Q: “I notice that on December 7th, 1936…
…Churchill was howled down in Parliament, pleading for more time for Edward VIII to decide on his future. What a reversal in fortune! Only five years later on the same date, he knew the war was won.” —J.G., Rye, New York
A: He had his downs and ups…
[December 7th, 1936, House of Commons:] May I ask my Rt. Hon. Friend [Prime Minister Baldwin] whether he could give us an assurance that no irrevocable step… [Hon. Members: “No!”] …that no irrevocable step will be taken before the House has received a full statement, not only upon the personal but upon the constitutional issues involved. May I ask him to bear in mind that these issues are not merely personal to the present occupant of the Throne, but that they affect the entire Constitution.” [Hon. Members: “Speech,” and “Sit down!”]
At that moment Churchill temporarily lost all his recently-built political capital by rising to defend Edward VIII. The King was facing abdication over his insistence on marrying Wallis Simpson. His colleagues shouted down the Member for Epping. Ruled out of order for making a speech during Question Time, he stormed from the House. “I am finished,” he muttered.
Five years later, a lot had happened
December 7th 1941, Chequers: Churchill was at the Prime Minister’s country residence, dining with U.S. Ambassador John Gilbert Winant and FDR’s emissary Averell Harriman, when he received news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They immediately put in a call to the President.
In two or three minutes Mr. Roosevelt came through. “Mr. President, what’s this about Japan?” “It’s quite true,” he replied. ‘They have attacked us at Pearl Harbor. We are all in the same boat now”…. I got on again and said, “This certainly simplifies things. God be with you,’ or words to that effect.” Churchill wrote nine years later:
…will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not foretell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death.
So we had won after all! Yes, after Dunkirk, after the fall of France; after the horrible episode of Oran; after the threat of invasion, when, apart from the Air and the Navy, we were an almost unarmed people; after the deadly struggle of the U-boat war—the first Battle of the Atlantic, gained by a hand’s-breadth; after 17 months of lonely fighting and 19 months of my responsibility in dire stress.
We had won the war. England would live; Britain would live; the Commonwealth of Nations and the Empire would live. How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care. Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious…. Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.
1940: His most important letter to FDR
London, December 7th, 1940 (sent on 8th), to President Roosevelt: The moment approaches when we shall no longer be able to pay cash for shipping and other supplies…. Moreover, I do not believe that the Government and people of the United States would find it in accordance with the principles which guide them, to confine the help which they have so generously promised only to such munitions of war and commodities as could be immediately paid for. You may be certain that we shall prove ourselves ready to suffer and sacrifice to the utmost for the Cause, and that we glory in being its champions.
According to Richard Lamb (Churchill as War Leader, 77), WSC considered this his most important letter to Roosevelt: “It gave a full statement of Britain’s hopeless financial position…. Straightaway Roosevelt stated at a press conference that he would ‘lease’ material to Britain, get rid of the ‘dollar sign’…. These words had immense significance and raised the curtain on the historic Lend Lease arrangement.”
December 7th in other years
London, December 7th, 1923: “My dear Churchill: Your defeat stamps this election and covers Leicester with shame, but I rejoice to see you stick to your platform of opposition to extremes on either side of politics.” —Sir William Tyrrell. (By 32 votes, WSC had lost his attempt to return to Parliament for West Leicester.)
New Delhi, December 7th, 1935: “Dear Mr. Churchill: May I send you the greeting of the season and good wishes for the New Year. May the New Year bring more happiness and better opportunities for advancing a better understanding between the two countries. I showed your cable to Gandhiji who was very pleased.” —Ganshayam Das Birla
Constantinople, December 7th, 1943: “Do you know what happened to me today, the Turkish President kissed me. The truth is I’m irresistible. But don’t tell Anthony [Eden], he’s jealous.” —WSC to his daughter Sarah.
London, December 7th 1947: “Halifax’s virtues have done more harm in the world than the vices of hundreds of other people. And yet when I meet him, I can’t help having friendly talk.” —WSC to his doctor, Lord Moran
Bermuda, December 7th, 1953: “I cannot make it out…. t seems that everything is left to Dulles. It appears that the President is no more than a ventriloquist’s doll…. This fellow preaches like a Methodist Minister, and his bloody text is always the same: That nothing but evil can come out of meeting with Malenkov. Dulles is a terrible handicap. Ten years ago I could have dealt with him…. I have been humiliated by my own decay.” —WSC to Lord Moran
For more versions of the Cheques conversations see “Canada First to Declare War,” 2017.
Quotations from Churchill By Himself: In His Own Words (Kindle edition, 2016).