By JOE PEARCE
"Winston Churchill is a Yank"
- Hilaire Belloc
YET another volume of Martin Gilbert's sickeningly sycophantic biography of Winston Churchill hit the bookshelves on May 31st. It was greeted with universal acclaim by critics and media pundits alike who praised Mr Gilbert's work as though it were not just a learnèd tome but Holy Writ; the definitive last word on Britain's war-time Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, as Martin Gilbert gloated in the glory another biography of Churchill slipped onto the shelves almost unnoticed.
Churchill's War: Volume 1 by David Irving (Veritas 666pp) strips away all the layers of cosmetic surgery which successive 'official' biographers have applied to Churchill's image. To put it bluntly, an historian of considerable repute, washes away the whitewash and reveals the warts of the real Churchill.
To arrive at this real Churchill, Mr Irving had to avoid printed sources and, in the best traditions of a true historian, spent a decade reading the original manuscripts, diaries and archives. For instance, the Official Historian quotes an admiralty officer's diary: 'Winston.. very tired' - but what the officer actually wrote was 'half tight'.
Churchill – very tired?
Also, remember Churchill's radio broadcast about 'fight on the beaches' and 'this was their finest hour'? It was Larry the Lamb – children's actor Norman Shelley. Thus, the mythographers' representations of Churchill begin to evaporate.
Students of the so-called Special Relationship between Britain and America – a concept unheard of on the other side of the Atlantic – will be surprised to find Roosevelt and his friends dismissing Churchill as a drunken bum. In fact, this candid comment by Roosevelt says it all: "I have always disliked him since the time I went to England in 1918. He acted like a stinker at a banquet I attended, lording it all over us."
However, if Roosevelt treated Churchill with contempt, Churchill showed nothing but a fawning respect for Roosevelt. Indeed, he gave Roosevelt naval bases in exchange for fifty ancient destroyers, virtually unusable, but Churchill feigned gratitude. The truth was that the Americans used Britain's necessity in 1940 to extract the last drop out of us while giving us the minimum in return, scarcely bothering to conceal their sneering and gloating. Some 'special relationship'!
Another invention of Martin Gilbert and the other mythographers who preceded him is that of the fearless Churchill standing on roofs to watch the bombing during the blitz. Wrong again.
In fact, Churchill knew when London was going to be bombed and frequently bolted for the country. On the occasions when he couldn't choose a rural retreat from the bombs, his London refuges included Down Street, a disused Tube station. If he stood on a roof, it was because there was to be no bombing.
Irving also highlights Churchill's inconsistency. For instance, in the twenties he had led an anti-Bolshevik crusade and spoke of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. Less than twenty years later he was working closely with both Ivan Maisky, of the Bolshevik USSR, and Chaim Weizmann, the leader of world Zionism.
In fact, Irving – never one to beat about the bush – goes even further than merely accusing Churchill of inconsistency. He claims that Churchill took up and dropped causes – and parties – to profit himself. To substantiate the claim he quotes Churchill himself: "I've ratted twice and on the second rat Baldwin made me Chancellor."
As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was to blame for the disastrous Norwegian campaign – our bomber pilots were equipped with a 1912 Baedeker map – which handed Hitler Norway and Denmark on a plate. Paradoxically, Chamberlain was kicked out as a result and Churchill was made Prime Minister!
Irving's conclusions are controversial, though worthy of debate and further analysis. He sees Churchill, conspiring with Czechs, Russians and Zionists, promoting war against Hitler to get himself into power and out of debt. Furthermore, Irving believes Churchill worked to keep the war going when it could have been stopped.
Whether one accepts all of Irving's conclusions or not, the fact remains that Churchill's War is thought provoking and a mine of new information. It is certainly far better than Gilbert's rehashed whitewashing of Churchill's life and career, nonetheless, Martin Gilbert's mythical melodrama has the momentum of the media machine behind it while David Irving's hard-hitting and well-researched biography hasn't even a mainstream publisher behind it. The result of course is that many more will read Gilbert's fiction than Irving's fact.
Thus, the popular image of Churchill as the personification of the defiant British bulldog will be perpetuated. In reality, however, Hilaire Belloc's derisive dismissal of Churchill as a Yank is closer to the truth. Far from being the archetypal British bulldog, Churchill was more like Uncle Sam's pet poodle.