A very rare and powerful letter denouncing Hitler and Hitlerism by name.
“The zeal and craftsmanship of those who like them are equipping our fighting forces, will be a decisive factor in the defeat of Hitler and all he stands for. I shall be glad if you will convey to them my conviction that in their present occupations they are serving their King and...
“The zeal and craftsmanship of those who like them are equipping our fighting forces, will be a decisive factor in the defeat of Hitler and all he stands for. I shall be glad if you will convey to them my conviction that in their present occupations they are serving their King and Country”
At 8:30 AM on September 1, Churchill was awakened by telephone and told that German armies had invaded Poland, thus starting the Second World War. He had been warning of this calamity for six years, years in which he was the lone leadership voice counseling alertness and preparedness. Ignored or ridiculed, in the political wilderness, he was now proven right. Later in the day he drove to London to meet Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who advised him that he would like Churchill to enter the Government. On the morning of September 3, Chamberlain broadcast that Britain was at war with Germany, and Churchill joined the War Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. That day, the signal went out to all ships and naval bases: “Winston is back!”
Churchill’s arrival in government and at the Admiralty energized both. He immediately began sending voluminous memos to everyone in and out of his department, giving instructions and opinions, seeking assessments and comments, and asking for reports of all kinds. These notes often ended with “pray inform me” or “pray send me,” so they quickly became known as the “First Lord’s Prayers.” Within the Admiralty, Churchill made the staff, both civilan and military, feel that they were under his eye. At the same time, he exhibited a sense of pugnacity and communicated the feeling that he could barely wait to be up and at the Germans, that he had a burning desire to take the offensive and win the war. This feeling was contagious. In fact, the method he used to build morale at the Admiralty would soon be employed to sustain the entire nation.
Churchill wasted no time in visiting dockyards and ships, closeting himself with admirals, dealing with issues of supply, planning military measures, considering statistics, bringing useful people into government service, worrying about submarine warfare, and coordinating navy and army operations. On September 15, he contacted the Prime Minister to inform him that he had discovered a cache of heavy artillery. That evening, Churchill left London by train for Scapa Flow Naval Base in Scotland, which he had learned was inadequately defended. He wanted to see the situation for himself. He did not, however, stop working on his other projects, even for a minute, and he continued to transact affairs and send instructions as though he were still in London.
According to “The Churchill War Papers – At the Admiralty” by Martin Gilbert, on September 16, Churchill sent Lord Halifax a letter about the the situation in the Balkans, then turned his attention to boosting the morale of the workers in factories supplying the war effort. He composed an inspirational letter to be sent to some of them, which is quoted in full in that volume: “At the beginning of the present struggle, I wish to impress upon every man and woman in your employment the urgent importance of the Government work on which they are engaged. The zeal and craftsmanship of those who like them are equipping our fighting forces, will be a decisive factor in the defeat of Hitler and all he stands for. I shall be glad if you will convey to them my conviction that in their present occupations they are serving their King and Country no less effectively than those who have joined in His Majesty’s Forces, for active service afloat and ashore.” It is significant, if not exactly surprising, that although not Prime Minister, he is already exercising leadership and using the same kinds of inspirational words calling for victory and denouncing Hitler that he would employ seven months later when, with Britain’s back against the wall, he took the reins as Prime Minister himself. It brings to life his famous quotation upon assuming the high office – “‘I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”
One of the contractors receiving Churchill’s letter was A. Whyman Ltd., a manufacturer with multiple locations that supplied the Royal Navy and the British Army with rainwear and the Denison paratrooper smocks later used on D-Day. Typed letter signed on paper on hand on the train to Scotland, September 16, 1939, to the Whyman employees, being one of the very letters referenced in Gilbert’s book. This letter to the Whyman firm is the only one of these letters we have ever seen on the market, likely indicating that not many of these letters must have actually been sent out.
Any letter of Churchill denouncing Hitler is the pinnacle for the Churchill collector, and they very rarely surface. This is one of just a handful of wartime letters of Churchill denouncing Hitler by name that we have seen in over 30 years, and the first we have had in at least six years. The fact that he is calling not merely for the defeat of Hitler, but all he stood for, makes this letter even more moving and significant.
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