London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1921. First edition, only printing. Leaflet. This scarce official publication from Churchill's period as Secretary of State for Air relates to the 1919-1920 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 statement of excess, an expenditure table, and a one paragraph explanation with Churchill’s printed signature at the bottom. The date at the bottom of the page is 17 February, 1921.
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 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 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, Vol. IV, page 208).
This Statement of Excess is a testament to the newness of the Royal Air Force. Not only did the expenditure for the year 1919-1920 exceed the allotted funds, but the following year would require a supplement of £3,000,000. Condition of the leaflet is very good, particularly given its age and inherent fragility. The leaflet remains bright and clean overall with only minor age-toning. We note some wrinkling and small, closed tears along the top and bottom edges. Though Cohen records the original Air Estimates Statement for 1919-1920 (A54) and the Supplementary Estimate for the following year (A59), this leaflet is not recorded. Item #004616