He sees the relief effort as a way for Commonwealth nations to demonstrate “the ties which bind the Dominions to this country”
By the time Churchill became prime minister in May of 1940, the lion’s share of Europe had been either conquered by Hitler ‘s armies in the blitzkrieg or become allied with Germany. Then France collapsed and a surrender instrument was signed on June 22. Under its terms, two thirds of France was...
By the time Churchill became prime minister in May of 1940, the lion’s share of Europe had been either conquered by Hitler ‘s armies in the blitzkrieg or become allied with Germany. Then France collapsed and a surrender instrument was signed on June 22. Under its terms, two thirds of France was to be occupied by the Germans and the vaunted French armed forces were disbanded. Now only valiant Britain stood between the world and a new Dark Age. It rose to the occasion, with Churchill providing the inspiration, the “lion’s roar”. Though Paris was surrendered rather than risk its destruction, Churchill refused to consider a peace with Hitler, and swore that the English would defend London house to house and see it razed to the ground rather than capitulate and lose the institutions of freedom that had been gained at such cost over a thousand years.
From July to September 1940, all waited tensely for the German invasion of Britain to begin, as the Battle of Britain was fought to secure air supremacy. By mid-September it was clear that the RAF had denied the Luftwaffe the control the Germans needed to cross the English Channel, and the Nazi leaders decided to concentrate instead on bombing cities to pound the British people into submission. For months in succession the cities of Britain suffered night after night of air terror, and while the cities were being destroyed the people sought safety in air raid shelters, and in London, in Underground (subway) stations. This bombing of the civilian population came to be known as the Blitz. In October, being pounded by the unrelenting air assault, Churchill and his government moved to the underground cabinet war rooms. In November, Coventry was destroyed; still the bombing continued.
Then Hitler decided to break his non-aggression treaty with Russia, and in May 1941, in preparation for the invasion, the bombings of British cities were tapered off. Roughly 43,000 people had been killed and two million made homeless by those bombings. On June 22 German forces invaded Russia, and in December of that year the United States came into the war. Though slowly at first, the tide of war turned in favor of the Allies. British cities felt safe. By 1944 the Allies were poised to invade Europe proper to retake the continent, and on June 6 – D-Day – that invasion would begin.
But Hitler had one last trick up his sleeve – a new rocket bomb, one that would not require an airplane to deliver it. And with this new, unheard of technology he would resume bombing of British cities, crush British morale, and terrify the other Allies into making a peace he could live with. This was the V-1 buzz bomb – the first mass-produced cruise missile. Each bomb could carry a 1-ton warhead nearly 160 miles at a cruising speed of 400 mph. Nearly 10,000 V-1s and later the V-2s were launched from sites in Northern France from June 13, 1944 to March 27, 1945. Targets included London as well as other cities in southern England. At the peak of the campaign, more than 100 rockets were hitting Britain a day. Civilian casualties climbed to 22,000, with more than 6,000 fatalities.
So Churchill was again called upon to aid the victims of the German bombings of London. Typed letter signed, as Prime Minister, on his letterhead, July 31, 1944, to Charles Hood of Sydney, Australia, expressing sympathy for the victims, and using the occasion as a way to demonstrate the close ties between the Commonwealth nations and Great Britain. “I have received from the London branch of the Bank of New South Wales the cheque for fifty-two pounds ten shillings which you directed should be sent to me for victims of the flying bombs. I have considered how best to meet your wishes as to its disposal and I think I cannot do better than send your gift to the Church Army who are doing excellent work among the people who have suffered from the flying bombs. I hope this will be agreeable to you. May I express to you my warm thanks for your further generous gift, showing as it does how close are the ties which bind the Dominions to this country.”
As Churchill’s first term as Prime Minister has increasingly caught the public imagination, his letters from that period have just about dried up on the market. It is safe to say that they are now uncommon, and all the more so with content relating to his legacy – his leadership and inspiration during the bombings of London.
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