Churchill 'diatribe' to be auctioned

Mon, Nov 28, 2011, 00:00

MEMOS SIGNED by Winston Churchill in July 1920, described as “a furious diatribe on official failings in the face of the Irish rebellion”, have come to light and will be auctioned by Christie’s in London today.

Churchill, who later became prime minister, was secretary of state for war and in charge of Britain’s military response to the War of Independence then raging in Ireland.

The typed memos reveal that Churchill complained bitterly about the incompetence of some of his officials, who had failed to carry out his orders to supply 5,000 revolvers to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

He described their failure to act as “a very serious matter” and the “worst possible example of bureaucratic incompetence”.

On July 22nd, 1920, he noted that “exactly a month has passed since the request from Ireland for 5,000 revolvers for the police without effective action being taken” and that “it will therefore be necessary to take disciplinary action against the officials concerned who have caused the delay”.

Churchill had ordered that “the revolvers should be issued at once and the question of payment discussed afterwards”.

But the officials apparently dithered and, instead of carrying out his instructions, simply contacted Dublin Castle to ask if “belts and holsters were [also] required” for the RIC and then, apparently, “let the matter rest”.

Churchill pointed out that “Ireland is in a most critical state and that the arming of the police with proper weapons must be a matter of real importance”.

A written explanation from his officials prompted him to respond with a further incandescent memo in which he observed: “I do not remember to have seen anything so helpless as this for a very long time.”

A year later, in 1921, the British and Irish sides agreed a truce and Churchill took part in negotiations which resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the end of the war and the creation of the Irish Free State.

The documents, which have an estimate of £1,200 to £1,800 (€1,398 to €2,097), are among dozens of papers related to Churchill to be auctioned at Christie’s South Kensington salesroom.