Delivered in person on July 26, 1917, amidst World War I, to a meeting of voters in his Parliamentary constituency, it urged the British people to hold on until the Americans arrive, and contains one of his first comments on the Russian Revolution
“Today, they look to us to be the prop and mainstay of the cause of freedom until the great Republic of our kith and kin across the Atlantic can bring its mighty and decisive force to bear. Never was such a crisis! Never was such an obligation! Never was such an opportunity!...
“Today, they look to us to be the prop and mainstay of the cause of freedom until the great Republic of our kith and kin across the Atlantic can bring its mighty and decisive force to bear. Never was such a crisis! Never was such an obligation! Never was such an opportunity! Compared to it, political , party and personal issues fade into utter insignificance… We have only to look to Russia to see the perils of want of unity, of a babel of voices, of visionary fanaticism, of even the yielding to real and heavy grievances.”
This is the first signed wartime speech of Churchill that we have ever had, nor do we recall seeing another
Closely associated with the military fiasco of the Gallipoli landings on the Dardanelles in Turkey in 1915, and the dreadful loss of life of Allied personnel, Winston Churchill was forced out of his position as First Lord of the Admiralty and given a lesser appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. This was apparently one of the Conservative Party’s demands for joining the first coalition government during World War I, and it may have had as much to do with settling old scores against their former rising star – Churchill – who defected to the Liberal Party, as with their reservations about Churchill’s skills as a military strategist. In November 1915 Churchill resigned from the government and went to the Western Front on active service as a battalion commander. Then in December 1916 David Lloyd George, Churchill’s former close colleague, became prime minister. Helping his reputation, a report into the Dardanelles disaster published in March 1917 concluded that Churchill was neither solely nor principally responsible, and Churchill was beginning to re-establish himself as an effective Westminster performer. So Lloyd George, with the war far from won and the British people exhausted after three years of it, acted to bring his talented if controversial old ally as a support. He announced Churchill’s appointment as Minister of Munitions on July 18, 1917. This represented a decisive turn in Churchill’s fortunes.
Under then-current parliamentary practice, it was necessary for the new Cabinet member to stand for re-election to his seat in Parliament. So a by-election for Churchill’s constituency of Dundee, Scotland, was ordered and set for July 29, 1917. There was an electoral truce between the three main political parties by which it was agreed that all by-election vacancies would be filled unopposed by the party holding the seat. However, Churchill was not to face an uncontested election. He was opposed by Edwin Scrymegour, founder of the Scottish Prohibition Party who stood on a platform of teetotalism, far-left Laborism, and religious fundamentalism. Scrymgeour was opposed to the war and said so openly, in the same way that he had also spoken out against the Boer War. Turning this contention to his advantage, Churchill’s brief campaign stressed the importance of maintaining political unity.
The Russian Revolution of March 1917 resulted in the abdication of Czar Nicholas II. The provisional Russian government under Alexander Kerensky was determined to reinvigorate the Russian war effort, making plans to go back on the offensive within months. The disintegration and despair within the army continued, however, as some 30,000 deserters were reported from the front every day. At Kerensky’s command, another offensive was launched on July 1, the same day a massive peace demonstration was held in Petrograd [St. Petersburg]. On July 15, an uprising in Petrograd encouraged by the Bolsheviks and their leaders, Vladimir I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, succeeded in briefly toppling the provisional government. The Bolsheviks saw their opportunity and attempted to seize power, as fighting broke out in the streets. The violence peaked on July 17. The following day, officers loyal to the provisional government destroyed the offices of the Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda. Lenin, sensing the time was not yet ripe for revolution, went into hiding – albeit temporarily – and Kerensky again took charge, restoring order and continuing his efforts to salvage the Russian war effort. Three months later the turmoil would result in the October Revolution that placed the Bolsheviks in power.
This had just happened when Churchill commenced his campaign in Dundee. And although Churchill is known as an implacable foe of the fruits of the Russian Revolution, few realize that he was initially in sympathy with it. He made a statement on July 21 indicating an understanding of those who overthrew a despotism. Then in a more nuanced address on the 26th, he saw those with whom he was in sympathy – the provisional government – pitted against the forces of fanaticism – the Bolsheviks. It may have been his first statement of trepidation about that revolution, which he would soon condemn as a pestilence.
In 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced the resumption of unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. His request was granted on April 6. This lifted the hearts of the Allies, who now had real hope that the arrival of the Americans would be their salvation. Churchill more than hoped, he was sure that American entry into the war would prove definitive. On June 26, 1917, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat. They were the harbinger of 2,000,000 U.S. soldiers that would soon see the shores of France. When Churchill began his campaign in Dundee, this subject was very much on people’s minds.
As stated in Martin Gilbert’s book “Winston S. Churchill: World in Torment”, on July 26, 1917 Churchill took the train to Dundee to be present at meetings of voters, and he remained there two days. His first order of business was to deliver a campaign address at a meeting asking for their votes, and sent a copy to be typeset and printed in the local papers. This is that address – a 7 paragraph typescript, assembled from 5 sections mounted on sheets of card in galley proof form, with some important points underlined. He has signed under the text. This is the very address quoted in Churchill’s son Randolph’s biography of his father, and it contains Churchillian prose of the kind he employed during World War II.
Speech signed, Dundee, July 26, 1917, entitled “To the Electors of Dundee”. “I have accepted the office of minister of munitions in the present National Government, and I therefore, for the fourth time, invite your support at the election. I regret that the constituency should have been put to the disturbance and exertion of a contest at a time when every ounce of strength should be concentrated on beating the enemy. But since the issue has been challenged, it behooves every man to choose his part and act with decision.
“All the parties in the State – Liberal, conservative and Labour – are resolved to prosecute this war and to support the Government which is responsible for its conduct. This is no time for domestic controversy. Every party in the last three years has consented to lay aside many of its strongest political convictions. Liberals have voted for Conscription, Unionists have laboured for an Irish Settlement, Trade Unionism has laid upon the altar of public duty its deeply valued customs and privileges. This is due to a profound and ever-present realization of the fact that we are fighting for all that is most dear, whether it be honour, or safety, or life. Although our fleets and armies and those of our allies have during these three years of peril held the extreme violence of war far from our bounds, it is only by intense and hourly exertion that this position is maintained. France and Russia have borne the brunt for us during many months of intense suffering and unmeasured sacrifice. Today, they look to us to be the prop and mainstay of the cause of freedom until the great Republic of our kith and kin across the Atlantic can bring its mighty and decisive force to bear. Never was such a crisis! Never was such an obligation! Never was such an opportunity! Compared to it, political , party and personal issues fade into utter insignificance.
“We have only to look to Russia to see the perils of want of unity, of a babel of voices, of visionary fanaticism, of even the yielding to real and heavy grievances. We see the revolutionary forces in Russia – the men who have won her freedom – striving valiantly to obtain that control and discipline of national effort, without which in times like these there can be nothing but ruin.
“Britain has never failed in any period of her history, and of all parts of the United Kingdom in this supreme hour of our fate, Scotland has shown the most steadfast countenance. Her manhood have sprung to arms; her soldiers – the civilians of yesterday – have confronted, attacked and beaten in the bitterest forms of war the best troops which forty years of Prussian militarism had produced. The brains of the Scottish race are guiding and governing our counsels, our industries, our armies and our fleets out of all proportion to its numbers. The wealth of Scotland, her wisdom, her craftsmanship, above all her unchanging and unconquerable will-power have sustained this righteous conflict at every point and at every stage. I am confident that every elector will at this grave moment record his vote so as to strengthen our Government, to back our Armies, to inspirit our Allies, and to confound our Prussian foes. This will be in true accord with the long history and wide-spread reputation of Dundee.” The autograph subscription, “I remain Gentlemen your obedient servant, Winston S. Churchill”, has been expanded by him from the less spirited “I remain yours”. As stated in the Churchill biography by Henry Pelling, when he returned to London on the 28th, he “left Clementine to address meetings on his behalf.”
This is the first signed original of a Churchill wartime speech that we have ever had, nor do we recall seeing another. On July 28 it was printed and published in Dundee as a single leaf flyer, and also in the Manchester Guardian and Dundee Advertiser. It highlights Churchill’s war-time morale and consensus building, and was a rehearsal for a role yet to come. He won the by-election by a landslide – over 5,000 votes.
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