“Winston,” Clementine spoke with an urgency that compelled her husband to listen. “I beg you not to make that odious and invidious reference.”
I’m often asked by mystified audiences why Churchill, having led us to an impossible victory, was ousted so unceremoniously in the 1945 general election. Although there are three schools of thought the truth is simple: he didn’t listen to Clementine.
“No Socialist Government…could afford to allow free, sharp, or violently-worded expressions of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance.”
Once the war in Europe was over, the Labour Party led by Clement Attlee, forced Churchill to dissolve the Coalition Government and seek re-election. Clementine hoped that with peace, Churchill would opt for a quieter life and leave office the hero who saved us all. “I am not yet ready to be put on a pedestal,” Churchill told my grandfather Duncan Sandys. Churchill firmly believed that he still had much to offer his recovering country and confidently went to the polls, dismissing all the warnings Clementine had given.
From the moment Churchill made the reference he felt support slipping through his fingers. Many who had been fighting on the various fronts were Socialists, and they had watched over the passing years as their friends and family were mercilessly attacked by the evil that Churchill espoused them to be like. ‘Papa broadcasts tonight,’ Clementine wrote to my great-aunt Mary just before he was due to make the third of his four scheduled election broadcasts. ‘He is very low, poor Darling. He thinks he has lost his “tough” and he grieves about it.’ The Socialists used his Gestapo comment to paint the picture of a two-faced Churchill, one was the great wartime leader ‘who led the nation to victory’, but the other was callous and cruel, depicting an old, tired and out-of-touch party leader who could ‘not be trusted in peacetime.’
Election night arrived and although opinion polls had indicated a slight swing to the left, none had predicted the landslide defeat that threw Churchill from office. The night before the result was declared Churchill tossed and turned in bed. ‘Just before dawn,’ he wrote, ‘I woke suddenly with a sharp stab of almost physical pain. A hitherto subconscious conviction that we were beaten broke forth and dominated my mind.’ As the morning dawned, Churchill’s nightmare was confirmed. ‘Every minute brought news of the defeat of friends, relations and colleagues.’
In the face of sad reality, Churchill still maintained his sense of irony and humor. Clementine placed her hand on his shoulder and said, “It may be a blessing in disguise.” Churchill merely looked up at her and fighting tears back he replied: “Well, at the moment it’s certainly very well disguised.”
As quickly as possible Clementine packed so they could seamlessly leave Number 10 and allow the Attlee’s to move in. The new Prime Minister was gracious to his old adversary and allowed Churchill the chance to spend one last weekend at the Prime Minister’s country residence: Chequers. On their last evening the Churchills held a party, but even that failed to soften the bitterness and humiliation of the blow.
Without the authority to lead the effort and conclude the Second World War, Clementine feared that Churchill would simply crumble. Polling Day had left them homeless, and thankfully my grandparents were in a position to offer Clementine and Winston their Westminster flat until they secured another home. Churchill had seen a property in Hyde Park Gate, and it was there that they eventually settled, and there he finally passed away in 1965.
Far from defeated, Churchill dismissed the result of the election and refocused his efforts. Churning out his memoires of the Second World War occupied his time along with painting, opposition leadership, and family life. In 1946 at Westminster College, Fulton, the Bulldog rose again and warned the free-world of the second greatest threat to peace: Communism. In the presence of President Truman Churchill spoke out in words that made most uncomfortable, but once again, as he had warned of the threat of the Nazis, Churchill was proved right, but the world was just not ready to accept it.
*This series represents extracts from the speech – CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL: The Power Behind the Throne – For more information, please visit: ClemmieChurchill.com – or email Jonathan at: firstname.lastname@example.org
TERRELL: The No. 1 British Flying School
How the US played their greatest role
‘One of the men in your entourage, (a devoted friend), has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked…because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner…’
How would you feel if as a leader under huge pressure, you suddenly received a letter from your wife informing you that a subordinate had visited her to complain about your treatment not just of them, but of others? I think most would react rather than contemplate, but leadership is not a reaction it is a contemplated action, and in Clementine Churchill’s heartfelt letter we clearly see a leadership master at work.
‘My Darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner, and you are not so kind as you used to be.’ Clementine approaches Churchill honestly and courageously. She doesn’t admonish him, but her frankness confirms to Churchill that there must be some truth in her words. ‘It is for you to give the Orders, and if they are bungled…you can sack anyone and everyone.’
To point out a flaw or a mistake is certainly a requirement of great leadership however, Clementine would have proven herself a very poor leader had she simple completed her letter with the negative and offered no recognition of the pressure on Churchill, his position, and offered some form of solution. ‘…with this terrific power, you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible, Olympic calm.’
Although there is no record of a reply we know from history that from that moment Churchill’s attitude changed and this is confirmed by those who worked closest with him, most notably his longest serving secretary Grace Hamblin who, on the occasion of Churchill’s funeral wrote to Clementine saying:
‘I pondered on what had made this dynamic but gentle character so beloved and respected – and such a wonderful person to work for.’
The leadership example of Clementine as demonstrated in her letter, stands in stark comparison to a similar warning Churchill received from his father Lord Randolph. On successfully passing into Sandhurst Military Academy in 1893, Churchill, in response to his excited letter of examination victory received the following missive:
Lord Randolph Churchill
‘There are two ways of winning in an examination,’ Lord Randolph wrote, ‘one credible and the other the reverse. You have unfortunately chosen the latter method, and appear to be much pleased with your success.’
With no consideration of his son’s feelings, Lord Randolph writes his poison-pen letter, venting his anger over an issue that the reader at first is led to believe is enormous, only to later discover how overrated Lord Randolph’s complaint is.
‘The first extremely discreditable feature of your performance was missing the infantry, for in that failure is demonstrated beyond refutation your slovenly, happy-go-lucky, harum-scarum style of work for which you have always been distinguished at your different schools.’ The letter continues in this style and later the reader discovers that Lord Randolph’s only complaint about Churchill becoming a cavalry officer and not an infantry officer is financial. ‘…by accomplishing the prodigious effort of getting into the Cavalry, you imposed on me an extra charge of some £200 a year…’
Having listed his disappointments, Lord Randolph adds the icing to the cake abandoning his son and stating, ‘I no longer attach the slightest weight to anything you may say…I shall leave you to depend on yourself…because I am certain that if you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle, useless, unprofitable life you have had during your schooldays and later months, you will become a mere social wastrel…and degenerate into a shabby, unhappy and futile existence.’
Lord Randolph’s intention is to persuade his son to change his ways, but unlike Clementine, he has no interest seeing things from Churchill’s point of view. Lord Randolph has nothing positive to say and no interest in congratulating his son on passing into the Academy, a feat that took Churchill three attempts. Far from offering advice, Lord Randolph abandons Winston offering financial subsistence, but beyond that wanting nothing to do with him. Lord Randolph completely misunderstood Churchill’s needs at that moment. Money may well alleviate the pain of poverty, but the Bible is right that it can never buy love, and all Churchill had ever desired was to feel his father’s love and make him proud.
In contrast to Clementine’s letter, her approach elicited an immediate and positive change as Churchill could feel her heart beating through every painful word she felt compelled to write. Lord Randolph’s diatribe provoked no change in Churchill’s attitude, and no doubt hurt him and widened the gap between father and son.
While one must be prepared to point out mistakes and failings in our followers, we must show compassion and humanity. Don’t pussy-foot around the issue, tackle it head-on as Clementine did in 1940. Lord Randolph’s letter may well have had a certain truth to it, but his approach was a reaction, while Clementine’s was a contemplated action. Clementine achieve her aim in writing, Lord Randolph achieved nothing.
CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL: “A Blessing in Disguise”
When Winston Churchill lost the 1945 General Election it was Clementine who came to Churchill’s aide, just as she had done after the Gallipoli disaster of 1915
‘I could never have succeeded without her.’
Winston S. Churchill
“I could never have succeeded without her!”
Winston S. Churchill
We all know the expression, ‘pride cometh before a fall,’ but even in our modern-age where women have thankfully expanded their horizons beyond that of a housewife, some men would feel intimidated or be laughed at if, in the face of injustice, their wife came sharply to their defense. Winston Churchill most-definitely had an ego-driven pride, and in his youth was often accused of arrogance, but wisely he refused to allow this early trait to get in the way of good sense. Always encouraged by kindness from whatever quarter, Churchill welcomed the active input and positive interference of his mother Jennie, and later Clementine.
In 1915, Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, became the scapegoat for the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign, designed to break the deadlock of the First World War, and force Turkey out of the war. Though he backed the plan, and it was certainly a sound idea, it was the failures of others that cost the lives of so many. Prime Minister Asquith, lost the majority support of Parliament and was forced to seek a coalition with the Conservative opposition, but the price was the head of Winston Churchill. Betrayed by his Liberal colleagues, his Prime Minister and apparent friend Lloyd-George, Churchill was unceremoniously dismissed from the Admiralty, and reluctantly accepted a much lesser position with no say in the course of a war he believed he still had much to contribute to. Both furious and devastated, Clementine Churchill penned a warning to Asquith, pointing out that ‘Winston may in your eyes & in those with whom he has to work have faults, but he has a supreme quality which I venture to say very few of your present or future Cabinet possess…If you throw Winston overboard, you will be committing an act of weakness and your Coalition Government will not be as formidable a War machine as the present Government.’ Sadly Asquith ignored the warning and Clementine discovered later that her heartfelt letter became the butt of party jokes, often read ‘aloud at the luncheon table, with amused relish.’
Although history does not record whether Churchill was aware of the letter or its contents before Clementine sent it, Asquith and his entourage were perfectly willing to claim he did. However, whether correct or not, Clementine was proved right in her warning, and the Coalition Government did suffer. Churchill deeply hurt, dejected and depressed, requested a posting to the French Front, where he served bravely alongside many who were doomed to never return to England.
There were definitely two great rays of sun that shone from this disaster, the first was the unequivocal demonstration of Clementine’s love and devotion to Winston, but the second, of equal importance, was that Churchill got to see firsthand, the devastation of trench warfare, and as a result avoided it at all costs during the Second World War.
NEXT WEEK: June 1940, the newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill begins to feel the pressure of his office and the failing defence of Britain and Europe against Hitler and his gang of gutter-snipes. Together we will be taking a look at how Clementine supported Churchill at a time when our country most needed him at his best.
CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL: The Voice of Reason
I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something
that I feel you ought to know…
Winston and Clementine Churchill
Despite their visibility and obvious function, the tires of a car are ironically the most overlooked part, according-to Firestone Complete Auto Care manager, Tom Hix. “They are,” he said, “crucial to the vehicle’s performance, safety and even fuel economy.” Looking through the history books at some of our greatest world leaders, it is amazing to discover that historians have readily raised the Winston Churchill’s, Ronald Reagan’s, even Margaret Thatcher’s upon pedestals of greatness, while sadly overlooking the equal importance of their spouses, many of whom were crucial to their partner’s performance, safety, and even health awareness. Until the advent of biographies by my Great Aunt Mary Soames, Jack Fishman, and now Sonia Purnell, my great-grandmother Clementine was one such spouse, relegated to a mere mention in books, but often in the understated or implied address as the wife of Sir Winston Churchill.
With my soon to be released speech CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL: The Power Behind the Throne, I wanted to offer a short insight into my journey to redress the balance, as I explored for myself the woman historians so easily dismissed. Over the coming weeks, NEVER SURRENDER! will be focusing on the life of Winston Churchill, and how intricate my great-grandmother was to his success and legacy.
“I could never have succeeded without her”
Winston S. Churchill
Join me for next week’s Churchill Bulletin release as we look at how Clementine rushed to her husband’s defence over Gallipoli, and the advice and support she gave Churchill while he served in the trenches of France.
CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL: Their Darkest Hour
A Fight for Right, Not Might