By DAUN VAN EE
The year 2004 marks the 60th anniversary of the cross-Channel D-Day attack (June 6, 1944) as well as the 130th anniversary of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill, who played a large role in the June 6 invasion.
The Library of Congress explores the life of Churchill and his long relationship with the United States in its major exhibition "Churchill and the Great Republic," which is on view through July 10 in the Northwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building. The title of the exhibition, taken from the words Churchill often used to refer to the United States, reflects the respect and affection with which he regarded the English-speaking land on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Churchill and the Great Republic" is unique in at least two significant ways. First, it draws on the unparalleled collection of Churchill materials in the Churchill Archives Centre located at Churchill College, a part of the University of Cambridge in England. This is the first time that these materials have been part of a comprehensive Churchill exhibition in the United States. Second, more than two-thirds of the total items in the exhibition have been selected from the rich, multiformat resources of the Library of Congress. Some of the Library's materials are newly uncovered and have never before been publicly displayed.
President George W. Bush spoke in the Library's Great Hall about Churchill and the significance of his relationship to the United States on the afternoon of Feb. 5, and the exhibition opened to the public the following day. Hours for the exhibition are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
Churchill's remarkable output of words, both written and spoken, are featured in the 210 items on display. The primary, though not exclusive, sources for the information presented are manuscripts. Books, photographs, drawings, maps, audiovisual materials—and one very large, historic globe—round out the presentation and help viewers understand Churchill and his significant American ties. A sense of historical perspective is aided by a time line, which runs throughout the exhibition. On it are significant dates in Churchill' life, juxtaposed with major events in European and American history.
Eight audio stations in different sections of the exhibition allow visitors to listen to some of the Churchill speeches that established his reputation as one of history's greatest orators. Six of his most famous quotations are reproduced on the walls outside the main enclosures; there are also several revealing quotations others made about him. The exhibition opens and closes with two visual-media stations, which feature Churchill's own spoken words as well as those of politicians, world leaders, entertainers and cartoon characters as they quote, paraphrase or imitate him.
"Churchill and the Great Republic" has six major areas covering Churchill's life and achievements, from his birth on Nov. 30, 1874, in Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, to his death in 1965. Three of the areas deal with the World War II era, reflecting the pivotal role that Churchill played in shaping events during that critical period. The emphasis on this greatest of global conflicts is also appropriate because that was when Churchill's ties to, and conception of, the United States were crucial to the survival of civilization.
Description of the Exhibition
An Age of Youth
An introductory section titled "An Age of Youth" covers Churchill's ancestry, his parents and formative years, from 1706 to 1900. One of several remarkable items uncovered in the search for materials in the Library of Congress is a letter from Churchill's ancestor John Churchill, the brilliant soldier who became the first Duke of Marlborough. In this letter John Churchill asks his wife, Sarah, to relay to Queen Anne the news that he has just triumphed over the French in one of his greatest battles—Ramillies—on May 23, 1706.
Rewarding his victories in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Queen Anne had named John Churchill the Duke of Marlborough in 1702 and provided for his construction of Blenheim Palace at Oxfordshire in 1705, following his triumphant victory in the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Winston Churchill returned to Blenheim Palace often. It was the place he chose to propose to his future wife, Clementine Hozier, in 1908.
Among the pictures and documents illustrating the early life of Marlborough's descendant Winston Churchill is a report card for the 8-year-old future statesman. It states that during the grading period he had been "very naughty." Another note from Churchill the schoolboy begs his mother to allow him to skip school so that he can attend the Wild West show starring "Buffalow Bill."
More significant letters, from a little-used collection at the Library of Congress and previously unknown to scholars, depict Churchill's achievements as a battlefield hero and dashing war correspondent. One of these, written in pencil to his cousin "Sunny," the ninth Duke of Marlborough, as Churchill rode in a rocking passenger-train car, recounts his experiences in the Sudan Expedition of 1896-1898. He had just ridden in, and fortunately survived, one of the British Army's last great cavalry actions—the charge of the Twenty-first Lancers. Churchill's letter tells of deadly combat at close quarters—"under a foot's range"—and vividly describes the scenes of carnage: "I am not squeamish, but I have seen acts of great barbarity perpetrated at Omdurman and have been thoroughly sickened of human blood."
The section titled "Stirring Affairs," spanning the years 1900-1931, takes its title from words appearing in a Churchill letter written in 1912, after he had risen through the political process to become First Lord of the Admiralty, the civilian head of Britain's Navy. Other letters, some newly uncovered, show his anguish after the failure of an expedition to the Dardanelles during World War I. In despair, Churchill left his lofty post and went to the trenches of Flanders, where he led an infantry battalion in combat.
In one poignant missive to "Sunny" from "The Field," he thanked him for a letter and a promised box of food. "I have … had my tiny dog hole where I sleep in the line smashed up by a shell wh [sic] had it … detonated perfectly w'd [sic] have been the end of my chequered fortunes. … If I am killed at the head of my battalion, it will be an honourable & dignified finâle."
Churchill's marriage to Clementine Hozier in 1908 and his early political career are illustrated in this section as well.
The Finest Hour
Churchill's activities in the events leading up to, and at the outset of, World War II are covered in the third section, the first of three dealing with the war. The section takes its name from a memorable phrase he used in one of his most famous speeches, delivered as he and his nation prepared to face the Nazi onslaught alone: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'" The Churchill Archives Centre has loaned the Library a typescript draft of this address, complete with Churchill's handwritten changes; a sound recording from the Library's audio collections is also part of the display. This portion of the exhibition shows him at his most heroic, when, as President John F. Kennedy said later, he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. The emphasis is on the beginnings of his relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and their common goal to keep Britain fighting until the United States was ready to enter the war. Included are items illustrating Churchill's contention that the struggle was an "unnecessary war," in the sense that it never should have occurred. Churchill believed that if the victors from World War I—Britain, France and the United States—had met the rise of Fascist aggressor nations with firmness, the Axis nations, led by Adolf Hitler, would not have attacked them.
The Sword for Freedom
The Japanese air raid on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, finally brought America into the war. This point marks the beginning of the fourth section of the exhibition, covering the years 1941-1943. Churchill was eager to have the United States fight alongside the British forces in Europe. Wasting no time, he undertook a dangerous transatlantic journey in December 1941, arriving in time to spend Christmas at the White House. Making his first historic address to a joint session of Congress, he told them of his relief that "the United States, united as never before, have drawn the sword for freedom and cast away the scabbard." An annotated draft of this speech is on display, along with an audio recording and a photograph taken as he mesmerized his distinguished audience.
On the first day of 1942, Churchill and Roosevelt, along with representatives of China and the Soviet Union, signed a declaration creating the United Nations, the wartime alliance that eventually grew to form the nucleus for a lasting international organization. For the next year, Churchill tried to forge good working relationships with his most important ally, the United States, as well as with the Soviet Union and the Free French led by Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Among the letters on display in this fourth section is a handwritten note from Roosevelt to Churchill, in which the president called for the creation of a second front in Northwest Europe, one that would force the Nazis to draw pressure off the Soviets. Another holograph letter, from de Gaulle, asks Churchill's daughter-in-law to remind her young son, in years to come, that there was once a French general, during the greatest war in history, who was the sincere admirer of his grandfather (Churchill) and the faithful ally of Britain.
The most remarkable items in this portion of the exhibition, however, are handwritten notes passed between Churchill and Roosevelt envoy W. Averell Harriman as they rode in a noisy bomber en route to Moscow and a sensitive meeting with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. In these hastily scrawled memos, Churchill listed the actions that he was prepared to offer the Soviets in place of a second front in 1942; they also disclose Stalin's favorable reaction to news of the planned invasion of French North Africa in November 1942.
Unity and Strategy
The final section of the exhibition devoted to World War II, "Unity and Strategy," covers the years 1943-1945. After many frustrating delays, Allied forces wiped out the last remaining Axis troops in North Africa. The Allies exploited this success by undertaking operations in Sicily and then moving onto the Italian peninsula. Finally, after much debate and preparation, the Allies launched their long-awaited cross-Channel attack in June 1944.
Displayed in the exhibition is a situation map showing the placement of friendly and enemy forces as of midnight on that momentous day. The map is unique in that it was created for a notional First United States Army Group, a unit supposedly commanded by Gen. George S. Patton, as a part of the most successful deception effort of the war. This was the ruse, inspired by Churchill, that fooled the Germans into thinking that the main invasion was to come ashore at the Pas de Calais, after the Normandy landings. Another displayed item, a document stamped "Top Secret ULTRA," illustrates the greatest secret of the war: the knowledge that the British had broken the Germans' most secret codes and were deciphering all of their military and naval communications.
Cold War and Long Sunset
The last section of the exhibition, "Cold War and Long Sunset," contains materials from the final years of Churchill's life. Continuing his advocacy of greater Anglo-American cooperation, he prophesied the deterioration of relations among the former wartime allies and the coming of the Cold War. Becoming prime minister again in 1951 (and serving until 1955), he sought to lessen East-West tensions and prevent nuclear war by holding summit meetings with the leaders of the Soviet Union.
Featured in this section are photographs and sound clips from his famous 1946 speech, "The Sinews of Peace," delivered in Fulton, Mo., with President Truman at his side. This address became widely known as a result of its most notable sentence: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."
Also on display are a handwritten letter warning of the communist menace from President Truman and President Dwight D. Eisenhower's emotional reaction to the news that Churchill, his colleague in war and peace, was to retire. The final exhibition items are the order of service for his 1965 funeral, plus two editorial cartoons. The first cartoon, published in the London Daily Mail in 1963 on the day after President John F. Kennedy proclaimed Churchill an honorary American citizen, shows Churchill's trademark cigar bridging the gap between London's Big Ben and New York's Statue of Liberty. The second was drawn by Bill Mauldin, the great soldier-cartoonist from World War II. It shows a sad and dignified lion—the symbol of Churchill's beloved British Empire—weeping a single tear at the news of his death on Jan. 24, 1965.
For an online view of the exhibition, visit the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/exhibits/churchill/.
Daun van Ee is a historical specialist in the Library's Manuscript Division and the curator of the exhibition "Churchill and the Great Republic."