The Churchill Documents, Volume 5: At the Admiralty, 1911-1914
Volume 5 of The Churchill Documents begins with Churchill’s prominent part in the Liberal Government’s attempts to introduce Home Rule for Ireland. It continues with his spirited opposition to Votes for Women, during which he incurred the anger of the militant wing of the Suffragettes. It continues with his extraordinarily active and creative years as First Lord of the Admiralty, ensuring the ability of the Royal Navy to defend Britain and its colonies in the event of war, supervising the transformation of the Fleet from coal-burning to oil-burning ships, securing for the British Government a majority stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, pioneering the Royal Naval Air Force, and learning to fly, despite being almost twenty years older than the average pilot of those days.
Churchill’s letters to his wife provide a continuing insight into his most private feelings, including his reflections on the sinking of the Titanic. The family man is also on view, including the arrival and early years of his first two children, Diana and Randolph. His wife’s anguish at the dangers of his flying lessons is also a powerful and moving motif, as he relished the new art of flying and wanted to achieve his pilot’s certificate. But following the deaths of two of his flying instructors in air accidents, he deferred to her plea to give up flying altogether.
The Royal Navy, its needs and its potential, are the main thrust of Churchill’s letters and memoranda in this volume. These documents show how determined he was not to see Britain vulnerable to the growing naval power of Germany. But his instinct for conciliation is seen as well, in his two unsuccessful attempts to secure a halt to the naval arms race between Britain and Germany.
This volume ends on the eve of the outbreak of the First World War. Churchill’s letters to his wife in the last two weeks of July 1914 give a poignant picture of how rapidly the crisis evolved, and of Churchill’s own moods, proposals, and actions in facing what he warned her would be “the unknown and the unexpected.”