Here in 1946, at your inspired invitation, Sir Winston Churchill gave one of the greatest speeches of the Twentieth Century. His words here have ever since echoed down the years and round the world; and your invitation to me to join you in your celebration of that great event is an honour which I most deeply appreciate. Moreover, the degree which you have conferred on me is a further honour that I am proud to share with Sir Winston himself and his gracious daughter, Lady Soames.
I have never been, of course, in such a position of unique authority as he was to survey the world scene, and so it would be impertinent, though tempting, to speculate on what he would be saying if he were addressing you today, with all the remarkable changes being brought about by the global scene-shifters who have raised the infamous Iron Curtain. He would be soberly cheered by the triumph of western, indeed Christian, ideals; and he would be gratified that at last his generous words of 1946 are coming true. Despite the descent of the Iron Curtain, he said, 'Above all we welcome constant, frequent and growing contacts between the Russian people and our own people on both sides of the Atlantic.'1 And he would today be relieved by the fulfillment - so far at least - of the optimism he expressed in 1955 after the first hydrogen bombs had been exploded: horrific though their consequences might be:
It may well be that we shall by a process of sublime irony have reached a stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror and survival the twin brother of annihilation.2
He himself had, of course, faced many grave situations, above all in 1940 when we in Britain were standing alone against the Nazi threat, and when he became Prime Minister. A few weeks after he had taken over, he called me in to advise him on a new development in the threat that we were about to face from the Luftwaffe, and so I saw him at close quarters at that vital time; ever afterwards he would call on me when a new threat developed. I am therefore privileged to tell you of some aspects of his actions and character as I saw them at the time, and as I have come to recall with an appreciation that has been enriched over the years by the treasures that I have since found in his books and speeches.
I will start with his courage, for he himself wrote:
Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others.3
The facts that Churchill served with honour in no less than eight British regiments, from the Northwest Frontier of India to the mud of Flanders, and before the outbreak of war in 1914 had made nearly 140 flights while learning to fly, testify to his supreme physical courage. Flying was at that time very dangerous, but he only gave it up because his wife was so worried: he gave her the news in a most moving letter:
This is a wrench, because I was on the verge of taking my pilot's certificate. It only needed a couple of calm mornings; & I am confident of my ability to achieve it vy respectably ... But I must admit that the numerous fatalities of this year wd justify you in complaining if I continued to share the risks - as I am proud to do - of these good fellows. So I give it up decidedly for many months & perhaps for ever. This is a gift - so stupidly am I made - wh costs me more than anything wh cd be bought with money. So I am vy glad to lay it at your feet, because I know it will rejoice & relieve your heart.4
Courage shines even brighter when it marches with humour, and this, too, bubbled in abundance through Churchill's phrases. Even, for example, when exposing to Parliament in 1936 the weakness of our air defences, he could leaven the gravity of the occasion with a telling touch of levity:
A friend of mine the other day saw a number of person engaged in peculiar evolutions, genuflexions and gestures ... He wondered whether it was some novel form of gymnastics, or a new religion ... or whether they were a party of lunatics out for an airing. They were a searchlight company of the London Territorials, who were doing their exercises as well as they could without having the searchlight.5
Again, when describing how he just scraped into the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where budding officers are trained, at his third and final attempt, he said that his fate hung on the mathematics paper where he happily found that one question concerned:
...cosines and tangents in a highly square rooted condition which must have been decisive on the whole of my life. It was a problem. But luckily I had seen its ugly face only a few days before and recognized it at first sight ... If this aged, weary-souled Civil Service Commissioner had not asked this particular question... the whole of my life would have been altered, and that I suppose would have altered a great many other lives...6
After service in the Army in India and the Sudan, he would have liked to go to Oxford but his prospective entrance there encountered a new difficulty. Latin had been the bete noire among his school subjects but now, for Oxford:
I could not see why I should not have gone and paid my fees and listened to the lectures and argued with the professors and read the books that they recommended. However, it appeared that this was impossible. I must pass examinations not only in Latin, but even in Greek. I could not contemplate toiling at Greek irregular verbs after having commanded British regular troops ...
This barrier from Oxford, though, inhibited neither the breadth of his reading nor The brilliance of his writing. One of the best of his early books was The River War, in which he shaped his prose, he said to effect:
...a combination of the styles of Macaulay and Gibbon, the staccato antitheses of the former and the rolling sentences and genitival endings of the latter; and I stuck in a bit of my own from time to time.8
Unaware that he had said this, I was talking to him at Chartwell in 1946 while he was in bed with a cold. This was a marvelous opportunity to ask him many questions, and I finally summoned enough nerve to ask him what he really thought of Macaulay, for by that time I had read that he had called Macaulay a liar because Macaulay had said that the great Duke of Marlborough had obtained his first preferment in the army by selling his sister Arabella to King James II. I said, 'I know what you have said about Macaulay, and I understand why you said it; but it has also struck me that your style is very like Macaulay's.' 'You have hit the nail on the head,' he replied, 'If I had to make my literary will and my literary acknowledgements I should have to own that I owe more to Macaulay than to any other English writer. When I was a boy at Harrow there was a prize that you could win if you could recite 800 lines of any poet, or 1200 of Macaulay. I took the 1200 of Macaulay, and won!"
The River War described the British expedition that culminated in the Battle of Omdurman in which Churchill himself took part in the Charge of the 21st Lancers. His description of the battle, and indeed of all other actions in the campaign, was meticulous. More than that, it was magnanimous. Struck by the sight of the Dervish dead after the battle he wrote:
When the soldier of a civilized Power is killed in action ... his body is borne by friendly arms reverently to the grave ... But there was nothing dulce et decorum about the Dervish dead; all was filth and corruption. Yet these were as brave men as ever walked the earth ... destroyed, not conquered, by machinery.9
Time after time he could not help recognizing bravery, even in an enemy. Speaking of the Boers in his first speech in Parliament in 1901, when the South African War was still raging, he said, "The Boers who were fighting in the field ... and if I were a Boer, I hope I should be fighting in the field.'10 And my own generation remembers his tribute to Rommel, even when he himself was being subjected to a vote of censure in Parliament for our failures in North Africa: 'We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great General.'11
Reverting to the Dervishes at Omdurman, his tribute continued with sublime prescience:
"Mad fanaticism" is the depreciating comment of their conquerors. I hold this to be cruel injustice ... Why should we regard as madness in the savage what would be sublime in civilized men? For I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some - even in these modern days - who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster.
So wrote Churchill in 1899: could he already hear the sirens of 1940?
Long before then of course, the First World War had occurred, and Churchill had played many parts in it, from First Lord of the Admiralty, when he had brought the Royal Navy to immediate readiness for war, to commanding a Scottish battalion in the trenches of Flanders. Among the many lessons that he drew from the war, two were outstanding. The first arose from his zest for action in the Front Line, which led him virtually to desert his post as Head of the Admiralty to take command of the Royal Marine Brigade in the defence of Antwerp against the Germans in 1914.
The Prime Minister, Asquith, had great difficulty in getting him to come back to London, and noted in his diary, Churchill's remonstration and his request to be given a military command:
His mouth waters at the thought of Kitchener's new armies. Are these "glittering commands" to be entrusted to "dug-out trash" bred on the obsolete tactics of 25 years ago, "mediocrities who have led a sheltered life mouldering in military routine etc. etc.?" For about a quarter of an hour he poured forth a ceaseless cataract of invective and appeal, and I much regretted that there was no shorthand writer within hearing, as some of his unpremeditated phrases were quite priceless. He was, however, three parts serious and declared that a political career was nothing to him in comparison with military glory.12
Reflecting in 1931 on this same episode in one of his essays, A Second Choice, Churchill recognized that 'I ought, for instance, never to have gone to Antwerp. I ought to have remained in London ... Those who are charged with the direction of supreme affairs must sit on the mountain tops of control; they must never descent into the valleys of direct physical and personal action.'13
It may be questioned, though, whether Churchill henceforth restrained himself in accordance with this dictum. He continued to find refreshment in Front Line action; indeed, in one instance the refreshment was physical as well as moral. This was when he was in Flanders with the Grenadier Guards, the elite regiment in which his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, had first been commissioned. Churchill later related:
When the Second-in-Command went home on leave, I was invited temporarily to undertake his duties. This was certainly one of the greatest honours I had ever received. The offer emboldened me to make a suggestion to the Colonel. I said that I thought I should learn of the conditions in the trenches better if I lived with the Companies actually in the line instead of at the Battalion Headquarters. The Colonel considered this a praiseworthy suggestion, and made arrangements accordingly. I must confess to the reader that I was prompted by what many will think a somewhat inadequate motive. Battalion Headquarters when in the line was strictly dry. Nothing but the strong tea with the condensed milk, a very unpleasant beverage, ever appeared there. The Companies' messes in the trenches were, however allowed more latitude. And as I have always believed in the moderate and regular use of alcohol, especially under conditions of winter war, I gladly moved my handful of belongings from Ebenezer Farm to a Company in the line. 14
Churchill's enjoyment of good living was, of course, famous. He even overcame an original distaste for whiskey, when with little else to drink in the heat of the Northwest Frontier he found that "The very repulsion of the flavour developed an attraction of its own; and to this day, although I have always practiced true temperance, I have never shrunk when occasion offered it from the main basic refreshment of the white officer in the East.'15 At the same time, reflecting on the over-indulgence of the Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates of his day, he said:
...they even had clubs and formal dinners where it was an obligation on everyone to consume more liquer then he could carry. . .'I had been brought up and trained to have the utmost contempt for people who got drunk - except on very exceptional occasions and a few anniversaries - and I would have liked to have the boozing scholars of the Universities wheeled into line and properly chastized for their squalid misuse of what I must ever regard as a good gift of the Gods.16
Churchill's own appreciation of that gift throughout his long life has recently prompted an eminent geneticist to suggest that nature had endowed him with a protective gene that gave him exceptional resistance to its harmful effects.17
Reverting to Churchill's unflagging enthusiasm to see for himself what was happening in the Front Line, he wanted in 1944 to sail with the British and American armada for the D-Day Landings in Normandy, despite his own verdict on his Antwerp episode in 1914. The news that he had booked himself a berth in a British cruiser, H.M.S. Belfast, alarmed those who knew of his intention, and ultimately General Eisenhower told him that he should not go. The Supreme Allied Commander, though, received very short shrift: Churchill told him that he might be Supreme Commander, but that gave him no right to regulate the complement in one of His Majesty's ships, and Churchill still intended to go. What power on earth could now stop him? I have sometimes told my American friends that we have one shot in the locker that they do not possess, for when King George VI heard of Churchill's intention, he was indignant, and told his family that 'I was a naval officer. I was at Jutland. And if Winston can go, I can go!' But when Churchill told him that he was sure that the Cabinet would not recommend the King to go, the King replied that if it was not right for him to go, neither was it right for Churchill. Finally, the King wrote:
I ask you most earnestly to consider the whole question again, and not let your personal wishes, which I very well understand, lead you to depart from your own high standard of duty to the State.18
Churchill, still protesting, gave way.
He was still protesting in his memoirs eight years later, where he gave perhaps his final view on one of the fundamental problems of command, over which his theory and practice had sometimes appeared at variance.
I may here set down the view I have formed over many years on this sort of thing. A man who is to play an effective part in taking, with the highest responsibility, grave and terrible decisions of war may need the refreshment of adventure. He may need also the comfort that when sending so many others to their death he may share in a small way their risks. His field of personal interest, and consequently his forces of action are stimulated by direct contact with the event. As a result of what I saw and learned in the First World War, I was convinced that Generals and other high commands should try from time to time to see the conditions and aspect of the battle scene themselves. I have seen many grievous errors made through the silly theory that valuable lives should not be endangered. No one was more careful of his personal safety than I was, but I thought my view and theme of the war were sufficiently important and authoritative to entitle me to feel freedom of judgment as to how I discharged my task in such a personal matter.1
The second lesson that Churchill drew from the 1914 war concerned what may be termed the hierarchical attenuation of Front Line experience as the battle situation is reported upwards through a chain of command. While commanding the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in the trenches, Churchill had noted that generals rarely came up to the Front Line to see the conditions for themselves. On one occasion when he was being visited by a general from some rear Headquarters, Churchill teased him by asking whether he would care to step across the parapet so that the two of them could take a stroll in No-Man's-Land. 'Wouldn't that be dangerous?' asked the general, to which his delighted soldiers heard Churchill reply, 'Sir, this is a very dangerous war!' 20
Afterwards, Churchill noted that the insulation of generals from seeing conditions at the Front for themselves was one of the factors leading to the disaster of the Somme in 1916, because there had been too much uncritical reliance on optimistic reports coming up through the chain of command.
Sir Douglas Haig was not at this time well served by his advisers in the Intelligence Department of General Headquarters. The temptation to tell a chief in a great position the things he most likes to hear is the commonest explanation of mistaken policy. Thus the outlook of the leader on whose decisions fateful events depend is usually far more sanguine than the brutal facts admit.21
He pointed to a similar attenuation of Front Line experience in the naval field, when the British admirals in 1917 refused to adopt the convoy system, and it was only forced on them by the insistence of Churchill himself and Lloyd George. It was an even more remarkable example because, although generals rarely had to go into the Front Line, admirals did from time to time go to sea.
No story of the Great War is more remarkable or more full of guidance for the future than this ... The astonishing fact is that the politicians were right, and the admiralty authorities were wrong ... in the naval service ... the firmly inculcated doctrine that an admiral's opinion was more likely to be right than a captain's, and a captain's than a commander's, did not hold good when questions entirely novel in character, requiring keen and bold minds unhampered by long routine, were under debate.22
And it was partly because Churchill had talked with junior officers who had been serving at sea and therefore appreciated the conditions at firsthand, that he was able to overcome the opposition of the admirals. He was to keep this lesson constantly in mind when he became Prime Minister in 1940.
Far better than most politicians in the '30s, Churchill recognized the growing importance of science in national and international affairs, and this presented him with a problem: how could he keep in touch with the front line of science, from which many threats and benefits were likely to develop? Although science had not figured largely in his education at school, chemistry was, next to English, his best subject; and in the Flanders trenches one of his officers noted that 'Winston had a flair for a good man of science'23 from his eagerness to get his battalion medical officer to talk on his own subject.
After the war, in 1921, he found his own man of science when Mrs. Churchill was partnered in an exhibition tennis tournament for charity by the newly-appointed Professor of Experimental Philosophy at Oxford, F.A. Lindemann, who besides being an outstanding physicist, was a Wimbledon player and had been tennis champion of Sweden. At first sight, Churchill and Lindemann would have appeared unlikely friends, for Lindemann was a total abstainer, a non-smoker and a vegetarian; but there could be no doubt of his courage, for he was the first man to work out the aerodynamics of what was happening when an aircraft got into the near-fatal condition of spinning, and then devise what its pilot should do to recover it. To test his theory, Lindemann learned to fly himself, put his aircraft into a spin, and brought it out again and again: the procedure he devised became a standard drill for aviators.
Churchill respected Lindemann both for his courage and his keen brain, and his gift for expressing the recent discoveries of science in everyday terms; and the two men became the firmest of friends. Besides courage and humour, they shared a love of good language - I have known a wartime defence meeting in the Cabinet Room held up over the exact meaning of a particular word, and only resumed when the Oxford English Dictionary was sent for to settle the question.
Each excelled in his chosen sport, Churchill at polo and Lindemann at tennis, and their friendship lasted on the closest terms right up to Lindemann's death in 1957, when Churchill, despite growing infirmity, insisted upon accompanying the coffin to the grave. This friendship provided Churchill with a means of keeping contact with advances in science, one of the frontiers of human endeavour in which he knew that he himself could never serve in the Front Line.
As early as 1924, in an Essay entitled Shall We All Commit Suicide?, Churchill had drawn on Lindemann's briefing on nuclear energy to write:
Has Science turned its last page on them? May there not be methods of using explosive energy incomparably more intense than anything heretofore discovered? Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings - nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of the existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp, or dockyard? As for Poison Gas and Chemical Warfare in all its forms, only the first chapter has been written of a terrible book.... And why should it be supposed that these resources will be limited to Inorganic Chemistry? A study of Disease - of Pestilences methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast - is certainly being pursued in the laboratories of more than one great country. Blight to destroy crops, Anthrax to slay horses and cattle, Plague to poison not armies only but whole districts - such are the lines along which military science is remorselessly advancing.2
This Essay was followed by another in 1931 entitled Fifty Years Hence which pointed to the energy that could be released by the fusion of hydrogen into helium nuclei:
There is no question among scientists that this gigantic source of energy exists. What is lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight, or it may be the detonator to cause the dynamite to explode. The Scientists are looking for this.25
Churchill was clear about his dependence on Lindemann in the Second World War as he explained in Their Finest Hour:
He had two qualifications of vital consequence to me. First as these pages have shown, he was my trusted friend and confidant of 20 years. Together we watched the advance and onset of world disaster. Together we had done our best to sound the alarm. And now we were in it, and I had the power to guide and arm our effort. How could I have the knowledge?
Here came the second of his qualities. Lindemann could decipher the signals from the experts on the far horizons and explain to me in lucid, homely terms what the issues were. There are only 24 hours in the day, of which at least seven must be spent in sleep and three in eating and relaxation. Anyone in my position would have been ruined if he had attempted to dive into depths which not even a lifetime of study could plumb. What I had to grasp were the practical results, and just as Lindemann gave me his view for all it was worth in this field, so I made sure by turning on my power-relay that some at least of these terrible and incomprehensible truths emerged in executive decisions.26
As Churchill said, he and Lindemann had together watched the advance and onset of world disaster, and had done their best to sound the alarm. Their efforts earned them little but scorn as warmongers by their contemporaries until Hitler invaded Poland on 1st September 1939; a disillusioned government in Whitehall then promptly recalled Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty. The Anglo-French disaster of the next few months, with the German advances into Denmark, Norway and the Low Countries resulted in a public reaction which led to Churchill becoming Prime Minister on 10th May 1940. He later wrote of this appointment; 'I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.'27
Indeed, his past life had qualified him uniquely. He had been in politics for 40 years. He had served in the Front Line, and he had been head of the three Service Ministries, of the Home Office, the Colonial Office and the Board of Trade, and he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yet he had been out of office for more than ten years, and even this was a further qualification for, as he wrote of Moses:
Every prophet has to come from civilisation, but every prophet has to go into the wilderness. He must have a strong impression of a complex society and all that it has to give, and then must serve periods of isolation and meditation. This is the process by which psychic dynamite is made.28
And that was what he now provided.
He never over-claimed his part in 1940. Disaster had united rather than disrupted the people of Britain as he knew it would. Although as a nation we were alone, as individuals we were all in it together. He felt our temper exactly: 'There is no doubt that had I at this juncture faltered at all in the leading of the nation, I should have been hurled out of office ... It fell to me in these coming days and months to express their sentiments on suitable occasions. This I was able to do, because they were mine also!'29 All this was true, but there was much more. Churchill could turn even a minor occasion into a memorable one by a happy phrase or a humorous comment. Here he had one of the big occasions of history, and it called for the summit of language, for 'There was a white glow, overpowering, sublime, which ran through our island from end to end.'30 In speech after speech he helped us to see where we stood in history, he convinced us that the direction at the center was now firm and good, and he called from us our supreme effort.
But it was not to his eloquence, or even to his humour, alone that we responded; disaster had struck the scales from our eyes, and suddenly we saw the towering courage that had been Churchill's all his life. We all knew, in that instinctive way that tells true from false, that here was a man who would stand to the last; and in this confidence we could stand with him.
I myself was fortunate enough to be summoned by him to the Cabinet Room in June 1940, and so I saw him at close quarters at the hour of his - and our - greatest trial. I of course, felt the elation of a young man at being noticed by any Prime Minister, but somehow it was much more. It was the same, whenever we met in the war - I had the feeling of being recharged by contact with a source of living power. Here was strength, resolution, humour, readiness to listen, to ask the searching question and, when convinced, to act. He was rarely complimentary at the time, handsome though his compliments could be afterwards, for he had been brought up in sterner and more admirable days when: 'At Sandhurst and in the Army compliments are few and far between, and flattery of subalterns does not exist. If you won the Victoria Cross or the Grand National Steeplechase or the Army Heavyweight Boxing Championship, you would only expect to receive from your friends warnings against having your head turned by your good luck.'31 In 1940 it was ample compliment itself to be called in by him at the crisis; but to stand up to his questioning attack and then to convince him was the greatest exhilaration of all.*
The reason why Churchill had summoned me was that Lindemann, who incidentally had been my Professor at Oxford, had told him that I had found convincing evidence that the Luftwaffe had developed systems of radio beams to guide their bombers to attack targets by night and through cloud, when our defences would be powerless to shoot them down. As I presented the evidence in the Cabinet Room, so Churchill told me, it was for him one of the blackest moments of the war. He had reckoned that we should just be able to win the coming Battle of Britain by day, but then he had this young man come and tell him that even if that battle were won, the Luftwaffe would be able to strike our cities accurately by night, when we had virtually no defence. He felt the clouds gathering about him, but then they were quickly lifted when the young man told him that it would be alright, we could do something about it by radio countermeasure.
I could see at the time how deeply he was absorbing my words, and the episode made a lasting impression on him - all the more so, fortunately, when it transpired that the radio countermeasures we then instituted had blunted the Blitz to the extent that only one bomb in five fell on their intended targets. Ever afterwards, he would summon me when Lindemann told him that I had perceived a new threat, most dramatically, of course, in the German development of the V-1 and V-2 weapons in 1943 and 1944. And once again he sent for me to settle the great internal battle of whether or not we should use 'Window' or 'Chaff' to protect Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force against detection by German radar.
When all these battles, and many others, were ultimately won, and the European war came to an end, Churchill's Conservative Government was rejected in the 1945 Election, and he was no longer Prime Minister. He felt the shock deeply - it was a sharper change of fortune than any man might expect to face. But no political misfortune could detract from the universal admiration for what he had done in the war. And so, a moment of uncertainty in which he contemplated graceful retirement 'in an odour of civil freedom,' his confidence returned. 'Many people,' he said to me a year later, 'say that I ought to have retired after the war, and have become some sort of Elder Statesman, but how could I?' And so he led the Opposition at home and was feted abroad; and, for all his tiredness, he made some of his best speeches, humorous, wise, prescient and magnanimous. And it is the most acclaimed of those speeches that we celebrate here today.
The many honorary degrees that he received gave him occasions for reflecting on his education. A few days before Fulton, he had been at the University of Miami, where he quipped:
I am surprised that in my later life I should have become so experienced in taking degrees when, as a schoolboy I was so bad at passing examinations.
*He himself had written 'Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.'32
In fact one might almost say that no one ever passed so few examinations and received so many degrees.33
And, recalling his own development he went on to plead for the late starter. Long before, in
My Early Life, he had made a similar point when in what he called his 'Socratic' mood and planning his republic he would make drastic changes in the education of the sons of well-to-do citizens:
It is only when they are really thirsty for knowledge, longing to hear about things, that I would let them go to the University. It would be a favour, a coveted privilege, only to be given to those who had either proved their worth in factory or field or whose qualities and zeal were pre-eminent.34
Those of us who experienced the sense of purpose of the ex-service student who had fought in the Second World War, will understand the enthusiasm of the mature students who were determined to make the fullest use of the change of education that was now offered them.
At Aberdeen, about a month after he was here in Fulton, he expressed his renewed enthusiasm for the Humanities.
... But as my life has rolled out, I have regretted very much that I had no knowledge of the Classics, but have been compelled to read them only in translation. I have had to make my way through all the arguments and debates of 40 or 50 years with just a handful of trusty, well-proved and frequently-exercised quotations, which have had to go out in all weathers to stand the battle and the breeze. 'There would be a danger to education if it assumed in these formative years - the late 'teens and early twenties - a purely technical or specialized aspect. Without a knowledge of the humanities, without the great record and story of the past and of the ancients laid out before one, without having the lives of the noble Greeks and Romans and the writings of antiquity in one's mind, it is not possible to form those broad and inspiring views which should ever be the guide of men as they advance to serve in a country as great as ours.35
As I read these speeches, I wondered whether he was himself putting into practice the advice he had given me when I was leaving my Whitehall post for a university chair at Aberdeen in natural philosophy, the old title for physics: 'Praise up the Humanities my boy - that'll make them think you are broadminded.' And in an expansive mood he said 'Socrates said that there would only be good government when philosophers were kings and kings were philosophers. During the war I had the power of a king, and with my power and your philosophy, we won!'
For all his appreciation of science, though, he became impatient with the post-war pressure for scientists to have a large say in government:
There have been theocratic governments, military governments and aristocratic governments. It is now suggested that we should have scientistic - not scientific - governments. It is the duty of scientists, like all other people, to serve the State and not to rule it because they are scientists. It they want to rule the State, they must get elected to Parliament....36
His post-war distrust of science, perhaps in revulsion to the slaughter and destruction in the Second World War, led him once again, in 1953, to commend instruction in the humanities. 'This,' he told our Trades Union Congress, 'ranks in my opinion far above science and technical instruction, which are well sustained and not without rewards in our present system.'37
But some of us could see that the standard of science teaching in our schools was already falling, and both Lindemann and I represented this fact to him as strongly as we could. I was able to produce figures for the production of engineers in Russia which outstripped our own; and the fact that the Russians had matched the Americans in producing a hydrogen bomb gave dramatic confirmation of our fears.
When, therefore, Churchill retired in 1955 and took a holiday in Messina with Lindemann and John Colville, his Principal Private Secretary, he reviewed his second Premiership, and told Colville 'how much he regretted that owing to so many other preoccupations he had not, while Prime Minister, devoted more of his energies to procuring an increase in facilities for giving the highest possible technological training. He was sure that for Great Britain, whose future depended on the brains of her inhabitants, this was a vital necessity. It appalled him to think that we, who had contributed more than any other nation by our inventiveness in the past, should not apparently be falling behind in the race.'38 Colville has recorded how, starting from Churchill's expression of such concern, he suggested that part of the Public Fund raised to commemorate Churchill's 80th Birthday might be used to inaugurate a further fund for an institute for higher instruction in technology, on the example of MIT. Ultimately the idea came to fruition in the foundation of Churchill College at Cambridge, with its special emphasis on technology.
As the years advanced, Sir Winston gradually drew back from public affairs, and death finally came on 24th January 1965. In a sense it was no shock, for his years were many; but there was a surge of feeling at his funeral, as though the nation besides mourning, the individual was parting with the brightest treasure of its own greatness. For when he was born, Britain stood at a peak of progress and influence; and although he called us back to sublimity from malaise in 1940, we had since seemed to lose our drive.
He had seen weapons advance from the muskets of Malakand to the bomb at Bikini, and military transport from the horse to the supersonic aircraft. His zest for war was not based on distance enchantment - he had too often been in the thick of hot action and had too often afterwards helped to bury his mangled friends. War has its uttermost miseries as he well knew; but it has a fineness, too, when 'men are facing fearful odds,' and this exhilarated his romantic courage. His delight in the imaginative unconventional showed itself in a thirst for new weapons and for the unexpected counter-strike - a flank attack would always appeal to him, all the more if it evoked some resounding phrase.
Yes, we must remember that for years as a young politician he set himself to social reform, to the cutting of arms expenditure and not to the making of war. He genuinely did more for peace than many who claimed peace as their sole aim; and he was the first to speak for the vanquished, and to make friends of enemies who had fought well. For him, writing was companion to fighting all through, from The Malakand Field Forces to Their Finest Hour. He loved the English language and he always had something to write about, evoked by firsthand experience, by ancestral loyalty, by reflection on the past, or by contemplation of the future. And while in most of his activities, he was a brilliant amateur, in writing he was supremely professional. Time after time he returned to the theme of education; how he might have been led to learn more at school, how much he missed the chance of a university, how he taught himself in India, how important it was that students should genuinely want to learn, how classics had too great a place - and yet, towards the end, how important they were as part of a common culture.
To technology he seemed drawn by subconscious fascination, and by his own flair for invention. Appreciative of science in both World Wars, he seemed to recoil after 1945, apprehensive that 'the Stone Age may return on the gleaming wings of science.'39 But he came again to its lasting support, and especially to the encouragement of technology, as soon as he had time to reflect in 1955. His most tangible memorial in Britain is Churchill College, devoted to the advancement of learning and technology.
The minds of his countrymen whom he led in 1940 hold another memorial, less tangible but no less precious - the memory of what he said and did in the fight, that to reason, looked so forlorn, but to emotion, so right. He seemed to be standing for us at the bar of history at the very moment of judgment, when it was almost beyond hope to purge past faults with present merits. But with sure faith he called forth our old merits in new measure, and led us to save the day.
Half American and Honorary citizen of the United States, ardent for closer bonds both with his mother's land and with Europe, born in an English palace and buried in the village churchyard nearby, he was at one with all men of courage and goodwill no matter what their rank, race or nation. He once said of Clemneceau 'As much as any single human being, miraculously magnified can ever be a nation he was France.40 In those terms, can there by any doubt that he himself was Britain?
1 W.S.C. 'Iron Curtain' Speech, Westminster College, 5 March 1946.
2 M. Gilbert, 'Never Despair,' p. 1100, Heinemann, London 1988.
3 W.S.C. on King Alfonso XIII in Great Contemporaries, p. 177, Fontana reprint, London 1962.
4 Randolph S. Churchill, Young Statesman 1900-1914, p. 704, Heinemann, London 1967.
5 W.S.C. Speech in House of Commons, 12 November 1936.
6 W.S.C. My Early Life, p.34, Fontana reprint, London 1959.
7 W.S.C. Ibid. p. 209.
8 W.S.C. Ibid. p. 217.
9 W.S.C. The River War, Vol. II p. 162, Longmans, London 1899.
10 W.S.C. Speech in House of Commons, 18 February 1901.
11 W.S.C. Speech in House of Commons, 27 January 1942.
12 H.H. Asquith, Memories and Reflections, Vol. II pp. 45-56, Cassell, London 1928.
13 W.S.C. Thoughts and Adventures, p. 6, Odhams, London 1947.
14 W.S.C. Ibid. p.72.
15 W.S.C. My Early Life, p. 133, Fontana reprint 1959.
16 W.S.C. Ibid.
17 The Times, p. 1, 19 February 1992.
18 W.S.C. Closing The Ring, p. 549, Cassell, London 1952.
19 W.S.C. Ibid. p. 551.
20 'Captain X' (A.D. Gibb) With Winston Churchill at the Front, Gowans and Gray, London 1924.
21 W.S.C. The World Crisis 1916-1918, p. 653, Abridged Edn. Macmillan, London 1941.
22 W.S.C. Thoughts and Adventures, p. 92, Odhams, London 1947.
23 'Captain X' Ibid
24 W.S.C. Thoughts and Adventures, p. 188-189.
25 W.S.C. Ibid. p. 208.
26 W.S.C. Their Finest Hour, p. 338, Cassell, London 1949.
27 W.S.C. The Gathering Storm, pp. 526-527, Cassell, London 1948
28 W.S.C. Thoughts and Adventures, p. 219.
29 W.S.C. Their Finest Hour, p. 88.
30 W.S.C. Ibid.
31 W.S.C. My Early Life, p. 212.
32 W.S.C. The Malakand Field Force, p. 172, Longmans, London 1901.
33 M. Gilbert 'Never Despair', p. 193.
34 W.S.C. My Early Life, p. 119.
35 R.V. Jones Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill 1874-1965, Biog. Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society,
Vol. 12, 1966.
36 W.S.C. Speech in House of Commons, 7 November 1945.
37 R.V. Jones. Ibid.
38 John Colville, Deposition in Churchill College Archives, July 1959.
39 W.S.C. Westminster College Address, 1946.
40 W.S.C. Great Contemporaries, p. 246, Fontana reprint, London 1959.