“Would the Royal Family and Chrchill Evacuate?” is excerpted from an article for the Hillsdale College Churchill Project. For the original text with endnotes, please click here.
Q: Evacuate the Royals?
I am arguing with a person in another forum that there was a plan in the Second World War to evacuate Churchill and the Royal Family to Canada if the Nazis invaded. I believe it was called Operation Coates, but the reference I found doesn’t mention Churchill.
Churchill doesn’t seem like the sort of person to evacuate. At Sidney Street he was in the front line. In the Great War he patrolled No Man’s Land, and didn’t duck. In air raids in WW2 he went to the rooftops to watch. He was a crack shot and said to his daughter-in-law, “you can always take one with you.” So I don’t think he would have evacuated on invasion. Am I wrong? Would Churchill have evacuated to continue the fight from overseas? —Andrew Smith on Churchillchat
A: Highly unlikely
Interesting question, but I think your surmise is correct. Of course there was a plan, however unlikely. There were plans for every contingency. Many children had already been evacuated to Canada when someone suggested that Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose should go as well. Queen Elizabeth quickly put an end to that: “The children can’t go without me. I can’t leave the King, and of course the King won’t go.”
Side note: An eleven-year-old schoolboy wrote anonymously to The Times, begging not to evacuate. Churchill was so moved that he had his private office search for the writer. He then sent one of his books inscribed to David Wedgwood Benn, son of former Labour Secretary of State for India, William Wedgwood Benn (later Lord Stansgate), brother of the future Labour cabinet minister and left-wing activist Tony Benn.
Though Churchill himself said in his “Fight on the Beaches” speech (4 June 1940):
…and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
In that case the King and his family might been forced to evacuate with the Fleet. But I suspect WSC would preferred the nightmare finale as the Wehrmacht marched on Downing Street described vividly by Norman Longmate. See my review of If Britain Had Fallen (1972):
At last the Bren ceased its chatter, its last magazine emptied. Churchill reluctantly abandoned the machine-gun, drew his pistol and with great satisfaction, for it was a notoriously inaccurate weapon, shot dead the first German to reach the foot of the steps. As two more rushed forward, covered by a third in the distance, Winston Churchill moved out of the shelter of the sandbags, as if personally to bar the way up Downing Street. A German NCO, running up to find the cause of the unexpected hold-up, recognised him and shouted to the soldiers not to shoot, but he was too late. A burst of bullets from a machine-carbine caught the Prime Minister full in the chest. He died instantly, his back to Downing Street, his face toward the enemy, his pistol still in his hand.