1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Churchill, Winston Leonard Spencer

1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Churchill, Winston Leonard Spencer

CHURCHILL, WINSTON LEONARD SPENCER (1874-), English statesman (see 6.347). Mr. Churchill's tenure of the presidency of the Board of Trade, from April 1908, was marked by the production of a scheme in the autumn of that year for the setting up of a court of arbitration in labour disputes, consisting of three persons nominated by the Board, respectively from panels of employers, workmen and “persons of eminence and impartiality.” He also welcomed on behalf of the Government an Eight Hours Miners bill. In 1910 he was promoted to the Home Office. Here he had to deal with the dangers arising from the increasing hordes of undesirable aliens who poured into the East End of London. He was present in person at an extraordinary affray in Sidney St., Mile End Road, on Jan. 3 1911, when the police, after a time reinforced by soldiers, were kept at bay for many hours by two foreign burglars who defended themselves in a house with Mauser pistols, and who ultimately perished when the building caught fire and was burnt.

In the autumn of 1911, to the surprise of the public, an exchange of offices was effected between him and Mr. McKenna, and he became First Lord of the Admiralty. Hitherto he had been wont to pose as a disbeliever in the German menace, and an advocate of reductions in British armaments. In Aug. 1908, for instance, he rebuked Lord Cromer for uttering grave words of warning, and ridiculed the bare possibility of an Anglo-German conflict in arms. Early in 1909 he had assisted Mr. Lloyd George in the Cabinet in his unsuccessful endeavour to cut down Mr. McKenna's estimates. But the Agadir crisis of July 1911 seems to have opened his eyes as it did those of Mr. Lloyd George. At any rate, he spoke at Guildhall on Lord Mayor's Day in a worthy manner; admitting that the growth of the German navy was a main factor in British construction, and pointing out that no power was better able to bear the strain or less likely to fail than Great Britain. Similarly at Glasgow in Feb. 1912 he submitted that naval power to the Germans was a luxury; it was existence to the English, it was expansion to them. “We shall face the future as our ancestors would have faced it, without disquiet, without arrogance, but in solid and inflexible determination.” He had in the previous month announced the establishment of a naval war staff, and in the autumn he reorganized the internal administration of his office. The same tone was maintained in his speech on introducing the naval estimates. If any one nation, he said, were able to back the strongest fleet with an overwhelming army, the whole world would be in jeopardy. Great Britain must never conduct her affairs so that the navy of any one power could engage her at any moment with a reasonable prospect of success. He announced a complete reorganization of the navy, which was to be grouped in four fleets, three being for home defence, based on home ports (the third being the Atlantic fleet previously based on Gibraltar), and the fourth, based on Gibraltar, to operate either in home waters or in the Mediterranean. The significance of this new orientation was at once perceived. It was hailed with satisfaction by the Unionists, but the pure economists complained that he had thrown sobriety and thrift to the winds. These changes were mainly due to the inspiration of Lord Fisher, and of Sir Arthur Wilson, Lord Fisher's successor as First Sea Lord. There was a slight decline of £300,000 in the total of these estimates; but this was merely a pause after the £12,000,000 increase of the past three years; and by the summer a new German navy law necessitated a supplementary estimate of about a million. In 1913 there was a further increase of about a million and a quarter. Once more a supplementary estimate, largely due to aircraft development, added two millions and a half; and in 1914 Mr. Churchill introduced the highest estimates hitherto on record, £51,550,000 — an increase on the total of 1913 of some two millions and three-quarters. He grasped, moreover, at an early date the vital importance of oil fuel, and forwarded eagerly the arrangement by which oil was to be obtained for the navy from Persia. Meanwhile, he had thrown out, on the estimates of 1913, a hint to Germany that all naval Powers might well take a year's holiday from shipbuilding; but, though he repeated and emphasized his plea for this “naval holiday” in a speech in the autumn of 1913, it met with no response from Berlin. Large as the estimate for 1914 was, it was attacked by naval experts as inadequate.

There would perhaps have been more general satisfaction with the results of Mr. Churchill's undoubtedly energetic and patriotic administration at the Admiralty, if he had not shown himself so vehement a partisan in internal politics. But he was in the van of controversy over the Parliament bill, over Home Rule, and especially over the Ulster resistance. “Full steam ahead” was his motto for his party in the turbulent session of 1911. In Feb. 1912 he made a daring incursion into Ulster, in order to advocate Home Rule at Belfast; but he was wise enough to give up his original intention of making the Ulster Hall, with its Orange and Protestant associations, the scene of his meeting, and also to represent the Government plan as an integral part of parliamentary devolution. He developed this line of argument when moving the second reading of the Home Rule bill in April, and at Dundee in the autumn outlined a general policy under which England would be cut up into self-governing areas. But both in the House and at Dundee he emphatically declared that Ulster, though she had a claim to special treatment, must not be allowed to bar the way. Next year he declared at Dundee in Oct. that, if a single province could interpose a “bully's veto,” constitutional and peaceful agitation would be discredited throughout the British Empire and the civilized world. But the speech which most exasperated his political opponents was one which he delivered at Bradford in March 1914, just after the incident of the Curragh. Against any attempt in action to subvert parliamentary government, there was no lawful measure, he said, from which ministers would or could shrink. If British civil and parliamentary systems were to be brought to the challenge of force, he could only say “Let us go forward together and put these grave matters to the proof.” His dispositions of naval forces in the Irish Channel were bitterly resented by the Unionists, who accused him of being in a “plot” to provoke Ulster to armed resistance and then coerce her. In return, he described these accusations as “a vote of censure by the criminal classes on the police,” and averred that the measures taken were purely precautionary.

These controversies were stilled by the war. Here Mr. Churchill showed that he appreciated the situation better than the majority of his colleagues. On Monday, July 20, at Spithead, there was a great review by the King of the most powerful fleet ever assembled, numbering some 200 vessels in all, manned by 70,000 officers and men. While the ships were still engaged in tactical exercises, Austria's ultimatum to Serbia was issued (July 23) and the 12 anxious days which culminated in the World War began. In the ordinary course the fleet would have been demobilized at the close of the week; but with the outlook so disturbed, the First Lord and the First Sea Lord (Prince Louis of Battenberg, afterwards Lord Milford Haven) took the responsibility of keeping it on a war footing, ready for action. Hence, when the rupture occurred, the fleet was already at its stations in the North Sea, and Adml. Jellicoe was promptly appointed commander-in-chief. The Expeditionary Force was conveyed across the Channel in perfect safety, and its communications safeguarded; and the German mercantile marine was soon cleared from the seas. But there were some naval disasters for which the public were not prepared. The German battle cruiser “Goeben” eluded the British Mediterranean fleet and got safely into the Sea of Marmora; three British cruisers were sunk by submarines in the North Sea; and a British squadron under Adml. Cradock was heavily defeated by a German squadron off the coast of Chile. Prince Louis of Battenberg, a most patriotic and capable sailor, unjustly attacked because of his German origin, tendered his resignation as First Sea Lord, and Mr. Churchill put in his place the indefatigable veteran, Lord Fisher. Meanwhile Mr. Churchill heartened his countrymen by patriotic speeches at a non-party meeting in the London Opera House in Sept., and at Guildhall in November. He rushed to Antwerp when there were hopes of saving it from the Germans, but though he exerted himself indefatigably both in diplomacy and in the actual work of defence, and sent a British naval division to help, the effort was in vain. When a war council was formed on Nov. 25, he was one of the original members and, along with the Prime Minister and Lord Kitchener, bore the main responsibility. The naval situation was sensibly relieved by the destruction in Dec. by Adml. Sturdee, off the Falkland Islands, of the German squadron which had defeated Cradock, and by a successful action under Adml. Beatty in Feb. 1915 off the Dogger Bank. On the other hand, German sporadic attacks by sea and air on British watering places and the increasing activity of German submarines gave Mr. Churchill and the Admiralty much concern. He determined to treat prisoners captured from submarines, in view of their breaches of the laws of war, with more severity than ordinary prisoners; but the Germans retaliated harshly on the most noteworthy English prisoners in their hands, and Mr. Balfour, on succeeding Mr. Churchill, gave up this discrimination. But Mr. Churchill's great coup in the war was the attack on the Dardanelles, which he pressed forward in spite of the increasing reluctance of Lord Fisher. The idea was a captivating one, and an appeal from the Russians for help in that quarter was difficult to resist. It is arguable, and he was disposed to maintain, that the movement would have succeeded if resolutely pushed by those in command, both in the initial stage, when it was a purely naval attack, and in the later stage, when considerable military forces had been landed and fought many desperate fights. But, in fact, it failed; and the friction engendered between the First Lord and the First Sea Lord was one of the causes which drove Mr. Asquith to invite the Unionists in May to join in a Coalition Government. A change at the Admiralty was imperative. Mr. Churchill had shown enormous vigour, industry, imagination and patriotism; but insufficient judgment and discretion. He was transferred to the sinecure office of the Duchy of Lancaster, but held it only till Nov., when, on the appointment of a small war committee of the Cabinet from which he was excluded, he resigned, being unwilling to accept a position of general responsibility for war policy if he had no effective control. He placed himself at the disposal of the military authorities and was sent to France as a major in the Grenadier Guards. He was accordingly little seen in Parliament for the next year or more, though he was in his place to criticize the navy estimates of his successor Mr. Balfour, to reproach him for want of energy, and to recommend the recall of Lord Fisher.

The report of the Dardanelles commission, which was published in March 1917, confirmed the view of the public that some of the blame for that mismanaged enterprise rightly attached to Mr. Churchill. It was therefore with surprise and some disapproval that people found Mr. Lloyd George, who appreciated his powers, admitting him into his Government in July 1917 as Minister of Munitions, a post in which he did good work for a year and a half, but did not come specially before the public. After the war, however, when Mr. Lloyd George reconstructed his Government, he became Secretary of State both for War and for Air, a conjunction of offices which was much criticized. As War Minister he had the gigantic task of demobilizing armies of between four and five millions who had been in the war, of providing armies of occupation and forces for immediate garrisoning of the Empire, of building up an after-war army, and of re-creating the territorial army. He made considerable progress in the following two years, but he was greatly criticized for the size of his estimates, and especially for the large forces retained in Mesopotamia and Palestine. On Lord Milner's retirement in the spring of 1921 he succeeded him as Secretary of State for the Colonies; and a new arrangement was made by which the responsibility for Mesopotamia and Palestine was taken over by the Colonial Office. Mr. Churchill went out to Egypt, and held in Cairo a conference of the British civil and military officers then administering those countries. On his return, he outlined to Parliament a scheme by which the cost might be greatly reduced, mainly through the transference of authority to Arab chiefs.

He and his wife had a son and three daughters. His mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, divorced her second husband, George Cornwallis-West, in 1913; and married in 1918, as her third husband, Montague Phippen Porch, formerly a Government official in Nigeria. She died June 29 1921. (G. E. B.)