Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “britian

Wormwood Street in the City of London after the IRA detonated a truck bomb; April 24th, 1993

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In March 1993 an Iveco tipper truck was stolen in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, and repainted from white to dark blue. A 1 tonne ANFO bomb made by the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade had been smuggled into England, and was placed in the truck disguised underneath a layer of tarmac. At approximately 9 am on 24 April, two volunteers from an IRA active service unit drove the truck containing the bomb onto Bishopsgate. They parked the truck outside 99 Bishopsgate, which was then the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, located by the junction with Wormwood Street and Camomile Street, and left the area in a car driven by an accomplice. A series of telephone warnings were then delivered from a phonebox in Forkhill, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, with the caller using a recognised IRA codeword and stating “[there’s] a massive bomb… clear a wide area”. Two police officers were already making inquiries into the truck when the warnings were received, and police began evacuating the area. An Iveco tipper truck, the type used to carry the bomb.

The bomb exploded at 10:27 am causing extensive damage to multiple buildings along a significant stretch of Bishopsgate; the cost of repair was estimated at the time at £1 billion. Buildings up to 500 metres away were damaged, with 1,500,000 sq ft (140,000 m²) of office space being affected and over 500 tonnes of glass broken. The NatWest Tower — at the time the City’s tallest skyscraper – was amongst the structures badly damaged, with many windows on the east side of the tower destroyed; the Daily Mail said “black gaps punched its fifty-two floors like a mouth full of bad teeth”. Damage extended as far north as Liverpool Street station and south beyond Threadneedle Street. St Ethelburga’s church, seven metres away from the bomb, collapsed as a result of the explosion. Civilian casualties were low as it was a Saturday morning and the City was typically occupied by only a small number of residents, office workers, security guards, builders, and maintenance staff. Forty-four people were injured by the bomb and News of the World photographer Ed Henty was killed after ignoring police warnings and rushing to the scene. The truck-bomb produced explosive power of 1,200 kg of TNT.

(Source)


News footage of the aftermath:

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Captain Francis Crozier – Commander of HMS “Terror”; ca. 1845

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Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in 1796 into a wealthy family in the Irish linen town of Banbridge, County Down. His father, George Crozier, was a prominent solicitor who acted for Ireland’s most powerful land-owning families, and he was named after Francis Rawdon, the Earl of Moira.

In 1810, three months before his 14th birthday, Crozier enlisted in the Royal Navy and was immediately thrown into the Napoleonic wars. On one of his earliest voyages, his ship became lost in the Pacific Ocean and unexpectedly arrived at tiny Pitcairn Island, where the crew met the sole surviving mutineer from the Bounty.

After the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the Admiralty turned to exploration in an attempt to find work for its ranks of idle officers and to expand the British Empire. Arctic discovery was a key ambition during this energetic burst of exploration, which produced men such as Franklin, Parry, the Rosses and Crozier.

Crozier’s first polar expedition came in 1821, when he volunteered to join Parry’s attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, a feat that had eluded sailors for centuries. They returned after two years without success, but Crozier went north again a year later when Parry took the vessels Fury and Hecla on another vain bid to locate the passage. Disaster was only narrowly averted when Fury was wrecked in Prince Regent Inlet, and the entire party limped home on board Hecla.

In 1827, Crozier joined Parry and James Clark Ross in an arduous slog to reach the North Pole. The party, dragging heavily laden boats, trekked for more than 1,000 kilometres, but advanced only 275 kilometres north because the remorseless drift of the pack ice carried them steadily south. It was akin to walking the wrong way up a fast-moving escalator, and the men survived thanks largely to the depots earlier laid down by the diligent Crozier. But the ‘furthest north’ record of 82° 45’ stood for almost half a century.

On successive journeys, Crozier demonstrated his reliability and an aptitude for the painstaking business of magnetic and astronomic readings. In 1827, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was elected a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in 1843. His prominent sponsors included the astronomer Sir John Herschel and Sir Francis Beaufort, creator of the Beaufort scale and one of the co-founders of the Royal Geographical Society.

Crozier’s most accomplished feat was the mammoth four-year journey to Antarctica in Erebus and Terror with James Clark Ross, which arguably ranks as the 19th century’s most outstanding voyage of maritime discovery. He captained Terror and never lost a man – a rare achievement at the time.

Setting out in 1839, the Erebus and Terror expedition was the last great journey made under sail, penetrating the pack ice of the Southern Ocean and discovering vast tracts of the Antarctic continent. It also bequeathed many of the now familiar geographical names to the Heroic Age of Exploration, including Mount Erebus, Ross Island and McMurdo Sound. The Great Ice Barrier, where Scott’s party perished in 1912, was so named because it presented a barrier to Erebus and Terror (it was re-named the Ross Ice Shelf in the 1950s). And Cape Crozier, the windswept headland on Ross Island that was later immortalised by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s book on Scott’s expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, is now renowned for its emperor penguin colony.

However, the Antarctic journey took a heavy toll on both Crozier and Ross. On their return, witnesses were shocked at the way their hands trembled – the tremors so pronounced that they could hardly hold a glass.

Sadly, Crozier was also suffering from a broken heart. On the voyage south, the ships had stopped at the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), where Crozier fell deeply in love with Sophy Cracroft, the flirty niece of the old explorer Sir John Franklin, who had been appointed the island’s governor. His repeated proposals of marriage were rejected because Cracroft refused to become a captain’s wife. ‘She liked the man, but not the sailor,’ her aunt once confided.

Heartbroken and depressed, Crozier elected to head north again in 1845 when the Admiralty launched a fresh attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage in Erebus and Terror. Although Crozier was the most experienced polar captain still serving, the Admiralty gave command of the expedition to Franklin, an overweight 59-year-old who hadn’t taken a ship into the ice for 27 years. It was a snub that hurt Crozier, and he probably should have chosen that moment to retire from exploration. But in a vain attempt to appeal to Cracroft, Crozier volunteered to travel as Franklin’s deputy and assume command of Terror.

In his last letter home, a melancholic Crozier wrote: ‘In truth I am sadly lonely.’ More pertinently, he was worried that the expedition had sailed too late in the season and also questioned Franklin’s leadership, writing that ‘[Franklin] is very decided in his own views but has not good judgement’.

UNSPECIFIED - 1870: Ill. of the ships "Erebus" and "Terror", belonging to the arctic exploration team led by Englishman John Franklin, head into the ice floes of Baffin Bay towards the North Pole, from which they never returned. (Photo by Mansell/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Erebus and Terror crossed Baffin Bay during the summer of 1845 and entered the treacherous Arctic waterways of Lancaster Sound with 129 officers and men aboard. They were never to return.

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Disaster struck in 1847, when the ships became trapped in the ice in Victoria Strait. Shortly after, Franklin died and command of the expedition passed to Crozier. The ships were abandoned in 1848, and it was Crozier who inherited the hopeless task of leading about 100 starving survivors in a forlorn retreat across the ice. Men fell dead in their tracks; years later, examination of their bones revealed that some had resorted to cannibalism in the struggle to survive.

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Crozier’s death march ripples with historical significance. At one point, the survivors reached the narrow Simpson Strait that runs between King William Island and mainland Canada. Unknown to Crozier, the strait was the last piece of the jigsaw that – at that point – made up the Northwest Passage. A little over 50 years later, the Norwegian Amundsen navigated the strait during the first navigation of the passage and graciously flew his ship’s colours in salute.

According to native accounts, a few desperate souls from the Franklin expedition clung to life for several years after the ships were abandoned, but none managed to find a route to safety. Crozier, the imperturbable and experienced commander, is thought to have been among the last to succumb.

(Source)


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The preserved body of Royal Navy stoker John Torrington who died in 1846 during Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in the Canadian Arctic; ca. 1984

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Petty Officer John Shaw Torrington (1825 — 1 January 1846) was an explorer and Royal Navy stoker. He was part of an expedition to find the Northwest Passage, but died early in the trip and was buried on Beechey Island.

Torrington was a part of Sir John Franklin’s final expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route to Asia, via the northern edge of North America. They set off from Greenhithe, England in two ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, on 19 May 1845. The trip was expected to last about three years, so the ships were packed with provisions which included more than 136,000 pounds of flour, 3,684 gallons of high-proof alcohol and 33,000 pounds of tinned meat, soup and vegetables. However, after late July no one heard from or saw the crew again.

Since Torrington was one of the earlier of Franklin’s crew members to perish during the arctic expedition, he was buried in a tomb beneath approximately five feet of permafrost by his fellow men.

As a result of the subzero arctic temperatures, Torrington was preserved remarkably well with identifiable features including bright, pale blue eyes and skin that was still intact despite bruising and yellowing. A fellow crew member who had died around the same time and was buried next to Torrington also showed minimal signs of decomposition.

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A full, four-hour autopsy was performed on Torrington’s body in 1984 with the permission of living descendants. The procedure was performed out in the open arctic air; it consisted of dissecting and sampling each of the body’s organs,bone examination, and extraction of hair, and nail samples for analysis. The autopsy team then re-dressed and re-buried the body in its arctic tomb.

Torrington had developed a fatal case of pneumonia prior to the disappearance of Franklin’s expedition. Bone tissue samples taken from the body in 1984 also revealed that Torrington had lead poisoning; a common condition of arctic explorers of the time due to early canned foods as a primary food source. Additionally, inspection of the lungs also indicated that Torrington was likely a cigarette smoker, a plausible theory as he came from an industrial region of Britain. The lead poisoning and history of smoking would have worsened the symptoms and severity of pneumonia thereby leading to Torrington’s demise around 1846.


Torrington’s body was bound with strips of cotton to hold the limbs together during preparation for burial:

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The tinned wrought iron plaque nailed to the lid of John Torrington’s coffin. The inscription reads: ‘John Torrington dies January 1st 1846 aged 20 years’:

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The coffin containing John Torrington. The arrow points true north:

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An 18 year old Queen Elizabeth II as a princess; ca. 1944

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A British soldier gives a “two-fingered salute” to German POWs captured at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Egypt; ca. 1942

The German POW on the left has a pretty clean haircut.

The German POW on the left has a pretty clean haircut.

The “two-fingered salute”, is commonly performed by flicking the V upwards from wrist or elbow. The V sign, when the palm is facing toward the person giving the sign, has long been an insulting gesture in England, and later in the rest of the United Kingdom; though the use of the V sign as an insulting gesture is largely restricted to the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. It is frequently used to signify defiance (especially to authority), contempt, or derision. The gesture is not used in the United States, and archaic in Australia and New Zealand, where the finger tends to be used in such situations instead.

(Source)

Here’s a report on the behavior of British POWs during the war, hopefully making it the Britishest thing you’ve read today.


A large French digging machine building trenches on the western front during WWI.

 The digging was moving away from the solider. A Trencher like that moved backwards as it digs.

The digging was moving away from the solider. A Trencher like that moved backwards as it digs.


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Gas Mask Girls: Dancers at the Windmill Theatre in London, practice a routine wearing gas masks and hard-hats with their costumes; Jan 1940.

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“War is organised murder and nothing else….politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder”

Harry Patch was the last Tommy to survive the horror of the trenches of WWI. He died aged 111 in 2009.

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He never forgot those lost and always made sure to remember lost Germans as well as Allied troops. A quote from Harry: “Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.”

5hekHgqThe following account was given by Harry Patch in 2007 when he was 109:

We were the PBI. That’s what we called ourselves. The poor bloody infantry. We didn’t know whether we’d be dead or alive the next day, the next hour or the next minute.

We weren’t heroes. We didn’t want to be there. We were scared. We all were, all the time. And any man who tells you he wasn’t is a damn liar.

Life in the trenches was dirty, lousy, unsanitary. The barrages that preceded battle were one long nightmare. And when you went over the top, it was just mud, mud and more mud. Mixed with blood. You struggled through it, with dead bodies all around you. Any one of them could have been me.

Yet 90 years on, I’m still here, now 109 years old. It’s incredible to think that of the millions who fought in the trenches in the First World War, I’m the only one left – the last Tommy.

So now, on Remembrance Sunday, it is up to me to speak out for all those fallen or forgotten comrades. But today isn’t just about my generation. It is about all the servicemen who have risked or given their lives, and the soldiers who are still doing so.

My comrades died long ago and it’s easy for us to feel emotional about them. But the nation should honour what we did by helping the young soldiers of today feel worthwhile, by making them feel that their sacrifice has been worth it.

Remember the men in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t make them wait eight decades, like my generation had to wait, to feel appreciated.

The time for really remembering our Forces is while they are at war or in the years immediately after they return, when they are coping with the shock and distress or just the problems of returning to civilian life.

That is what upsets me now. It is as if we have not learned the lessons of the war of 90 years ago.

Last year, the politicians suggested holding a commemoration service at Westminster Abbey to honour the remaining First World War veterans. But why? What for? It was too, too late.

Why didn’t they think about doing something when the boys came back from the war bloodied and broken? And why didn’t they do more for the veterans and the widows in later life?

It was easy to forget about them because for years afterwards they never spoke out about the horrors they had experienced. I was the same. For 80 years I bottled it up, never mentioning my time in the trenches, not even to my wife or sons.

I never watched a war film either. It would have brought back too many bad memories.

And in all that time, although I never said it, I still felt a deep anger and resentment towards our old enemy, the Germans.

Three years ago, at the age of 106, I went back to Flanders for a memorial service. I met a German veteran, Charles Kuentz. It was 87 years since we had fought. For all I know, he might have killed my own comrades. But we shook hands. And we had so much more in common than I could ever have thought.

He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak German. We had a translator but in a way we didn’t need him. After we had talked, we both sat in silence, looking at the landscape. Both of us remembering the stench, the noise, the gas, the mud crusted with blood, the cries of fallen comrades.

Once, to have shaken the hand of the enemy would have been treason, but Charles and I agreed on so much about that awful war. A nice old chap, he was. Why he should have been my enemy, I don’t know.

He told me: “I fought you because I was told to and you did the same.” It’s sad but true.

When Charles and I met, we’d both had a long time to think about the war and all that had happened. We both agreed it had been a pointless exercise. We didn’t know each other, we’d never met before, so why would we want to kill each other?

Charles has died now, but after our meeting he wrote me a letter. It said: “Shaking your hand was an honour and with that handshake we said more about peace than anything else ever could. On Sunday, I shall think of you, old comrade.”

Now, finally, I feel I can talk about those times. I’ve even written a book about my life and they say that makes me the oldest ever first-time author. Isn’t that something? I hope it helps people understand how the young men of my generation suffered.

I was conscripted into the 7th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1916, by which time enthusiasm for the war had fallen away. I knew when I watched the White Cliffs receding as I sailed for France that I might never see England again.

I was put in a Lewis gun crew with three others and we became a very close team by the time we were ordered up to the front line during the Battle of Passchendaele. It was August 16, 1917, and just a couple of months after my 19th birthday.

It doesn’t matter how much training you’ve had, you can’t prepare for the reality of the front line – the noise, the filth, the uncertainty, the casualties, the call for stretcher-bearers.

Exactly 90 years later, in July this year, I returned to that very spot with The Mail on Sunday. There, in the sleepy Flanders countryside, I stared out at what was once No Man’s Land and it all came back to me.

The bombardment like non-stop claps of thunder, the ground we had to cover, the stench of rotting bodies who would never be buried.

You lived in fear and counted the hours. You saw the sun rise, hopefully you’d see it set. If you saw it set, you hoped to see it rise. Some men would, some wouldn’t.

Then the war, for me, suddenly came to an end. We were crossing open ground at Pilckem Ridge on September 22. In my mind, I can still see the shell explosion that took three of my pals and nearly did for me too.

I wasn’t told until later that the three behind me had been blown to pieces. My reaction was terrible and it’s still difficult to explain. It was like losing part of my life. The friendship you have during a war, it’s almost like love.

It was because of those three men that I did not speak about the war for most of my life. It was too painful. Today I have forgiven the men who killed them – they were in the same position as us. I find it harder, though, to forgive the politicians.

Somebody told me the other day that at homecoming parades for our men in Iraq and Afghanistan, barely anyone turns up. I was shocked. Even in our day there would at least be some kind of welcome.

I hope that today people will take the time to remember not just those who have died but those who are alive and fighting for our country. Please don’t forget them – or leave your thanks until it is too late.

(Harry Patch was talking to Nigel Blundell.)

  • From The Last Fighting Tommy, by Harry Patch with Richard van Emden (Bloomsbury). Britain’s Last Tommies, also by Richard van Emden (Pen & Sword). 

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Herbert Ponting: Captain Scott’s Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913)

His joy is to reproduce its pictures artistically, his grief is to fail to do so. -Captain Robert Scott, 1911

Moustache encrusted with ice, photographer Herbert Ponting stands on an iceberg near McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, in 1911. Ponting was part of the scientific staff on the 1910-1912 Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole

Mustache encrusted with ice, photographer Herbert Ponting stands on an iceberg near McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, in 1911. Ponting was part of the scientific staff on the 1910-1912 Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole

A stable of Japanese sumo wrestlers, circa 1903 t

A stable of Japanese sumo wrestlers, circa 1903

Herbert Ponting began his career in photography relatively late in life. After moving from Salisbury England to California in his early twenties, he dabbled unsuccessfully in mining and fruit-farming before turning to photography. He became correspondent on the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, and afterwards continued to travel around Asia, exploring Burma, Korea, Java, China and India. During this time he delivered magnificently created images back to newspapers, periodical and magazines, and in 1910 released his book In Lotus-land Japan.

The Terra Nova, photographed in December 1910, Herbert Ponting

The Terra Nova, photographed in December 1910

In 1911 Ponting joined Scott’s British Terra Nova Expedition, which set out to collect scientific data about the Antarctic continent, with its main goal to reach the South Pole. Ponting was the first professional photographer on an Antarctic expedition and went on to set other precedents in Antarctica. He took some of the first still color photographs in Antarctica using auto chrome plates, and was one of the first men to use a cinematograph to capture short video sequences on the ice.

Herbert Ponting with his camera

Herbert Ponting with his camera

Herbert Ponting photographing a skua

Herbert Ponting photographing a skua

Coining the term to ‘pont’, meaning ‘to pose until nearly frozen, in all sorts of uncomfortable positions’, Ponting thought it imperative to get the picture just right. On the expedition he could often be found rigging up a device to allow himself to suspend from the ship, sometimes creating risky situations for himself and other crew mates.

Herbert Ponting leaving Terra Nova

Herbert Ponting leaving Terra Nova

During his fourteen months at Cape Evans he documented the Antarctic landscape, wildlife and expedition life, and often kept the men entertained by showing lantern slides of his travels through Asia.

Judged too old at the age of forty-two to sustain another grueling year on the ice, Ponting, along with eight other men, was sent home after the first year of the expedition. Back in England he was devastated to learn of the deaths of Scott and the Polar Party. He spent the remainder of his life lecturing on Antarctica and the expedition to ensure that the splendor of Antarctica and the heroism of Scott and his men would not be forgotten. His book The Great White South was published in 1921, and in 1933 his moving footage in full sound version Ninety Degrees South: With Scott to The Antarctic was released.

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“The Sleeping Bag” (Herbert Ponting’s poem, outlining preferences on how to orient one’s reindeer-skin sleeping bag):

On the outside grows the furside. On the inside grows the skinside.
So the furside is the outside and the skinside is the inside.
As the skinside is the inside (and the furside is the outside)
One ‘side’ likes the skinside inside and the furside on the outside.
Others like the skinside outside and the furside on the inside
As the skinside is the hard side and the furside is the soft side.
If you turn the skinside outside, thinking you will side with that ‘side’,
Then the soft side furside’s inside, which some argue is the wrong side.
If you turn the furside outside – as you say, it grows on that side,
Then your outside’s next the skinside, which for comfort’s not the right side.
For the skinside is the cold side and your outside’s not your warm side
And the two cold sides coming side-by-side are not the right sides one ‘side’ decides.
If you decide to side with that ‘side’, turn the outside furside inside
Then the hard side, cold side, skinside’s, beyond all question, inside outside.

Some of the Antarctic Photographs of Herbert Ponting:

Sun Across the Ice, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Sun Across the Ice, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Scott's Antarctic expedition from the 1910s

Ice Cave near Cape Evans with Terra Nova in Background, circa 1911

Mt. Erebus and a Dome Cloud, Scott Expedition, Antarctica by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Mt. Erebus and a Dome Cloud, Scott Expedition, Antarctica by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

“Dog Chris, listening to the gramophone, Antarctica” - photograph taken in January 1911 by Herbert Ponting, Robert Falcon Scott's official photographer for the the Terra Nova Expedition

“Dog Chris, listening to the gramophone, Antarctica” – photograph taken in January 1911 by Herbert Ponting, Robert Falcon Scott’s official photographer for the the Terra Nova Expedition

Berg under flashlight, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Berg under flashlight, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Barne Glacier, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting 1911

Barne Glacier, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting 1911

Captain Scott in his den, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911

Captain Scott in his den, Scott Expedition, Antarctica, by Herbert George Ponting, 1911


Winston Churchill and his reputation as one of Britain’s greatest leaders.

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Firstly a little bit of leadership theory to put Churchill into context, specifically that of Transformational Leadership.

Transformational leaders inspire their followers to achieve more than would normally be expected by a combination of:

  • Looking after followers’ individual needs, acting as a coach or mentor and developing them.
  • Challenging followers intellectually. Asking them to consider complex problems and come up with solutions by conducting their own research.
  • Providing inspirational motivation. Articulating a vision of the future, setting lofty goals and being optimistic about the team’s ability to achieve them.
  • Being a role model. Exemplifying everything they want their followers to be, setting high ethical and behavioral standards thus gaining respect and trust.

f0748c6555d28511ba409ced1c8507eea49a4f3b131f45c9f1dcff6f11539dcdWhenever Churchill took charge of a government department, the work rate would increase considerably. He was a man of energy and ideas who was always keen to understand the latest innovation or cutting edge technology. For example, by the time the neutron had been discovered, he had already written about the potential of nuclear power, especially in the military context.

This energy was most apparent when he became PM in May 1940, coincidentally on the day that the German Invasion of Belgium and France was launched. Thus the first six weeks of his premiership saw one of the worst strategic set backs in British military history as the BEF was defeated and forced to abandon France. In the face of exceptional pressure form the French to stay in France and to commit further reserves, he trusted his commanders and accepted that a withdrawal was the best option. Throughout this period he did as best a job as he could to placate the French (possibly even lying to them) in order to give his commanders the space they needed to effect the withdrawal. He moved between the tactical, operational and strategic levels of command on an almost hour by hour basis in order to understand, support and decide.

Churchill_waves_to_crowdsWhilst all this was going on, he took the time to familiarise himself with Britain’s air defences knowing all too well that this was the next line of defence. He trusted Hugh Dowding and Charles Portal, he trusted the air defence system and he supported Dowding’s recommendation not to send any more spitfires to France, knowing it was a lost cause. He then set about instilling his confidence into the British public. The “finest hour” speech is not simply a masterpiece of rhetoric, it is the cornerstone of a concerted effort to reassure Britain that its Air Force, by this point untested in any major campaign for 22 years, was up to the job of defeating a highly capable, more numerous and more experienced Luftwaffe. Whatever went on behind the scenes, he maintained the high vision of victory and portrayed an almost relentless optimism, whilst reminding everyone of the gravity of the situation.

539wDeep down he knew that the Royal Navy would be the deciding factor in case of invasion, but the opportunity to stop the enemy before he even reached the shores was one he seized upon and a cause he triumphed as if it were his own.

This pattern repeats itself throughout Churchill’s tenure: the frenetic activity surrounding him, the detailed interest in an important area of responsibility, the campaign (supported of course by excellent speeches) to reassure the public that everything would be OK and then exploiting successes. Note too that he took very little credit for himself, instead focusing the public’s attention on the men and women fighting the war and crediting them with success.

So we can see that WSC was highly adept at challenging his followers intellectually and providing inspirational motivation, but what of the other two elements of Transformational Leadership?

Churchill’s weakest suit, in my opinion, was looking after individual followers. He had a terrible habit of befriending people, using them for what he needed and then dropping them. He could even do this to entire organisations and has been heavily criticised for abandoning Bomber Command in the face of criticism about the strategic bombing campaign which he had supported.dK1dn

He was, however, an excellent role model. The pugnacious, stoic face of defiance in adversity, portrayed famously as the archetypal British bulldog, he set the tone for the British public to adopt – he was the archetype for the stereotype of the down-trodden but bloody-minded blitz victim. His military experience, including some remarkable individual heroics as a young subaltern and command of a battalion during the Great War, set him in good stead and enabled him to wear the uniform and rank of a commodore/brigadier/air commodore credibly.

9781533_1He was not, however, perfect. He was a contrary character who wouldn’t ordinarily have become Prime Minister, let alone a successful one. He was prone to flights of fantasy and was prepared to allow incredibly risky activities. He would often be reeled in by the likes of General Hastings Ismay, his chief military assistant for most of the war, who maintained a well-informed, realistic brief and was able to recover him from his more audacious fantasies. He was also prone to depression, his “black dog” and there is immense credit to be found in his ability inspire people as he did despite his own personal demon. These two quotes do a good job of reflecting on WSC:

In 1940 the American journalist Ralph Ingersoll reported:

Everywhere I went in London people admired [Churchill’s] energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose. People said they “didn’t know what Britain would do without him.” He was obviously respected. But no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the war. He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time. The time being the time of a desperate war with Britain’s enemies

Field Marshal Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff from 1941, wrote in his memoirs:

…..And the wonderful thing is that 3/4 of the population of the world imagine that Churchill is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other 1/4 have no idea what a public menace he is and has been throughout this war ! It is far better that the world should never know, and never suspect the feet of clay of this otherwise superhuman being. Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again…….Never have I admired and despised a man simultaneously to the same extent. Never have such opposite extremes been combined in the same human being.

True genius treads a fine line between triumph and disaster. Churchill knew this line all too well.

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Further Reading

Bass, B.M. & Avolio, B.J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership

Bungay, S. (2009), The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain

Jenkins, R. (2001), Churchill: A Biography

Storr, A. (1997) Churchill’s Black Dog and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind

Thompson, J. (2009), Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory