Churchill’s Successor Left a Lasting Mark on Great Britain

A gelatin silver print of Winston Churchill, 1941, by photographer Yousuf Karsh sold for $11,352 at a May 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Clement Attlee was asked if he wanted to comment on the campaign of 1945, his response was a simple “No.” During this election for Prime Minister of Great Britain, he and wife Violet traveled the countryside extensively in their modest (battered) family car, advocating for a totally new, post-war social policy. One of his more effective political slogans was “You Can Trust Mr. Attlee.” It worked surprisingly well as he led the Labour Party to an upset, landslide win over the venerable Winston Churchill.

Attlee became one of the most successful leaders in modern Britain, despite being habitually shy, laconic, self-deprecating and excessively modest. As Churchill once quipped, “Clement Attlee was a modest man who had much to be modest about.”

Churchill respected Attlee for his basic honesty and firm dedication to accountability. They had served together during World War I and Attlee was even part of the British Army during the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign, which Churchill had conceived while the First Lord of the Admiralty. The strategic premise was to knock Turkey out of the war by attacking the Dardanelles. The campaign went so badly that Churchill was demoted, resigned from the Conservative Cabinet, and ended up commanding an infantry battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.

Clement Attlee

Attlee naively believed that the plan had been sound strategically and had only failed due to poor military execution. In Attlee’s own words, “There was only one brilliant strategic idea in WWI and that was Winston’s ‘the Dardanelles.’” Historians still argue over this yet today, but it was enough to form a bond between the two future prime ministers … one a pure socialist and the other an imperialist of the first order.

During the Second World War (which was just a continuation of the first with a 20-year pause), Attlee served under Churchill in the coalition government of 1940-45 and was the first person to hold the office of Deputy Prime Minister. He somehow held the Labour Party together despite numerous divergent viewpoints and personal ambitions. The colossal egos of Herbert Morrison, Sir Stafford Cripps (reputed to have the finest mind in England), and union strongman Ernest Bevin (dedicated to absolute equality throughout the British Empire) required a rare blend of political leadership – perhaps unique to Attlee.

It is here (in my humble opinion) where we start to witness the real decline of the British Empire. Independence in India, the partition of Pakistan, independence in Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Palestine and Jordan and exiting Greece. This was followed by the inevitable nationalization of the Bank of England, along with the iron, coal and steel industries. Then, importantly, there was the creation of a comprehensive welfare state. To the United States, the phrase “British socialism” signified economic and political bankruptcy; one of the few things Democrats and Republicans could agree on.

In Attlee’s rationale, these Labour Party policies were merely measures to ensure full employment and welfare based on managed capitalism; “accomplishments” that remained in place until his death in 1962 and beyond. Fortunately, a research chemist-turned-barrister was elected to Parliament in 1959, and 20 years later became the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister. She was the longest-serving British Prime Minister in the 20th century. Her name was Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher.

The small island that had once ruled the seas and oceans of the world – along with much of its land – was about to enter an era known now as “Thatcherism.” Many, including me, appreciate strong, enlightened leadership grounded in economic and political freedom. She fit the model perfectly.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Gallipoli Battle Established Australian, New Zealand Forces as Ferocious Fighters

The 1981 film Gallipoli starred Mel Gibson and was directed by Peter Weir. This Australian daybill went to auction in September 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

Mel Gibson fans remember him for his role in Gallipoli, which won him his second AFI film award in 1981 (his first was for Mad Max). However, the actual history of the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in World War I (April 25, 1915-Jan. 9, 1916) is rarely mentioned.

Perhaps that is because in Great Britain it is regarded as an embarrassing military debacle. It is remembered primarily for the fact it almost cost a young Winston Churchill his career while resulting in him losing his job as the First Lord of the Admiralty. He was forced to resign in May 1916 as a consequence of the campaign’s utter failure.

For the triumphant Turks, Gallipoli was a glorious victory. It spurred the nationalist fervor that would lead to the founding of the Turkish Republic eight short years later. Gallipoli was also a personal triumph for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who became the founder of the modern state of Turkey in 1923.

The Gallipoli campaign was a flawed response to the closure of the Dardanelles strait by the Ottoman Empire that limited Allied shipping to Russia. Churchill endorsed a plan that included a naval attack, followed by an amphibious landing on the peninsula. However, the Turks repelled the invasion and inflicted 250,000 casualties on Allied forces. Critics claim the evacuation of Allied troops from the shambles of the battlefield was the best executed phase of the entire campaign!

One bright spot was the performance on the battlefield by the Australians and New Zealanders. The combined ANZAC forces were so impressive that their reputation as ferocious fighters was permanently established. April 25 – Anzac Day – is solemnly commemorated in both countries and people make pilgrimages to pay their respects for so much bloodshed, even in a lost cause.


Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].