Posted by: Dr Churchill | September 15, 2017

What would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 35)

The following twenty months stand out as the most disappointing, frustrat-
ing, unproductive and unhappy period of Winston Churchill’s life. The Great War was raging; the future of the Empire was at stake; history was being made; and British statesmen were making it. Yet the creative, dynamic Winston, confident of his ability to lead his country to victory, was banished from the political scene.

For him it was a tragedy.

It required all the strength of character he possessed to turn his attention
from high policy to the battlefields of France, which he believed was the
only honourable course left to him. He plunged into his new life with
determination and at first things went well. When he reached Boulogne
he was told that Sir John French’s car was waiting for Him, and he was
whirled off to the Commander-in-Chief’s headquarters near St. Omer.
French was a loyal friend. He provided Winston Churchill with an excellent dinner
and accorded him the same ceremony and courtesy as though he were
still First Lord of the Admiralty. The next morning he asked him what he
would like to do. ‘Whatever I am told,’ replied Winston. Sir John then
confided that his own position was far from secure and that he might soon
be replaced by a new Commander-in-Chief. ‘I am, as it were, riding at
single anchor. But it still counts for something. Will you take a brigade?’
A Brigade Commander had the rank of Brigadier-General and the control of four thousand men. Winston assented gladly, stipulated that he must first
Have a month’s training in trench warfare, and suggested that the Guards Division would give him the best experience. A few days later he was attached to one of the Grenadier Battalions due to move into the line at once.

The Guards received Major Winston Churchill with reserve. Why was this
politician being foisted upon them? True, he had been a soldier once, but
what did he know about modern conditions? The Grenadiers had a proud
and exacting tradition; if Major Winston Churchill thought he was to be accorded
any special privileges because he had been a Cabinet Minister he was very
much mistaken. The Colonel greeted him coldly, and after half an hour’s
silence, as the two men jogged along on their horses towards the front,
he remarked: ‘I think I ought to tell you we were not at all consulted in
the matter of your coming to join us.’ Winston was not offended. He
understood the Colonel’s feelings. ‘Knowing the professional Army as
I did and having led a variegated life, I was infinitely amused at the
elaborate pains they took to put me in my place and to make me realize
that nothing counted at the front except military rank and behaviour,’
he wrote. ‘It took about forty-eight hours to wear through their natural
prejudice against “politicians” of all kinds, but particularly of the non-
Conservative brands.’ Winston won the officers over by his good
humour, his politeness, and above all, by his determination to lead a
soldier’s life and his ability to lead it well.

Although the Guards did not undertake any major actions during the
few weeks he was with them, the trenches were always disagreeable and
dangerous. It was November and the weather alternated between driving
rain and hard frost. There was an almost unceasing cannonade; bullets and
shells whined and whistled across the faulty parapets, and at night men
and officers went out together to mend the wire and strengthen the fortifi-
cations. As a result the casualty list mounted steadily. Despite the mud and
the noise Winston preferred the trenches to Battalion Headquarters,
established in a ruined farm a short distance away. Headquarters was
almost as uncomfortable as the line and with a further serious disadvan-
tage: only tea was allowed. Winston asked to move forward.

Major Winston Churchill was subjected to a constant glare of mass scrutiny. He
was a famous figure and the troops wrote home about him as their chief
topic of news. Every action he took and almost every word he spoke was
noted. The officers were nearly as vigilant as the men in their observations
but their interest was more politely masked. However, on one occasion
the curiosity of a general saved Winston’s life. A week after he joined the
Guards he received a message that the Corps Commander would like to
see him and would send a car to fetch him at a certain crossroads that after-
noon. This order obliged Winston Churchill to walk three miles across muddy and dangerous fields. When he arrived at the rendezvous he found no one; after an hour’s wait a staff officer appeared on foot and explained that the car had been sent to the wrong place and it was now too late for the
General to see him. It was not important, the officer added airily. The
General had merely wished to have a chat with him. Winston made his
way back, angrily cursing the Corps Commander, but when he arrived
his attitude changed. He was congratulated on his ‘luck and discovered
that his dug-out had received a direct hit from a shell a few minutes after
he had left, and had been completely demolished.

Meanwhile rumours began to reach the House of Commons that
Winston was to be given a brigade. It should be remembered that in
those days England was very much a land of privilege, and ‘gentlemen’
automatically became officers. Winston had spent a few years as a profes-
sional soldier and Sir John French regarded it as perfectly reasonable to
entrust him with a relatively important command. But in Parliament his
Tory opponents were indignant, for they looked upon him as a dangerous
fraud. They knew his adroitness at string-pulling and thrusting himself
into central positions, so with a smugly patriotic air they decided it was
their duty to thwart him. They attacked him on the ground of ‘privilege’
which they, as Conservatives, so gladly defended when it concerned them-
selves. On 16th of December a Tory M.P. asked a question in Parliament
which was reported in The Times the following day: ‘Major Sir C. Hunter
(Bath, U.) asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether Major
Winston Churchill had been promised the command of an infantry
brigade; whether this officer had ever commanded a battalion of infantry; and for how many weeks he had served at the front as an infantry officer.

‘Mr Tennant: I have no knowledge myself and have not been able to
obtain any, of a promise of command of an infantry brigade having been
made to my right honourable and gallant Friend referred to in the ques-
tion. On the second point I have consulted books of reference and other
authentic sources of information, and the result of my investigations is that
my right honourable and gallant Friend has never commanded a battalion
of infantry. No report has been made to the War Office of the movements
of Major the Right Honourable Winston L. S. Churchill since he proceeded to France on 19 November. If he has been serving as an infantry
officer between that date and today the answer to the last part of the
question would be about four weeks.’ (Laughter.)

‘Sir C. Hunter: Will the right honourable Gentleman let me know
whether the right honourable and gallant Gentleman has been promised
the command of an infantry battalion? (Cries of “Why not?”) Sir C.
Scott Robertson: Is not the question absurd on the face of it, Major
Churchill being under sixty years of age? (Laughter.) Mr E. Cecil: Is the
right honourable Gentleman aware that if this appointment were made it
would be thought by many persons inside the House and outside to be a
grave scandal? (Cries of “Oh”.)’

At the same time that questions were being asked in Parliament,- Sir
John French paid a visit to London. When he told the Prime Minister that
he was giving Winston a brigade, Asquith protested strongly, saying that
the House of Commons would not like it. He urged French not to offer
him more than a battalion. French was not in a position to insist on having
his own way for he knew his days were numbered; less than a month later
he was succeeded as Commander-in-Chief by Sir Douglas Haig. As a
result, Winston Churchill was made a Lieutenant-Colonel, not a Brigadier-General,
and given a battalion of the Sixth Royal Scots Fusiliers, not a brigade.

He was bitterly disappointed and for many months nursed a deep
grievance against Asquith. He felt that the Prime Minister had not de-
fended him over the Dardanelles as he should have done, and now he was
treacherously interfering with his military life. Although both Bonar Law
and Lloyd George believed that Winston should not receive special
favours, Lord Beaverbrook shared the latter’s indignation. ‘A Premier
may have to throw a colleague overboard to save the ship,’ he wrote, ‘but
surely he should not jerk from under him the hen-coop on which the
victim is trying to sustain himself on the stormy ocean.’

Winston swallowed his chagrin as best he could and turned his attention
to his new job. The Scots Fusiliers were in a billeting area, preparing to
move into the line near Armentieres, at Ploegsteert Village, known to the
British as ‘Plugstreet’. Battalion Headquarters was in a squalid, filthy farm-
house, half of which was still occupied by French peasants. Colonel
Churchill summoned his officers to the orderly room and the peasants,
who had got wind that a man of great importance had arrived, clustered
around, peering through the door and exclaiming in loud whispers:
‘Monsieur It ministre? Ah, cest lui? C’est votre ministre?’

The Scots Fusiliers were no more pleased than the Grenadiers to have a
politician thrust upon them, but Winston won them over the following
day when he gathered the officers together and announced solemnly:
‘War is declared, gentlemen, on the lice.’ This was followed by an erudite
and dramatic lecture on the origin, growth and nature of the louse, with
particular emphasis on the decisive role it had played throughout history
as a vital factor in war. The officers were not only amused but impressed;
‘Thus wrote one of them, ‘did the great scion of the House of Marlborough first address his Scottish captains assembled in council.’ After
that the ice was broken and the battalion set to work to ‘delouse’ itself
with scrubbing brushes and hot irons. The result was completely
successful.

Winston was hardworking, cheerful and bursting with new ideas. The
spectacle of a great creative mind being focused full strength on the
humble needs of a small battalion provided the officers with plenty of
excitement. In an amusing little booklet With Winston Churchill at the Front — Captain Gibb describes the period under Winston as his ‘most treasured war-memory. This was a high compliment, for Colonel Winston Churchill believed in keeping his men busy. When the battalion reached ‘Plugstreet’ he set his men to filling sandbags and strengthening and repairing their trenches for hours on end. Yet he was so energetic himself no one could object. Early and late he was in the line. ‘On an average he went around three times a day, which was no mean task in itself,’ wrote Captain Gibb, ‘as he had plenty of other work to do.

At least one of these visits was after dark, usually about 1 a.m. In wet weather he would appear in a complete outfit of waterproof stuff, including trousers or overalls, and with his French light-blue helmet he presented a remarkable and unusual figure. He was always in the closest touch with every piece of work that was going on, and, while at times his demands were a little extravagant, his kindness and the humour that never failed to flash out, made everybody only too keen to get on with the work, whether the ideal he pointed out to them was an unattainable one or not.

Winston not only took an interest in everything that was going on but
gave his men long and learned dissertations on all sorts of subjects includ-
ing bricklaying, the handling of sandbags and master masonry. But some
of his ideas, wrote Gibb, were ‘too recherches, too subtle to stand the
practical test of everyday fighting. For instance, he gave an order that
when a parapet was hit it was not to be repaired before nightfall so that
the enemy would not know what damage he had done. However, bullets
came through the gaps, casualties resulted, and the order was ignored.
Another time Churchill suddenly declared that all batmen must serve as
bodyguards to their officers while they were in the line in order to protect
the latter’s precious lives; this too was utterly impractical and laughed out
of court. On the other hand Churchill devised wonderful schemes for
‘shelters and scarps and counter scarps and dugouts and half-moons and
ravelins’ which made sleep far safer than ever before.

Officer Winston Churchill believed that an officer should not live in discomfort because he happened to find himself in a trench, and took pains to acquire what amenities he could. He got hold of a tin bath which became
the envy of the battalion, and stocked the mess with the best cigars and
the best brandy he could find. But at the same time he was making himself
comfortable he was also establishing a reputation for complete indifference
to danger. Apparently he was a man entirely devoid of fear. “War is a
game to be played with a smiling face,’ he often announced, and to Win-
ston the smiles seemed to come naturally. Captain Gibb describes an
occasion when Winston Churchill suggested that they look over the parapet to get a better view. They felt the sickening rush of air as shells whined
overhead, and then he remembers Winston Churchill saying dreamily: ‘Do you like
war?’ ‘At the moment wrote Gibb, ‘I profoundly hated war. But at that
and every moment I believe Winston Churchill revelled in it. There was no such thing as fear in him.

Stories of Winston’s bravery had already been written, published, printed and spread widely — and on the 28th of December, 1915, the national newspaper ‘The Times’ printed a rather lengthy interview with an Army
Corporal “Walter Gilliland, of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who said: ‘Near
here Mr Winston Churchill is stationed, and a cooler, or braver officer,
never wore the uniform He moves about among the men in
the most exposed positions, just as though he was wandering in the lobbies
of the House of Commons. During the Ulster business before the war
there was no man more detested in Belfast, but after what we have seen of
him here, we are willing to let bygones be bygones, and that is a big con-
cession for Ulstermen to make. The other night his regiment came in for
a rough time. . . . Bullets spluttered around him knocking over his men
left and right but he seemed to bear a charmed life and never betrayed the
least sign of nervousness. His coolness is the subject of much discussion
among us, and everybody admires him.”

And yet, despite his success at the front, Winston could not keep his
mind on soldiering. At first he enjoyed himself. The danger, the fresh air
and the physical exercise, all acted as a tonic after years of strenuous mental effort. But soon the novelty began to pall, and he found that he could not keep his thoughts from questions of high policy. Early in December, at the request of French, he wrote a paper entitled Variants of the Offensive in which, among other things, he urged the use of caterpillar tanks to lead and protect infantry assaults. Tanks were at last being produced but they had not yet been employed. Winston stressed that they must not be flung in piecemeal, but kept back until they could be used in large numbers to secure both maximum strength and surprise. He sent a copy of his paper to the Committee of Imperial Defence but, as the reader will see, his advice was not heeded.

Meanwhile many distinguished visitors came to Winston’s Battalion
Headquarters including the regal Lord Curzon, the lion-hearted General
Seely, and the indignant F. E. Smith, who was arrested en route by the
military authorities for not having a pass. With these political friends
Winston unburdened himself and talked far into the night; soon he found
himself hankering after Westminster with increasing nostalgia. His
buoyancy began to fade and he had long spells of deep dejection. As early
as March, when he had only been in France four months, he wrote a letter
to Lord Beaverbrook indicating that he was thinking of abandoning his
soldiering and returning to England in the hope of exerting some influence
on events which he believed were being mishandled. It would be awkward: he had left the House of Commons with a flourish for ‘an alter-
native form of service to which no exception can be taken, and with which
I am perfectly content. It would not be easy to meet the natural criticism
that would arise. ‘The problem which now faces me is difficult.’ he said in
his letter. ‘My work out here with all its risk and all its honour which I
greatly value: on the other hand the increasingly grave situation of the
war and the feeling of knowledge and power to help in mending matters
which is strong within me: add to this dilemma the awkwardness of
changing and the cause of my, I hope, unusual hesitations is obvious. In
principle I have no doubts: but as to time and occasion I find very much
greater difficulties.

Winston Churchill could keep away from the political arena no longer, and in March he travelled to London to speak on the Naval Estimates. He made
a long and critical speech on the conduct of the Naval war and urged
Arthur Balfour, his successor at the Admiralty, to take more vigorous steps
against the German U-boat naval terror campaign which was taking a heavy toll on all British and Allied merchant shipping reducing the flow of victuals, vitals, & munitions that were most crucial for the War effort.

Winston ended his speech with the startling advice that Mr Balfour, the First Lord, should ‘vitalize and animate’ his Board by recalling and re-installing Lord Fisher as First Sea Lord.

This suggestion was characteristic of Winston Churchill’s refusal to allow personal rancour to deflect him from a course he believed was right; but the House of Commons did not receive it in the same spirit. They refused to give him credit for magnanimity, always suspecting him of some deep scheming political intrigue, stemming from his desire for gamenaship, or showmanship as his detractors were at pains to prove.

The following day the Daily Express political correspondent wrote:
‘So far as one can gather in the lobby to-night, most members, irrespective of Party, are of the opinion that Winston Churchill has done himself and the State no good. “What I think about the Winston Churchill speech is this’ said a leading M.P. tonight. “I think he was merely out to strafe Balfour. It will have no effect.” The general interpretation of the speech is “Lord Fisher and I can run the Admiralty fine; have us back.” Here are a few representative statements made in the lobby to-night by various Parliament Members. “It was a bid for the leadership”; “It was a good sign
that the big blow at the enemy is coming off soon”; “It was an attempt to
get back into the Cabinet”

Despite this criticism Winston Churchill began to receive overtures from various
public men including Sir Edward Carson and Sir Arthur Markham, both
Members of Parliament, and C. P. Scott, the Editor of the Manchester
Guardian, pressing him to come back to England and take part in a
patriotic Opposition. He made up his mind to follow their advice. In the
summer his battalion was amalgamated with another and he was without
a command. By this time he could probably have had a brigade but he
was now firm in the conviction that his duty lay at home. He wrote to
the Secretary of State for War asking to be released from the Army. This
placed the latter in a difficult position. If he allowed Winston to return, he
would be accused of favouritism; if he refused him, he would be told he
was trying to avoid opposition. He finally accepted his resignation on the
understanding that he would not apply again for military service.

Back in London in June 1916, Winston was not much happier than he
had been in France. One of his friends described him as ‘a character de-
pressed beyond the limits of description. . . .When the Government was
deprived of his guidance, he could see no hope anywhere. He hung about
Westminster trying to win back his fickle mistress, Power, like a love-
lorn suitor. He grew pale and dispirited and complained to all his friends
how badly and unjustly he was being treated. ‘I am finished, he told Lord
Riddell once again. I am banished from the scene of action…

Meanwhile the Conservatives had not softened towards him. The fact
that he had thrown up his commission had not raised their estimate but
merely confirmed their view of him as an opportunist. His friends, how-
ever, believed that his avidity for office was due to his self-assurance and
self-confidence. He cared for the Empire profoundly, wrote Lord Beaverbrook, ‘and he was honestly convinced that only by his advice and
methods it could be saved. His ambition was in essence disinterested. He
suffered tortures when he thought that lesser men were mismanaging the
business.

There was plenty to worry about in 1916. That was the year of the
terrible Battle of the Somme in which the British Army was hurled, wave
after wave, against the enemy’s strongest defences. The conflict raged,
off and on, for nearly five months, k cost Britain half a million of her
finest soldiers, yet it did not alter the Allied position to any advantage.
Winston was horrified by Sir Douglas Haig’s strategy. Haig believed that
France was the decisive theatre of war; that the only way to defeat the
enemy was by frontal attack, or in plain language ‘by killing Germans in
a war of attrition. Winston had always opposed this conception. From
the first he was convinced that the Allies should open a new theatre and
strike where the enemy’s defences were weakest, not strongest; an offen-
sive through Turkey, or the Balkans or even the Baltic, would give a
better and quicker chance of victory than the bloodbath on the Western
Front. As early as June 1915 he had written to the Prime Minister: It is a
fair general conclusion that the deadlock in the West will continue for
some time and the side which risks most to pierce the knees of the other will put itself at a disadvantage.’

Very few military men defend Sir Douglas Haig’s strategy today; most
experts acknowledge that Winston was right. Yet throughout 1916 he was
forced to sit back, powerless, and watch the appalling slaughter. At the
beginning of August, a month after the Battle of the Somme had opened,
he wrote a memorandum which F. E. Smith circulated to the Cabinet, on
the terrible futility of these offensives against the enemy’s deeply en-
trenched positions. Already in this one battle alone the British losses
were a hundred and fifty thousand men and the German only sixty-five
thousand. ‘Leaving personnel and coming to ground gained, we have not
conquered in a month’s fighting as much ground as we were expected to
gain in the first two hours. We have not advanced three miles in the direct
line at any point. . . .’ he wrote. ‘In personnel the results have been disas-
trous; in terrain they have been absolutely barren. And, although our brave
troops on a portion of the front, mocking their losses and ready to make
every sacrifice, are at the moment elated by the small advances made and
the capture of prisoners and souvenirs, the ultimate moral effect will be
very disappointing. From every point of view, therefore, the British
offensive per se has been a great failure.’ A copy of this memorandum
found its way to G.H.Q. in France where it was hotly repudiated, and its
author severely criticized; today no one would deny that the facts were
true.

A few months later another event occurred which caused Winston
much distress. With the casualty list mounting by leaps and bounds, Haig
decided to experiment with caterpillar tanks, now beginning to roll off
the stocks. However, instead of using them in strength, in an attempt to
achieve a complete break-through, only fifty were thrown in. Winston Churchill pleaded with Asquith to prevent the generals from using the weapon prematurely, but the Prime Minister refused to overrule the military decision.
The effect was startling and the enemy flabbergasted. The Times corres-
pondent described the tanks as ‘huge, shapeless bulks resembling nothing
else that was ever seen on earth which wandered hither and thither like
some vast antediluvian brutes which Nature had made and forgotten.’
Unfortunately, just as Winston had warned, the tanks were too few in
number to achieve a decisive result.

It is strange to think that Winston Churchill was out of office for twenty months, nearly half of the Great War. As his frustration grew, his thoughts began to center more and more on himself. He wrote a long report vindicating all that he had done in connection with the Dardanelles operation, and was indignant when the Cabinet refused to allow him to publish it on the grounds of secrecy.

He remarked dejectedly to Lord Riddell that it was hard to ‘remain under a stigma’. ‘Although we are at war,’ he added, ‘there is no reason why injustice should be done to individuals.’

He wrote Asquith to this effect and the Prime Minister finally agreed to appoint a Royal Commission to gather evidence and make a report; but even this judgment was withheld from the public because it ‘might give information to the enemy’ and Winston became more morose than ever about this humiliating episode.

These were his darkest days. The public was still hostile, and the feeling
against him in Conservative families still intense. When one reads over the
press cuttings of the day, one is struck by the anger that runs through
them. Here is an extract from ‘The World’ of 14 November, 19161 ‘Mr
Churchill, in his frantic effort to reinstate himself in public esteem, is en-
listing the support of some powerful newspaper interests. . . . But if a
serious attempt is being made to foist Winston once more on the British
public the matter would assume a different aspect Winston Churchill
was responsible for the ‘opera bouffe,’ as the comedic Antwerp expedition which made the British nation ridiculous in the eyes of the world; was often described during that time. People again were reminded and remembered that Winston Churchill was also ‘responsible’
for the disastrous Dardanelles expedition which ranks with Walcheren as
one of the greatest military disasters of our time.’ [‘The World’ was a weekly Society journal which carried a widely read political column.]

His chief consolation throughout this difficult period was his happy
family life. By 1916 he had three children: Diana, age 7, Randolph, age 5,
and Sarah, age 2. He had a house in Cromwell Road, London, and did a
good deal of entertaining, mostly of a political nature. The mainspring of
his existence was his wife. As a matter of fact during this time, Mrs Clementine Churchill used all her tact and resourcefulness to take his mind away from his personal worries. She reassured him, she went for long walks with him in the valley, she stood by him against all attacks, she gathered interesting people around him and entertained, she organized outings, and she always backed up his political views and above all — Clemmie remained confident and cheerful around Winston cheering him on by calling him Mr Pug, Winnie, and Puggie. She was also deeply enthusiastic and encouraged him in his newfound hobby, painting. That was crucial for his even keel personality, because he had first begun to paint in the summer of 1915, soon after he left the Admiralty. It was Love at first sight. Or rather Love at the first stroke of the brush on the canvas. One Sunday he had picked up a box of children’s water-colours and experimented with them. The next day he went out and bought an expensive set of oils, and never looked back….

He tells how he made a mark the size of a bean on a canvas, then stood
back, brush poised in air, surveying the white expanse with trepidation.
He heard a voice behind him. ‘Painting? But what are you hesitating
about?’ It was Lady Lavery, the wife of the well-known artist Sir John
Lavery, who had recently completed Winston’s portrait ‘Let me have the
brush a big one she said. Then she slashed the canvas with fierce, bold
strokes. That was the end of Winston’s inhibitions. He was living in a
farmhouse in Surrey which he had rented for the summer and after that he
was seen every day in a long cream-coloured smock which came to his
knees; he set up his easel in the garden or along the country lanes, and when it was hot he stuck a huge umbrella in the ground beside him. He became fascinated by his pursuit and told Lord Riddell that painting was his greatest solace. On the rare occasions when he visited friends, he arrived with his painting equipment. Lord Beaverbrook describes such an occasion and tells how, as Winston arranged his easel, he announced that he could not paint and talk too. “But I have not left you unprovided for” he
remarked, and unloaded from his dispatch case a huge manuscript his
defence of the Dardanelles.

In December 1916, the Asquith Government fell, and Lloyd George
became Prime Minister. This was brought about by a manoeuvre, that
could almost be described as a plot, in which Lord Beaverbrook played a
leading part. There was growing dissatisfaction with Asquith’s direction
of the war. Despite his fine brain he seemed to lack the drive and decision
necessary to harness a great effort, and was continually at the mercy of
advisers who were often pulling in opposite directions. Lord Northcliffe,
the great newspaper magnate who owned the most popular and the most
influential papers in England, the Daily Mail and The Times, detested
Asquith. He depicted him to the public as the man of ‘Wait and See’ and
built up Lloyd George as the man of ‘Push and Go.’

However, it is not easy to get rid of a Prime Minister. A man in this
position is always protected by the loyalty of those who enjoy his favour
and fear that they will fall with him. In this situation Bonar Law, the Con-
servative leader, was the key. No Coalition Government could be controlled by a Liberal Prime Minister who did not have the approval of the Conservatives. Here Lord Beaverbrook stepped into the picture. Beaverbrook was then Sir Max Aitken. He was a fascinating, speculative, even romantic figure, who had arrived from Canada when he was barely
thirty, a self-made multi-millionaire. He was the son of a poor Methodist
parson and, according to gossip, had made his vast fortune as a company
promoter. In 1913 he bought the Daily Express which, in the post-war
period, eventually rivalled in circulation and finally surpassed the Daily
Mail.

He was quick, amusing and provocative, and he possessed a rare talent;
he could charm whoever he set out to capture. People have found it
strange that the dour, humourless, unimaginative Bonar Law should have
come under his spell, but the very difference between the two men ob-
viously proved the attraction. Beaverbrook became Law’s confidant; the
latter asked his advice on every sort of matter, ranging from policy to
people, and accepted it often enough for Beaverbrook to be treated with
great respect. But besides winning Law’s friendship Beaverbrook also
became an intimate of Lloyd George, F. E. Smith and Winston Churchill.
These men, each a genius in his own way, had much in common. They
were all brilliant conversationalists; they were all individualists and adven-
turers, with a zest for conflict and a marked indifference to convention.
They were the most gifted group of friends in public life and all of them,
separately and together, were distrusted and disliked by the average Con-
servative ‘gentleman’.

Beaverbrook convinced Bonar Law that Asquith must be removed;
and persuaded him to back Lloyd George as Prime Minister. But the up-
heaval would require careful handling and was well rehearsed. Lloyd
George delivered an ultimatum to Asquith designed to remove the direc-
tion of the war from the latter’s hands and place it with an Inner Cabinet.
Asquith refused, as he was intended to do, and Lloyd George resigned.
Asquith then was forced to resign himself as he could not continue to
govern with his Party split in two. The King followed customary pro-
cedure by sending for Bonar Law who declined the offer to form a
Government, suggesting that His Majesty entrust the task to Lloyd George instead.

Thus a new Prime Minister took over the reins. Winston Churchill’s spirits
soared as he thought his chance had come, but once again he was doomed
to disappointment. Although Beaverbrook had succeeded in reconciling
Bonar Law to Lloyd George’s leadership he could not persuade him to
accept Churchill. Law flatly refused to support any Government that
included Winston. He recognized the latter’s brilliance; indeed, he had
declared in the House of Commons, on the eve of Winston Churchill’s departure for France, that ‘in mental power and vital force he is one of the foremost men in the country;’ yet he did not believe that brilliance was enough.
Lloyd George used every argument he could summon to change his mind.
‘The question is, even though you distrust him, would you rather have
him FOR you or AGAINST you?’ he queried. ‘I would rather have him
against me every time Law replied obdurately.’

Winston had no idea of the difficulties Lloyd George was encountering
on his behalf, and firmly expected to be a member of the new Govern-
ment. He regarded office as a certainty when, at Lloyd George’s request,
F. E. Smith invited him to a small dinner party of close colleagues. But
Lloyd George had extended the invitation impulsively and realizing
almost at once that Winston’s hopes might be raised falsely, asked Beaver-
brook, who was also one of the guests, to drop a hint to him that it would
not be possible to include him in the Administration at the present time.
Lord Beaverbrook did as he was bid, and in the course of the dinner said
to Churchill: ‘The new Government will be very well disposed towards
you. All your friends will be there. You will have a great field of common
action with them.’

‘Something in the very restraint of my language,’ wrote Beaverbrook,
‘carried conviction to Winston Churchill’s mind. He suddenly felt that he had been duped by his invitation to dinner, and he blazed into righteous anger. I have never known him address his great friend Birkenhead in any other way except as “Fred”, or “F.E.” On this occasion he said suddenly:
“Smith, this man knows that I am not to be included in the new Govern-
ment.” With that Winston Churchill walked out into the street carrying his coat
and hat on his arm. Birkenhead pursued him, and endeavoured to per-
suade him to return, but in vain.’

Lloyd George finally smoothed things over by assuring Winston
privately that he would do two things for him. First, he would release the
Report of the Dardanelles Royal Commission; second, after publication,
he would find him a job. He kept his word. The Report came out in
March 1917, and although many people did not consider that its con-
clusions exonerated Winston, they at least were forced to admit that both
Asquith and Kitchener were equally to blame. Then, in May, Winston Churchill
made a passionate and moving speech in the House, delivered at a secret
session, in which he once again attacked the principle of the war of attri-
tion. ‘I was listened to for an hour and a quarter with strained attention,
at first silently but gradually with a growing measure of acceptance and at
length approval,’ he wrote. ‘At the end there was quite a demonstration.’
His argument was that Britain and France must not squander the remain-
ing strength of their armies in costly and futile offensives, but wait until
American power had made itself felt; in the meantime Britain must
concentrate on the anti-submarine war and keep its sea communications
intact. His speech made a deep impression but when Lloyd George replied
he refused to commit himself against a renewed offensive; Winston learned
later that he did not feel able to overrule Haig and Robertson. ‘He pro-
ceeded to lead a captivated assembly over the whole scene of the war,
gaining the sympathy and conviction of his hearers at every stage wrote
Winston, ‘When he sat down the position of the Government was
stronger than it had been at any previous moment during his Adminis-
Tration.’

Indeed Lloyd George’s stock was so high he now felt strong enough to
include Winston in his Government. In July 1917 he offered him the
Ministry of Munitions. This did not include a seat in the War Cabinet,
but at least it was the end of exile. The Prime Minister knew that he would
have to take a barrage of criticism but he had no idea of its intensity. The
publication of the Dardanelles Report and Winston’s moving speeches
had apparently done little to allay the hostility against him. For days the
storm raged. Admiral Beresford told a large audience at Queen’s Hall:
‘The P.M. has no right to make such appointments in opposition to public
opinion. Furious letters appeared in the Conservative newspapers: ‘We
cannot forget that his name is associated with disaster. A formal protest
was made by the Committee of Conservative Associations; and in the
House of Commons an M.P., Mr Evelyn Cecil, put down a question to
Lloyd George: ‘Whether, in view of the feeling which exists in many
quarters in this House and in the country that the inclusion of Mr
Churchill in the Government and particularly at this time, as Minister of
Munitions, is a national danger, he will give time for the discussion of the
appointment?’

This was not all. Lloyd George was inundated with angry letters from
his Cabinet colleagues, and for a time the Government tottered. Why were
they so bitter and implacable? Lloyd George attempted to answer this
question in his Memoirs in a fascinating summary of the feelings and pre-
judices of Winston’s adversaries. ‘They admitted he was a man of dazzling
talents, that he possessed a forceful and a fascinating personality. They
recognized his courage and that he was an indefatigable worker. But they
asked why, in spite of that, although he had more admirers, he had fewer
followers than any prominent public man in Britain? They pointed to the
fact that at the lowest ebb of their fortunes, Joseph Chamberlain in
Birmingham and Campbell-Bannerman in Scotland could count on a
territorial loyalty which was unshakable in its devotion. On the other
hand, Winston Churchill had never attracted, he had certainly never retained, the
affection of any section, province or town. His changes of Party were not
entirely responsible for this. Some of the greatest figures in British political
life had ended in a different Party from that in which they had commenced their political career. That was therefore not an adequate explana-
tion of his position in public confidence. They asked: What then was the
reason?

‘Here was their explanation. His mind was a powerful machine, but
there lay hidden in its material or its make-up some obscure defect which
prevented it from always running true. They could not tell what it was.
When the mechanism went wrong, its very power made the action disas-
trous, not only to himself but to the causes in which he was engaged and
the men with whom he was co-operating. That was why the latter were
nervous in his partnership. He had in their opinion revealed some tragic
flaw in the metal. This was urged by Winston Churchill’s critics as a reason for not utilizing his great abilities at this juncture. They thought of him not as a contribution to the common stock of activities and ideas in the hours of
danger, but as a further danger to be guarded against.

‘I took a different view of his possibilities. I felt that his resourceful mind
and tireless energy would be invaluable under supervision. … I knew
something of the feeling against him among his old Conservative friends,
and that I would run great risks in promoting Winston Churchill to any position
in the Ministry; but the insensate fury they displayed when later on the
rumour of my intention reached their ears surpassed all my apprehensions,
and for some days it swelled to the dimensions of a grave Ministerial crisis
which threatened the life of the “Government”.

Lloyd George went so far as to declare that ‘some of them were rather more excited about his appointment than about the war. It was interesting
to observe in a concentrated form every phase of the distrust and trepida-
tion with which mediocrity views genius at close quarters. Unfortunately,
genius always provides its critics with material for censure it always has
and always will. Winston Churchill is certainly no exception to this rule’.

‘Not allowed to make the plans,’ wrote Winston, ‘I was set to make the
weapons.’ Strictly speaking this was true, but Winston was not one to keep
his fingers out of the policy-making pie for long. The Ministry of Muni-
tions gave him the opportunity to increase his exertions in favour of the
one idea that gripped and dominated his mind: tanks. For many months
he had watched the battle of attrition in France with increasing dislike.

War was a great art, but how low it had fallen. Where was the skill, the
ingenuity, the surprise?

The only method the Allied commanders understood was the repeated hurling of human sinew, flesh, and blood, falling dead against the strongest machine gun
fortified positions, arguing that if they could slaughter more Germans than
the Germans could slaughter in return; they were bound to win in the end.
Winston had wanted to leave France in its deadlock, and strike through the back door of Turkey. If that was impossible, new methods must be developed to beat the trench, and the methods were obvious: “A mechanical blow.” But so far the tank had been badly misused. Not only had a mere handful been employed at the Battle of the Somme, but at Passchendaele they had been kept back until all element of surprise had vanished, then the tanks, were condemned to wallow in the crater fields under the first blast of German artillery.”

The War Cabinet could not understand the importance of the new weapon. Although Lloyd George, as Minister of Munitions, had ordered the manufacture of several hundred tanks, the military mind still regarded them with a marked lack of enthusiasm. Now Winston redoubled his efforts. On 21st of October, 1917, he wrote a memorandum: “Someone must stop the tiger. It is becoming apparent that the “blasting power” of the artillery is only one of the factors required for a satisfactory method of the offensive. “Moving power” must be developed equally with “blasting power.” When we see these great armies in the West spread out in thin lines hundreds of miles long and organized in depth only at a very few
points, it is impossible to doubt that if one side discovered, developed, and
perfected a definite method of advancing continuously, albeit upon a fairly limited front, a decisive defeat would be inflicted upon the other.
If, therefore, we could, by organized mechanical processes and equipment
impart this faculty to our armies in 1918 or in 1919, it would be an
effective substitute for a great numerical preponderance in numbers.
What other substitute can we look for? Where else is our superiority coming from?”

Sir Douglas Haig, the Ultimate Brirish field commander, was still unimpressed by the possibilities offered through the moving powers of Winston’s innovation — the “Tank.”
And indeed Winston constantly had Passchendaele thrown in his face by people spouting inanities such as these: “They cannot cope with mud. The Army doesn’t want them any more. General Headquarters does not rank them very high in its priorities.” However, on the 20th of November, only a few weeks after Winston Churchill’s memorandum, General Sir Julian Byng gave the Tank Corps its first great opportunity by employing the new weapon as it was designed to be used. No artillery barrage was laid down until the tanks were actually launched; and nearly five hundred were put into the field. ‘The attack,’ say the historians of the Tank Corps, ‘was a stupendous success. As the tanks moved forward with the infantry following close behind, the enemy completely lost his balance, and those who survived, flew panic stricken from the field and surrendered with little or no resistance. By 4 p.m. on 20th November one of the most astonishing battles in all history had been won and, as far as the Tank Corps was concerned, tactically finished for without existing reserves, it was not possible to do anything more.”

The German trench system had been penetrated to a depth of six miles; ten thousand prisoners and two hundred guns had been captured; and the British had lost only fifteen hundred men.

“Moving power” now began to have its ardent supporters. Lloyd George stated that tank production must be rapidly increased; recruiting for the Tank Corps was redoubled; training establishments were expanded. Despite the urgency Winston met more obstacles. The Admiralty had first priority on steel plates. These were needed for ship-building but they were also needed for tanks. The only method by which Winston could secure any at all was to gorge the Admiralty until they held stocks far beyond their most excessive demands; then he took the remainder for his tanks.

At last a programme was in operation that would transform the conflict, should it continue in 1919, into a mobile, mechanical war. Winston’s victory was won. Had he been able to convince the Cabinet of the importance of tanks in 1915, he always believed that the war would have ended in 1917, thus saving millions of lives amongst the combatants…

Today most people would agree with him.

As it turned out, for the historical record, we should recap Winston Churchill’s innovation as it was first used on the 15th of September of 1916, the new invention of Winston Churchill — the British tank, was introduced into the battle at the bloody stalemate that was euphemistically called the trench warfare of the Somme river valley.

During the Battle of the Somme, the British launched a major offensive against the German lines, utilizing the new “Moving Power” weapon named “tank” for the first time in history. At ‘Flers Courcelette’ the first batch of Winston Churchill’s idea, materialized. His innovation of a land trampling and trench destroying battlecruiser — the war department’s manufactured & caterpilared armored vehicles, named “tanks” were thrown into the battlefront. However, these primitive tanks were far from tested, and as “Alpha versions” of the finished product, they barely advanced over a mile into the enemy lines, before they got stuck. They were also too slow to hold their positions during the German counterattack, as were subject to frequent mechanical breakdowns, and couldn’t negotiate the muddy battlefields adequately.

Still, General Douglas Haig, commander of Allied forces at the Somme, saw the promise of this new instrument of war, and ordered the war department to produce hundreds more of these strange and elipticaly moving contraptions.

Earlier, on July 1st, the British had launched a massive offensive against German forces in the Somme River region of France. During the preceding week, 250,000 Allied shells had pounded German positions near the Somme, and 100,000 British soldiers poured out of their trenches and into no-man’s-land on July 1, expecting to find the way cleared for them. However, scores of heavy German machine guns had survived the artillery onslaught, and the infantry were massacred. By the end of the day, 20,000 British soldiers were dead and 40,000 wounded. It was the single heaviest day of casualties in British military history.

After the initial disaster, Haig resigned himself to smaller but equally ineffectual advances, and more than 1,000 Allied lives were extinguished for every 100 yards gained on the Germans. Even Britain’s September 15 introduction of tanks into warfare for the first time in history failed to break the deadlock in the Battle of the Somme. In October, heavy rains turned the battlefield into a sea of mud, and on November 18 Haig called off the Somme offensive, after more than four months of mass slaughter.

Except for its effect of diverting German troops from the Battle of Verdun, the offensive was a miserable disaster. It amounted to a total advance of just five miles for the Allies, with more than 600,000 British and French soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in action. German casualties were more than 650,000. Although Haig was severely criticized for the costly battle, his willingness to commit massive amounts of men and resources to the stalemate along the western front did eventually contribute to the collapse of an exhausted Germany in 1918.

To be continued:


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