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From the Boer War to the Cold War, the “Greatest Englishman Who Ever Lived” (voted by the British public), hailed at his funeral as the ‘savior of his country,” was intimately involved in British history for more than 50 years.
The collection contains 53 letters, manuscripts, memos, signed photographs and books, approximately 92 pages, 1907-1961. Also included are several photograph and propaganda collections. While covering his whole life, the central focus of the collection is World War II, with important manuscripts and memos saved by his private secretary. It is a fantastic insight into Churchill’s life and decisiveness in World War II, which has come to define bold leadership and hope in the face of overwhelming force and power.
The following year Churchill was vocal in criticizing the Secretary of War’s plans for the reorganization of the Army in anticipation of sending it to France if Germany declared war. The dispute resulted in “libelous statements” about Churchill which he is “concerned to vindicate myself effectually from a serious charge”.
A series of telegrams from Churchill to the press baron Lord Northcliffe, and carbon copies of Northcliffe’s letters, totaling 35 pieces, discuss many public issues between 1909 and 1922.
Churchill was Home Secretary in 1911 when he wrote a detailed letter to Northcliffe about “the distribution of the alien population” as discussed in Northcliffe’s Daily Mail.
In a letter marked “secret,” he writes again to Northcliffe about a libel action brought by King George V against the accusation that he was a bigamist. Churchill wanted to make sure the press coverage is positive for the King.
As First Lord of the Admiralty, he first writes about “the courage and perseverance with which he and his torpedo unit have faced the difficulties” but then turns to his mother’s interest in Shakespeare and asks Northcliffe’s help in what she is doing. (Northcliffe replied that he didn’t like Shakespeare but mothers had to be respected.)
The same year, 1912, Churchill discusses the possibility of his visiting Canada, the danger that it would be seen as “Imperial pressure”, and the many issues between the two countries that might benefit if both political parties in Canada would welcome him.
In 1918 Churchill was Minister of Munitions and discussed with Northcliffe his suggestion that Churchill needed to improve his public relations.
The following year he was appointed Secretary of State for War and Air to deal with the demonstrations in London demanding the immediate demobilization of the World War I Army. Churchill sent this five-page letter to Northcliffe from Paris outlining his detailed plans to end the demonstrations and create an equitable demobilization plan and at the same time retain a sufficient army of occupation in Germany.
The following year, in the same position, he gives a detailed explanation of his conclusion that a British woman was neither a German nor a Bolshevik spy and that her killing a British officer was accidental.
Churchill wrote at the end of 1922 to Ormsby Gore announcing that he was leaving politics. “I am off … for Italy where I shall winter leaving the unemployed to Bonar Law, Beaverbrook … and the fortunes of Feisal, Abdullah, Hussein, Weissman, De Valera … to you.”
The following year Churchill’s four volume The World Crisis was published. He sent a copy to a French general and discusses what he wrote about the use of tanks during the war, adding, and underscoring, “one must think of something new this time”.
Churchill was out of the government in the 1930s, but not out of British history. He wrote his monumental history of his ancestor John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, and in this collection are three of the typewritten pages from the manuscript, all heavily corrected with annotations, deletions and additions.
During these “wilderness years” in 1933 he wrote “how… defenseless a public man is against totally unfounded statements printed as news. To deny them is to advertise them. To leave them alone is to encounter them repeatedly”.
By the end of the 1930s Churchill became increasingly worried about the sense of defeatism and despair in Britain, and in June 1939 he wrote to the owner of his apartment building in London reminding him that it is now compulsory that bomb shelters be provided, and asking what provision is being made in the basement of his building. “The matter is not without urgency.”
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain brought Churchill back into the government as First Lord of the Admiralty. In January 1940 Churchill wrote to the Minister of Shipping concerning a report about shipping losses and reflected on issues of wartime propaganda and public morale: “after all we are on our own side, and there is no need for us to select particular forms of … presentation which put our affairs in the least favorable light…. At the present time things are going well; but we cannot tell they may get much worse, in which case an unduly pessimistic form of presentation will become a nuisance.”
The sinking of the German battleship Graf Spee in February 1940 was a major victory and Churchill delivered a memorable speech at a celebratory luncheon. The menu for this event is present in the collection, boldly signed by Churchill.
The German invasion brought Churchill to power as Britain’s Prime Minister. In five top secret typewritten memos bearing Churchill’s handwritten marks, he corresponds during the Battle of France with the President of France detailing military tactics and decisions as the German Army’s Blitzkrieg overwhelmed both the French and British armies.
In a three-page typewritten signed memo to the President of France Churchill makes the most critical decision of the war. He gives his reasons for not sending further fighter squadrons to the losing Battle of France; if England is not sufficiently defended, German bombers can destroy Britain’s war production and the war will be lost. He wrote: “The enemy can switch his bomber force on these islands at a few hours’ notice…if…inadequately defended…strike a blow at our war industry…irretrievably damage the allied cause…we do not shrink – indeed we welcome as a diversion – the attack which we expect….”
During the Battle of Britain, England’s Prime Minister, who led Appeasement, Neville Chamberlain, resigned from the Government and the corrected draft of Churchill’s letter to him is in the collection. “I have admired your unshaken nerve and persevering will. The help you have given me … through what may well prove to be the turning point of the war. You did all you could for peace. You did all you could for victory.”
Churchill’s manuscript of his hoped for reorganized War Cabinet, together with a memo he wrote about the health of his most important War Cabinet member, Lord Beaverbrook, who was in charge of aircraft production. Both were written in September 1940.
A series of 11 letters, one signed by Churchill, in the fall of 1940, detail the problems the RAF are having with their equipment. A particularly poignant letter to Churchill describes the difficulty in making modifications and improvements because fighter planes have to be taken out of service which is impossible without other fighter planes to replace them.
D-Day is seen in the collection, literally, in an extraordinary photograph of Churchill standing with Bernard Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Alan Brooke, and Field Marshal Smuts, signed by all of them, and dated by Churchill the day he arrived in Normandy. A second photograph, also signed by Churchill, shows him with General Omar Bradley in his headquarters tent.
The Yalta Conference to discuss the future of Europe in February 1945 is commemorated in the collection with a celebratory final dinner menu signed by Churchill and the British delegation to Yalta.
In 1946, Churchill was retired as Prime Minister. He was very articulate in a letter attacking the “socialists”: “the background of our daily life is made up of restrictions and deprivations. All the high hopes that the prospects of peace and the glowing promises of socialist politicians held out to the country have been rudely shattered. (We need) a less consistent concentration on state interference at the cost of personal freedom.”
Later in 1946, he reiterates his political beliefs: “The battle for freedom during the war. Now, unhappily, we are engaged in another struggle to preserve what we thought we had won. Upon the issue of this struggle the future happiness, prosperity and stability of our nation and empire depend.”
Churchill’s return as Prime Minister is commemorated in the collection with a large photograph of him entering 10 Downing Street, with his iconic cigar, and hand outstretched in a “V”. He has boldly signed the photograph.
Churchill’s monumental The Second World War is represented in the collection with three pages from a particularly important section: his description of meeting with Roosevelt in Casablanca. Typewritten, the manuscript is annotated with corrections and additions by Churchill in red ink.
A second section of this monumental work is seen in another typewritten manuscript heavily corrected and annotated by Churchill, in which he describes the German and Russian actions in Warsaw at the end of the war.
The year after publication a Frenchman wrote complaining the French were not given sufficient recognition. Churchill replied: “My description of the signature of the capitulation in Berlin was of… Those officers who signed on behalf of the United States, Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. (the French) signed ‘as a witness’”.
Two extraordinary photographs, each signed by Churchill, were taken at the French Riviera estate of his close friend Emery Reves during the late 1950s.
In September 1961 Churchill signed a typewritten statement on his Chartwell stationery: “It is most fitting that we should each year remember the Battle of Britain. The autumn of 1940 has come to symbolize the spirit that brought our country through the darkest days of the war. It was not the turning point of our struggle, but it was our first decisive victory. We should honor those who fought: we should remember the dependents of those who fell.”
The collection offers extraordinary insight into the mind of the person who saved the world from the evil of Adolf Hitler. Churchill’s understanding of the morale of the British and his ability to motivate them against seemingly impossible odds to fight alone Germany’s onslaught will always represent one of the greatest accomplishments of modern history. Without a base in England the United States could not have invaded Europe. Without a free England, Europe could not have been liberated.
It is very telling that the first letter in the collection expresses empathy and appreciation for one of his guards while a captive in the Boer War and the final letter in the collection is an appreciation for all of those who fought and died in the Battle of Britain.