illsdale College in Michigan has for many years now been undertaking the truly mammoth task of publishing every significant primary document relating to the life of Sir Winston Churchill, a project that is now finally nearing its end. The 20th volume of the series has been produced with the same scholarship, criteria for choice of material, meticulous footnoting, and attention to detail that have characterized all its predecessors. It takes its hero from May 1, 1944, five weeks before D-Day, to the end of that tempestuous year, as Churchill returned from strife-torn Athens after Christmas, having successfully put in place the military and political arrangements that saved Greece from Communism.
Despite its monumental length, readers are unlikely to come across any of the book’s 2,576 pages without being awed at Churchill’s linguistic fluidity, clarity of thought and expression, sense of humor, foresight, sheer bloody-mindedness, or capacity for impish mischief. Running through the entire length of the work is also a cold hatred of Hitler and the Nazis, who, at the volume’s end in December 1944, have just been stopped from breaking through to the River Meuse, as the Battle of the Bulge turns in the Allies’ favor.
The book is packed with Churchill’s love of unusual words and forceful expressions, many of which have never appeared in any previous biography of him. Writing to Anthony Eden, his foreign secretary, on May 7, for example, Churchill complained of the way the Special Operation Executive “barges in an ignorant manner into all sorts of delicate situations. They were originally responsible for building up the nest of cockatrices for [the Communist partisans] in Greece.” (“A cockatrice is a mythical, two-legged dragon or serpent-like creature with a cock’s head,” we are told in a footnote.)
On May 22, General Sir Hugh Tudor, who had served in Palestine, wrote to Churchill about an article in a New York Arabic newspaper proposing that Jerusalem be chosen as the seat of the new United Nations organization after the war. “It is pointed out that Palestine is one of the most central places in the world and therefore as suitable as any for this purpose,” Tudor told the prime minister. “It is also pointed out that Jerusalem is held sacred by the people of three great religions; so it would be best to internationalize it.” He added: “It would certainly disturb the Muslim world greatly if it were put under the Jews,” which probably explains why Churchill, a convinced Zionist, declined to go into the issue with him.
“Give my love to Randolph should he come into your sphere,” Churchill wrote to Marshal Josip Tito on May 25. “I wish I could come myself but I am too old and heavy to jump out of a parachute.” Churchill hoped that Tito might be drawn into the Western rather than the Soviet sphere of influence after the war, and this volume sees him considerably hardening his attitude toward the Russians even two years before his Iron Curtain speech. “I have found it practically impossible to continue correspondence with them,” he told President Roosevelt of the Russian foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov. “But I note that after each very rude message they send to me, they have done pretty well what was asked. Although Molotov was most insulting about Rumania, they have today told us they accept the broad principle that they take the lead in the Rumanian business and give us the lead in Greece.” He was constantly asking Roosevelt for tougher stances against Russia but rarely got them. “Do not hesitate to be blunt with these Russians when they become unduly truculent,” he told A.V. Alexander, the first lord of the admiralty, that month.
President Trump might benefit from reading Churchill’s note to General Sir Hastings “Pug” Ismay, his military secretary, of May 7, 1944: “I do not like press conferences, even off the record, on the eve of an important battle. I have recently been perturbed at reported statements from Naples, one in the Corriere, explaining that we are about to attack. Is it really necessary to tell the enemy this?”
One enemy of Churchill’s who is today considered a secular saint, Mohandas Gandhi, comes in for harsh treatment in these pages. “He is a thoroughly evil force,” Churchill wrote to Lord Wavell, the viceroy of India, “hostile to us in every fibre, largely in the hands of the native vested interests and frozen to his idea of the hand spinning-wheel and inefficient cultivation methods for the over-crowded population of India.” Churchill never saw Gandhi as anything other than a fraud. This volume contains President Roosevelt’s refusals to Churchill’s repeated requests for American shipping to transport Australian wheat to Bengal during the terrible famine there. “I regret exceedingly the necessity of giving you this unfavourable reply,” the President wrote on June 1. Those revisionist historians and journalists who attempt to blame Churchill for the famine and its aftermath should read this volume, which absolves him from their ahistorical and fundamentally ignorant attacks.
The deep divisions between Roosevelt and Churchill over their rival plans for assaults in the South of France and the Balkans are recorded in detail here. The disputes ended with Roosevelt’s victory, to Churchill’s great chagrin, as privately expressed to friends such as Field Marshal Smuts in terms almost verging on the anti-American. Churchill’s pain and anger at the way the Warsaw Uprising failed to gain support from Stalin (referred to as “Uncle J” by FDR here) is also evident. Churchill asked Roosevelt to authorize the USAAF to supply the Uprising, “landing if necessary on Russian airfields without their formal consent.” He added: “We would of course share full responsibility with you for any action taken by your Air Force.” Roosevelt merely replied a little later that “the problem of relief for the Poles in Warsaw has therefore unfortunately been solved by delay and by German action and there now appears to be nothing we can do to assist them.”
The assassination of Churchill’s friend Lord Moyne, his minister to the Middle East, by the Irgun Zwai Leumi underground movement in November 1944, tested his Zionism as never before, but the Cabinet minutes merely record, “The Prime Minister suggested that the Secretary of State for the Colonies should see Dr [Chaim] Weizmann and impress upon him that it was incumbent on the Jewish Agency to do all in their power to suppress these terrorist activities.” Even the murder of a close family friend of 40 years could not disturb his dreams for a Jewish national homeland.
The overall impression created by these volumes, which cover eight crucial months of World War II, is that Britain was extraordinarily fortunate to have a leader of the caliber of Winston Churchill to guide her destinies while V-1 and V-2 terror weapons were still landing on Britain, and the Nazis were still showing themselves to have a terrifyingly potent capacity for counterattack. We are also very lucky to have Hillsdale College devote the time, money, scholarship, and effort to build this magnificent memorial to him.