London: Evening Standard, 27 March 1941. Photograph. This original press photograph captures Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill delivering a speech at the 27 March 1941 Conservative and Unionist Associations Central Council Meeting in London. The gelatin silver print on heavy matte photo paper measures 9.5 x 11.5 in (24.2 x 29.2 cm). Condition is very good minus. The paper is clean, crisp, and free of scratches with some edge wear (most noticeable at the left and bottom edges), two short closed tears to the left edge and a crease to the bottom left corner. This press photo once belonged to the working archive of the Evening Standard and features original hand-applied retouching to the figures’ faces and clothes. The verso bears the copyright stamp of “The Evening Standard”, a received stamp dated 27 MAR 1941, handwritten printing notations, and a clipping of the caption as it was published reading, “Mr. Churchill speaking at to-day’s Conservative meeting – Evening Standard exclusive picture.”
That Churchill became his Party’s leader was anything but inevitable and born far more of wartime exigency than confident mutual regard. It requires little imagination to read some skeptical reservation on the faces beside and behind Churchill captured in this image. Churchill warred with his own Conservative Party throughout the 1930s. By the time of then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich concessions to Hitler, so vehement was Churchill’s dissent with his own Party leadership that Churchill had effectively become leader of the opposition. Nonetheless, on 10 May 1940 he became Prime Minister – not of a Conservative government, but of a wartime Coalition government. Churchill would not head a Conservative government until his second and final premiership of 1951-1955.
In the meantime, the first year of Churchill’s wartime premiership for Britain was not so much a struggle for victory as a struggle to survive. His first year in office saw, among other near-calamities, the Battle of the Atlantic, the fall of France, evacuation at Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain. Churchill could take nothing for granted, including the support of his own Conservative Party. Fortunately for Churchill, this Party Council meeting occurred just days after Churchill was able to announce a vital material lifeline for Britain in the form of American approval of the Lend-Lease Act. Moreover, “Britain’s air defences now “mitigated the full horror of earlier night attacks”". (Gilbert, Vol. VI, p.1035) And on the day this image was captured, 27 March 1941, “Churchill’s confidence was boosted… by the completion in Washington of the United States-British Staff Conversations, which had culminated in ‘Joint Basic War Plan Number One’ of the United States and the British Commonwealth ‘for war against the Axis Powers’”. (Gilbert, Vol. VI, p.1044)
Photographs like this provide poignant, tangible evidence of Churchill’s formidable prowess as an orator – a skill used to great effect during the Second World War when Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” (Edward R. Murrow) Here Churchill is captured making the case for his Party’s continued support in his coalition government. Churchill reminded his audience “The reason why His Majesty entrusted me in May last with the formation of a Government was because it was an almost universal opinion that national unity must be established in order to face the dangers by which we were encompassed.” Churchill deftly salved wounds by praising Neville Chamberlain for “greatest assistance” and “perfect loyalty”. Later in the speech Churchill reminded his Party both for the need for the present Government and his place at its head: “I said that the Government was formed in a dark hour and there was worse to come. But I cannot pretend to you, my friends and supporters, that I took up my task with any other feeling than that of invincible confidence. That is the feeling which inspires me here to-day.” (Complete Speeches, Vol. VI, p. 6365). Item #005356