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Winston Churchill’s Unknown Canon, Part 1: Contributions to Other Works
Almost unknown today, Churchill’s tale of bravery, “The Doctor and the Soldier,” appeared in this 1904 collection of courageous acts by distinguished writers. There are three binding variants. All photos from the Ronald I. Cohen Collection at Hillsdale College
Mr. Cohen begins a survey of what we like to call the “Unknown Canon.” These are Winston Churchill’s contributions to books by other authors, periodicals, letters, articles, speeches, statements and other literary works—unknown or overlooked since publication. These rare contributions offer rich scholarly value and a worthy collectivity.
The Cohen Collection of Churchill’s contributions, now at Hillsdale College, joins the Gilbert Papers and other important archives gathered, as Sir Martin put it, “in search of Churchill.” This installment covers Churchill’s contributions to books, pamphlets, leaflets and portfolios.
“Everything else, too”: a personal odyssey
The writings of Sir Winston Churchill have been collectible for many decades. I began my quest for them over fifty years ago and enjoyed, I may say, some success. I was what booksellers joyfully describe as “a completist.” I sought everything that appeared under Churchill’s name. Most collectors seek his books, supplemented perhaps by pamphlets or leaflets containing writings or speeches. But this is only part—albeit the best-known part—of Churchill’s remarkable literary output.
Winston Churchill was a prolific writer. Section A in my Bibliography of his writings lists 318 books, pamphlets and leaflets wholly or substantially by him. They have been translated into thirty-one languages, some as recently as 2019. Section A is by far the best-known of Churchill’s literary output. Yet it includes many items that have never been reproduced since, individually or in collections.
We all benefit from Hillsdale’s twenty-three volumes of The Churchill Documents, Robert Rhodes James’s Complete Speeches (eight volumes, not really complete), and the 332 Churchill articles in the Collected Essays (four volumes, not all collected). Vital as these contributions are, they do not capture everything Churchill wrote or said. There is far more. The task I set myself, all those years ago, was to find everything else, too.
Churchill’s contributions include prefaces, forewords, introductions, chapters and epilogues, letters, memoranda and conversations. Some are full essays. Others are expressions of respect or friendship, occasionally tinged with emotion. Next come his periodical articles, letters, memoranda, statements and interviews. Bibliographically, these contributions fall into Sections B through G, the bulk of which is in the Cohen Collection at Hillsdale. Very many have never been reprinted in any volume or set of volumes since. Together the contributions comprise Churchill’s “Unknown Canon.” We estimate that they comprise about 15% of his fifteen million published words.
Section B: contributions to books, pamphlets, leaflets and portfolios
Section B, my focus here, contains 222 items. Fewer than fifty have been subsequently collected in another work, whether in the Essays, Speeches, Documents or Official Biography. Nor are they in Churchill’s own compendia, such as Thoughts and Adventures and Great Contemporaries, or his own speech volumes, like Into Battle. The Unknown Canon includes close to 175 virtually unknown Section B contributions, well worth consideration by Churchill scholars.
It is logical to raise these rare items to a meaningful position. They range from the relatively modest to works of real significance. Many were considered important enough to be proclaimed on the accompanying dust jackets (which are themselves quite perishable), as far back as 1912.
Note: The numbers in parentheses below refer to Cohen Bibliographic numbers and dates. For conciseness of presentation, some quoted paragraphs have been combined.
The War against the Dutch Republics (B1, 1901)
This previously unreported work contains among its contributions Churchill’s “The Advantages of Clemency.” It began as a telegram to the Morning Post about the Boer War, republished in the Manchester Guardian on 2 April 1900. In it, the 25-year old Churchill writes movingly of a value he expressed all his life—magnanimity…
It is strange that the soldiers in the field should hold more tolerant views than prevail at home. However, it is not perhaps the first time that victorious gladiators have been surprised to see the thumbs turned down in the Imperial box. I am more than ever convinced of the importance of showing great generosity to submitting rebels…. The Natal Ministers…are not in a vindictive mood, nor do they want anyone hanged, but they do not consider that the rebellion can be allowed to pass sub silentio.
I must earnestly protest against this spirit of revenge, which, though it may not animate the Ministers themselves, agitates the colony, and may eventually, unless Imperial influence be exerted, carry all before it. Beware of driving men to desperation; even a cornered rat is dangerous…. Those who demand “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” should ask themselves whether such barren spoils are worth five years’ bloody partisan warfare.
National Physical Training (B2, 1904)
Here is a Churchill chapter on an unfamiliar subject: “Good Feeding a Necessary Antecedent to all Physical Training.” In it he discusses “the provision of meals for children who are under-fed”:
The moment the State makes itself responsible for a compulsory system of physical training, it also makes itself responsible for seeing that those who have to undergo that training are in a fit condition to receive it…. It is not simply a question of making an addition to the curriculum of the schools. You must either feed these children at the cost of the State, or you must force the parents to feed them. Good food must be the foundation of any system of physical training. … Food is more important than anything else. Give children plenty of good food and opportunities for playing games and you will do much to stimulate the natural processes by which a healthy physique is produced…. You cannot over-estimate the value of good wholesome food…. [Y]ou cannot make bricks without straw, you cannot run a locomotive without fuel.
The Bravest Deed I Ever Saw (B4, 1905)
Churchill’s chapter, “The Doctor and the Soldier,” addresses bravery, a quality exemplified and admired. He describes an act of immense courage in 1897. Though treated in his Malakand Field Force, it is presented here as a revised essay. A British officer, Lieutenant H. B. Ford, was badly wounded in his shoulder when a surgeon-lieutenant saved his life. The doctor, Churchill writes,
…not only went to the aid of Ford, but at the peril of his life he struck a match and examined the wound. The match went out amid a splutter of bullets, which kicked up the dust all around, but by its uncertain light he saw the nature of the injury. The officer had already fainted from loss of blood. The doctor seized the artery, and, as no other ligature was forthcoming, he remained under fire for three hours holding a man’s life between his finger and thumb. When at length it seemed that the enemy had broken into the camp, he picked up the still unconscious officer in his arms, and, without relaxing his hold, bore him to a place of safety. His arm was for many hours paralysed with cramp from the effects of the exertion of compressing the artery. I think there are few, whatever may be their views or interests, who will not applaud this splendid act of devotion.
The profession of medicine and surgery must always rank as the most noble that men can adopt. The spectacle of a doctor in action among soldiers, in equal danger and with equal courage, saving life where all others are taking it, allaying pain where all others are causing it, is one which must always seem glorious, whether to God or man.
Harry Butters R.F.A. (B18, 1918)
In an emotional letter originally published in The Observer but collected here, Churchill wrote of a young American soldier who gave his life for the British forces in 1916. Here is a part of his tribute:
I met him quite by chance in his observation post near Ploegsteert and was charmed by his extraordinary fund of wit and gaiety…. A whole table could sit and listen to him with the utmost interest and pleasure. He was a great “character,” and had he lived to enjoy his bright worldly prospects he could not have failed to make his mark…. I venture to put these few lines on paper not because his sacrifice and story differ from those of so many others in these hard days, but because, coming of his own free will, with no national call or obligation, a stranger from across the ocean, to fight and die in our ranks, he had it in his power to pay a tribute to our cause of exceptional value.
Building Societies, 1929 (B37)
Churchill’s vast scope of interest is reflected in his contributions of tributes to various bodies that are unrecorded elsewhere. He praised Chartered Surveyors, Building Societies, the Employment Exchange Service. In his constituency, he lauded the Civil Defence Organisation of the Borough of Wanstead & Woodford (B105). He wrote of the Royal Liver Friendly Society (B119), and the Victory Club for ex-servicemen and women (B160/1). In Building Societies, he credits their “remarkable expansion…during the difficult and often anxious years that have passed since 1918.” Speaking as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he wrote:
I have constantly in mind the importance of increasing the nation’s savings. Towards this end the Building Societies have made and are making a great contribution. Their assistance to thrift is twofold. On the one hand they attract a large volume of savings by the facilities for investment which they offer, and I am glad to know that the Societies are particularly interested in giving opportunities for the investment of small sums…. The stream of saving thus set flowing by the Building Societies will not stop when the immediate purpose of house ownership is achieved. The habit of saving will survive, and the nation will continue to benefit from the work of the Societies long after their primary aim has been attained.
The Employment Exchange Service of Great Britain (B54, 1934)
In his foreword to this volume, Churchill recalled his own role. As President of the Board of Trade in 1909, he had introduced the Labour Exchanges Bill. He writes:
At the time of their establishment few people could have anticipated the rapidity and extent of their development or the volume and complexity of the problems with which they would have to deal. Within a short time they were plunged into the maelstrom of Government activities consequent upon the European War and played a considerable part in the recruitment and selection of personnel for all branches of the national services, combatant and civilian…. Throughout the vicissitudes of the war and post-war years the Exchange system has adapted itself to the needs of the time; as its first duties have increased in volume and new duties have been added, the system has necessarily expanded and today covers the whole country and in some way or another touches the lives of the vast majority of the inhabitants of Great Britain…. [The Service’s value] is shewn by the rapid increase in recent years in the number of vacant situations filled, which in 1933 reached the high figure of over two million.
The B.B. & C.I. Annual (B68/1, 1939)
Among contributions to unknown works is Churchill’s note in an annual of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway. Here he writes of the uniqueness of the British Commonwealth in the midst of “a scene of menace and horror…amid the threatening clouds of catastrophe.”
This Empire is unique in history. It is not the creation of a man of genius or of military power. It is the fruit of many men’s efforts. The co-operation and loyalty of such men, many unknown to history, have built up a great tradition of liberty and service. In the successful working of a great railway, co-operation and loyalty are necessary and are exercised daily. A thousand men are responsible for running a single express.
Churchill’s interest in and connection to such organizations was deep. This is only a sampling of his literary contributions about them in the Unknown Canon.
Tributes and encomiums
Churchill contributions include numerous introductions, forewords or prefaces to works by associates, many of them never republished. The range of individuals, and what he had to say about them, is instructive of his life and character. None of the following contributions have been reprinted, individually or in collections. They include his early literary agent A.P. Watt (B7), his Scotland Yard bodyguard and an American secretary. He wrote of friends, colleagues, even adversaries. Among them were Mark Sykes (B29), Marthe McKenna (B50), the Earl of Birkenhead (B51), Paul Maze (B56), Lieut.-Gen. Sir Tom Bridges (B63), Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes (B65), Jean, Lady Hamilton (B77), Josiah Wedgwood (B82), Lord Birdwood (B75), Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart (B122), Andrew Rae Duncan (B130), Eddie Marsh (B137), Brendan Bracken (B160), Sir Philip Vian (B166) and Lord Ismay (B168). Here are some notable examples…
Faithful Staffers: Thompson and Moir
Churchill often cautioned staff members: “You’re not going to write, are you?” He made two early exceptions: his bodyguard and his temporary secretary. In a fond foreword to Inspector W.H. Thompson’s Guard from the Yard (B64, 1938), Churchill wrote with piquant humor:
I think he is quite justified in putting down his impressions and recollections of our travels in different countries. Of course, being always on the look-out he would naturally see some things which escaped me, and there were certainly some dangers of which I was not aware till they were passed. It is astonishing to me, looking back on those times, how many different kinds of people—Suffragettes, Sinn Feiners, Communists, Egyptians, Indians and the usual percentage of ordinary lunatics—have from time to time shown a very great want of appreciation of my public work. It is sad to reflect that though many of them have carried their causes to success, they do not seem any happier nor the world any better for all the trouble they took!
Churchill wrote a letter of commendation for his New York secretary, Phyllis Moir. It became the introduction to I Was Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary (B73, 1941). It demonstrates their relationship, and his willingness to have her write about it:
Miss Phyllis Moir came to me with very high recommendations which have been completely justified. She is not only an excellent stenographer, but is a highly competent Private Secretary, able to write letters on her own judgment, and to keep accounts. She is also an excellent traveller, and in every way competent, trustworthy and agreeable. I can most cordially recommend her to anyone having need of capable and confidential assistance of this kind.
My Life of Revolt (B57, 1935)
There is a bountiful collection of tributes to colleagues, even opponents, whom Churchill admired. David Kirkwood was a socialist trade unionist active in the Red Clydeside era. They agreed on little, yet Churchill recognized Kirkwood’s quality. He was, Churchill wrote, a prime example of the loyal and patriotic opposition:
David Kirkwood and the strong type he represents are the natural foes of tyranny. Gripped in the iron regimentations of the Continent, they would resist with an indomitable, or at the worst desperate, tenacity. Many of his readers have disapproved of his view and actions in the past and will probably do so in the future. But should the life and freedom of our race again be called in question we shall all find ourselves together heart and hand.
My Fight to Rearm Britain (B68, 1939)
In the 1930s, Churchill and Viscount Rothermere shared a belief that Britain must arm in the face of Germany. Churchill’s appreciative letter-introduction to Rothermere’s book reads in part:
I hear with interest that you are going to tell of your long campaign for British rearmament. When the present regime in Germany was new you were one of the few voices warning Britain of her need for an overwhelming air force and a modernised navy. I know how ungrudgingly you have spent time, energy, and money in your endeavours to make the nation aware of its danger and its need to rearm. Our conceptions of sound foreign policy have at times differed, but I have appreciated to the full your patriotism and your sincere desire to see Britain virile and secure. It is well that you should put on record, and not only for our contemporaries, the story of the years when we had to struggle hard to procure the necessary measures of rearmament.
Churchill wrote the foreword to Colin Adam Forbes’s biography of Lord Lloyd. He repeated his House of Commons tribute to his friend after his sudden and unexpected death. This excerpt reveals the extent of Churchill’s esteem:
To me [his] loss is particularly painful. Lord Lloyd and I have been friends for many years and close political associates during the last twelve years. We championed several causes together which did not command the applause of large majorities; but it is just in that kind of cause, where one is swimming against the stream, that one learns the worth and quality of a comrade and friend…. Although his views, like perhaps some of mine, were very often opposed to the Labour Party, I say with the full assent of all his Labour colleagues, that he gained their respect and confidence and their regard in all these trying months, and that they found many deep points of agreement with him of which they had not previously been aware….
I would like to think, as one likes to think of every man in this House and elsewhere, that he died at the apex, at the summit of his career. It is sometimes said that good men are scarce. It is perhaps because the spate of events with which we attempt to cope and strive to control have far exceeded, in this modern age, the old bounds, that they have been swollen up to giant proportions, while all the time the stature and intellect of man remain unchanged. All the more therefore do we feel the loss of this high-minded and exceptionally gifted and experienced public servant.
Command Papers and the Corona Library series
There are many otherwise unreported forewords and introductions in Churchill’s Command Papers written as a Cabinet Minister in 1919-20. They include Statement Showing the Present and New Rates of Pay for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines (B11), Permanent Organization of the Royal Air Force (B20), Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War Relating to the Army Estimates for 1920–21 (B21), and The Evacuation of North Russia, 1919 (B24).
After Churchill left office, the Corona Library began a series on British colonies, starting with Sierra Leone (B157, 1957). Churchill wrote the same foreword for each. He had given President Eisenhower a similar message earlier, when Ike suggested he devote himself to decolonizing the Empire. An excerpt:
Not since the days of the Roman Empire has a single nation carried so great a responsibility for the lives of men and women born outside her shore as Great Britain does today. Within her forty or so dependent territories dwell eighty million people for whose welfare and enlightenment Britain is, to a greater or lesser degree, answerable.
There has been no lack of critics, at home and abroad, to belittle Britain’s colonial achievement and to impugn her motives. But the record confounds them. Look where you will, you will find that the British have ended wars, put a stop to savage customs, opened churches, schools and hospitals, built railways, roads and harbours, and developed the natural resources of the countries so as to mitigate the almost universal, desperate poverty. They have given freely in money and materials and in the services of a devoted band of Civil Servants; yet no tax is imposed upon any of the colonial peoples that is not spent by their own governments on projects for their own good.
Pictures of Morocco, the Riviera and Other Scenes (B26, 1921)
Churchill wrote important forewords to books on painting and sculpture. Notable is one to Sir John and Lady Lavery’s exhibition at the Alpine Club Gallery, London. It is difficult to quote only a part of this artistically expert essay, which like so many of the others, deserves full reproduction:
Sir John Lavery invites us to a new feast of his impression … [He] is a plein-artiste if there ever was one, painting entirely out of doors, with his eye on the object, and never touching a landscape in his studio. No painter has coped so successfully with the difficulties of this method. His practical ability makes it child’s play to transport easel and extensive canvas to the chosen scene, to stabilize them against sudden gusts of wind, to protect them from the caprice of the rain; and he is so quick that no coy transience of an effect can save it from his clutches … But here is Lady Lavery, making her first appearance. I will not call her a dark horse, but she is certainly a surprise…. She has gifts and graces of her own, which it would have been indeed a pity to hide beneath the bushel of her husband’s fame….
Churchill wrote forewords to two exhibit catalogues of the American sculptor Herbert Haseltine. They are not identical. Describing himself as among Haseltine’s “warm admirers,” he wrote in this London catalogue, as a fellow artist in another field:
In painting, a few lines by a great artist, drawn it would seem almost haphazard on the canvas, will often convey more than meticulous draftsmanship and painstaking study of shape and limb. But in sculpture, where I am admittedly far less qualified to judge, I give my vote unhesitatingly to the perfection of physical detail which makes Mr. Haseltine’s bronze animals such a joy to behold and such a treasure to own…. [H]e combines, to a degree that must surely have been rare at all times, the inspiration of the artist not only with a tireless application to detail but with a deep and expert technical knowledge of the subjects he has chosen to depict.
In Haseltine’s second (Paris) catalogue (B151, 1955) Churchill, who was horse-racing at the time added a note. “I might say, with greater truth, that the Horses [sculptures] have lived with me, for they have seemed to be far more than mere representatives of horses in bronze.”
British Jewry Book of Honour (B27, 1922)
There are so many more contributions in the Unknown Canon that I feel I do a disservice citing so few. On the other hand, I fear trying the reader’s patience. But I cannot resist Churchill’s important letter of support to the Jewish community in his letter in this tribute to the Jews who fought in the First World War:
It is with great pleasure that I accede to your request to contribute a message to the British Jewry Book of Honour. I feel, however, that any such message from me is unnecessary in view of the facts, which speak for themselves…. I can truthfully say that this record is a great one, and British Jews can look back with pride on the honourable part they played in winning the Great War.
The enduring nature of the Unknown Canon
Long after Churchill’s death, his 1936 Daily Mail article, “Why Not a Eurotunnel?” reappeared in the volume Eurotunnel (B197, 1973). Still later came a 1902 letter to The Times, “Sandhurst Punishments.” This resurfaced in The Last Cuckoo (B205. 1987). Then a series of letters and excerpts from Churchill’s 1898 articles in the Morning Post made it back to the public eye in Sudan: The Reconquest Reappraised (B211, 1998). Sadly, such resurrections of obscure Churchill works are rare. Far more have been forgotten.
Section B contributions are only part of this vast, little-known canon. Numerous Churchill contributions to periodicals have never been republished. (They are listed in Section C of my Bibliography.) Many were in obscure periodicals: Tit-Bits, Answers, John Bull, Ken, Nash’s Magazine, Pearson’s Magazine. His also wrote for Pictorial Magazine, later Pictorial Weekly, whose archives in the British Library were destroyed in the Blitz. And for P.T.O., Scouting, Smoker’s Companion, Sunday Dispatch and Youth’s Companion. He wrote “British Cavalry,” an important essay, in his mother’s short-lived quarterly, the Anglo-Saxon Review. Many other periodicals contain Churchill writings that were never republished. More on Section C in a later installment.
Winston Churchill’s Unknown Canon constitutes a largely undiscovered trove of his thought on a myriad of subjects. It was my good fortune to hunt for these contributions for half a century. I have been lucky enough to own many, which are now in the Cohen collection at Hillsdale College. Others were perused in the public and private libraries I had the good fortune to visit. We are now at a moment where the sharing of these writings offers a whole new field of Churchill Studies.
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is the author of the Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill (2006) and the editor of The Heroic Memory: The memorial addresses to the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston S. Churchill Society, 1990-2014 (2016). In 2014, Mr. Cohen was invested as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his services to British history. A co-founder and president of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa, he writes and speaks regularly about Churchill. The Hillsdale College Churchill Project now houses his collection of works with Churchill contributions, forewords, prefaces articles and audio recordings of his speeches and broadcasts.