London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1921. First edition, only printing. Leaflet. This scarce leaflet comes from the personal collection of Churchill's bibliographer, Ronald I. Cohen. This official publication from Churchill's period as Secretary of State for Air relates to the budget for the Royal Air Force, reflecting the fiscal and political challenges inherent to Churchill's efforts to organize and support an effective air force in the wake of the First World War. The document is a single sheet leaflet printed on both sides and measuring 13 x 8.25 inches. The verso bears a five-paragraph "Explanatory Statement by the Secretary of State for Air." This statement bears Churchill's printed signature and the date "25th February, 1921." This document is among the last of Churchill's official communications as Secretary of State for Air, since in February 1921 he formally received his seals of office as Secretary of State for the Colonies. Though 2000 copies were printed, the survival rate of this perishable item appears quite low.
In 1919, at the end of the First World War, Winston Churchill became Secretary of State for War and Air. Even before the First World War, Churchill was intrigued by the possibilities of air power and engaged in efforts to explore the military potential. In 1913, he learned to fly and, as First Lord of the Admiralty, founded the Royal Naval Flying Corps. Having given up flying in 1914 at his wife's request, Churchill again took up flying practice in the summer of 1919 - and very nearly lost his life in a crash soon thereafter.
The First World War gave Churchill a unique perspective, since he served both in the Cabinet and on the front; Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty until 1915 and then, after assuming questionable blame for the Dardanelles tragedy, served as a lieutenant colonel leading a battalion in the trenches. By the war's end, he was exonerated by the Dardanelles Commission and rejoined the Government. In the war's aftermath, Churchill understood and embraced the military potential of air power and used his position - not without resistance - to make military aviation a priority. He sought to build resources and organizational capacity, but also to ensure that the Air Force remained integrated within a unified defence Ministry.
The vision of air power as integral to an effective future military force was prescient; two decades later, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would famously praise the British pilots ("Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.") who played the vital role in preventing Nazi invasion. Nevertheless, in the wake of the First World War, economy and skepticism limited vision. "The Air Ministry was small and new; it had few friends." (Martin Gilbert, Official Biography, Volume IV, page 208). This document shows Churchill's final efforts as head of the Air Ministry to ensure robust and consolidated Air Services and the ongoing challenges to his ambitions.
The budget is less than preceding years, but Churchill nonetheless feels obliged to defend the fact that "every item of these Estimates has been subjected to the most stringent scrutiny, and all services have been curtailed on which, although in themselves desirable, expenditure cannot be justified in view of the present financial stringency." Churchill's closing exhortation in his Statement testifies to his continuing certainty in the vital importance of air power: "Experimental and Research services cannot be unduly stinted, if the science of aviation is to progress."
Condition of the leaflet is only fair. The text is complete and the leaflet remains bright with no spotting and little age-toning. Nonetheless, there is considerable chipping to the entire perimeter, a horizontal crease where the leaflet has long been folded, numerous closed tears of up to 1.5 inch in length, and a further wrinkling and creasing to the lower half. The leaflet is protected in a clear plastic sleeve.
Reference: Cohen A60. Item #003403