During a visit to the men’s room with Labor MP Emmanuel Shinwell where Churchill stood as far away from the other man as possible and in response to the question ‘I hope there’s nothing personal between us’ Churchill is reputed to have responded ‘I don’t take chances, Mannie. I know you. Any time you see anything big and working well you want to take it over’.
There is some thought that the attribution may be apocryphal – a tale that has grown in the telling. It was, however, first reported by a well-respected broadcaster Harry Bannister. Over the years Shinwell was removed from the incident and replaced with Clement Atlee (the leader of the Labor party and the man who replaced Churchill as Prime Minister towards the end of the War. While the story did not appear in print until some years after the alleged event it would have been considered too bawdy to print at the time given the sensibilities of the 1940s.
Whether or not the quote is apocryphal it certainly reads like the sort of thing that Churchill would be happy to say to someone else. The exchange is set against the background of the Labor electoral victory and their decision to implement a free at point of use National Health Service, nationalize the mines and other decisions based on Socialist ideology (always an anathema to Churchill) that led to the formation of the Welfare State.
‘Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.’
This quote was taken from Churchill’s response to Neville Chamberlain (the Prime Minister) following his return from Munich with his ‘little piece of paper’ – an agreement between Britain, France, Germany and Italy to allow Germany to invade the Czech border lands uncontested. The appeasement of German aggression was meant to ensure ‘peace in our time’.
Britain and France had entered into a treaty of alliance and mutual defense with both Czechoslovakia and with Poland. The dishonor that Churchill refers to in this quote was the refusal of Britain (and France) to stand by her treaty obligations and support the Czechs against the German aggressor.
At the time of the Munich agreements Britain and France were extremely reluctant to go to war with Germany. Britain’s army was neither large nor well equipped and it was widely believed throughout the country that the country could not survive a war. Chamberlain’s well known and stated policy of appeasement was meant to ensure that the war, if it did start, would not involve Britain or her allies. Churchill was one of only a few people who was implacable in his support for a more trenchant stance against Germany reasoning that war involving Britain was inevitable.
Churchill (as so often) turned out to be right – a year later Germany, gambling that Britain would continue its policy of appeasement, invaded Poland. It was, however, a step to far even for appeasers such as Chamberlain. The whole world finally understood the insatiable nature of the German government and war became inevitable.
On The Anglo Soviet Agreement
‘If Hitler invaded hell I would at least make a favorable reference to the devil in the house of Commons’
This statement is reputed to have been made to his personal secretary just before the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Churchill was not a fan of communists of any sort and of the Soviet Union in particular. He had spent many years warning of the dangers of the Bolsheviks and their actions in the USSR, not least the terror used to eliminate all Stalin’s opponents and the subjugation of millions of people through the targeted use of terror, famine and collectivization was well known in Britain at the time.
Prior to the start of World War II German and Russia had signed a treaty of non-aggression, agreeing to partition Poland between them. This was a cynical ruse on Hitler’s part and in 1941 with the majority of the continental European nations under his control he turned his eyes towards the east, cynically discarding the pact and invading Russia.
The invasion was a gift to Churchill. Although he said he would ‘unsay no word I have spoken about it’ he also acknowledged that ‘Russian danger is…our danger’. Britain and the USSR were allied for the duration of the war with British aid being sent to Russia via arctic convoy. The price, however, was steep, the dishonor that Churchill spoke of with regard to the abandonment of Czechoslovakia (see above) would be compounded by the requirement of the Russians that Britain abandon their long term ally, Poland, still fighting alongside Britain through their government and army in exile, to the sphere of Soviet influence after the war.