London: Copyright by Wide World Photos, published by The Daily Telegraph, 28 March 1941. Photograph. This wartime press photograph captures a pivotal moment in the struggle between then Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Britain and Hitler’s Germany, the 11 March 1941 official signing of the Lend-Lease agreement that committed a still-officially neutral America to enabling Britain’s survival. The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 9.5 x 7.5 inches (24.1 x 19.1 cm). Condition is good, the surface clean and bright, though with some wear, creasing, and fractional loss to extremities, as well as a one inch (2.54 cm) closed tear at the left edge. Light scratches are visible only under raking light.
The photograph belonged to The Daily Telegraph’s working archive and features their Art Department’s hand-applied retouching to the folds of Winant’s and Churchill’s suits, as well as Churchill’s facial features, fingers, and fingernails, as well as crop lines at the left and lower edges. The verso features the copyright ink stamp of Wide World Photos, the 28 March 1941 dated publication stamp of The Daily Telegraph Art Department, hand pencil notations, and the original newspaper caption. The caption reads: "With Mr. J. G. Winant, the American Ambassador, looking on, Mr. Winston Churchill signs the agreement by which Britain leases Atlantic bases to the United States. On the left is Mr. Charles Fahy, who was a signatory, like Mr. Winant himself, on behalf of America.” This photograph is housed in a removable, archival mylar sleeve within a rigid, crimson cloth folder.
The caption understates the scope and significance of the signatures. The rights to British bases, which Churchill had negotiated with Winant, was part of the Lend-Lease Agreement. Before passage of the Lend-Lease Bill, Churchill had told Ambassador Winant that without the Lend-Lease Act “we should be unable to carry on and win the war”. (Roberts, Walking with Destiny, p.639) The Lend-Lease Act authorized President Roosevelt to transfer arms or any other defense materials for which Congress appropriated money to “the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.” Soon after enacting Lend-Lease, the U.S. also extended its naval security zone several thousand miles into the Atlantic, effectively shielding much of the Atlantic convoy route. Lend-Lease material support allowed Britain to fight on.
In accordance with the vital importance of the deal to Britain’s survival, Churchill gave hyperbolic praise. In a 12 November 1941 speech to the House of Commons he said: “The Lend and Lease Bill must be regarded without question as the most unsordid act in the whole of recorded history.”
Like Lend-Lease, the new U.S. ambassador, John G. “Gil” Gilbert Winant (1889-1947), symbolized FDR’s commitment to Britain. Winant – “Charming and handsome” and just fifty-one when he became ambassador - succeeded the pro-appeasement Joseph Kennedy and brought a decidedly different, pro-Britain, pro-alliance perspective. Winant served as U.S. Ambassador until 1946, working closely with Churchill during his wartime premiership. Winant was with Churchill when the latter learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was with Churchill for FDR’s memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in April 1944, escorting a sobbing Churchill. And he was with the Churchills in other ways as well; Winant allegedly had a wartime affair with Churchill’s daughter, Sarah. He died by his own hand in 1947.
During the first half of the twentieth century, photojournalism fundamentally changed the way the public interacted with current events. Newspapers assembled expansive archives, including physical copies photographs, their versos typically marked with ink stamps, provenance notes, and captions. Art departments often took brush, paint, pencil, and marker to the surface of photographs to edit them before publication. Today these photographs exist as repositories of historical memory, technological artifacts, and often striking pieces of vernacular art. Item #005649