London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1923. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a full British first edition, first printing set of Winston Churchill’s history of the First World War. A quarter of a century before the Second World War endowed him with lasting fame, Churchill played a uniquely critical, controversial, and varied role in the “War to end all wars”. Then, being Churchill, he wrote about it. The World Crisis was originally published in six volumes between 1923 and 1931. The first four volumes spanning the war years 1911-1918 and the final two volumes covering the postwar years 1918-1928 (The Aftermath) and the Eastern theatre (The Eastern Front).
With its larger volumes and shoulder notes summarizing the subject of each page, many consider the British edition aesthetically superior to the American. Unfortunately, the smooth navy cloth of the British first editions proved quite susceptible to wear, the contents prone to spotting and toning. Full, six-volume British first edition sets can be challenging to assemble. Further complicating such efforts, the final volume, The Eastern Front, was produced in smaller numbers than the preceding volumes.
The six volumes of this first printing set are in very good condition overall, all sound and complete, though showing some age, wear, and flaws endemic to the edition. All six bindings are square and tight with bright spine gilt. Exterior flaws appear confined to mild wear to extremities and superficial scuffing, with the exception of a 1.75 inch (4.45 cm) diameter partial ring stain to the 1915 volume front cover and a minor instance of the typical blistering of The Aftermath cloth, confined to the bottom edges and front hinge. The contents of all six volumes are respectably clean, spotting intermittent throughout the 1914 volume, absent in the 1915 and Eastern Front volumes, and substantially confined to the page edges in the 1916-1918 and Aftermath volumes. Ownership marks in the set are minimal – an “8 Dec. 1923” inked gift inscription on the 1915 front free endpaper recto and a tiny “Times Book Club” sticker affixed to the lower rear pastedown of the first 1916-1918 volume. All contents are collated complete, including The Eastern Front in which all illustrations, maps, and diagrams are intact, including the color, folding map at p.368.
In October 1911, aged 36, Winston Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. He entered the post with the brief to change war strategy and ensure the readiness of the world’s most powerful navy. He did both. Even Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener, with whom Churchill had been variously at odds for nearly two decades, told Churchill on his final day as First Lord “Well, there is one thing at any rate they cannot take from you. The Fleet was ready." (The World Crisis: 1915, p.391) Nonetheless, when Churchill advocated successfully for a naval campaign in the Dardanelles that ultimately proved disastrous, a convergence of factors sealed his political fate. Churchill was scapegoated and forced to resign, leaving the Admiralty in May 1915.
Years later, Churchill’s wife, Clementine, recalled to Churchill’s official biographer “I thought he would never get over the Dardanelles; I thought he would die of grief.” (Gilbert, Vol. III, p.473) By November, Churchill resigned even his nominal Cabinet posts to spend the rest of his political exile as a lieutenant colonel leading a battalion in the trenches at the Front. Before war's end, Churchill was exonerated by the Dardanelles Commission and rejoined the Government, foreshadowing the political isolation and restoration he would experience two decades later leading up to the Second World War. And, of course, Churchill famously returned to the Admiralty in September 1939. Despite Churchill's political recovery, the stigma of the Dardanelles lingered. Hence Churchill had more than just literary and financial compulsion to write his history.
Reference: A69.2(I).b, A69.2(II).a, A69.2(III-1&2).a, A69.2(IV).b, A69.2(V).a; Woods/ICS A31(ab); Langworth p.105. Item #006746