intervals. Once aboard the yacht of Aristotle Onassis, the Greek
shipping millionaire, he was sitting in the main saloon with his
host and Professor Frederick Lindemann (later Lord Cherwell), his
personal science adviser, when he suddenly said, "If all the
whisky and brandy I have drunk in my life was added up, it would
fill this state-room to overflowing." Lindemann: "I don't think
so." Onassis: "Let us measure the dimensions of this room and
see." Churchill told the professor to get out his slide rule and
gave him details of his daily intake of spirits over his
lifetime. Lindemann got to work and came up with the answer: the
saloon would be filled up to the height of five inches. Churchill
was plainly very disappointed.
     However, if Churchill lived well, he never had much cash in
hand or saw his investments rise to a point when he could feel
secure for life, or even for the next year. Chartwell cost 5,000
pounds but he had spent 20,000 pound on it by the end of the
1920s. His finances rollerskated, and on three occasions he
feared he would have to sell the house. Eventually, after the
Second World War, the Daily Telegraph proprietor bought it and
endowed it for the National Trust, to be kept in perpetuity as a
memorial to Churchill and his day. It was agreed he could live
there for the rest of his life at a nominal rent of 300 pound a
year. It was, and is, handsomely kept up and has become one of
the choicest attractions for visitors to Britain from all over
the world.
     All this was in the future. At the time, Chartwell and all
it offered in terms of work and enjoyment blunted the sense of
loss his exclusion from high politics inflicted, until the wheel
of fortune should turn again. And turn it did! It became clear
that his only political future was with the Tories. But how to
get back among them? So long as Bonar Law lived, there was no
chance. He hated Churchill because of Ulster, distrusted him
because of the Dardanelles, and found him an infuriating cabinet
     Churchill had a pernicious habit, which did him infinite
harm, of overrunning the boundaries between the various
government departments and speaking in cabinet - without being
invited by the prime minister - on issues which were not his
direct concern. Nothing makes a cabinet minister more unpopular,
and his interventions were controversial and lengthy. He reduced
Curzon to rage and even tears, and caused Bonar Law to lose his
temper in cabinet, the only time he did so. He recognized
Churchill's abilities but said, "I would rather see them
displayed as my opponent than as my colleague:" However, in 1923
Bonar Law became mortally ill and resigned, saying he was too
sick to advise George V about a successor. The job of adviser
went to Balfour. He rejected the favored candidate, Curzon, who
would certainly never have offered a top job to Churchill, in
favor of Stanley Baldwin. In the meantime, Churchill had been
worming his way back into Conservatism. He was helped by
Birkenhead and by his father's old friend in Liverpool, Alderman
Salvidge. They arranged for Churchill to make a big speech in
that city in May 1924. In those days, Churchill often took
several whiffs of pure oxygen to "lift" him before a bout of
oratory, and he traveled up with two canisters. The speech was a
tremendous public success and in it he withdrew his old
opposition to duties and in effect dropped his free trade views.
This public recantation was humbling to make but it achieved
its purpose. In September he was adopted as a "Constitutionalist"
candidate in the Epping division of Essex, and at the general
election in October he was returned with a massive majority of
9,763. It was now the easiest of moves to ask for the
Conservative whip and get it, thus making himself eligible for
office. It opened up a new era in his life. For the rest of it,
he was now seen as a Tory on the great chessboard of Westminster,
and had the ideal seat to keep him there.
     Baldwin, who had briefly served as prime minister before a
Labour interlude under Ramsay MacDonald, was returned with a
handsome majority at the election and was in a generous mood. His
most important Tory colleague was Neville Chamberlain, whom he
originally intended to make chancellor of the exchequer. But
Chamberlain wished to be a reforming minister of health. Baldwin,
a fellow Old Harrovian, took the opposite view of Churchill to
Bonar Law's: "I would rather have him making private trouble in
the Cabinet than public trouble outside it." He said, half
joking, "I wish to make a Cabinet of which Harrow can be proud,"
and had Churchill into Number Ten. Churchill was expecting
little, and when Baldwin said, "I want you to be Chancellor," he
thought it meant of the Duchy of Lancaster, the nonjob he had
held in the dark days of 1915. He was tempted to refuse, when
Baldwin added, "Chancellor of the Exchequer, of course."
Churchill was transformed. He "lit up like a gigantic
light-bulb." In a split second he was transformed into a radiant,
joyful prince of politics again, a man at the top of fortune's
wheel. He said: "This fulfills my ambition. I still have my
father's robes as Chancellor. I shall be proud to serve you in
this splendid office."

To be continued

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