On Victory in Europe Day, May, 1945, Churchill was the leader of Britain -- head of a coalition government combining the Labor and Conservative parties. There was still Japan to go but that was being held far away and was largely an American affair; the countries that had threatened Europe were defeated. England was victorious over Hitler. But it was impoverished too, and Labor demanded an election, which Churchill, despite his game rhetoric, lost. Churchill saw Labor as a kind of communism. He was a hero but England was turned over to the party that seemed most likely to restore bread, butter, and gasoline to the working people. The war had exhausted the country and they really were broke. Atlee's job wasn't an easy one. When I visited London fifteen years later, there were still blocks at the waterfront that remained charred ruins, waiting for repairs.
Out of office, Churchill took a vacation (finally) at Lake Como in Italy and devoted most of his time to painting. As an artist, he wasn't a genius but he was colorful and pleasant. Not that he could keep away from world affairs. He popularized the term "Iron Curtain" at a speech in Missouri and rued the loss of all of Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. It was what had worried him during the last year of the war, when no one else seemed concerned. He wrote a six-volume history of the Second World War -- the only member of the Big Three to do so -- and it won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. His prose style might be characterized as recklessly literary: the British were "frothing pious platitudes while foeman forge their arms." But he mused to his secretary that writing the books had only been "playing with the shadows of the past" and he had been thinking about what he could have done if he'd been in office during those years.
However, for all his despondency, Churchill was reelected to head the Conservative Party in 1951, Atlee and the British public not having found it so easy a task to rebuild a broken economy, and for some years was occupied with the MauMau uprising in Africa, the Korean War, and other such perturbations. A stroke felled him for a period in 1953. After his recovery he kept pushing the Soviet Union for a conference without any pomp and with no agenda. The Russians never bothered. Britain was no longer the force in the world that it had once been. Neither was Churchill. At the age of eighty, he was plump to the point almost of being featureless, his voice lacked resonance and sounded infirm. Anthony Eden was salivating over the prospect of Churchill's resignation, but who asks a god to resign? He actually did resign in August, 1955. He did nothing more of consequence except for himself and suffered a lethal stroke.
He was born on 30 November, 1874, and died on 24 January, 1965, at the age of 91. Formally, his term of reference is followed by these letters: KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, DL, FRS, RA. I can't imagine what they mean or what it must have been like to have done enough to deserve them.
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