“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
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