International Campaign for Real History

Auckland, October 17, 1987


[In October1987 David Irving's Churchill’s War, vol. i became a best-seller when published in Australia. It aroused fierce debate. The Sydney Morning Herald and New Zealand Herald invited him to submit a response, which was published]

ADOLF HITLER SAID to his doctor [Erwin Giesing] in the summer of 1944 that the first man to write a fair biography of him would have to be an Englishman who spoke German and knew the archives. "But," he added, "he will have to be an Englishman of the next generation. The present generation can not and will not write objectively about us."

I found those words in the doctor's diary when I was researching my ultimately highly controversial biography Hitler's War. That job took ten years, until 1974; and when I then embarked on a ten-year biography of Britain's wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, I found that the same held true -- there are generation gaps between those born before, during, and after Churchill's War.

For an Englishman like me who watched as a youngster from Southsea beach and waved as the Allied troopships sailed for Normandy on D-day [June 1944], the image of Mr Churchill has always wavered between legend and reality.

For those born ten years before me he is sacrosanct, and it has taken my revelation that several of his most famous wartime broadcasts had to be delivered for him by a B.B.C. Children's Hour actor, Norman Shelley ("Larry the Lamb"), to shake them out of their complacency.

For those Englishmen ten or twenty years younger than me, Churchill is a figure of history as remote as Bismarck or Napoleon. Unable to see the permanent damage that he did to Britain's world position from 1940 to 1945, they are incapable of being outraged -- unless by the fact that I am trying once more to revise a major chunk of recent history.

My methods, as a professional historian, are different from those of the academics.

Writing "Hitler's War" I spent much of those ten years gaining the confidence of the Führer's bruised and intimidated former staff -- from his personal secretaries upwards -- and persuading them to open up to me.


With my new book "Churchill's War" I have relied on the same kind of primary sources, and the same kind of fuss has resulted [from vol. i]: the academics refuse to agree with what the book says, although its sources are infinitely better than theirs .

Churchill's bodyguard, the late Commander "Tommy" Thompson, purloined the prime minister's diaries from his desk. His godson still has them, and I persuaded him to "rent" them exclusively to me for a year. I trawled through archives like those in Canberra, Ottawa, Berlin, Paris, and Washington and horse-traded with authorities in Moscow and Israel to lay hands on key documents like the records kept by the Soviet ambassador in London and Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann on their furtive pre-war meetings with Churchill, when he was still out of office and manoeuvring for power.

I believe that these new documents allow completely new interpretations of our late Empire's history and the rôle played in its decline by Mr Churchill. Just as in the wartime Hitler I found a weak, irresolute Führer, far more concerned with military strategy than with "minding the shop" within his Reich (I offered £1,000 for anybody who could produce one war-time document proving explicitly that he even knew about Auschwitz), so my research suggests that the fashionable picture of Churchill will have to be recast.

By the time that he finally reached supreme office on May 10, 1940 Churchill -- the man whom American president Franklin D. Roosevelt would on that very day describe sneeringly as "a drunken bum" was determined not to leave office until he had reversed his personal catalogue of misfortunes -- an epic, lifelong series of disasters that had begun with Gallipoli and the Dardanelles (where my father fought too, as a naval officer) and would culminate with the fiascos of Narvik, Dunkirk, North Africa, Dakar, Greece and Crete.

The problem for the unsuspecting biographer is that successive British Governments, with their notorious obsession with concealment, have "sanitised" the British archives so much where Churchill is concerned that little is left of the true flavour of 1940.

The researcher in London is freely shown Churchill's file on Dunkirk -- but in photocopy only, with white pages replacing key documents removed despite Britain's Thirty Year Rule. (I located duplicates of some of the missing items in the Paris archives, however, in the papers of France's 1940 prime minister Paul Reynaud).

More sinisterly, vital paragraphs of Churchill's 1940 War Cabinet meetings -- also freely available, but only in photocopy -- have been unobstrusively blanked out. In this case a glance at the private diaries of Cabinet members like Lord Halifax shows however that these were the extraordinary days when even Churchill seemed half-inclined to accept "Mr Hitler's peace offer" in June 1940.


He wantonly destroyed all hope of such a peace by deliberately launching the R.A.F.'s bombing war into the heart of Germany, attacking Berlin as soon as the nights were long enough in August 1940 with the avowed intention of goading the Luftwaffe into bombing London -- which Hitler had embargoed from attack (as Churchill knew from codebreaking).

The Blitz on London began on September 7, 1940. Seven thousand Londoners died before the month was out. There were no more mutterings about accepting peace offers in Britain after that.

The war went on. With each fresh reverse, paradoxically, Churchill's prestige soared. By October 1940 Gallup showed his rating topping 89% -- something even Mrs Thatcher has never equalled (though Hitler could boast of a genuine 99.5% poll victory in April 1938).

My findings don't just change nuances, they enforce a radical revision of existing interpretations of modern history. Why have the others got it wrong? I believe the answer lies in the reluctance of the academics to set foot in foreign archives -- to do the field work that costs so much in time and money: they buy x books, and write book number x + 1. They quote each other, and have the satisfaction of being quoted in return. A historian who is not widely quoted in his fellows' footnotes does not exist -- it is a kind of philosophical concept.

But I think that every biographer ought to work from the original paper documents, and not their printed text, as far as possible. Only by looking at the original, yellowing paper can he spot the typescript page that is mysteriously a few lines shorter than its neighbours -- because a minister has later ordered a damaging diary entry item '' sanitized" and retyped by a different secretary: or find that a British Official Historian* in quoting an Admiralty officer's diary ("Winston came, half tight") has softened the quotation to read, "Winston came, very tired." Or, notice that the U.S. Government's official publication of Sumner Welles' famous report on his March 1940 visit to Churchill has deleted all the references to the drunken behaviour of the First Lord of the Admiralty.

When my critics have done the original research that I have into Churchill's years of absolute power, then I shall heed their objections; but they haven't, so I won't. 

© 1987 David Irving

* The reference is to Captain Stephen Roskill, now dead, but alive at the time this was written: compare his printed text with the original diary, however! -- D I, 29.xii.98
Volume i is available. Among its many reviews was a manuscript by Churchill's private secretary Sir Anthony Montague-Browne.
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