Menzies and Churchill at War
Contributor: Morgan Bell
Review Date: 27 Jan 2005
Covering the time from the outbreak of war until Operation Barbarossa was well underway, Menzies and Churchill at War explores the tension between Winston Churchill and Australia's prime minister, Robert Menzies. While some aspects of the book may seem interesting to only the most hardcore of Australian history buffs, and the book may be harder to find outside the home of those rough colonials, for those seeking a deeper understanding of the dire straits England was caught up in the first few years of the war it is well worth the trouble to find. Needless to say, the timeframe covers such stressful and depressing points of the war for Churchill as the Fall of France, Dunkirk, the North African Campaign, Operation Menace, Crete, and the Battle of Britain.
For 240-odd pages, Day weaves together a variety of issues into a compelling and complex account of problems for wartime leadership in Britain during the Second World War. Menzies and his reasons for pursuing a policy of appeasement, which conflicts with Churchill's policy of never surrender, even at the cost of ultimate sacrifice of the Empire. The needs of the Dominions of Australia, Canada and South Africa against the needs of the other and during the war. The problems presented for Churchill because of failed campaigns in the eyes of other British politicians and the British media. In the middle of this melting pot of issues, the Australian prime minister has an extended stay in Britain, and becomes the media's - and more arrogantly his own - lone figure of credible opposition to Churchill in wartime Britain. Menzies definition of "opposition" ranged from becoming Prime Minister himself, to becoming the head of a Dominion Organization that was representative to the British cabinet.
By the conclusion of Menzies and Churchill at War, as we already know from hindsight, Churchill remains in office until 1945 due to his popularity with the people of Britain and his rousing speeches effects upon them. Menzies is not so lucky, but by the end he seems quite content being resigned to the fact there are better ways for him to serve Australia's interests during the Second World War than as Prime Minister. The fickleness and weakness of th e elite backed opposition is shown, so much to the point when Menzies returned to Britain on a state visit a decade after the war as the longest serving Australian Prime Minister ever seen, the media tried to portray him as a potential candidate for the n ew British Prime Minister, which he duly ignored.
This book will be interesting and informative to a number of people on a variety of levels. It will immediately capture the attention of readers interested in Australian history, especially during the Second World War. Even for readers that desire to know more about Australian politics during the war but are also painfully aware of their lack of knowledge, this book explains the background and issues well, making for an easy read. Readers also interested in the problems presented early in the war for the Churchill administration and opposition to it from within and outside Britain will also be pleased with Day's research and explanations. Probably the largest group of readers this book will please are tho se looking for the motivations of those supporting war against Germany as well as those opposed to it, and everyone in between, without once resorting to the 'because-Hitler-was-a-bad-wittle-boy' argument. It is because on all these levels that Menzies and Churchill at War succeeds as a well researched and balanced account of diplomacy and tension between Britain and its Dominion allies during WWII.
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