Winston Churchill

Francis Neilson

[From Chapter thirty-seven of the book, My Life In Two Worlds,
published by C.C. Nelson Publishing Co., 1953]

Another great personality, whose beginning in politics gave no one the impression that his brow would be wreathed with laurels, was Winston Churchill. Shortly after the Boer War, he was pointed out to me in a Manchester hotel; I think it must have been after he crossed the floor of the House-about the time he deserted the Tories and joined the Liberal party.

The friend who was with me came from Oldham, Churchill's constituency, and had voted for him at the Khaki Election. Watching him pass across the room, he muttered to me, "A shifty gentleman, if ever there was one."

I have always remembered that statement, and now in Sylvester's book, it is recorded that Lloyd George himself held similar ideas. Many of my Conservative friends in Lancashire made remarks about him which were not printable and, indeed, the Conservatives in the House often revealed in debate their antipathy to his political actions.

Viscount Lambert came to see me when I lived at the Savoy-Plaza, in New York, and we had a long chat about the old days. He was a Civil Lord of the Admiralty when I was a member, but he entered the House as long ago as 1891. He told me a story I had heard many years before about Henry Labouchere stopping Winston in the lobby, after he joined the Opposition, and asking if he would return to the Tory party should the chances of the Liberals seem desperate before the General Election. Churchill replied, "Maybe I would."

Then Labouchere wagged his ringer before the gentleman's nose, and said, "No, no Winston, you can rat once; but you can't re-rat."

There is this to say about his career: it is unique in the history of England. There never was a politician who found refreshment with so many strange bedfellows. Who, when Churchill first fought Oldham, as a youngster in 1895, would have predicted that he would fill several cabinet positions, lose so many by-elections, and be a war Prime Minister?

Through my association with the Guest family and Baron De Forest, I am perhaps the only man left who has the material for a work on the Churchill legend. Such a book was suggested to me by two great generals the last time I was in England.

We may accept the encomiums lavished upon Churchill, the writer and the family man. He has excelled as an author and husband. There are those of good judgment, who today are by no means satisfied with him as a historian. Much of what has been written in his volumes on the war has been challenged by the military experts of all the Allies, and French and English critics take exception to his accounts of diplomatic negotiations and the conduct of battles.

However, it is as a politician that he will be judged in future. Those who have followed his career closely know that the ebullitions of his youth have not simmered down. He is still the same young man who thought it "such fun" to gain a victory with a handful of men. Lloyd George said, "The real trouble with Winston is that he is fighting everybody in turn. One day it is Russia, now it is Germany."

But it was F. S. Oliver, the man who wrote that candid examination of the politicians of the First World War, entitled The Mirrors of Downing Street, who sized up Churchill as he was, is, and will be. In his book he has, with the art of a skillful surgeon, dissected the characters of the men at the head of affairs in July, 1914. Oliver was an intimate acquaintance of all these people. He dined with them, chatted with them about the most grave problems they encountered during the war, and learned directly from them the cause of their immediate anxieties. No other person, in or out of party camps, was in a position so unusual for meeting the chief directors of the war as he.

This is what he has to say about Churchill:

From his youth up Mr. Churchill has loved with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his soul, and with all his strength, three things-war, politics, and himself. He loved war for its dangers, he loves politics for the same reason, and himself he has always loved for the knowledge that his mind is dangerous-dangerous to his enemies, dangerous to his friends, dangerous to himself. I can think of no man I have ever met who would so quickly and so bitterly eat his heart out in Paradise.

Millions of the inhabitants of Great Britain know this, to their sorrow.

What a long train of thought is set moving when such figures as Lloyd George and Churchill come to my mind, and the pictures that I hold of them fill the scene in my memory! Again they appear before a crowded House, and I seem to hear them, see them make their gestures across the Treasury box, with their eyes fixed not on the Speaker, but on the men sitting on the front Opposition bench.

In the third row behind it sat a man who was scarcely known as a member before the First World War. I never heard him speak in a debate nor do I remember a question he put to the government. His name was Stanley Baldwin.

During a by-election at Kingswynford, the chauffeur took me to the wrong hall. I entered the front door and started to walk up the main aisle to the platform, when suddenly some sections of the audience rose and cheered. Then a roar of laughter came from different parts of the auditorium. The meeting had been in progress but, at my appearance, the speaker turned to the chairman. I did not recognize anyone on the platform. Quickly I realized I had been taken to the wrong meeting, and the audience laughed heartily when I stopped in the aisle, undecided what to do. I shouted an apology to the chairman and made my way to the exit.

The man whose speech I had interrupted was Stanley Baldwin. After he went to Parliament, he sometimes chaffed me about entering places where angels feared to tread. I daresay there was not a soul in the hall that night who imagined the young ironmaster of Bewdley would become Prime Minister of England.

Many years later, I was taking tea on the terrace with T. P. O'Connor and some other members when Baldwin, then the head of the government, passed the table. Tay Pay called to him, "Baldwin, here's Frank Neilson."

He turned and put out his hand, muttered some words I did not catch, and resumed his walk. Even then, I do not think he imagined he would be the Prime Minister at the Coronation of George VI and soon after it, be given an earldom.