Page 187. " have you ever met Mr Churchill? "
Sir Winston Churchill
Creative Commons AttributionSir Winston Churchill - Credit: Cliff1066TM (Artist - Douglas Granville Chandor)

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for "his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."

Listen on Spotify: This was their finest hour    

Throughout the 1930s, his was a minority voice in warning against the rearmament of Germany; he vigorously opposed the policy of appeasement.  At the outbreak of World War 2, he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty under Neville Chamberlain. In 1940 he replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister and became the vital figurehead of the Allied war effort. Shortly after the Allied victory in 1945, and to the surprise of many, he lost the general election. He was returned to office in 1951, resigning in 1955.

His funeral on 30 January 1965 was the first and only British State Funeral for a commoner in the entire twentieth century. It was broadcast live on television, opening with Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and William Wordsworth's "Character of the Happy Warrior", first written to commemorate the death of Lord Nelson, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier.

 

                        

Page 188. " The likes of Mr Eden and Lord Halifax were more frequent visitors in those days "

Sir Anthony Eden (1897-1977) was Foreign Secretary under Chamberlain. It is thought by some that he resigned his office, objecting to Chamberlain's policy of appeasement, although others claim that he was forced out. When Churchill became Prime Minister, he was brought back into the cabinet as Secretary of State for War; Churchill held him in high regard. Eden was responsible for the introduction of the Home Guard.

When Churchill resigned in 1955, Eden took over as Prime Minister.  His time in office was marred by the Suez Crisis of 1956, when the UN and USA forced Britain and France to pull back from their invasion of Egypt and give up control of the Suez Canal. He resigned in 1957 and left the House of Commons soon afterwards. He was succeeded by Harold Macmillan.

                               

Page 195. " and that the abandonment of the gold standard is at the root of the matter "
Gold bullion from the safe of the National Bank of Poland
Creative Commons AttributionGold bullion from the safe of the National Bank of Poland - Credit: covilha

The gold standard defined the value of a currency according to the cost of gold: setting the gold price at, for example, £100 per ounce would mean that £1 was worth 100th of an ounce of gold, giving a fixed exchange rate. In 1933, US President Roosevelt banned private purchases of gold, effectively rescinding the Gold Standard Act which had been in place since 1900, in an effort to stimulate the economy and end the Great Depression (1929-1933).

Further reading:

Protectionism wasn't the problem, Stephanie Flanders, BBC Economics Editor

The Wall Street crash 1929-33, Keith Spencer, League for the Fifth International

Page 195. " if there were to be an arms agreement between the French and the Bolsheviks? "

The Franco-Soviet Pact of Mutual Assistance, ratified in 1935, was an agreement between France and Russia to take joint action if either country was attacked by Germany. The British government, however, wanted to replace the pact by one of its own – the Western Pact, which would keep Britain out of any war being waged by Hitler.

Page 196. " by his recent speech on the situation in North Africa? "
East Africa (1925) (Abyssinia outlined in purple)
Creative Commons AttributionEast Africa (1925) (Abyssinia outlined in purple) - Credit: cod-gabriel

In the Franco-Italian Agreement of 1935, the French Prime Minister Pierre Laval collaborated with Mussolini to hand over part of French Somaliland (now Djibouti) to Italy, and allow Italy to invade Abyssinia (now Ethiopia).  In exchange, Italy pledged military support in the event of German aggression, a pledge that Mussolini failed to honour when Germany invaded France five years later.

The British Foreign Minister, Sir Samuel Hoare, had already applied to the League of Nations asking for sanctions to be imposed on Italy in anticipation of Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia.

Despite these sanctions, Italy invaded Abysinnia, emboldened by the pact with France. Hoare and Laval then put together the Hoare-Laval Pact under strict secrecy, the intention being to hand large parts of Abyssinia to Mussolini and grant the rest of the country access to the sea via Italian access points. The plan was intended to head off any alliance between Italy and Germany.

The plan was leaked before the pact could be ratified, and in the face of public outrage at the proposed betrayal of Abyssinia, the British government was forced to denounce it.  Hoare and Laval both resigned.  In the event, Mussolini took control of Abyssinia anyway.  It has been argued that the failure of the Hoare-Laval Pact pushed Italy into the arms of Nazi Germany, so determining the course of the coming World War.