No statesman in British history has held so many positions of high Cabinet rank as the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Winston Spencer Churchill comes of a great family, and bears a great name. He is a direct descendant of the famous Duke of Marlborough, the victor of Blenheim, and son of the Victorian era and of an American mother famed for her beauty and intellect.
He was born in 1874 and after Harrow and Sandhurst obtained a commission in the 4th Hussars. It was, however, as ‘The Daily Telegraph’ war correspondent in the Sudan in 1898 that he came into public notice, and he ‘hit the headlines’ in 1899 with a dramatic escape from captivity in a Boer armoured train.
A few years later came his spectacular incursion into politics. Abandoning the Conservatism of his youth, he became a Liberal in time to share in the triumph of 1906. Hardly had North-west Manchester enabled him to add the letters M.P. to his name when Campbell- Bannerman the new Liberal premier, appointed him Under-Secretary for the Colonies. Under Asquith his rise was rapid-President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary and, in 1911, First Lord of the Admiralty. He was at the Admiralty when war began, and to his foresight may be largely attributed the readiness of Britain’s fleet in that hour of great emergency. During the war he had his hours of high success and his periods of eclipse. In the public mind he was held responsible for the failure of the expedition to Antwerp and Gallipoli, although subsequent history has tended to reverse the unfavourable verdict of the moment.
For some years his fortunes were closely linked to those of Mr Lloyd George, and in the later coalitions he was in turn Minister for Munitions, Secretary for War and for the Colonies. When the coalition fell in 1922 Churchill also suffered defeat. By the end of 1924, however, he was not only back in the House of Commons, but had a seat on the Treasury Bench as Chancellor of the Exchequer, this time in the Conservative administration of Mr Baldwin. When the National Government was formed in 1931 Churchill’s name was missing from the Cabinet list, and during the years that followed there was no more pertinent and pertinacious critic of the Government’s policy in India and international affairs than he. From the beginning he preached resistance to the Nazis, and it’s not surprising that the German wireless seemed to regard Mr Churchill as Nazi enemy No.1.
Mention might be made of many another facet of Mr Churchill’s varied existence. His skill as a bricklayer, for instance, has entitled him to membership of the bricklayer’s union, and as a journalist and author he has won widespread recognition. Many people. indeed, who take little interest in politics and know nothing of Churchill’s achievements as Cabinet Minister, know him primarily as the ancestor of the Duke of Marlborough, and of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and still more of the ‘The World Crisis’, the book in which he gives a vivid account of the great and eventful period covered by the years just before and during the Great War.
Now today, after years in the political wildness – years during which he was that by no means generally welcome person, the caustic critic – he has returned to high office, called back by the voice of the man in the street, just as was Kitchener in 1914. His political knowledge, his vast administration experience, his eloquence and his resolution – all are assets of incomparable value to Britain and Britain’s cause.
First published in the War Illustrated, 1939.