Previous featured documents

April-June 2019

Churchill’s resignation as Prime Minister

Having lost the 1945 election to Clement Attlee’s Labour party, Churchill and the Conservative party triumphed again in the 1951 General Election when he became Prime Minister for the second time. Now in his late seventies, Churchill’s health started to suffer, but despite suffering from a number of strokes he held the post for another 4 years before resigning as Prime Minister in December 1955.

This letter from Churchill to President Eisenhower of the United States describe his ‘feeling of both relief and denudation’ after stepping down, and his satisfaction with his successor, Anthony Eden. He explains how he had come to realise that at his age he could not justify leading the Conservative party any longer, but that change has come at the right time and ‘in the right way’. He goes on to wish Eisenhower well at an upcoming summit meeting with the Soviet Union, expressing his stance against nuclear saturation and caution that it may lead to a new set of deterrents to avoid ‘the extinction of the human species’.

Despite having retired as Prime Minister, Churchill was clearly still heavily engaged in the politics of the day, and offered to ‘gladly do anything in my power from a distance and a private station’ to achieve a ‘good result’. He continued to serve as MP for Woodford until he stood down for the last time at the 1964 General Election. Written during the Cold War, only two years after the death of Stalin and inauguration of Eisenhower, this letter demonstrates that nuclear power was a key diplomatic concern to the world powers at this the time. The 1955 Geneva summit referred to in this letter was a meeting of The Big Four: President Eisenhower of the United States, Prime Minister Anthony Eden of Britain, Premier Nikolai A. Bulganin of the Soviet Union and Prime Minister Edgar Faure of France. The intention was to begin discussions on peace and increased global security, against the escalating threat of nuclear war and heightened international tensions that continued throughout the Cold War. 

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January-March 2019

"Shall we all commit suicide?" Press cutting of article by WSC published in Nash's Pall Mall Magazine, September 1924

The advancement of weapons of mass destruction was a spectre that haunted the 20th century. 80 years ago in January 1939, Enrico Fermi conducted the first US nuclear fission experiment which was a crucial step in the development of nuclear weapons. This was conducted as part of the Manhattan Project, initiated due to anxiety over the perceived advancements in nuclear technology in Germany. Not long after this, the true significance of this experiment would be fully realised in the deployment of nuclear weapons in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In the article featured below, it is clear that for Churchill the means and motivations behind human conflict are key as a lens through which to view history. The article focuses on the tenor of warfare in the 20th century, and how education, governance, journalism and science have fed into the all-encompassing nature of modern warfare. Writing in the beginning of the interwar period, Churchill states, “It is in these circumstances that we have entered upon that period of Exhaustion which has been described as Peace”. The article moves from concentrating on the balance of resources and power at the end of the First World War, to considering how the next great wars will be fought. It is here that the article’s focus feels prophetic. Churchill writes, “Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings – nay to concentrate the force of a thousand tonnes of cordite and blast a township at a stroke?”.

By the time of the August 1945 US nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the European war had already concluded with Germany’s surrender in May. In July, the Allies had called for Japan’s unconditional surrender with an ultimatum which threatened “prompt and utter destruction”. The ultimatum was rejected, and the threat came to pass in the form of two nuclear bombs, dubbed Little Boy and Fat Man. They killed between 129,000–226,000 people, most of whom were civilians. Approximately half of the deaths in both cities happened on the first day, with the remainder dying from radiation sickness and other related conditions in the days following. This appalling outcome, only imagined in Churchill’s predictions of what the “march of Science” would bring, would go on to change modern warfare forever. Churchill’s view that the advancement of mankind is achieved through warfare is an assessment which is particularly true for nuclear technology. The outcomes of the development of nuclear weapons also had significant benefits for humanity, including cancer curing radiation techniques, nuclear energy and the ability to explore the edges of the solar system.

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December 2018

Letter from Thomas Nathan (44 Lower Beachwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin, [Ireland]) to WSC, 11 December 1918

This month marks 100 years since the December 1918 election, in which Sinn Féin, (a party heavily associated with the movement for an independent Ireland) won a landslide majority in Ireland. This is now seen as a pivotal moment in the history of the country.

The upsurge in popularity for Sinn Féin can be linked to the 1916 Easter Rising, in which Irish republicans launched an armed rebellion against British rule from key locations in Dublin. The British authorities dubbed this as “The Sinn Féin Rising”, which showed the commonly-held belief that the party was behind the rebellion. Though Britain was engaged in the First World War at the time, great efforts were made to quell the resistance. Sinn Féin also became associated with the opposition against a movement by the British government to introduce conscription, which also amassed a great deal of support.

Thomas Nathan, as he states in the featured letter dated three days before the election, is not writing “from the Sinn Fein [sic] point of view” but advocates a movement for a constitution in Ireland. Nathan refers to the treatment of Ireland alongside Alsace-Lorraine and German Poland as “a nice example of the consistency of English statesmen”. By this, he is highlighting the Allies’ support for repatriating Poland and Alsace-Lorraine from Germany as a comparison point for the continued British occupation of Ireland. Nathan asks Churchill, “Are we not entitled to the same measure of justice as other small nations in Europe[?]”.

Sinn Féin candidates won 73 seats out of 105 altogether in this election, including Constance Markievicz, the first elected female MP. As written in the Sinn Féin constitution (and still upheld today), the members refused to sit in Westminster Parliament. Instead, they formed the Dáil Éireann in January 1919, though thirty-three imprisoned republicans were unable to take their seats. The Dáil would become the government under which the Irish War of Independence was fought, from 1919 to 1922. This would ultimately bring about the creation of the Irish Free State as a British dominion in 1922.

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November 2018

"Conditions of armistice with Austria-Hungary": Paper discussed by the Supreme War Council at Versailles, France setting out the terms of an armistice with Austria-Hungary.

100 years ago, on 11th November 1918, the Great War came to an end. The final German armistice agreement followed the surrender of Bulgaria (29th September), the Ottoman Empire (30th October) and finally as shown in this month’s featured document, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (3rd November). The military power of Austria-Hungary was very closely tied to Imperial Germany during the First World War. The competency of the military strength of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was severely compromised by factors such as the inadequacy of the Austrian high command and the significant geographical spread of its composite parts which were made up of many different nationalities. This led to the interpretation by many that Germany was fettered with the shortcomings of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s military strength.

The armistice of Germany marked the culmination of the Hundred Days Offensive. This was a highly successful Allied operation which involved a series of attacks to push back the Central Powers from their former military gains to the so-called ‘Hindenburg Line’. The final armistice agreement (also known as ‘Armistice of Compiègne’) came into effect at 11am (CET), on 11th November 1918: “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. Due to the exhaustion of Germany’s resources, and its lack of any substantial ally, there was little room to negotiate.

The ‘negotiation process’ took place in a secret location, in a railway car in the forest of Compiègne. The conditions of the agreement were read out to the German delegation, and purportedly caused a highly emotive response. Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander during the war, gave them 72 hours to agree. Foch allegedly responded to the signing of the armistice agreement with a dispassionate “Tres bien”. He was a vocal critic of the controversial Treaty of Versailles, viewing it as too lenient on Germany. As the treaty was signed 7 months later, he proclaimed that “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years”. His words were strikingly accurate; the Second World War began twenty years and 65 days afterwards.

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October 2018

"The Truth About Hitler": Pamphlet containing a reprint of Churchill's article published by the Trustees for Freedom

On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany, and only a few months later, on 14th October 1933 – now 85 years ago – Germany announced its withdrawal from the League of Nations after the three Allied powers declined its request to increase its military power. The featured document this month illustrates the interwar circumstances which led to Hitler’s rise to power. The Treaty of Versailles which had brought the First World War to an end in 1919 required Germany to accept responsibility for the loss and damage caused in warfare, forcing the country to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations (fixed at £6.6 billion). These arguably excessive demands, the result of the “lethargy and folly” of British and French governments, added to Germany’s resentment against the victorious Allied powers.

When Germany proved unable to keep up with the reparation payments, France and Belgium invaded the Ruhr, taking control of the industry to extract the reparations themselves. The government tried to remedy the economic impact by printing more money, which led to hyperinflation. During the 1920s, the US government supported the German economy with loans in what became known as the ‘Golden Years’, but the collapse of the American economy after the Wall Street Crash during the autumn of 1929 returned Germany to high unemployment and severe poverty.

In this climate of disenchantment, Hitler appealed to the German people by promising to break free of the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles. He aimed to reduce unemployment by recruiting a large army and building a new navy and air force. Having achieved full control over the legislative and executive branches of government, Hitler and his allies began to suppress the remaining opposition. On 2 May 1933 all trade unions were forced to dissolve and their leaders were arrested, and by the end of June 1933, the other parties had been intimidated into disbanding. The demands of the SA, the Nazi Party's original paramilitary, for more political and military power caused anxiety among military, industrial, and political leaders. In response, Hitler purged the entire SA leadership in the Night of the Long Knives, which took place from 30 June to 2 July 1934. This first Nazi blood bath set Hitler on a path to destroy political opposition and ‘undesirable’ elements of German society, from the 1935 Nuremberg Laws up to the “Final Solution”. He ultimately fulfilled Churchill’s 1935 notion of Hitler as a potential villain capable of leading Germany to war and slaughter once more.

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September 2018

1. Cutting from the [Edinb]urgh Post-Gazette of a cartoon depicting Hitler's “Czech Barber Shop”
2. Cartoon by Shoemaker showing Neville Chamberlain [Prime Minister] rushing to feed a bowl of food labelled 'Czechs' to a roaring Nazi tiger

80 years ago this month, in the early hours of 30 September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact. The agreement between the U.K., France, Italy and Germany allowed Germany to annex a portion of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. This settlement has become one of the most well-known examples of the dangers of appeasement, a strategy that involves giving concessions to an aggressor nation in order to avoid conflict.

The circumstances which led to the appeasement of Germany dated beyond Adolf Hitler’s reign as Chancellor. Many within Germany (and indeed the U.K.) had long felt that their country had been treated unfairly in the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Along with accepting responsibility for all of the loss of life and damage done during the war (as well as making significant reparation payments), Versailles meant that Germany had to concede 25,000 square miles of territory. This included giving up the Sudetenland to the newly formed nation of Czechoslovakia, a region which was inhabited predominately by German speakers. As Hitler had invaded Austria in March 1938 (the Anschluss) without any need for violence, taking the Sudetenland seemed to be the next step in a plan to take back what many in Germany felt was rightfully theirs.

As it happened, the decision for the Sudetenland to be given to Hitler was made without the consultation of Czechoslovakia. Hitler had been triumphant in persuading Chamberlain that this would be the limit of his ambitions to expand Germany. Contrary to the cartoons which serve as the featured documents, appeasement as a policy was very positively portrayed by the majority of British newspapers at the time. Appeasement was fundamental to traditional 19th century British foreign policy as a tactic to avoid being drawn in to European conflict. Additionally, due to the the dire economic conditions of the 1930s and the not so distant memories of the First World War, it was a popular view that Britain was not ready for another war. However, it has since been said that Chamberlain had a firm grip over what was reported by the BBC in terms of negativity towards Germany. 15,000 people protested in Trafalgar Square on the same day the Munich Pact was signed, an event which went unreported by the BBC.

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August 2018

Telegram from Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig [later Lord Haig] to WSC thanking him for his congratulations [on the success of the offensive near Amiens] and praising his work as Minister of Munitions

In his letter of 9 August 1918, 100 years ago this month, Douglas Haig wrote a thank you note to Winston Churchill for his congratulations on the successful battle of Amiens and for his efforts as Minister of Munitions in supplying the mechanical warfare, trench mortars, tanks, and airplanes which were instrumental in achieving victory. Churchill had a good working relationship with Haig and had supported him during his reverses on the Western Front in March and April 1918. Haig’s offensives at the Battles of Somme and Passchendaele had resulted in large numbers of casualties and perpetuated his portrayal as a ‘butcher and bungler’ in popular opinion. In fact, Prime Minister Lloyd George and the War Cabinet had been keen to remove Haig as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces, and it was thanks to his success at Amiens in August that he managed to secure his position.

Amiens was one of the first major battles involving armoured warfare and marked the end of trench warfare on the Western Front. The Fourth Army commander, Henry Rawlinson, combined for the attack eleven divisions (three British, four Canadian, four Australian) comprising 75,000 men, more than 500 tanks, 1,900 aircraft (including French planes), and 2,000 guns. In a surprise attack, massed artillery opened up in a brief but devastating bombardment, targeting German gun batteries and other key positions. Behind the shells, the infantry advanced in support of tanks, a British invention which had made its debut on the Somme in September 1916. Overhead flew the airplanes of the Royal Air Force, bound together by wireless communications. Amiens demonstrated how effective British and Commonwealth forces had become by 1918, but most importantly, it highlighted the key role of military technology in the conduct of modern warfare.

General Erich Ludendorff famously described Amiens as ‘The Black Day of the German Army’, with the Germans losing 27,000 men and 400 guns. Their defeat contributed significantly to bringing an end to World War I.

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July 2018

Speech notes for WSC's speech (2 March 1944, Royal College of Physicians, London) on advances in medicine and science and the importance of a National Health Service.

5 July 1948, 70 years ago this month, saw the beginning of the implementation of the National Health Service (NHS). The health minister, Aneurin “Nye” Bevan, marked the occasion by visiting what is now known as Trafford General Hospital in Manchester, the first official NHS hospital. The guiding principle of the NHS was that it was to be free at point of need.

The Great Depression of the 1930s had highlighted the most pressing shortfalls of the British welfare system. With record numbers of unemployed citizens struggling with a costly and complicated healthcare system, people often went without vital treatment. The options for patients included voluntary or municipal hospitals, or simply choosing to endure their conditions if neither were available. Much of the municipal healthcare system was a remainder of the Poor Law, which carried with it the stigma of the workhouse.

In the document which are notes for a speech in March 1944 to the Royal College of Physicians, Churchill began with, “The invention of healing science must be the inheritance of all”. He also went on to emphasise that the destiny of the country depends on the health of its citizens. For a nation weary of the toils of war, Churchill’s sentiment would have been well-received. The national unity brought about by the war, coupled with the feeling that the people deserved a better country for their wartime sacrifices meant that the Labour party’s promise to implement universal healthcare proved to be extremely popular. On 5 July 1945 Churchill issued a Cabinet Paper, requesting that his colleagues move forward on legislating the National Health Service. This was too late to have any real impact at the polls.

In this speech, it is clear that Churchill is exercising great caution in presenting the notion of a universal healthcare system to the Royal College of Physicians. He acknowledges that there will be more consultants needed, and that the support and work of the college will be absolutely necessary for the scheme. The resistance of consultants and doctors to the NHS was a significant obstacle for Aneurin Bevan, who famously quipped, “I stuffed their mouths with gold” in reference to the high wages and payoffs for hospital staff.

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June 2018

Letter from Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) to WSC to thank him for the birthday gift of his "Life of Marlborough", commenting that she had spent a very busy [18th] birthday "amongst relatives and a great many Grenadiers, which made it a very happy day…"

On 24th April 1944, Princess Elizabeth wrote a warm letter of thanks to Winston Churchill, who had given her his Marlborough: His Life and Times as a birthday present. Churchill had known Elizabeth from an early age – at two years of age, he described her as “a character [with] an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant” – and they remained close from Churchill’s return to Downing Street in 1951 to his death in 1965. When Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, the 77-year-old statesman was her first prime minister – and, reputedly, her favourite. They enjoyed their weekly meetings, laughed a lot, and bonded over their shared interest in horses and racing. Indeed, the meetings grew from 30 minutes to two hours. Churchill had great respect for the monarchy, and he was very fond of Elizabeth. When he had a stroke soon after her coronation, Elizabeth invited the Churchills to join her to watch the St Leger and go by royal train to Balmoral, where Churchill enjoyed himself enormously and progressively recovered. When he died, Elizabeth broke royal protocol to arrive before the coffin and before the Churchill family and leave after both of them as a touching sign of respect.

As an historian, Churchill had spent nearly ten years writing the biography of his greatest ancestor, John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, and the four volumes published between 1933 and 1938. Churchill dwells on a remarkable range of sources – uncovering, for example, that many unfavourable opinions on Marlborough came from the memoirs attributed to King James (but written by his son, the Pretender) – to show how Marlborough protected the liberties of Europe and the Protestant faith against the designs of Louis XIV and laid the foundations of England’s future greatness.

In presenting Elizabeth with this important history lesson, Churchill’s intention was twofold. From restoring his ancestor to his honorable place in the history of England, thus providing an important corrective to Whig historiography, to warning the Queen-to-be that Marlborough’s fight against the domination of Europe by Louis XIV – resembling Churchill’s own fight against Hitler – can teach us much about how to overcome the fascist advance. Only two months after Elizabeth’s 18th birthday, D-Day would lay the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.

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May 2018

A letter from WSC to Mrs Guy Gibson in sympathy at the death of her husband Guy Gibson, Leader of the RAF Squadron no. 617, the Dambusters

55 years ago this month, on 9 April, 1963, President John F. Kennedy presented papers which proclaimed Winston Churchill to be an honorary citizen of the United States. Churchill was suffering from poor health, so the award was accepted by his son, Randolph. In his speech at the ceremony, President Kennedy stated, ‘Sir Winston Churchill, a son of America though a subject of Britain, has been throughout his life a firm and steadfast friend of the American people and the American nation.’

Churchill’s close relationship with the United States has been reaffirmed in the years since his death. For some, the ‘special relationship’ has been symbolized by the bust of Winston Churchill which is currently on display in the Oval Office. Often cited as the reason behind his devotion to America, Churchill’s mother was born as Jennie Jerome in Brooklyn, New York. Churchill’s ancestry included two individuals who fought in the American War of Independence against the British, and he allegedly could also claim Native American roots.

The Second World War has been viewed by many to be the crystallising moment of the ‘special relationship’. Between 1939 and 1945, Churchill exchanged 1,700 letters and telegrams with President Roosevelt. One of the earliest uses of the term ‘special relationship’ was during the famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton, Missouri in 1946. In this speech, the deep alliance across the Atlantic was employed as a talisman against the global threat posed by the Soviet Union.

However, during Churchill’s second term in office from 1951, many on both sides of the Atlantic viewed his preoccupation with the ‘special relationship’ as a declining empire’s attempts to remain relevant as a major power. In this source, Churchill states, ‘It is a remarkable comment on our affairs that the former Prime Minister of a great sovereign state should thus be received as an honorary citizen of another. I say “great sovereign state” with design and emphasis, for I reject the view that Britain and the Commonwealth should now be relegated to a tame and minor role in the world.’

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April 2018

Draft/copy of a letter from WSC to President [John Kennedy] thanking him for the honour of Honorary Citizenship of the United States

55 years ago this month, on 9 April, 1963, President John F. Kennedy presented papers which proclaimed Winston Churchill to be an honorary citizen of the United States. Churchill was suffering from poor health, so the award was accepted by his son, Randolph. In his speech at the ceremony, President Kennedy stated, ‘Sir Winston Churchill, a son of America though a subject of Britain, has been throughout his life a firm and steadfast friend of the American people and the American nation.’

Churchill’s close relationship with the United States has been reaffirmed in the years since his death. For some, the ‘special relationship’ has been symbolized by the bust of Winston Churchill which is currently on display in the Oval Office. Often cited as the reason behind his devotion to America, Churchill’s mother was born as Jennie Jerome in Brooklyn, New York. Churchill’s ancestry included two individuals who fought in the American War of Independence against the British, and he allegedly could also claim Native American roots.

The Second World War has been viewed by many to be the crystallising moment of the ‘special relationship’. Between 1939 and 1945, Churchill exchanged 1,700 letters and telegrams with President Roosevelt. One of the earliest uses of the term ‘special relationship’ was during the famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton, Missouri in 1946. In this speech, the deep alliance across the Atlantic was employed as a talisman against the global threat posed by the Soviet Union.

However, during Churchill’s second term in office from 1951, many on both sides of the Atlantic viewed his preoccupation with the ‘special relationship’ as a declining empire’s attempts to remain relevant as a major power. In this source, Churchill states, ‘It is a remarkable comment on our affairs that the former Prime Minister of a great sovereign state should thus be received as an honorary citizen of another. I say “great sovereign state” with design and emphasis, for I reject the view that Britain and the Commonwealth should now be relegated to a tame and minor role in the world.’

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March 2018

Telegram from Anthony Eden to Winston Churchill informing him of the results of a discussion with President Roosevelt regarding post war Europe

This telegram sent by Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, to Churchill in March 1943 recounts Eden’s discussion with President Roosevelt during a visit to Washington, D.C. Days later, Churchill made a key broadcast speech in which he laid out his ‘Four Years’ Plan’ for Britain and Europe after the war. Although the war was ongoing, Churchill began to look forward to victory and proposed his ideas for how to restore ‘the true greatness of Europe’. One such idea was to establish a Council of Europe – an international organisation to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe – which was eventually founded in 1949.

Eden’s fascinating telegram outlining Roosevelt’s views on post-war Europe undoubtedly fed into Churchill’s radio broadcast. Eden’s discussion with Roosevelt covered many complex issues – as Eden says in his telegram, ‘[t]his brief account is an inadequate record of a conversation which ranged so widely’ – including armaments, Russia and the future of occupied Poland, the possible dismemberment of Germany, and the Balkan states. Roosevelt was also preoccupied with American-Soviet relations, and worried that his country’s diplomatic ties with Russia were not as strong as Britain’s.

A primary concern to Eden and Roosevelt was the issue of how smaller states in Europe should be governed after the war, and how to respect their individual rights and interests while preventing the outbreak of another conflict. This is a key theme of Churchill’s speech, in which he emphasizes the need for harmony across Europe – something he hoped to promote through his idea for a Council of Europe.

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February 2018

Letter from Churchill to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, on women's suffrage, 21 December 1911

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which granted the right to vote for women of property over the age of 30. Despite women’s suffrage being debated in the public sphere as early as the mid-nineteenth century, the formalised suffragette movement did not begin in earnest until 1903 when the Women’s Social and Political Union came into being.

The attitudes within the reigning Liberal Party to women’s suffrage were not consistent. For some sympathisers in the party, a woman’s responsibility and liberty as a citizen justified the right to vote. As women were subject to the same laws as men, then this meant that they ought to have the same stake in parliament. Yet in reality the Liberals’ stance was less than clear. It was thought (or had been decided) that most women did not want the responsibility of the vote, and that that the suffragettes were nothing more than a loud and disruptive minority. The leader of the Liberal party, Herbert Henry Asquith, was a long term opponent of women’s suffrage, a sentiment which he maintained during his term as Prime Minister.

In this source Churchill highlights three major reservations about women’s suffrage: his doubt over the real wishes of women around the country, the effect such a change in voting demographics would have upon the country, and whether the wider population had ever been asked at all. The vastly expanded electorate was an experiment that many in government did not want to risk. Churchill’s own support for women’s suffrage at this time was minimal, and as a frequent target of militant suffragette action, he did not have a great deal of sympathy for the cause.

The changing positions of women during the First World War was a significant factor in accelerating women’s suffrage. While suffragette campaigning was suspended during the war, around two million women replaced men in employment between 1914 and 1918. Women took up employment at munitions factories, railway stations, and as firefighters, postal workers and bank tellers. The major contribution made by women on the home front was cited as a major reason by members of parliament who supported the motion to include women in the bill, including Churchill. While it would not be until 1928 that women would receive the vote on the same terms as men, the 1918 act was undeniably a major milestone in the timeline of gender equality.

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January 2018

 We shall fight on the beaches

Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech on 4 June 1940 is a eulogy to the British war effort that has been immortalised in popular memory of the Second World War. As a newly appointed Prime Minister, Churchill’s first month in office was defined by the Dunkirk evacuation. Over 300,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated in a sensational rescue mission. The success was down to a combination of German errors and the brilliant execution of the evacuation plan. However, the fact remained that, with France now fallen, Britain had become an attractive target for German invasion.
In this speech, Churchill’s aim was to counter the jubilant public reaction provoked by the evacuation from Dunkirk, and bring the discussion back to reality. As Churchill famously warns in the speech, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”

The circumstances required Churchill to balance two delicate points in his speech: the danger of an impending Nazi invasion, and the need to rally public support for the war effort. In the aftermath of the evacuation, despite intense relief for the return of British soldiers, Mass Observation reported profoundly low morale in many British regions.

Churchill’s complex use of language has been dissected thoroughly in the years since the speech was made. Through repetition, intricate sentence structure and metaphor, this famous speech has retained its impact through to the present day.

Allegedly, in the immediate aftermath of his speech, Churchill turned and whispered to a colleague: “And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got!”

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December 2017

Clementine Churchill's Aid to Russia Fund

Letter from British Counsellor in the Soviet Union on the impact of Clementine Churchill's visit, 10 May 1945

Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill, born Clementine Hozier in 1885, was the wife of Winston Churchill for 57 years. As beloved wife and mother, as confidant, advisor and remonstrator, the role she played in her husband’s life was a significant one. As a political force in her own right, however, Clementine Churchill often demonstrated qualities of charisma, insight and organisational skill, vital to the role of statesperson.

A cause which has been referred to as her greatest achievement was the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, of which she served as Chairman in the Second War. During this time, approximately 16,825,000 of Russia’s citizens died, which amounted to a staggering 15% of its population. There was a great deal of sympathy in Great Britain for the plight of the Russian people. Clementine herself was particularly troubled by the inordinate burden borne by the Soviet Union.

Clementine rallied support from the wealthy and celebrity musicians, along with factory workers and school girls willing to knit scarves, gloves and hats. The Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund quickly raised £1 million in the period from mid-October to December 1941, rising to a massive £8 million by the end of the war. This went towards essential supplies such as clothing and blankets, medicine and medical equipment including X-ray installations, and first aid kits. To amass such support from a country which was itself struggling with wartime shortages was a considerable achievement.

In this document, Counsellor Frank Roberts offers glowing words of praise for Clementine’s conduct during her tour of the Soviet Union in 1945, proclaiming that “No country has ever had a better Ambassadress”. For the magnitude of her achievement with the Aid to Russia Fund, she was awarded Order of the Red Banner of Labour, a Soviet decoration, as well as the Distinguished Red Cross Service Badge from the Soviet Red Cross. In June 1946, Clement Attlee made her a Dame for this work. According to her daughter, Mary Soames in Clementine Churchill: the Biography of a Marriage, she had been delighted that she had been able to “help a little”, but would never come to style herself as Dame.

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November 2017

1. Telegram from Foreign Office to Washington reciting text of message to Dr Chaim Weizmann, 30th October 1942

2. Letter from Churchill to Sir George Ritchie, 23rd February 1921

The Balfour Declaration, though short in length, was one of the most significant and controversial documents in modern history. Written by Arthur Balfour, then Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, to prominent Jewish figure Lord Walter Rothschild in 1917, the letter stated that Britain would support ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’ but at the same time not ‘prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. This declaration had long-lasting consequences, resulting in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict which remains a subject of intense debate.

Both of these documents from the Churchill Archive show Churchill engaging with this sensitive issue. The first is a telegram sent on behalf of Winston Churchill to Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization, on the 25th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and in the midst of the Second World War. In the telegram Churchill writes that his thoughts are with Weizmann on the anniversary, and expresses sympathy ‘for your suffering people and for the great cause for which you have fought so bravely’. Churchill’s insistence that his message not be published shows his understanding of the sensitivity of this issue.

In a letter written to his constituency chairman in Dundee, Sir George Ritchie, in 1921, Churchill shows his concerns relating to the situation in Palestine, which was under British administration. He explains that he has been asked to leave Britain to attend a conference ‘on questions connected with our responsibilities in the Middle East’ – implementing the Balfour Declaration as well as agreements made at Versailles. He describes his undertaking as not to ‘build up a costly and vainglorious Middle Eastern Empire’ but to recognise Britain’s ‘responsibilities in regard to the Arabs and the holy places’.

Following the civil war between the Arab and Israeli populations of Palestine, Britain’s mandate came to an end in May 1948; the Israeli Declaration of Independence occurred soon after, resulting in the Arab-Israeli War and the ongoing conflict in the region.

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October 2017

Churchill’s Passport (1918-1920)

In January 1919, just two short months after the end of the First World War, one of the deadliest conflicts in global history, delegates from 32 countries attended the Paris Peace Conference. The central figures of the conference were the leaders of Britain, France and America: David Lloyd George, Georges Clemençeau and Woodrow Wilson. Included in the British delegation, along with Lloyd George, was Churchill, who had just that month been appointed Secretary of State for War and of Air. As Minister of Munitions in Lloyd George’s wartime cabinet, Churchill was heavily invested in the outcome of the Paris conference.

In this passport of Churchill’s, dated from 1918-20, many diplomatic trips are documented, some under his former role as Minister of Munitions and others under his new position as Secretary of State for War and Air. Churchill’s arrival in Paris for the conference is particularly worthy of note – stamped with the date ’22 Jan 1919’, with ‘Travelling to France’ written above. During the conference, Churchill voiced deep concerns about the harsh treatment of Germany in the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. His warnings would take on a weightier meaning in the years to come.

The fateful ties between the Paris Peace Conference and the root causes of the Second World War are highlighted in one unusual coincidence; the Hotel Majestic, which hosted the British delegation for the duration of the conference, would also come to serve as the headquarters of the German military command during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

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September 2017

Letter from Winston Churchill to Lady Randolph Churchill detailing his report from Harrow School

In 1888 the thirteen-year-old Winston Churchill was attending Harrow School, a prestigious boarding school in Middlesex, London. Although Churchill was an intelligent boy, his difficulty focusing on subjects he wasn’t interested in – such as Latin – meant he struggled with a poor academic record. He entered Harrow in the lowest class and with the lowest grades, much to the disappointment of his father. Churchill was, however, fascinated by geography and history and was considered one of the best history students in his division.

In this letter to his mother, written from Harrow in June 1888, Churchill details his school report from the previous week. In mathematics he has done ‘decidedly better’ and his conduct is ‘decidedly improved’, although his work is ‘irregular’. He even boasts about coming third in class one week despite having done only half the work. The letter shows Churchill facing many of the struggles of a normal schoolboy: he begs his mother not to be cross with him, promises to work harder, and assures her that he has kept his room tidy since she last visited. ‘I am not lazy & untidy but careless & forgetful,’ he writes.

It appears Churchill was unhappy throughout his time at Harrow, and wrote several letters – including this one – begging his mother to visit him, although she seldom did. Churchill graduated from Harrow in 1893 and after three failed attempts was accepted into the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, eventually leading to his successful military career.

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August 2017

Passchendaele remembered 100 years on

The Battle of Passchendaele, or the ‘Third Battle of Ypres’, was fought on the Belgian salient between 31 July and 10 November 1917. Resulting in 325,000 Allied casualties and 260,000 on the German side, it is notorious among First World War battles for the number of lives lost and the terrible circumstances faced.

Continuous shelling and relentless rain forced the troops to operate in swamp-like conditions so bad that men and horses drowned and artillery was lost. This account from CHAR 8/190* tells us that ‘all the tin baths that could be found were sent up so that the men could obtain sleep in them more or less dry’ and ‘even guns in considerable numbers were swallowed up by a sea of mud’.

Passchendaele was finally captured on 6 November, resulting in a gain of just five miles over three months. The wisdom of the campaign was disputed at the time for a myriad of reasons relating to the weather, location, strategy and the extent of the human cost. It remains highly controversial to this day.

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July 2017

Churchill's first political speech

Winston Churchill is renowned for his oratory. His speeches during the Second World War cemented his reputation as a war leader and many of his phrases have now become iconic. Despite this legacy, Churchill was not a born orator. He worked hard to master the art of speech-giving, and understood the power that words could have on an audience.

At the age of 22, despite being a serving officer at the time on leave from his regiment, Churchill delivered his first political speech. This was in July 1897 to the Bath Primrose League, an organization founded by Churchill’s father and dedicated to promoting Conservatism. Despite such a receptive audience, Churchill ensured he was well-prepared and that his speech was carefully crafted. As this newspaper report demonstrates, the speech was positively received and resonated with its audience.

Churchill also wrote an unpublished article around this time on the power of oratory where he set out his views on what made a good speech and the techniques that can enhance a speaker’s art (CHAR 8/13/1-13).*

*You will need to have access to the Churchill Archive to view these documents. Find out more about getting access here.

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June 2017

Letter from King George VI to WSC appealing to him not to accompany the troops on D Day

The D-Day landings, codenamed Operation Overlord, took place on 6 June 1944. US General Dwight D. Eisenhower led the campaign, which involved forces from the United States, Great Britain, Canada and Free French forces – almost 160,000 men – landing on five different beaches at Normandy to drive back the German forces occupying France. Before the landings, Churchill announced that he would sail on the HMS Belfast to watch events unfold.

Four days before D-Day, King George VI wrote to Churchill appealing him not to go to sea. In his letter the king states that as a sailor and the head of the British Army he would like to attend D-Day himself, but has agreed to stay; would it be right for his Prime Minister to take his place? Churchill’s presence on the HMS Belfast, King George argued, would ‘be a very heavy additional responsibility to the Admiral & Captain.’ Churchill was persuaded to stay at home.

The invasion of Normandy began at night with airborne attacks, and this was followed early in the morning by troops landing from the sea. The Allies fought their way through France in the following months, resulting in the Liberation of Paris on 25 August and the retreat of the Germans across the Seine on 30 August. D-Day was a decisive victory for the Allies.

Explore more documents written by, or connected with, the Sovereign or other members of the British Royal Family in Treasures from the Royal Archives


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May 2017

Telegram from Churchill to Stalin coordinating arrangements for VE Day

On 8 May 1945 in Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced the end of the war with Germany. This ended nearly six years of a war that had claimed millions of lives.

The ceasefire was signed at 2.41 am on 7 May at the American advance headquarters in Rheims. The BBC announced this to the British public on the same day, alongside the statement that Victory in Europe Day would be a national holiday.

Two days before Germany surrendered, Churchill wrote a telegram to Stalin coordinating plans for VE Day. The aim was to synchronise the timings for the announcement in Britain, the US and Russia. See Truman’s original message at CHAR 20/217/86*, and Stalin’s reply to Churchill at CHAR 20/218/13*. However, despite the surrender being signed in Rheims, Stalin insisted that the treaty be ratified in Berlin the following day. This resulted in Russia celebrating VE Day on 9 May, one day later than the rest of Europe.

*You will need to have access to the Churchill Archive to view these documents. Find out more about getting access here.

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April 2017

Letter from Princess Elizabeth to Churchill

When Princess Elizabeth was born in 1926 it was not anticipated that she would ever become queen. Her father, Prince Albert, was the second son of the King and she was third in line for the throne. However just ten years later circumstances would drastically change. After King George V died in 1936, Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward VIII, succeeded him, only to abdicate later that very year. Her father was crowned as King George VI in 1937, and at the age of eleven Princess Elizabeth was suddenly first in line to the throne.

King George VI’s early reign was shadowed by the possibility of war. Two years after his accession to the throne, war was declared and in 1940 Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Despite George’s early reservations about Churchill, the two men quickly developed one of the closest relationships between a monarch and Prime Minister in history. Churchill had good relations with the whole family, illustrated here by this letter which demonstrates Princess Elizabeth, aged fifteen, thanking Winston and Clementine for thinking of her at such a perilous time in British history.

After becoming Queen in 1952, Elizabeth too developed a close working relationship with Winston Churchill. They bonded over their shared passion for horses, racing and polo. Later in her life when asked which Prime Minister she enjoyed meeting with most, she replied ‘Winston of course, because it’s always such fun’.

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March 2017

The Iron Curtain

On 5 March 1946 Winston Churchill delivered a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri entitled the ‘Sinews of Peace’. Following the Second World War, Churchill had lost the general election and was no longer Prime Minister. Yet he was still an influential figure and President Truman himself was instrumental in securing Churchill’s invitation to speak at Fulton.

Despite the wartime alliance between the USSR, the United States and the United Kingdom, Churchill declared in this speech that an ‘iron curtain’ had descended over Europe. He warned of this Russian threat and called for greater Anglo-US cooperation to combat this by referencing again the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries that had become so important during the Second World War.

Although the phrase ‘iron curtain’ had been used before, Churchill’s use in the speech immediately attracted international attention and catapulted the phrase into common currency. It became so influential that some Russian historians have dated the beginning of the Cold War to this speech.

This document is a telegram from Churchill to President Truman in May 1945, expressing his concern over the future strength of the Soviet Union in Europe and what is going on behind the 'iron curtain' of the Soviet Front.

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February 2017

Churchill and the development of the Atomic Bomb

In 1924, Winston Churchill wrote a newspaper article that speculated on the development of explosive weapons. He posed the question, ‘Might not a bomb not bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power?’ These weapons would be realised just decades later.

British scientists were already aware of the potential to utilise atomic energy for military purposes by the beginning of the Second World War. However they struggled to convince the government of this. After Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, Lord Cherwell warned him of the dangers of letting the Germans develop weapons from this technology ahead of the UK, and Churchill ensured this research was given the highest priority. The codename given to this project was Tube Alloys.

From 1942, the Manhattan Project was also researching this area, and Tube Alloys soon became subsumed within this project. Concerned that British contributions would not be recognised, Churchill came to an agreement with President Roosevelt in 1943 (the Quebec Agreement) which clearly outlined the terms of this coordinated development and intelligence.

However, this shared interest would not last. Roosevelt died suddenly in April 1945, and Churchill lost the general election just months later. By 1946 the US Congress passed the McMahon Act which stipulated that the US would no longer share atomic intelligence with any other country. This was a disappointment to the British government, and Churchill was critical for the Attlee administration for letting it happen. Although Britain initiated its own atomic weapons programme in 1947, it is likely that the McMahon Act meant that it took much longer to create than might otherwise have been the case.

Further reading

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January 2017

Resigning from the army at the age of 24, Churchill made his first attempt to enter Parliament by running for Conservative MP in the Oldham by-election in 1899. Although this initial effort was unsuccessful, he returned just one year later and won the seat in the general election, beginning a political career that would span almost sixty years.

Throughout his career, Churchill held most of the major offices in state, including Prime Minister (twice), First Lord of the Admiralty, Home Secretary, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, President of the Board of Trade, Minister of Munitions and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He made his mark on politics in many ways, including being the youngest serving Cabinet minister for half a century.

In December 1941 he delivered a speech to an American audience which summed up his long and fascinating political career in one line, stating ‘I am a child of the House of Commons’.

Further reading

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December 2016

Churchill hit by a taxi in New York

Winston Churchill had a near brush with death in December 1931. Visiting the United States to deliver a series of lectures, Churchill was in New York when he tried to cross the road and momentarily forgot that American cars drove on the right. Mistakenly perceiving the road to be safe, he stepped out and was hit by a taxi driving around 30 mph.

Suffering a severe head wound and fractured ribs, Churchill was rushed to Lenox Hill Hospital. Yet this was after he had spoken to the police, claiming all responsibility for the accident and absolving the taxi driver of any wrongdoing. He spent the next several weeks recovering.

Following the event, Churchill wrote to his close friend Frederick Lindemann with an unusual request. Lindemann, otherwise known as ‘the Prof’ was an English physicist who Churchill would come to rely on heavily for advice during the Second World War. Churchill wanted to learn the science behind his crash; specifically what the impact of a motor car weighing 2,400 pounds and travelling 30 mph would be when it crashed into a stationary body of 200 pounds. Lindemann soon replied with the answer, which Churchill then used in an article he wrote about the event, titled ‘My New York Misadventure’.

Further reading

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November 2016

Churchill and King George VI

Despite being initially reluctant for Winston Churchill to succeed Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister, King George VI was persuaded to accept him in May 1940. This led to what has been described as the ‘closest personal relationship in modern British history between a monarch and a Prime Minister’.

A royal who had never expected to become King, George VI rose to the occasion during the Second World War, visiting Allied armies on several battle fronts and providing much needed morale-boosting visits around the home front with the Queen. He earned great respect and admiration during this period and was greatly loved by his public.

Yet in the post-war period of the early 1950s, George’s health began to decline as he battled with lung cancer and other ailments. The King’s death on 6 February 1952 was met with widespread mourning, and as the news spread, cinemas and theatres closed out of respect and flags were raised at half-mast across the country.

The following day, Churchill delivered an incredibly moving tribute to the late King which was broadcast to the nation. This speech described George’s bravery, his devotion to his country and how the King was so greatly loved by his people. Lasting fifteen minutes, Churchill’s words sang the praises of the late King, and lastly introduced the new successor to the Crown, Queen Elizabeth, ending his speech, ‘God save the Queen’.

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October 2016

Churchill’s claim for libel against the Daily Mirror

In October 1951 the Daily Mirror published a series of articles about Winston Churchill. Written in the lead up to the General Election of that year, these articles were negatively focused on Churchill’s foreign policy and, as a result, on his ability to lead the country with a Conservative government.

The Daily Mirror articles claimed that if the Tories won the election they would be too reluctant to ‘pull the trigger’ of a third world war. Instead they argued that Churchill was ‘too ready to let somebody else decide’, namely Russia or America, and that the world would be ‘safer with Attlee’.

Following this, the paper repeated the claim from New York magazine, The Nation, that Churchill would present Stalin with a ‘peace ultimatum’, and that if this failed he would authorise an ‘all-out German rearmament’. 

Churchill claimed these reports were published ‘falsely and maliciously’, and accordingly claimed for libel against the paper.

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September 2016

'The Tragedy of Europe'

On 19th September 1946, Winston Churchill addressed an audience at the University of Zurich about what he called the ‘tragedy of Europe’.

Delivered in the aftermath of the Second World War, this was a time when many countries were still struggling to rebuild after the conflict. Churchill acknowledged that the guilty must be punished, but he also declared that Europe must look to the future rather than dragging forward the hatred and pains of the past.

Churchill warned that although this war was now over, Europe must come together to prevent any future terror on this scale. The solution he proposed to keep the peace was to ‘recreate the European Family’. France and Germany would have to work together to achieve this, and to take the lead in creating a Council of Europe. This would be the crucial first step in achieving what Churchill termed a ‘kind of United States of Europe’.

Further reading

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August 2016

Clementine and Winston (or 'Kat' and 'Pug')

Although Winston and Clementine first met at a ball in 1904, it was not until they were re-acquainted at a dinner party four years later that their romance began. In a whirlwind courtship, Winston proposed to Clementine just months after the dinner when sheltering from a rainstorm in the grounds of Blenheim Palace on 11 August 1908. They were married one month later.

A woman of shrewd intelligence and strong will, Clementine was the ultimate partner for the iconic political leader. Winston relied heavily on Clementine for both emotional support and advice, and while they would encounter difficult times, the couple maintained a close and supportive relationship which lasted throughout their marriage.

Winston and Clementine wrote to each other frequently throughout their lives, sometimes even when living under the same roof. They developed pet names of Kat’ and ‘Pug’, and would often sign off their letters with animal drawings, such as in this letter which was written by Clementine when on a skiing holiday away from Winston in 1938.

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