Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Churchill Series - Oct. 25, 2007

The Churchill Series – Oct. 25, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Readers Note: Today is the birthday of Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill’s official biographer. Many of his fellow historians settle on the same word to describe his multi-volume life of Churchill: magisterial.

Gilbert’s one of the great historians of the twentieth century. In addition to the Churchill biography, he’s written more than 70 works that include histories of both world wars and the holocaust. Thumbnail descriptions of all his works are listed here.

I know we all join in wishing Martin Gilbert a Happy Birthday and a wonderful year to come.


On November 8, 1940 Churchill sent the following memorandum to Sir Edwards Bridges, a career civil servant who help the position of Secretary to the Cabinet.

Many of the executive departments naturally have set up and developed their own statistical branches, but there appears to be a separate statistical branch attached to the Ministerial Committee on Production, and naturally the Ministry of Supply’s statistical branch covers a very wide field. I have my own statistical branch under Professor Lindemann [An Oxford physicist, Churchill’s science advisor and close friend].

It is essential to consolidate and make sure that agreed figures only are used. The utmost confusion is caused when people argue on different statistical data. I wish all statistics to be concentrated in my own branch as Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, from which alone the final authoritative working statistics will issue. The various departmental statistical branches will, of course, continue as at present, but agreement must be reached between them, and the Central Statistical Office.

Pray look into this, and advise me how my wish can be most speedily and effectively achieved.
Six months into office, we see Churchill is this memorandum doing some important things. He’s solving the problem of different statistical outcomes being used by different government groups, possibly at cross purposes. While allowing those already using different sets of data to keep doing so, he’s providing an “umpire,” the Central Statistical Office, which will make any “disputed calls.”

That should allow for greater efficiency within the government and cut down on bureaucratic infighting.

He’s also drawing power into his own hands, isn’t he? And he’s not trying to disguise that by asking Bridges to sound out the other Cabinet officers. All he wants Bridges to do is advise how what he wants to do “can be most speedily and effectively achieved.”

Tomorrow I’ll say more about this memorandum and compare it to another document Churchill wrote almost exactly six months earlier when he had just assumed the premiership.

The full text of the memorandum can be found on pg. 684 of Their Finest Hour, vol. II of Churchill’s The Second World War. (Houghton Mifflin, 1949)