The Last Lap
UNITED ACTION VITAL
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Delivered in House of Commons, London, October 27, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 66-69.
THE present stage of the war is dour and hard, and fighting must be expected on all fronts to increase in scale and intensity. We believe that we are in the last lap, but this is a race in which failure to exert the fullest effort to end it may protract that end to a period almost unendurable to those who have the race in their hands after struggling so far.
The enemy has two hopes. First, is that by lengthening the struggle he may wear down our resolution. The second and more important hope is that division will arise between the three great powers by whom he is assailed and whose continued union spells his doom.
It is his hope that there will be some rift in this alliance— that the Russians may go this way and Britain and America that—that quarrels may arise about the Balkans or about Poland or about Hungary which he hopes will mar the harmony of our counsels and consequently the symmetry and momentum of our converging advance. There is the enemy's great hope and it is to deprive that hope of all foundation of reality that our efforts must ceaselessly be bent.
You would not expect three great powers so differently circumstanced as Britain, the United States and Soviet Russia not to have many differences in views about the treatment of the various numerous countries into which their victorious armies have carried them. The marvel is that all hitherto has been kept so solid, sure and sound between us all.
Constant Care Needed
But this process does not arise of itself. It needs constant care and attention. Moreover, there are those problems of distance, occasion and personalities which I have so often mentioned to the House and which make it extremely difficult to bring the heads of the three principal Allies together at one place and at one time.
I have not, therefore, hesitated to travel from court to court like a wandering minstrel. But always with the same songs or the same set of songs.
The meeting at Moscow was a sequel to Quebec. At Quebec the President and I felt very much the absence of Russia. At Moscow Marshal Stalin and I were deeply conscious that the President was not with us, although in this case the American observer, Averell Harriman, accomplished Ambassador of the United States, made us feel at all times the presence of the great republic. There was a special reason for our dual conference at Quebec.
British and American fighting forces are intermingled in the lines of battle as the fighting men of no two countries have ever been intermingled before so closely or so easily. We must meet, therefore, we must discuss.
As to Russia, Great Britain has so many problems in eastern Europe to solve in common with Russia and practical issues arise on these problems from day to day. We must disperse misunderstandings and forestall them before they occur. We must have a practical policy to deal with day-today emergencies and, of course, we must carry with us at every stage the Government of the United States.
I am satisfied that the results achieved on this occasion at Moscow have been highly satisfactory. But I am quite sure that no final result can be obtained until the heads of the three governments have met again together, as I earnestly trust they may do before this year is at its end.
After all, the future of the world depends upon united action in the next few years of our three countries. Other countries will be associated, but the future depends on the union of the three most powerful Allies. If that fails, all fails. If that succeeds, a broad future for all nations may be assured.
I am very glad to inform the House that our relations with Soviet Russia were never more close, intimate and cordial than they are at the present time. Never before have we been able to reach so high a degree of frank and friendly discussion on a delicate and often potentially vexatious topic as we have done at this meeting from which I have returned and about which I think it would be only respectful to the House to make some short statement.
Where we cannot agree we understand the grounds for each other's disagreement and each othe's point of view. But over a very wide area, an astonishingly wide area considering all the different angles from which we approach these topics, we found ourselves in full agreement.
Of course it goes without saying that we were united in prosecuting the war against Hitlerite Germany to absolute victory and in using to the last every resource of our strength and energy in combination for that purpose. Let all hope die in German breasts that there will be the slightest division or weakening among the forces that are crowding in upon them and will crush the life out of their resistance.
Upon the tangled questions of the Balkans, where there are Black Sea interests and Mediterranean interests to be considered, we were able to reach complete agreement, and I do not feel that there is any immediate danger of our combined war effort being weakened by divergencies of policy or of doctrine in Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and beyond the Balkans in Hungary.
We have reached a very good working agreement about all these countries, singly and in combination, with the object of concentrating all their efforts and concerting them with our efforts against the common foe, and of providing so far as possible for peaceful settlement after the war is over.
Bringing Yugoslavia Together
We are in fact acting jointly—Russia and Britain—in our relations with both the Royal Yugoslav Government, headed by Dr. Subasitch, and with Marshal Tito, and we have invited them by joint message to come together in the common cause as they had already agreed to do at a conference between them both at Naples.
How much better that there should be a joint Anglo-Russian policy in this disturbed and very complex area than that one side should be backing one set of ideas and the other side the opposite. That is a most pernicious state of affairs to grow up in any country, because it might easily spread to misunderstandings between the Great Powers themselves.
Our earnest hope and our bounden duty is so to conduct our policy that these small countries do not slip from the great war into internal feuds of extreme bitterness. We have invited them to come together and form a united government for the purpose of carrying on the war until the countries themselves can pronounce their will.
All this is only a guide for handling matters from day to day, because it is so much easier to come to an agreement by conversation than by diplomatic correspondence, however carefully they are phrased, or however lengthy they are expressed, or however patiently discussions are conducted.
But these workaday arrangements must be looked upon as temporary expedients to meet an emergency. All permanent arrangements await the presence of the United States, who have been constantly informed of what is going forward. Everything eventually comes to review at some future conference or at the armistice or peace table.
There were, of course, many serious military questions to be discussed. I had with me the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Ismay, and other officers acquainted with the conduct of the whole of our military affairs and strategy, and we had also the advantage of assistance of not only the American Ambassador but also of the very able United States technical representative, General Deane.
All of these discussions were a part of the process of carrying out and following up the great decision taken now nearly a year ago at Teheran, which I think without exaggeration may be said to have altered the face of the World War.
But naturally I cannot say anything about these discussions or decisions except that I found them very good indeed— the best that could be devised to lift the cruel scourge of war from Europe at the earliest possible moment.
The most urgent and burning question was, of course, that of Poland, and here again I speak words of hope reinforced by confidence. To abandon hope in this matter would indeed be to surrender to despair.
In this sphere there are two issues, two critical issues. The first is the question of the eastern frontier of Poland with Russia and the Curzon Line, as it is called, and new territories to be added to Poland in the north and west. This is the first issue, and the second is the relation of the Polish Government with the Lublin National Liberation Committee.
On those two points, apart from many necessary ancillary points—on these two main points we held a series of conferences with both parties. We held them together and saw them separately, and, of course, we were in constant discussion with the heads of the Soviet Government.
I had several very long talks with Marshal Stalin, and the Foreign Secretary was every day working on these and cognate matters with Mr. Molotoff. Two or three times we all four met together with no one but interpreters present.
I wish I could tell the House we had reached a solution of these problems. It certainly is not for the want of trying. I am quite sure, however, that we have got a great deal nearer to it. I hope Mr. Mikolajczyk will soon return to Moscow, and it will be a great disappointment to all sincere friends of Poland if a good arrangement cannot be made which will enable him to form a Polish Government on Polish soil, a Government recognized by all the great powers concerned and, indeed, by all those Governments of the United Nations which now recognize only the Polish Government in London.
Although I do not underrate the difficulties which remain, it is a comfort to feel that Britain and Soviet Russia and, I do not doubt, the United States, are all firmly agreed in the re-creation of a strong, free, independent sovereign Poland, loyal to the Allies, and friendly to her great neighbor and liberator, Russia.
Speaking more particularly for His Majesty's Government, it is our persevering and constant aim that the Polish people after their suffering and vicissitudes shall find in Europe an abiding home and resting place, which though it may not entirely coincide or correspond with the pre-war frontier of Poland, will nevertheless be adequate for the needs of the Polish nation and not inferior in character or in quality, taking the picture as a whole, to what they had previously possessed.
These are critical days and it would be a great pity if time were wasted in indecision or in protracted negotiations. If the Polish Government had taken the advice we tendered them at the beginning of this year, the additional complication produced by the formation of the Polish National Committee of Liberation at Lublin would never have arisen.
Anything like a prolonged delay in settlement can only have the effect of increasing the division between the Poles in London and the Poles in Warsaw and hampering a common action which the Poles and Russians and the rest of the Allies are taking against Germany. Therefore, I hope no time will be lost in continuing these discussions and pressing on to an effective conclusion.
French Provisional Government
I told the House on Sept. 28 of my hope that reorganization of the French Consultative Assembly on a more representative basis would make it possible for His Majesty's Government at an early date to recognize the then French Administration as the Provisional Government of France.
The Assembly has now, in fact, been enlarged and strengthened by the addition of many further representatives of both the resistance organization in France and the old Parliamentary group. It constitutes as representative a body as it is possible to bring together in the difficult circumstances today in France, and it will be holding its first session in Paris in a few days' time.
This development was closely followed by a further step toward restoration of normal conditions of government in France. A Civil Affairs Agreement concluded by France with Great Britain and the United States last August, after long and patient exertion by the Foreign Secretary, provided for the division of the country into a forward zone in which the Supreme Allied Commander would exercise certain overriding powers of control considered necessary for the conduct of the military operations and an interior zone where conduct and responsibility for interior administration would be entirely a matter for French authority.
For obvious reasons at the beginning, when for those anxious weeks we stood with our backs to the sea a few miles from the beaches, the whole of France had to be included in the forward zone. Then, as the tide of battle up to and beyond France's eastern frontiers, working in closest cooperation with French authorities, he [the Supreme Allied Commander] found he could hand over his powers to these authorities, except in the area immediately behind the battle zone. He felt these authorities had shown themselves fully capable of undertaking the grave responsibilities which fall to the government of any country on which a vast modern army on active service is to be based.
The French Administration was accordingly able to announce on Oct. 20 that with the concurrence of the Allied High Command it had established an interior zone comprising the larger part of France, including Paris.
This marked the final stage of the transformation of the Committee of National Liberation into a government exercising provisionally all the powers of the Government of France and a government accepted as such by the people of France in their entirety.
The way was thus clear for formal recognition of the Committee as the Provisional Government and His Majesty's Ambassador in Paris, was accordingly instructed, on Oct. 23, to inform the French Minister of Foreign Affairs of the decision of His Majesty's Government.
The Union of South Africa and New Zealand have also accorded such recognition. A similar communication was made by the Canadian Government to the Canadian Ambassador in Paris and by the Commonwealth of Australia from Canberra. The United States and Soviet Governments, with whom we had acted throughout in the closest agreement and concert in this matter, were taking similar simultaneous action.
Why Recognition Was Delayed
Some critics have asked why should this step not have been taken earlier. The reason is very simple. The British and American Armies had something to do with the liberation of France, and the British and United States Governments had, therefore, the responsibility at this particular moment for making sure that the French Government emerging in power from their military actions would be acceptable to France as a whole and would not appear to be a government imposed on the country from without.
It was not for us to choose the government or rulers of France at this particular juncture, and for that very reason we had special responsibility.
I have been myself for some weeks past satisfied not only that the present French Government under General de Gaulle commands the full assent of the vast majority of French people but that it is the only government that can possibly discharge the very heavy burdens which are being cast upon it and the only government which can enable France to gather its strength in the interval which must elapse before the constitutional and parliamentary processes which it has declared its purpose to re-institute can again assume their normal functions.
I also made it clear in my speech on Aug. 2 that France can by no means be excluded from discussions of the principal Allies dealing with the problem of the Rhine and of Germany. This act of recognition may, therefore, be regarded as a symbol of France's emergence from four dark years of a terrible, woeful experience and as heralding the period in which she will resume her rightful and historic role upon the world stage.
I have but one other subject to mention, as I stated that these remarks would be in the nature of a supplement to the statement I made some time ago, and it is one which is the cause of universal rejoicing. I mean the liberation of Athens and a large part of Greece.
I was able, when I visited Italy six or seven weeks ago, to arrange with General Wilson, after a very careful discussion, for the necessary measures to be set in train which would enable the Royal Greek Government of Mr. Papandreou to return to Athens at the earliest possible moment, and as a preliminary to this I advised the Government to move from Cairo to Caserta [Italy] where they would be in the closest touch with the Commander in Chief.
I think these arrangements were extremely well made by General Wilson, to whom we entrusted the task of watching the exact moment to intervene, and he found that moment with very happy discretion, so that hardly any loss of life has occurred and no damage has been done to the immortal capital which is dear to the hearts of so many nations throughout the world. Vivid, moving accounts have appeared in the press of the decisive events which have recently taken place and of the fervid welcome which our forces received throughout Greece, above all in Athens.
When we were driven out of Greece in 1941, amid so much bloodshed and disaster and with the loss of over 30,000 men, we promised to return. The Greek people never lost faith in that promise nor abandoned their belief in final victory. We have returned. Our pledge has been redeemed. The lawful Greek Government sits in Athens. Very soon the Greek brigade which has distinguished itself in fighting at Rimini on the Italian front, helping to drive the Germans out of Italy, will return with honor to its native land.
The tide of war has rolled far to the northward in Greece. Behind the British troops, the organization of UNRRA [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration], in which the United States has played so great a part, is already moving to the scene, ships having been loaded for many weeks past. Much-needed supplies of food for the sorely tried Greek population will soon be in the active process of distribution, if indeed that process has not begun already.
We are going to do our best to assist in stabilizing the Greek currency, which had been a special mark of sabotage by the Germans, and highly competent officials from the Treasury are already on their way to Athens, where the Foreign Secretary is at the present tune, and remaining, according to my latest information, until he can confer with
them and with the Greek Government on this subject. We are doing our best in every way to bring this country back to normal.
Complete Political Freedom
Although of course we are actively aiding the Greeks in every sphere to recover from the horrible injuries inflicted on them by the Germans, and are thus adding another chapter to the history of friendship between our countries, we do not seek to become arbiters of their affairs. Our wish and policy is that when normal conditions of tranquillity have been restored throughout the country, the Greek people shall make, in perfect freedom, their own decisions as to the form of government under which they desire to live.
Pending such a decision, we naturally preserve our relations with the Greek royal house and the existing Constitutional Government, and we regard them as the authority to whom we are bound by the alliance made at the time of the Italian attack on Greece in 1941.
Meanwhile, I appeal to all Greeks of every party and every group—and there is no lack of party or groups—I appeal to them all to set national unity above all other causes, to dense their country of the remaining German forces, to destroy and capture the last of the miscreants who have treated them with indescribable cruelty, and finally to join hands and to rebuild the strength, and to reduce the suffering of their famous and cherished land.