Beverley LONDON LETTER Baxter's

Churchill and Chamberlain

May 1 1940
Beverley LONDON LETTER Baxter's

Churchill and Chamberlain

May 1 1940

Beverley LONDON LETTER Baxter's


ONE NIGHT last week in the House of Commons there were dull and dispirited debates going on concerning the wages of agricultural laborers. Nobody disagreed with anybody else, but the old problem remained—how to build up food production here without compromising our place as supreme purchaser of foodstuffs from overseas.

The only high light was when Lloyd George made a brilliant, mischievous and constructive speech. His humor was as pointed as ever and his charm would have lured a sparrow off a twig. Otherwise all was tedious, listless, and even the spectators in the gallery yawned.

By contrast, however, there was a buzz of excitement right through the lobbies and into the libraries and smokerooms. The Prime Minister was in travail. He was about to give birth to a reorganized Cabinet.

At such a moment the humblest backbencher feels he is a participant in a fascinating game. What minister would fall? What minister would rise? Who, from obscurity, would leap to fame? What new man from outside the House would come in to take one of the juicy plumsof office?

At six o'clock rumors were persistent that Sir Kingsley Wood, Air Minister, would be one of those removed from his important office. I íe had done good work, a fact which no one denied; but like all ministers in charge of one of the Services in wartime, he had reached a bottleneck.

The creation of an air force and an air ministry at the beginning of hostilities is to a large extent a question of improvisation and experiment. Unlike the Army and the Navy, the Air Force has no real history from which to draw the lessons of experience. In the last war manufacture of airplanes was so simple, and the use of airplanes so constricted, that it left little to guide the pioneers of today.

In such circumstances, a minister must place his confidence in this officer or that one, in this industrialist, as preferred to another industrialist. Being human—and Kingsley Wood is as human as the rest of us, he had picked good men who justified his confidence, and he had picked others who could not rise to their opportunity.

The personnel of the Air Force is magnificent. The machines are the best in the world. But there was a growing knowledge that the training of personnel was not proceeding at a rapid enough pace and that the output of machines, good as it was, was not reaching its maximum swiftly enough.

When I was in France I talked to various Air Force units. Afterward some of the men and officers talked to me. They had criticisms and suggestions to make about the Air Force. When I returned to London I spent an hour with Kingsley Wood, describing my experiences and handing on to him what his men had said.

He could not have been more kindly or more courteous. But it seemed to me then, that he was showing signs of weariness. He has plenty of ability, plenty of character, but he lacks ruthlessness, and in times of war the men at the top must be ruthless. So tongues wagged in the lobbies, and it was agreed that Sir Kingsley would have to go. At the same time it was realized that his extraordinary abilities would certainly ensure his being given another office.

Then there arose in the lobbies another train of thought. When Chamberlain started this war he had three Service ministers—Lord Stanhope at the Admiralty, llore Belisha at the War Office and Kingsley Wood at the Air Ministry. He had at once substituted Winston Churchill in place of Stanhope. A few months later he had persuaded Mr. Hore Belisha to resign, and had sent for Oliver Stanley to take his place. Now, if he was to drop Kingsley Wood, the sweep would be complete.

The question may well arise in the minds of the public that, since Chamberlain had selected Stanhope, Kingsley

Wood and Hore Belisha, and had then been forced to drop them, was he in fact a bad picker of talent? In other words, the old doubt arose: How often can the Prime Minister change the members of his administration without himself losing the confidence of Parliament and the country?

Churchill Popular Choice

'“PHIS was one of the points still under discussion behind -L the scenes when Chamberlain issued his list of changes. Only two of them were really important. Sir Samuel 1 loare and Sir Kingsley Wood exchanged jobs, while Churchill was made virtually dictator of our war effort on sea, in the air and on land. Henceforth he would not only be First Lord of the Admiralty, but he would preside over the conferences involving the heads of the Air Ministry, the Navy and the Army.

The country nodded its head with qualified approval. The public would have preferred to have seen more dynamic changes, and would have liked a few fresh people to replace some of the existing, but fading, favorites. But on the

whole the Churchill appointment was immensely popular, and it was felt that lloare, having been Air Minister in the past, was probably the best choice for that post. At the same time political clubs and drawing-rooms were buzzing with a question as to whether or not this was another step toward Churchill's Premiership, and his eventual displacing of Chamberlain.

It is a truism that men dominate events, and it is equally undeniable that temperaments dominate men. Less than a year ago the feud between Churchill and Chamberlain was as deep as any Parliament had seen for a long time. They clashed in their points of view, and in their personalities. They clashed in their style of speech.

Again and again I have seen Chamberlain’s face darken with anger as Churchill’s brilliant brain played about him like forked lightning. Not once but a dozen times, I have

seen Churchill’s jaw stiffen and his brow grow dark as Chamberlain attacked him with coldblooded fury.

When Chamberlain first assumed office, he let it be known that he would never have Churchill in his Cabinet in peace time. With each recurring crisis, and with every shuffling of ministries, it was thought he might relent. Instead, the fascinating figure of Winston Churchill, dazzling descendant of his ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough, was kept kicking his heels as a private member, while one man after another rose from the ranks and was given office.

But when war came, Chamberlain did not hesitate for a moment. Churchill was offered the Admiralty, and accepted. He was back in charge of The King's Navee where he had been when war broke out in 1911. The public was glad, and so was Parliament. In time of war. party and personal loyalties rightly lose their significance, and one thinks only of the greater loyalty to the national cause. Many of us who had mistrusted Churchill’s judgment, while admiring his genius, were frankly glad that his talents were once more at the disposal of the Government. * Yet it is one thing for a Premier to bring his enemy into his Cabinet and it is another to find a method by which they can work together. In conference, Chamberlain is a man of few words. His brain is always clear, his language concise, his point of view never confused. At the same time he lacks that warmth of manner which can blend conflicting personalities and ease the acerbities of controversy. I íe inspires res|x*ct. but never a fanatic.', loyalty. He plays no favorites among his friends, and he does not distinguish particularly between his enemies,

A strange man. not without gentleness or idealism, but lacking in that elemental quality which binds the hearts of men to their leader. His attractive wife adores him with the love of a Juliet for her Romeo. In his few minutes of spare time he walks in the park, listens to the song of the birds, and enjoys identifying them from their calls. By his bedside there is always a book of poetry—Shelley, Keats, or some other voluptuary of language. But when he speaks, it is in words that are denuded of emotionalism. The thought may be emotional but the language is precise, as befits the Birmingham tradition of hardheaded ness.

By contrast. Churchill is spectacular, eloquent, human, arrogant, romantic. When he is in an ill temper, the gloom exudes from him until the very air is dark, as just before the coming of night. For a man of many campaigns, and almost endless political controversy, he is supersensitive to ridicule and impatient of opposition. Yet he is magnanimous. He can feel resentment with the swiftness of a shallow lake whipped into fury by a sudden wind, but equally swift as its rise there comes the quality of forgiveness, and all is calm once more.

Let me give an example. A few years ago a private Scottish member made a most effective, if somewhat vitriolic attack, on him in debate. Later on, outside the Chamber, Churchill encountered his antagonist.

“You were exceedingly insulting,” he said.

The Scot looked at him.

“Churchill,” he replied, “when I was a poor student at Edinburgh I lived in a district where there were a great many prowling cats at night. When their noise disturbed my sleep, it was my custom to throw a boot out of the window, and when I heard a louder noise than usual, I knew my boot had found a target." Whereupon the Scot walked away with his head in the air.

Half an hour later Churchill sought him out.

"I apologize.” he said. “I had no right to speak to you as I did.” That is Churchill all over. Nothing could be more typical of his impetuous resentment and his magnanimity. Continued on page 50

Churchill and Chamberlain

Continued from page 11

As First Ix>rd. and at war. he was bound to attrac t a great deal of attention in newspapers, and in the public imagination, because the Navy was the one Service which was certain to be fighting from the drop of the hat. The Prime Minister, on the other hand, always had the laborious task of explaining what had gone wrong, without ever being able to boast of any personal success.

Elizabethan Eloquence

"DUT IT was not by the ships of His U Majesty's Navy that Churchill rose to a sudden and intoxicating popularity. For one month the war had progressed with all its bewildering stalemate, save for the struggle at sea. People were puzzled. There were murmurings and questionings. Yet the Prime Minister never forsook his precise and unemotional style of speech. Neither did the other senior Ministers. The country was emotionally starved. The blackout not only took the light from the streets, but it began to enter the souls of the |x>ople. Restrictions were piled on restrictions. Businesses were dislocated. Men who had never doubted the permanency of their lives were uprooted, and found themselves unemployed and their families scattered. And still at the top there was no eloquence, no inspiration to inflame the hearts of men. Then Churchill spoke on the wireless. It was a tonic which uplifted the whole country.

I do not know where this man found his command of language. If one studies it carefully it reveals itself as being basically Elizabethan. The effect of Shakespeare is obvious in nearly every sentence. But. the Elizabethan parallel does not end there. He has in him the spirit of Drake, Frobisher and Raleigh. There is, too, in his mind a natural sympathy with intellectual elegance, those times when peers read poetry and a man of high position prided himself on attainment of intellect as well as power.

There may be something incongruous about it. that he should bring the past to something so modern as the microphone, but the public love anything unusual. They caught the splendid bravado of it all. his magnificent contempt for the enemies of Britain, his passionate faith in the future of the race. People had always liked Churchill, but suddenly he became a popular idol. Whenever he appeared on a newsreel there were stampings and cheerings. Whenever he spoke in the House of Commons, the galleries were crowded to suffocation.

Once more the political experts put their heads together. “He has Chamberlain at his mercy,” they said. “At any time he can break this Government by resigning as a protest against its lethargy. The public would supixirt him and Parliament would have to follow public opinion. You will see that Winston will be Prime Ministerand virtual dictator within six months.” Somewhere about that time I heard a strangely revealing story. Churchill was giving a small dinner party at which his talkative son. Randolph, was one of the guests. At some moment in the conversation Randolph made a disparaging remark alxiut Chamberlain. Angrily his father turned on him. “I will not have the Prime Minister referred to in that manner," he said abruptly.

Genuinely perplexed, and with some justice on his side, Randolph raised his voice in protest. “I have heard you say the same thing about Chamberlain a dozen times,” he retorted.

Winston Churchill glared at him. “That is possibly true,” he said, “but he is now my leader and I will not have him spoken of disrespectfully at my table.”

A little later someone asked Churchill on what terms he had joined Chamberlain’s cabinet. “I have signed on for the duration of the voyage.” he said. “With Chamberlain as the skipper.”

People had forgotten another quality in Winston, an almost schoolboy loyalty. Certainly you can make out a strong case that he has often been an opportunist. I lis career is studded with moments when he played a lone hand with absolute recklessness and with only the thought of furthering his political advancement. Yet, in contrast, there is that essential decency which suddenly, as in the situation with Neville Chamberlain, takes the form of absolute loyalty. The impossible had happened. Churchill, the adventurer, brigand, buccaneer, was behaving in Cabinet with energy and vitality, hut with absolute respect for the authority of the Prime Minister. And so we reach the other night when Chamberlain raised his former opponent to what is virtually the supreme direction of the fighting side of the war.

And what is the verdict of the public? As usual the British demonstrated that they are the wisest and most understanding ixiople in the world. They applaud Churchill. They adore him. They admire his loyalty to Chamberlain, but they also say that there must be magnanimity in old Chamberlain too, or he would not give | Churchill such powers.

In an entirely different way from Churchill the Prime Minister retains a great popularity throughout the country. Perhaps popularity is hardly the word. Confidence would be better. They believe lie will not make any mistakes, certainly no mistakes of impetuosity. They believe he will safeguard the lives of our young men unless it is absolutely necessary to do otherwise. They believe he will withstand the temptation to secure personal triumph, and that in the end he will bring Germany to her knees.

I agree that. !f a military disaster should come, the public might lose that faith, and that as a result there might be a great clamor for Churchill to be given the supreme office of Prime Minister. But failing that disaster the British nation, with its deep sagacity, is more than happy to have the genius of Churchill under the discipline of the Ex-Lord Mayor of Birmingham.

It is one of the strangest human situations which I have ever seen. One man is seventy-one, the other is sixty-five. It may well prove that by his tenacious loyalty to his former enemy, Churchill may hold office throughout the war and never attain the Premiership. I am certain that he realizes all this. But itwill not alter his tactics, nor change the temper of his heart. I íe knows that the reputation of Lord Halifax is rising all the time, and that when peace comes, the country will turn almost automatically to the present Foreign Secretary as a successor to Chamberlain. Churchill’s chance has come as a result of war. Churchill’s chance will almost certainly end with the coming of peace.

That is the basis of the drama being enacted before our eyes at Westminster today. The man who has been branded by his critics as a political turncoat, as an opportunist and thruster, but who is hailed as the greatest man of our generation by his admirers, will make no mean or unworthy move to achieve his deeply passionate ambition.

“I served my country’s interests, not my own,” may be Churchill’s ultimate epitaph.

If so, it will have been written by the triumph of a grand character over an unruly temperament, and Britain’s national life will be enriched and dignified