The Times, London, March 27, 1942.
A year, almost to a day, has passed since I addressed you here. We had then made our great recovery after the collapse of France. Our Air Force had won the Battle of Britain. We had endured, and were still enduring, the full fury of the German air raider. The position in Egypt was secure, and we were cheered by the long series of victories by which General Wavell destroyed the Italian Armies in North Africa. But perhaps you will remember that I went out of my way to warn you that we could not expect to have successes unchequered by reverses.
Since then we have had an almost unbroken series of military misfortunes. We were driven out of Cyrenaica, and have now only partly reestablished ourselves there. We were driven out of Greece and Crete. We have been attacked by a new and most formidable antagonist in the Far East. Hong-kong has fallen; the Malay Peninsula and the possessions of the brave Dutch in the East Indies have been overrun. Singapore has been the scene of the greatest disaster to British arms which our history records. The allied squadrons in the Netherlands East Indies have been virtually destroyed in the action off Java. Burma is invaded; Rangoon has fallen; very hard fighting is proceeding in Upper Burma. Australia is threatened; India is threatened. The Battle of the Atlantic, upon which all the time our power to live and carry on the war effort depends, after turning markedly in our favour for five or six months, is now for the time being-and only for the time being-worsened again.
Can you wonder that such a melancholy tale, which I do not fear to tell or to face-should have caused widespread distress and anxiety throughout our country and Empire? Yet it is in such moments that fortitude and courage are the only means of safety. I cannot offer this morning any guarantee that we are at the end of our misfortunes. We were engaged in a deadly grapple with two heavily armed opponents, both of whom had been preparing for years, and bending their whole national life to the fulfillment of a gospel of war. Beginning as we did, ill prepared, we had gathered and engaged and employed all our resources to make head against these two Powers, Germany and Italy, when suddenly a third great Power, armed to the teeth, with a population of 80,000,000, with three or four millions of trained soldiers formed into an army of at least two millions, with a powerful, efficient navy and air force and a heavy outfit of munitions-I say outfit and not output-fell upon our eastern possessions, which our bitter needs in the west had forced us to leave so insufficiently guarded. In such a situation it would be foolish for us not to be prepared for further heavy blows, and I am not here to speak smooth words or make cheering promises. But this I will venture to say, that just as last year I warned you that you could not expect to have successes unchequered by reverses, so now in 1942 we need not expect to have reverses unrelieved by successes.
There is another side to the picture, there is another column in the account which has to be added up. When we look back over the sombre year that has passed, and forward to the many trials that lie before us, no one can doubt for a moment the improvement in our war position. A year ago we were alone: now three of the greatest nations in the world are sworn to us in close alliance, and are fighting at our side in all their growing power. Whereas a year ago all we could do was to fight stubbornly and doggedly on, as we had done when we were alone in former wars-and not without ultimate success-we have now at our side mighty allies. Whereas when we met here last year it was impossible to state any definite method by which we could come out victorious, except our confidence that that would be the end, it now seems very likely that we and our allies of the United Nations cannot lose this war, and with it all that makes life worth living, except through our own fault or their own fault, through failure to use our combined strength, overwhelming strength when fully mobilized and organized, and to use the multiplying opportunities which, as the months pass by, will present themselves to us. We must therefore examine searchingly and repeatedly our own conduct and the character and quality of our war effort in every form and direction. We must make sure our fellow-countrymen and our allies have the best service from us that we can give.
We are certainly aided by a great volume of criticism and advice-from which it will always be our endeavour to profit in the a highest degree. Naturally when one is burdened by the very hard labour of the task and its cares, sorrows, and responsibilities, there may sometimes steal across the mind a feeling of impatience at the airy and jaunty detachment of some of those critics who feel so confident of their knowledge and feel so sure of their ability to put things right. If I should be forced-as I hope I shall not be-to yield to such a temptation I hope you will remember how difficult it is to combine the attitude of proper meekness and humility towards assailants at home with those combative and pugnacious qualities, with the spirit of offensive and counterattack, which we feel were never more needful than now against the common enemy.
We have succeeded in preserving our traditional free institutions, free speech, full and active Parliamentary government, a free Press. We have done that under conditions which at times were more strained and convulsive than have ever beset a civilized State. But there is one limit which I must ask shall be respected. I cannot allow, while I bear the responsibility, a propaganda to disturb the Army-which is now so strong and solid; or to weaken the confidence of the country and the armed forces in the quality and character of our devoted corps of officers, guard or line, staff or regimental, to whom we must all look, not only as the leaders of audacious enterprises abroad but as our indispensable weapon against invasion here at home.
I am perpetually asked to devote more time and attention to the rebuilding of the post-war world, and measures, some of them elaborate and all of them carefully thought out, have been taken to prepare by study and planning for that most important and longed-for period. But as you will, I am sure, agree, we must be, above all things, careful that nothing diverts or distracts our thoughts or our fullest energies from the task of national self-preservation and of inter-allied duty which will require the total concentration for an indefinite period of all that we can give.
I will not therefore enter on these subjects to-day except to say that a few weeks ago one of our leading intellectuals, a great thinker-and as the father of our new president once said, one of the great difficulties about great thinkers is that they so often think wrong-asked in public whether I was working for the new England or the old.
It is an easy question to answer for you as well as for myself: we are working for both. The new England, or the new Britain, for we have our Welsh and Scottish friends represented-and Northern Ireland which we never forget-the new Britain and the old Britain have always dwelt side by side in our land, and it is by the union and inter-play of the new impulses and the great traditions both working together that we have managed to solve peacefully, yet finally, problems which have ruined the unity for ever of many a famous State.
It is by this dual process that we have contrived to build up over generations that basis of life with its rights and tolerances, its individual freedom, its collective associations, and, above all, its infinite power of self-improvement and national progress, that decent way of life which the broad masses of our people share and for which they now show themselves prepared to fight, and if need be to die.
This is a very hard war. Its numerous and fearful problems reach down to the very foundations of human society. Its scope is world wide and it involves all nations and every man, woman, and child in them. Strategy and economics are interwoven. Sea, land, and air are but a single service. The latest refinements of science are linked with the cruelties of the Stone Age. The workshop and the fighting line are one. All may fall, all will stand together. We must aid each other, we must stand by each other.
We must confront our perils and trials with that national unity which cannot be broken, and a national force which is inexhaustible. We must confront them with resilience and ingenuity which are fearless, and above all with that inflexible will-power to endure and yet to dare for which our island race has long been renowned. Thus, and thus alone, can we be worthy champions of that grand alliance of nearly 30 States and nations which without our resistance would never have come into being-but which now has only to march on together until tyranny is trampled down.
In all this the Conservative Party has a vital part to play. Now is the time for all its characteristic qualities to come increasingly into action. Now is the time for it to impart in our affairs and our national life those elements of stability and firmness, that power to plough through the evil days till the whole result is gained. Now is the time, and without this aid it might be that all the strength of embattled democracy would be cast away. The time has not come to form judgments about the past: all our thoughts, all our will-power must be concentrated on what lies around us and before us. Yet, as your leader, I shall hope that when the whole story has been told it will be said of the Conservative Party in Parliament and throughout the land: They strove for peace too long, but when war came they proved themselves the main part of the rock on which the salvation of Britain was founded and the freedom of mankind regained.