Manchester and Reid: “The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm”

Manchester and Reid: “The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm”

William Man­ches­ter and Paul Reid: The Last Lion: Win­ston Spencer Churchill, vol. 3, Defend­er of the Realm, 1940-1965. New York: Lit­tle Brown, 2012, 1184 pages. (Updat­ed from 2012.)

Macaulay wrote in  Lays of Ancient Rome: “Then out spake brave Hor­atius, the Cap­tain of the Gate.” That was William Manchester’s kind inscrip­tion on my vol­ume 2 of The Last Lion. It reminds me that Bill was him­self for many of us “Cap­tain of the Gate.” His death in 2004 bid fair to deprive us of finale of the most lyri­cal Churchill book ever writ­ten. Would the sto­ry end with his sec­ond vol­ume, on the brink of 1940? Not quite. Twen­ty-four years on, Lit­tle Brown pub­lished the third and final volume.

The first two vol­umes of The Last Lion were the most cel­e­brat­ed Churchill works of their time. More than twen­ty years in the writ­ing, Vol­ume 3 was com­plet­ed by his friend Paul Reid. It was a faith­ful por­trait, pos­i­tive but not with­out crit­i­cism. Reid was par­tic­u­lar­ly reveal­ing on Churchill’s think­ing about the Sec­ond Front and Allied strat­e­gy in the Sec­ond World War.

On a per­son­al lev­el, too, Reid was sound, cor­rect­ly por­tray­ing Churchill as enjoy­ing alco­hol but no alco­holic, no mega­lo­ma­ni­ac, no vic­tim of the overblown “Black Dog.” Last Lion 3 cor­rect­ly eval­u­at­ed WSC’s men­tal state. As Jim Miller wrote in The New York Times Mag­a­zine:

After study­ing Mayo Clin­ic men­tal-health pro­to­cols and con­sult­ing oth­er experts about Churchill’s prob­a­ble state of mind, Reid came to a con­clu­sion at odds with Manchester’s opin­ion that Churchill suf­fered from men­tal ill­ness. He just lived in stress­ful and depress­ing times. “I don’t know why Man­ches­ter impart­ed that dark side to Churchill,” he says. “Every writer puts some of him­self into his sto­ry. My take on the issue of depres­sion is vast­ly dif­fer­ent than Bill’s was.”

Beyond his brief

Paul Reid also did some­thing William Man­ches­ter nev­er intend­ed. He extend­ed the book beyond 1945, to a peri­od Bill told me was super­flu­ous. He insist­ed all that was a mere coda to the epic of the Sec­ond World War. Paul pon­dered this and decid­ed to take the sto­ry to its end. He pro­vid­ed a lit­tle (though not a lot) on Churchill’s scin­til­lat­ing per­for­mance as leader of the oppo­si­tion (1945-51), his sec­ond pre­mier­ship (1951-55), and his noble, fruit­less quest for a per­ma­nent peace. Frankly, those lat­er years were bet­ter cov­ered by Andrew Roberts’ equal­ly sem­i­nal biog­ra­phy, Churchill: Walk­ing With Des­tiny (2018).

Churchill him­self said: “Noth­ing sur­pass­es 1940.” Last Lion 3 begins there, just after he became prime min­is­ter. Britain and its Com­mon­wealth stood alone against the might of unde­feat­ed Ger­many. The Churchill con­jured up by Reid is a man of indomitable courage, com­pelling intel­lect and irre­sistible will. He explains how the Prime Min­is­ter orga­nized Britain’s defense and worked “to drag Amer­i­ca into the war.”

Here is the “nev­er sur­ren­der” ethos that helped earn the vic­to­ry. Here too is the rapid shift of world pow­er to Amer­i­ca and Rus­sia. “I have not become the King’s first min­is­ter in order to pre­side over the liq­ui­da­tion of the British Empire,” he said. He did not; oth­ers did that. Yet he saw the end com­ing quite ear­ly, and towards the end he was resigned to it—not with­out a proud nostalgia.

Manchester and Reid

Last Lion
In a stel­lar Churchill Con­fer­ence in 1995, two great his­to­ri­ans met: Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (left) and William Man­ches­ter. (Pho­to by Bob LaPree)

William Man­ches­ter was a huge­ly suc­cess­ful pop­u­lar writer with a unique, inspir­ing style. His books include his mem­oir of the Pacif­ic War, Good­bye Dark­ness (his per­son­al favorite); A World Lit Only by FireThe Glo­ry and the Dream; The Arms of KruppAmer­i­can Cae­sar; and The Death of a Pres­i­dent.

His descrip­tion of cli­mac­ter­ics in these books are clas­sics. Recall his telling of MacArthur’s vale­dic­to­ry address at West Point. Or Churchill dur­ing the Fall of France: “Anoth­er bloody coun­try gone west.” Or Lee Har­vey Oswald with his gun in the school­book depos­i­to­ry at Dal­las: “Ready on the right, ready on the left; all ready on the fir­ing line.” Manchester’s pas­sages will be recalled as long as Eng­lish is spoken.

Paul Reid of North Car­oli­na, a long­time fea­ture writer for the Palm Beach Post, was an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist. What mat­ters too is that he was Manchester’s friend. In 1998, in the midst of research for Vol­ume 3, Bill suf­fered two strokes that left him with men­tal fac­ul­ties but unable to write. In Octo­ber 2003, he asked Paul to com­plete the vol­ume, say­ing: “I want­ed a writer, not a his­to­ri­an.” It was an infor­mal con­ver­sa­tion, Paul Reid recalls, “sealed with a hand­shake.” In April 2004, two months before Bill’s death, they signed a for­mal agreement.

A great work

Paul Reid com­plet­ed the research and trans­formed more than forty tablets of Manchester’s notes—“clumps” as he called them—to pro­duce Last Lion 3. With oth­ers, I had the joy to be called on to vet his man­u­script, as I had Bill’s Last Lion 2. The reviews assured Paul of a vari­ety of opin­ions and reduced the chance of minor errors of fact that crept into the pre­vi­ous vol­umes. (I found quite a few in vol­ume 2 and not all of them were fixed.) Man­ches­ter fans will find much of Bill’s trade­mark pace and cadence in this last install­ment of a clas­sic. Last Lion is a mes­mer­iz­ing jour­ney through what Lady Soames called “The Saga.”

In a flour­ish suit­able to a great work, Paul Reid ends his sto­ry on Jan­u­ary 30th, 1965 with the best words Lord Moran ever wrote:

The vil­lage sta­tions on the way to Bladon were crowd­ed with his coun­try­men, and at Bladon in a coun­try church­yard, in the still­ness of a win­ter evening, in the pres­ence of his fam­i­ly and a few friends, Win­ston Churchill was com­mit­ted to Eng­lish earth, which in his finest hour he had held inviolate.

Bill Man­ches­ter would like that.

2 thoughts on “Manchester and Reid: “The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm”

  1. Despite all the flak that Moran took for his ‘diaries’, I have always con­sid­ered those atmos­pher­ic words of his to be the sec­ond most beau­ti­ful trib­ute to the old boy that I’ve ever read. First place goes, of course, to Mary Soames, quot­ed by Mar­tin Gilbert to close the offi­cial biog­ra­phy. “In addi­tion to all the feel­ings a daugh­ter has for a lov­ing, gen­er­ous father, I owe you what every Eng­lish­man, woman & child does – Lib­er­ty itself.”

  2. Richard, Splen­did stuff. You have entered my com­mon­place book with the quo­ta­tion of the day–you quot­ing Reid, Reid quot­ing Lord Moran, me quot­ing you. With your help and the Churchill con­fer­ences, I have all three vol­umes of The Last Lioin signed and hap­pi­ly shar­ing space with your fine books in the Churchill room of my home library.

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