Focal Point Publications

The International Campaign for Real History



May 28/29, 1988

DAVID REYNOLDS: “As David Irving has said, this country has invested a great deal in Winston Churchill — in a mythology that has been built up around a very remarkable leader. That mythology, as many historians are aware, has sometimes created a monument in which the man himself has become imprisoned. And part of the reason why David Irving’s work has attracted controversy is because it does offend against much of this national myth. It seems to me that the two central arguments in the book which David Irving has written —

(DAVID IRVING: Which you have read –)
REYNOLDS: — are first of all that Britain could have had a compromise peace with Hitler in the summer of 1940 but for Churchill’s wilful determination to carry on a war for his own purposes; and that secondly by carrying on that war Churchill sold out the British Empire — lost the British Empire — bankrupted it, and in particular delivered it into the hands of its greatest enemy which was in fact Franklin Roosevelt and the United States. Those seem to me to be the central historical claims.”

IRVING: “I think you put it very fairly.”

REYNOLDS: “Now each of those claims has more plausibility than we might think if we are brought up as it were on the mythologies about Churchill. Because for example it’s clear that there was discussion in the summer of 1940 about a compromise peace . . . There is plenty of material in the Cabinet minutes and elsewhere but it’s not widely known. It was discussed. Churchill himself was part of it. I myself believe Churchill had his own moments of uncertainty about whether Britain could see the war through. But I disagree in the end with David Irving’s judgement profoundly as to whether we could have got a compromise peace that would have been satisfactory in the summer of 1940. The second argument equally has a certain plausibility. The consequence of the Second World War if you like is certainly that Hitler is defeated but that Britain loses 25% of her wealth. It accelerates the loss of Empire, it leads to all sorts of problems in Britain’s adaptation to a post-war world. But to say that Churchill sold out the Empire seems to me to ignore much longer historical trends, seems to ignore the whole consequence of a war which turned out very differently from what people expected.

“So that my central case would be that: here are the two main arguments which David Irving has stated, we could have had a compromise peace; by fighting on Churchill lost the Empire. Each has a certain plausibility, but I am quite happy to talk for several hours on which I think neither of those ultimately is active.

REYNOLDS: “David Irving is saying that he [Churchill] exaggerated some of these stories [Boer War, etc.] Well he did, I think. . .”

LORD HAILSHAM: “From Cuba onwards he proved himself to be extremely brave.”

REYNOLDS: “… In certain ways Churchill was way out of touch.”

JACK JONES: “That was why he did not have the complete support of the working population. They praised him for his wonderful speeches during the war but there was a lot of suspicion about him.”

REYNOLDS: “I think that it is undoubtedly true that a number of references to what people considered to be Churchill’s alcoholism have been cut out of at least published records. I have seen them myself, comparing originals with the published text: but he wasn’t an alcoholic — he had a remarkable capacity to imbibe liquor, but much of the drink which he had was very weak.”

HAILSHAM: “It was the same with his cigars, you know. . . He ate his cigars, rather than smoked them.”

MODERATOR: “But did it [the drinking] affect his judgement?”

IRVING: “Wait until volume two. I give specific examples.”

REYNOLDS: “On the whole no. I think the judgement, where it was flawed, was flawed because of the kind of person he was — the impulsiveness, and the rest of it. The evidence that I have seen suggests that on the whole — There were nights when I think he did drink too much. I think there was a period in his life when he might have done. But I don’t think he was in that sense an alcoholic.”

IRVING: “I can give one very serious example, which isn’t in this volume, it is in the second volume. On July 6, 1944, we know from the private diary of Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, the chief of naval staff — that Churchill turned up at the Cabinet meeting that evening ‘very much the worse for drink.’ And we know from the Canniest records that on that evening Churchill took the decision to start, in violation of the Geneva Convention, poison gas attacks on German cities. He didn’t do it, because he was talked out of it by the chiefs of staff in a very long, thirty-day long, process.”

IRVING: “You [Reynolds] skated over how he was [financially] surviving during this period [the Wilderness Years.] He had huge outgoings, he had Chartwell, large personal staff. Do you have any conclusions on this?”

ANTHONY MONTAGUE BROWN: … “He survived by his pen.”.

IRVING: … “But it doesn’t add up.”

MODERATOR: “You challenge Martin Gilbert‘s scholarship?”

IRVING: “I challenge his scholarship for two reasons. Firstly he has not ventured to express an opinion. Well, that’s his right, he’s a chronicler. But secondly he has not done the research! He has sat in front of one trough for the last 25 years and all the newspapers today are saying, ‘What a magnificent job he’s done!’ But any historian . . . [inaudible:] knows other archive [that he hasn’t] worked in the other archives — Ottawa, Canberra, Hyde Park in New York State, and so on.”

REYNOLDS: “Every historian is in Martin Gilbert’s debt for putting together a vast biography which does its best to cover every day of Churchill’s life accompanied by a vast mass of companion volumes and documents. . . Now that has its limitations. Most of the reviews of Martin Gilbert’s work have said that you tend a little bit too much to take Churchill at his own estimation. But few of us have written on the scale and at the speed which Martin Gilbert has done –“

(IRVING: “Speed! Twenty five years!”)
“– The point is this: David Irving has gone to a whole range of archives in different parts of the world … and has looked from a different angle. . .”

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