Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Churchill's story familiar, but must not be forgotten

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More has probably been written about Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Britain's great wartime prime minister, than any other political figure of the 20th century.

Adding to this corpus is this massive tome, the final instalment of a three-volume biography of Churchill by the late William Manchester, an American popular historian.

Unfortunately, Manchester died while working on this third volume; it was completed by his friend, American journalist Paul Reid.

The authors cover familiar ground; they do not seem to have any new information about Churchill's life. But it was an amazing life, and it is magnificently delineated.

The emphasis here is on the Second World War. A total of 880 pages is devoted to the years 1940-1945; the remaining 20 years of Churchill's life are covered in 122 pages.

Indeed, the bulk of this book reads more like a history of the Second World War, albeit with an emphasis on Churchill's contributions, than a biography.

Reading this narrative instills an appreciation for the herculean task of managing a war on a global scale.

With German submarines wreaking havoc on Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic Ocean, resources of food, oil and military equipment were scant; many hard decisions had to be made about their allocation in the various theatres of the war.

A constant concern was Russian dictator Joseph Stalin's insistence that the Allies open a second front in Western Europe to divert German troops from the Soviet Union.

The authors depict Churchill's strategic thinking, which underscored opportunism and improvisation in the conduct of war.

Churchill was an avid amateur artist and, the authors suggest, he approached geopolitics and military strategy with a painter's eye, seeing "myriad vistas, far and near."

Churchill was more than an inspiring war leader and statesman. He was a man of deep sensibility, often moved to tears, who reflected profoundly on the state of Britain, its past and future.

Writing in the 1930s, he said that "projects undreamed of by past generations will absorb our immediate descendants, comforts, activities, amenities, pleasures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, and their lives will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things."

Churchill was not sanguine about the postwar world that would emerge from the Second World War.

Toward the end of the war, he expressed his misgivings in a letter to his wife: "I fear increasingly that new struggles may arise out of those we are successfully ending."

Churchill placed his hopes for peace and British security in a close relationship with the United States and the promotion of continental European unity.

Winnipeg is mentioned in this biography -- specifically, the Winnipeg Grenadiers, one of two Canadian regiments sent to defend Hong Kong against a Japanese onslaught.

The story of Churchill and Britain in the Second World War is a familiar one, but it is vividly evoked by Manchester and Reid -- and it should never be forgotten.

Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 J10

History

Updated on Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 10:40 AM CST: adds fact box

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