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Old 12-14-2021, 02:20 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Before that though, there was another challenge he would prove unequal to, and that was of his heart. In 1904 he had briefly met the daughter of Lady Blanche Hozier, then nineteen, and when he again ran into her four years later at a party given by one of her aunts, he was stricken with her to the extent that they were married six months later and the new Lady Clementine bore him his first child ten months later, a girl. They would have five in all, three more girls and one boy, whom they would name after Winston's father, Randolph. In the same year as he married Churchill was also elected as President of the Board of Trade, one of the youngest ever to hold that position. This year was not however without setbacks, including losing his seat in the Manchester constituency and having to opt for a “safe seat” across the border in Scotland, where he was successfully elected as representative for Dundee. Whether he knew or cared anything about Scotland is probably irrelevant; the seat merely provided safety for him to continue in the Commons, and it's possibly likely that if that could have been attained by sitting as member for Dublin, he would have hopped on the boat over to Ireland. Maybe. Anyway he did not have to go so far, but his seat was now well away from where he lived, though of course then as now MPs are not necessarily expected or required to live in their constituency, as long as they keep “visible” and drop in from time to time, so Churchill was able to leave the bleak Scottish town behind by May and return south, only venturing across the border a few times in the next three years.

Further tribulations came when he retired to the house of a friend in Rutland at the break-up of parliament for the summer, and which subsequently burned down (no account advises how this happened, but the house was gutted). Winston was relatively unharmed, but all his important papers were lost in the fire. Soon after this he proposed to Clementine, in August. Engagements were then not the long events they can be these days, when a woman could be proposed to and not married until years later. There was to be no hanging around (whether this was for the sake of propriety, for fear one or the other would change their mind, or whether Churchill was eager to begin, ahem, close relations with his new wife and feared the birth of an illegitimate child if he could not restrain his ardour I don't know; maybe it was just seen as the polite thing not to make the lady wait) and they were united in holy wedlock the next month.

Easily returned in the election of 1910, Churchill nevertheless hated Dundee, and spent as little time as politely possible there. When you read his account of his experiences in the notorious Queen's Head hotel, it's not too surprising that he would want to get away from the place at the earliest opportunity: “This hotel is a great trial to me. Yesterday morning I had half-eaten a kipper when a huge maggot crept out & flashed his teeth at me! Today I could find nothing nourishing for lunch but pancakes. Such are the trials which great & good men endure in the service of their country!'” Ugh! Turn you right off your haggis, that would! He proved himself no friend to the aristocracy when he made a speech calling for the total abolition of the House of Lords, but it was impossible to deny that he was a rising star, climbing into the firmament and exploding all over the place. When the Prime Minister offered him the Irish Office, he politely declined and instead suggested he should be given the Home Office or the Admiralty. He would hold the latter position soon enough, in political time, but for now Asquith agreed and he became the Home Secretary.

During this time he repaired his somewhat frosty relationship with the King, and more importantly projected himself as a man of the people when he authored two important bills, the Mines Bill of 1911 which sought to both raise the minimum age for mining from thirteen to fourteen (I know!) and to standardise safety rules to protect this most precarious and dangerous, but vital of professions. The other bill was the Shops Bill, which sought to protect the rights and working wage of those involved in the retail industry. Though this was taken apart and never passed in its fullest form – losing the right to overtime restrictions and Sunday openings, for example – it still showed the public at large that he cared about them, or seemed to, and was trying to help them. Napoleon had once described Britain – disparagingly but in fact accurately – as “a nation of shopkeepers”, and being an island, Churchill of course knew how important this industry was to his country, and felt it unfair that its workers should be so shabbily treated.

He was also involved heavily in the National Insurance Act, which provided in part for unemployment insurance, a thing very much needed in a country where people were so frequently out of work. He told the House on May 15 : “There is no proposal in the field of politics that I care about more than this great insurance scheme.” There was, though, and he applied what remained of his boundless energy to it as he feared the government was soon to fall. Though he had been returned without difficulty in Dundee, his party had lost its majority in 1910 and Churchill knew the writing was being chalked on the wall. Before it was complete and spelled out electoral defeat, he wished to organise the reform of the prisons system. Though most ministers, and most Home Secretaries before him, preferred to ignore the problem (and it was a big one) Churchill remembered his time spent in the school house in Africa during the Boer War, and so he was more sympathetic towards the conditions prisoners endured, if not prisoners of war. He had been a prisoner, and so had a perhaps unique view of how that felt.

Apart from ensuring that from then on, those termed “political prisoners” (which included many suffragettes, who had been imprisoned for protest actions but otherwise had no criminal record) would be treated differently and more leniently than the run-of-the-mill thief, murderer or rapist, he obtained better conditions for all prisoners, and as a man who was very sceptical of the power of prison to reform and rehabilitate, directed his own efforts towards ensuring the prisons were less full than they usually were. As a result of his recategorising certain less serious crimes – drunknness, debt, public disorder etc – as non-custodial ones, the population of British prisons fell by a staggering ninety-eight percent over ten years. One aspect of criminal law he could not – and probably did not want to, on balance – interfere with or try to change was the death penalty, which held sway in Britain up until the mid-1960s, though by then used very sparingly and only in the very worst or most notorious cases. As Home Secretary, it was Churchill's unenviable duty to decide which cases presented to him should be afforded mercy, and commuted, and which should proceed with the man (or, very occasionally, woman) being hanged.

This power of life and death, which might have bolstered the feeling of superiority in some other men, weighed Churchill down with its responsibility, and of the forty-three cases presented to him during his tenure he recommended mercy in twenty-three, but that still meant he signed off on the deaths of nearly half of the cases. Of course, in due course he would be responsible for making the decisions to send thousands, even millions of young men to their deaths, and of taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians as he ordered German cities to be bombed, but that would be in a state of war, and while I'm sure they bothered him, as they would any rational human being, those actions would not have oppressed him as much as did sending convicted men to meet their maker. Despite this, I find it strange to read that he was not an abolitionist, and when the vote was to come up he would support the retention of the death penalty.

Never much of a lady's man – he had had a few affairs before his marriage, but little meaningful, and he was hardly what could be called handsome – he danced desperately on the head of a pin as he tried to both support and block women's suffrage, the former on the basis that women voting meant, of course, more votes in the populace, likely to favour the party who eventually enfranchised them, the latter in fear that supporting such a mostly unpopular position would weaken the party and lead to its downfall. But in suffrage, you were either with the girls or against them – there was no room for middle ground, and the pin he had been dancing on was dashed to the ground and stepped on as suffragettes attacked him, dogged his speeches and eventually came face-to-face with his authority in a major demonstration in which there were over two hundred arrests, though most of them were released without charge (mostly because he didn't want the idea of 200 women going to prison, and the bad publicity that would create, both for the government and for his own prison reforms).

You would have to characterise Churchill's time as Home Secretary as one of ups and downs; with several high-profile strikes, including a rail and a dockers' one, handled by him with varying degrees of success, an incident in which violent criminals who had killed police officers were allowed to burn in their hideout, Churchill ordering the fire brigade to stand down; his opposition to the Peers and his disdain for the House of Lords, and his fractious relationship with the police, it was decided by 1911 that the post really didn't suit him, and he was of the same mind, wishing to move closer to his old military ways, and angling again for the Admiralty. Fortuitously for him, an incident in the Moroccan port of Agadoo, sorry Agadir provided the kind of climate that would smooth his transition in that direction. Utilising a version of the English tactic of “gunboat diplomacy”, a German frigate sailed into the port. It didn't do anything, just sat there in I guess what could be taken as a menacing or at the very least provocative manner, but it shook up the French, and indeed the British, and well it should have done, as we all know what happened a few years later.

Although the incident was nothing about nothing, a storm in a Moroccan teacup, it still provoked Churchill into prevailing upon Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, soon to be Prime Minister) to issue this stark if slightly ambiguous warning to the Germans, if not actually mentioning them: “But if a situation were to be forced upon us in which peace could only be preserved by the surrender of the great and beneficent position Britain has won by centuries of heroism and achievement, by allowing Britain to be treated where her interests were vitally affected as if she were of no account in the Cabinet of nations, then I say emphatically that peace at that price would be a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure.”

When the reply came back from the Germans, it was stiff enough that Churchill was told the fleet could be attacked at any moment. He began making what preparations he could, and with remarkable foresight laid out the entire coming conflict in a memorandum, and while he could of course not predict the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the spark that lit the powder-keg to kick off World War I, he got most of it right. England would side with France and Russia, while Austro-Hungry would ally itself with Germany, the Germans would attack through Belgium, push the French back to Paris. At any rate, he pushed for the Admiralty, as he had the previous year, and this time he got it.
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Old 12-15-2021, 11:27 AM   #22 (permalink)
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IV: Churchill Misrules the Waves – Storm on the Horizon

If nothing else, being given the post of the Lord of the Admiralty raised Churchill's profile by making him one of the four men in the government to be provided a residence at the nation's expense (the other three of course were the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Lord Chancellor), perhaps the finest of all the residences, the sumptuous Admiralty House. In addition to this, he got his own yacht. Oh yes. The Lord Admiral could not be seen being ferried from appointment to appointment on some Navy runabout, so he had Enchantress, a 320-foot behemoth weighing 4,000 tons and with a crew of nearly 200. The ship was not mothballed during Churchill's tenure, as he made good use of it, spending over eight months of his time in the Admiralty aboard her, basically showing her off and showing off his power and prestige no doubt. But he was not an indolent commander, lazing back on Enchantress and letting the world, and responsibility, pass by. On the contrary, as already noted, he was preparing for war.

It's easy to see Churchill as a war-mongerer, but according to most of the notes quoted in Roy Jenkins' (pretty boring mostly) biography of the great man, nothing could be further from the truth. Although he anticipated, or perhaps a better word would be foresaw, the coming of a great war in which England and France would take on Germany and her allies, he was by no means looking forward to it. He intended to prepare for it, the same way, perhaps, someone going to the dentist (not an occasion anyone would be looking forward to or wishing for – unless there were in great pain I expect) would ensure their teeth were brushed before leaving the house for the appointment. You wouldn't want to do it, you might wish to avoid it altogether, but if you had no choice you were damned sure you were going to be prepared. So it was with Churchill in his role as Lord of the Admiralty. He could see the dark clouds forming on the horizon, and intended Britain should be ready to weather the storm.

This meant, of course, bolstering up and training the navy, having it equipped with the best vessels and ensuring the proper chains of command were in place, and a whole lot more besides. Obviously, strategy as to where the various fleets should be deployed in the case of war breaking out was of paramount importance too, including the deployment of seven army division to France at the first sign of hostilities, and to change the policy of ships blockading German ports, and instead send them to intercept the enemy, or any who tried to supply or assist him. In this he came up against some stiff opposition, making enemies of powerful people, removing them from their posts in various manners and replacing them with men not only loyal to him and who would support and implement his policies in the advent of war, but who were, in his view, better suited to get the job done. Out went First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson and Lord Fisher, in came Rear Admiral David Beatty and Sir John Jellicoe, two men who were to prove pivotal in the naval battles of World War I. Not all of his appointments would work out so well, particularly the ill-advised rethink on the deposed – and semi-retired, at seventy-two – Lord Fisher, whom Churchill invited back as First Sea Lord.

It was, of course, during the First World War that Churchill made his name and wrote it in the annals of history before he became Prime Minister and elevated himself almost to the state of legend, but the period was also the time that marked his greatest fall, one that could have toppled him so badly that he might never have risen again. As we all know, his predictions about German belligerence came to pass, and World War I – then known as the Great War, or indeed, perhaps naively, the War to End All Wars – fell upon the planet like a ravening beast. There had never been a world war before; it was something terrible and new. Up to now, in human history, armies had fought other armies, nations had fought other nations, empires had fought other empires, but from a strictly global point of view these conflicts could be regarded as parochial. In other words, only those with a vested interest in, or subservient to, the main powers took part. When the Roman Empire went to war, although its legions might number among them troops from Africa, Egypt, Greece, none of these countries supported their campaigns. Their soldiers fought because the countries or regions they belonged to were part of the empire, but those territories themselves did not rise up. When Britain struggled to curb the expansion of France under Napoleon, she mostly did so alone. When the French fought the Dutch, it was just those two countries. Generally speaking, even if allies, unless called upon (and unless it was expedient to do so, as treaties were forever being warped and changed and loyalties shifting in those times) most of the other kingdoms left them to it. It often worked out better for them if they stayed out, and could then capitalise on a weaker enemy, or even, a weaker previous ally.

But there was no such thing in World War I. All countries joined in, even America (though they came late) and Russia (who, for only the first time in history, fought on the same side, as they would in World War II, but never again) and it truly was, and deserved the title of, a world war. Churchill knew though that history would not remember or care about his prediction of such an event, but would judge him by his actions, read, his victories, during the conflict. Sadly for him, these victories were not only slow in coming, but preceded by embarrassments, such as the escape, despite hot pursuit, of the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau, leaving the vaunted Royal Navy basically chasing its own tail and looking stupid, and the later sinking of three British cruisers by German U-Boats a month later off the coast of Holland. Ironically, it was in home waters that an audacious attack saw the battle cruiser Audacious destroyed off the coast of Ireland, and this indignity was exacerbated when, weeks later the Battle of Coronel, which took place on the Chilean coast, was lost, with the sinking of two cruisers and the loss of 1,600 men. Things were not going well.

Five weeks later the Royal Navy responded by winning the Battle of the Falklands, sending four German cruisers to the seabed, but as Christmas approached the Germans were able to shell the English coastal towns of Yarmouth, Whitby, Scarborough and Hartlepool, and the populace began to brace for an enemy invasion. That never came, of course, but confidence was rapidly diminishing in both the ability of the Navy to take out the enemy and its capacity to protect its own coastline. When the Belgian army seemed to have made up its mind to retreat from Antwerp, pulling back to Ostend, Churchill saw the danger of losing control of Dunkirk, and went to Antwerp immediately. There he seems to have derived so much pleasure and satisfaction from directing the defence of the city that he asked for permission to resign his commission as First Lord and taking command of the army instead. This request was however refused, and when his replacement arrived he returned to London, to attend the birth of his third child, and second daughter. He was late, something his wife was angry about, and missed the birth.

In 1915 he proposed an attack through the Dardanelles, or Strait of Gallipoli in northwestern Turkey, in the hope of taking Constantinople and bringing in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria on the side of the Allies. His main intent here was to prevent a prolonged war of attrition in Belgium, or, to put it in his own words, to prevent the soldiers “chewing barbed wire in Flanders” - which was unfortunately exactly what happened. His decision to try to take Gallipoli entirely by naval strength proved impossible, and troops had to be moved in in support, but too few and too late. Gallipoli was a massacre, a failure and a huge blot on the already-shaky career of the First Lord. With resignation of Fisher, added to the knives being drawn of many of his political and naval opponents, Churchill was finished at the Admiralty. His plans had not worked, the ambitious but flawed Dardanelles campaign had floundered (sorry) and his services to the navy were no longer required.

He continued on for some months, not in any major role, offering advice, suggestions, strategies, and watching the whole thing crumble down about him. Eventually, near the end of November of 1915 he tendered his resignation from the government and, carrying his rank of Colonel, embarked for France, returning to his first love, the life of a soldier – and a commander.

La Belle France: Churchill Resurgent

It wasn't long before he was literally back in the trenches, assigned to the 2nd Grenadier Guards, and seemingly loving it. I've not been able to discover (though I did skim Jenkins' tedious accounts more than perhaps I should have) why Churchill was so enamoured of the Navy. He wasn't a nautical man, was not from a naval background, and, so far as I can see, had no experience at sea, never mind sea warfare. At a quick glance, he seems most unsuited to the post he occupied. However, I guess that could be said of many officers and commanders, and a good number got their posts through the reliable “good old boy/old school tie” system rather than by any merit or competence displayed. Might explain in part when the First World War was both such a charnel house and a running farce in terms of strategy and tactics. But for whatever reason, if only because he saw naval power as being the only force that could hold back the expected German onslaught, he had pushed for the Admiralty twice, got it on the second time of asking, and, it must be said, made something of a hash of it. Thousands of lives were lost due to his lack of understanding, bullishness and perhaps, in terms of naval warfare, inexperience.

Now he was back doing what he loved, what he was eminently qualified to do, and determined to erase the stain his time at the Admiralty had marked his war record with. Unfortunately (using this word in the strictest sense of Churchill's wish to advance his career) although he soon dispelled the men's reservations against, even distrust of him and became one of the boys, he never faced any serious assaults, though he did emulate his later foe by also narrowly avoiding death when a large chunk of shrapnel landed near him. When he went back on leave in May, he addressed all his energies towards politics, doing all he could to help the troops and try to place Britain on the right footing to win, or at least survive, the war, but he was no longer in the government, his enemies crowded around him like vultures to tear him apart, and few listened to his ideas, recommendations or suggestions. It felt like he would never shake off the shadow of the Dardanelles fiasco, and he was already being treated as yesterday's man.

Whether his grasp of the situation was loose or whether he just wished to force through his opinion, he threw his weight on the side of the debate as to whether or not conscription to the British Army should be forced across the sea, in Ireland. Given the time, with the Easter Rising having been just put down, its leaders martyred (in Irish eyes) and hatred and resentment for the English bubbling to fever pitch, and though undoubtedly some Irishmen put their differences with the English aside in favour of the bigger picture of world peace, the idea of any Irishman being forced to fight for the King seems ludicrous, and surely Churchill must have known this. Yet he continued to push the issue. Indeed, he had flip-flopped on the question of Irish Home Rule, one of the biggest dilemmas gripping the British government up to the outbreak of war. At first, as a staunch Unionist, he had railed against it, then later he had seemed to support it (with the proviso that Ulster should be exempted) and now he suggested that men who were not allowed their own parliament should fight on the side of the people who were their oppressor! It sounds incredible, and of course the motion was completely defeated, most British surely more worried about internal attacks from Irish conscripts than open ones from Germans!

Perhaps more realistically, he put a lot of energy into arguments for the setting up of an Air Ministry (presumably commanded by him) but it seemed he was being passed over, his mistake in Gallipoli ever to dog him. Even when Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, was killed, and Lloyd George took over, Churchill saw himself being appointed Minister for Munitions, but it did not happen. Nobody wanted to trust him with any post of importance or influence, nobody believed he had the skill for such a position, and so he floated on in limbo, delivering speech after speech in the House, always being shouted down by the inevitable “What about the Dardanelles?” to which he had no acceptable response. The Comer Report, published in 1917, partially absolved him of direct personal blame for the failure, but he could never quite shake off the impression that the responsibility for the debacle lay with him.

Then in July, after Asquith had resigned and Lloyd George had become Prime Minister, and after considerable wrangling and discussion, Churchill had a new post. He was the Minister of Munitions, which suited him fine, as it gave him overall responsibility for all the armed forces – after all, what use is an army, navy or air force without ammunition? Albert Speer realised this in the next war, when Hitler placed him in the same position: in one way, yes, it was a vote of confidence, but in another it was a warning: if the war effort fails from now on, it fails on your watch. Churchill, of course, had no intention of allowing that to happen. However he soon realised his appointment held nothing of the power wielded by Speer, and mockingly called himself a “shopman at the orders of the War Cabinet.” He was not consulted on decisions made about the war, only tasked to provide what had been decided, however this left him free to make numerous visits to France, where he did his best to influence the authorities there to adopt his suggestions, particularly regarding the Americans, who had just recently joined the war effort, and to deal with labour disputes.

His time in the Home Office stood him in good stead here, as he lobbied for fairer working conditions and better wages for the workers in munitions factories, and dealt with two strikes. One of the ways, perhaps controversial, in which he did this was, losing patience with strikers and inwardly condemning them for not being in service, to threaten them with just that: conscription into the armed forces. This was enough to shake even the deepest-held beliefs of workers, who were not prepared to die for their principles, certainly not in a foreign land. By November 1918 that threat had evaporated, as Germany was on the run and soon to surrender in the Armistice, but of course by then the need for munitions was decreasing, and life began slowly to return to normal for workers, so the conditions under which and against which they had gone on strike improved, taking with them the need for such action, and leading to a form of industrial detente.

Looking back over the contribution of Winston Churchill to the First World War, the amount of powerful people he pissed off, the policies he advocated and those he opposed, and his overall performance, both as Home Secretary and later First Lord of the Admiralty, he would not seem to be the obvious choice as the man to lead Britain through her second major conflict in twenty-five years, much less to achieve victory for them. But history can be fickle and capricious, and the world was not yet finished with Winston Churchill.

It had, in fact, barely begun.
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