Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Churchill Series – May 21, 2008

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

A Churchill Centre post, Action This Day(Summer, 1945), contains an excellent sketch of people and events connected with the July, 1945 British general election in which Churchill's Conservatives were beaten by Labour. Here are excerpts from it:

Despite Churchill’s war record his Party’s prospects for reelection were discouraging. Since 1942 the Gallup poll had shown a large Labour lead. Eight Conservative candidates, unopposed by Labour because of a wartime electoral truce, had already been beaten by independents.

The Conservatives focused on Churchill as the leader who had won the war. Churchill reminded the overseas troops that there was "no truth that you can vote Labour or Liberal without voting against me." As grateful as they were, many people expressed concern that the great war leader would not be a good peace leader. […]

From the beginning he struck hard against his opponents. Controversy ensued when he said the Socialists "would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo." His daughter Mary later recounted how her mother begged Churchill "to delete the odious and invidious reference to the Gestapo. But he would not heed her." […]

Polling day was 5 July in Britain but it took three weeks to count the service vote. Meanwhile Churchill flew to Bordeaux to rest before moving on to Berlin [to attend the Potsdam Conference].

Shortly after arriving in the German capital Churchill, with his daughter Mary, toured its ruins including Hitler’s Chancellery. When Churchill observed the German populace he said his "hate died with their surrender."

On the same day he met President Truman for the first time. A few days later the two leaders agreed to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

Churchill’s last public event as British Prime Minister occurred on 21 July when he took the victory salute in Berlin. "Twice in one generation," he told the troops, "as in bygone times the German fury has been unleashed on her neighbours. Now it is we who take our place in the occupation of this country."

Among the cheers, however, were ominous signs. John Peck noted how "the great war leader but for whom we should never have been in Berlin at all, got a markedly less vociferous cheer than Mr. Attlee." [Clement Attlee was at time the Labour Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister in the national unity government Churchill formed upon taking office as Prime Minister in May, 1940.]

On 25 July Churchill left Stalin and Truman, without saying goodbye, to return to London with Attlee to await the results of the election. On 28 July Clement Attlee returned to Berlin as Prime Minister. […]

[Following his defeat Churchill made a gracious] concession speech [which]included the admirable comment: "I thank the British people for many kindnesses shown towards their servant."

This remark stands in contrast to Stalin’s reported comment that he was surprised because he had supposed that Churchill would have "fixed" the results.

On 29 July Churchill signed "finis" in the visitors’ book at Chequers. Many high-ranking officials who owed their positions to Churchill, including Lord Louis Mountbatten, were now expressing Labour sympathies.

When Chamberlain had resigned in 1940 many Conservatives clearly expressed their preference for him over the new Prime Minister.

This time, however, the Conservative MPs showed their hearts were with Churchill. When he entered the House on 1 August they sang an enthusiastic "For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow." Later he joined Attlee to celebrate VJ-Day and clearly received greater ovations.

On 16 August the House recognized Churchill’s war leadership. The new Prime Minister spoke for all when he said that Churchill’s "place in history is secure."
Most people are unaware Churchill headed a national unity government during the war. Attlee was one of many Labour leaders who held important cabinet posts. Leaders of the much smaller Liberal party held offices as well including the party leader, Archibald Sinclair, who served as Secretary of State for Air.

The entire post is here.