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Winston S. Churchill: Volume I, Youth 1874-1900, by Randolph S. Churchill

- Abstract

“The time for debunking Winston Churchill is not yet, and when it comes it will not succeed as easily as with other great personages.” So said his old enemy Kingsley Martin late in 1964 from his accustomed pulpit, The New Statesman. A few months later, England buried this magnificent remnant of its past in a ceremony he himself had designed down to the last detail. One of my most vivid memories of that funereal January week is standing against the ice-cold stones of Westminster Hall, where Churchill had decreed he was to lie in state. Thousands of feet shuffled across the long carpets in mute music. Their owners passed silently by the coffin where four soldiers, adorned like the young Churchill in the parti-colored uniforms of a now-vanished empire, stood with heads bowed like tired birds of paradise.

One of the ladies waiting outside to pay final homage declared in a plummy accent: “He was all we had then.” From the viewpoint of England’s middle classes, no doubt she spoke a more profound truth than she realized. Even now it is easy to find people lower down the social ladder who were less inspired by Churchill than popular mystique would indicate. I have met men in South Wales who proudly recall switching off the radio in disgust when Churchill broadcasted; they used to listen to J. B. Priestley. I have never seen the case made in print, but there is a good argument, however blasphemous, for claiming that as much was done to knit the British nation together by Priestley’s Saturday-night broadcasts over the BBC which painted the socialist paradise after victory in brilliant colors. Few politicians can have made a more notorious misjudgment of an electorate’s temper than Churchill did with this statement in 1945: “No socialist government . . . could afford to allow free or violently worded expressions of discontent. They would have to fall back on some sort of Gestapo.”

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