London: Ministry of Information (presumed), 1940. First edition, only printing. Leaflet. This is the first edition, only printing, of Winston Churchill’s first broadcast as wartime Prime Minister on 19 May 1940, during the final weeks before the fall of France. The four-page leaflet is printed on a single sheet of thin, wartime stock folded to form 8.375 x 5.375 inches (21.27 x 13.65 cm) panels, the first serving as titled cover and the latter three featuring the broadcast text. The sole printing information is “(Printed in England)” on the lower right corner of the fourth panel. Bibliographer Ronald Cohen (A121, Vol. I, p.514) states the likely printer is the Ministry of Information.
Condition is excellent, particularly given the perishable format and extreme scarcity. The leaflet is clean and complete, showing no soiling, spotting, or previous ownership marks. Mild, uniform age-toning and trivial hints of creasing to extremities are the only trivial defects. The leaflet is protected within a clear, removable, archival sleeve.
When Churchill became Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, the war for Britain was not so much a struggle for victory as a struggle to survive. Churchill’s first months in office saw, among other near-calamities, the Battle of the Atlantic, the fall of France, evacuation at Dunkirk, and the Battle of Britain. The war’s outcome is now long-settled history, making it perhaps difficult to viscerally understand how imperiled Britain was in May 1940 as she contemplated the likely, imminent fall of France. Churchill became prime minister because of the sense of dire peril and widespread recognition that the Government was inadequate for the occasion. Peril did not soon lessen; as late as April 1941, the Ministry of Information and the Prime Minister were still issuing printed instructions to all British households regarding what to do in the case of invasion.
On 19 May 1940, “After lunch came the news that the French forces south of the B.E.F. had simply melted away... Churchill was summoned back from Chartwell, where he had gone to write his first broadcast as prime minister” to consider allowing British forces in France “to retire to the sea and form a bridgehead around Dunkirk. The Cabinet met at 4:30 PM and decided that the B.E.F. must continue to fight southwards towards Amiens, to try to regain contact with the rest of the French Army.” (Roberts, WWD, p.535)
That evening, Churchill made his broadcast, an example of the sober, grounded, yet soaringly defiant rhetoric that would sustain his countrymen and inspire the free world during the Second World War. From his first sentence, Churchill limned both the immediate peril and the morally existential nature of the stakes – “I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hour in the life of our country, of our Empire, of our Allies, and above all, the cause of Freedom.” The shared immediacy of the peril to both France and Britain was made plain, but Churchill refused to dwell solely on parochial exigencies: “…behind us – behind the Armies and Fleets of Britain and France – gather a group of shattered States and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians, upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must, as conquer we shall.”
Churchill may have been thinking of his wife, Clementine, when he wrote his peroration. That very morning, “Clementine walked out of the service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square in revulsion at the pacifist sermon.” (Roberts) As if in reply to the sermon, Churchill concluded his broadcast: “To-day is Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: “Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.”
Reference: A121, Woods A54. Item #006552