London: Copyright Planet News Ltd., published by The Daily Telegraph, 27 February 1941. Photograph. This original press photograph of British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies at 10 Downing Street in February 1941 is reportedly the first image of the two men taken together. The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 7.5 x 9.5 inches (19 x 24.1 cm). Condition is very good minus. The paper is clean, crisp, and free of scratches with some light wear to the edges and corners. The verso bears a copyright stamp from “Planet News Ltd”, a received stamp of The Daily Telegraph dated 27 FEB 1941, and a significant portion of an original typed caption. The caption is titled “MR. MENZIES ATTENDS WAR CABINET MEETING WITH BRITISH PRIME MINISTER”, and the remaining legible portion reads, “Mr. R. G. Menzies, the Australian Prime Minister, who is over here to confer with the British Government, attended a meeting of the War Cabinet. PHOTO SHOWS:- The first picture taken of Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. R. G. Menzies together. The two Prime Ministers cha… 1941”.
On 3 September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany, formally entering what would become a defining conflict not just for Britain, but for the world. That same day Prime Minister of Australia Robert Menzies (1894-1978), who had become Prime Minister in April 1939, announced to his people that Australia was consequently also at war with Germany, thereafter forming a war cabinet and preparing his nation. While Britain’s primary concern was Nazi Germany, Menzies was justifiably concerned about the proximate threat Japan posed to his own sparsely populated, poorly defended nation. Against a backdrop of political factionalism and war anxiety at home, Menzies left Australia on 24 January 1941 in a Qantas Empire Flying Boat. “In an extraordinary journey, hopping his way across the top end to Indonesia, Singapore, Rangoon, Calcutta, Karachi, Bahrain, and Basra, to Palestine and thence to Egypt and Libya, after which he had a long flight across the Sahara and southern Africa, then north to Lisbon, Menzies and his team arrived in England on 20 February. (Henderson, FH 168, Spring 2015, p.28)
Menzies was ultimately absent from Australia for four months, seeking trade deals, material support, and strategic attention to Australia’s peril in the decidedly secondary Pacific Theater of the war. “Nothing worked. And as he stayed in Britain, Menzies diarised how his emotions and regard for Churchill swayed from admiration to annoyance. For all his efforts, Churchill did not understand the situation at Singapore or the danger for Britain’s dominions in the Pacific.” (Ibid.) Menzies returned home to heightened war anxieties and further erosion of his tenuous political position. He resigned his premiership in August 1941. His administration had committed Australian troops to fight with Britain and set up a war administration, but this would end his role in the war, both in Australia and in Imperial councils, given the voluble dissent he had given Churchill in the War Cabinet while in London.
Both men had a second chance, both at leadership and at friendship. Menzies returned to Australia’s premiership in December 1949, remaining until January 1966, becoming Australia’s longest-serving prime minister. “After the war, Menzies and Churchill struck up an elder-statesmen friendship, with Robert and Pattie Menzies making many visits to Chartwell.” They shared national leadership during Churchill’s second and final premiership (1951-1955). Menzies delivered a personal and fulsome broadcast tribute from the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral on the occasion of Churchill's funeral: "In the whole of recorded modern history, this was, I believe, the one occasion when one man, with one soaring imagination, with one fire burning in him, and with one unrivaled capacity for conveying it to others, won a crucial victory not only for the forces (for there were many heroes in those days) but for the very spirit of human freedom." Item #005655