London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1920. First edition, only printing. Leaflet. This scarce official publication from Churchill's period as Secretary of State for Air relates to the 1920-21 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 measuring 13 x 8.375 inches. The verso bears a three-paragraph printed "Note by the Secretary of State for Air relating to the Air Supplementary Estimate, 1920-21" terminating with Churchill's printed signature. The date at the bottom of the page is "12/20" for December, 1920. 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, Churchill became Secretary of State for War and Air, a post he held until becoming Colonial Secretary in 1921. 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 being scapegoated for the Dardanelles disaster, 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 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). Churchill's formidable powers of spin and manipulation are subtly displayed in this document, as he deftly pursues funds from Parliament to support a consolidated Air Service.
This leaflet provides some explanation for why extra funds were being requested for the Air Ministry beyond those outlined in the original Estimates. Churchill attributes the need for extra funds to "past expenditure on war contracts" and stresses that significant savings had been made to offset these obligations. Moreover, his Note speaks to Churchill's clever manipulation of the byzantine levers of bureaucracy; by assuming an "extra charge" of £3,000,000 "payable to the Ministry of Munitions in 1919-20", Churchill is asserting the hegemony of his newly consolidated Air Ministry over all elements of Air Services.
Condition of the leaflet is good-plus given its age and inherent fragility. The paper remains bright and clean overall with only slight age-toning around the edges and light spotting along the bottom and left-hand edges, with the top edge and upper sides a bit tattered with minor losses and short closed tears.
Reference: Cohen A59. Item #004615