Of the many things I might associated with Easter, surely something on Winston Churchill might be better left for Anzac week. But there has been some very interesting material recently coming out about his life that in might relate in some measure to Easter.
Winston Churchill was a larger than life public figure when I was growing up during the 1950s. Although he was the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain, his legends and his pronouncements were well-publicised in the Anglophile Australia of that time. Many adult men of our acquaintance had been overseas fighting during World War II, or had been in 'protected occupations' growing food, as my father was; and many children of the time had a parent or grandparent who had come from England, as I did.
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, DL, FRS who was born on 30 November 1874, was a British politician and statesman and widely regarded as one of the great wartime leaders.
He served as Prime Minister, 1940–45 and again 1951–55 and was noted worldwide for his wonderful oratory skill. Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, writer, and an artist. To date, he is the only British Prime Minister to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature and although the records state that he was the first person to be recognised as an honorary citizen of the United States, one wonders what this actually means in practice since his mother was an American citizen in any case.
However, to many Australians, he had another side to his decision-making that was not considered in any way flattering.
His was the architect of the disastrous WWI Gallipoli campaign in April 1915. He refused to accept that defeat became inevitable, even though it was so obvious to those on the ground. Many young Australians can lay their lives at the foot of Churchill's belligerence.
The very same thing happened again in Greece in WWII. Against the wisdom of the Americans, the Commonwealth forces attacked Greece in 1941 with Churchill's idea that such an attack would create a second front. The Whermacht (combined German armed forces) overwhelmed the allies. As a result, many of the Commonwealth troops escaping to Crete, only to be overrun again, when some were successfully evacuated but many became German Prisoners of War.
On such PoW enunciated in a documentary that Churchill had stolen four years of his life.
But, to the Australians, the worst of Churchill's decisions almost saw Australia left bereft of its own troops. When Japan was obviously starting to escalate its attacks in the Pacific in 1942, Australian Prime Minister John Curtin's requested that Churchill send home the Australian troops who had been fighting in the Middle East.
Churchill initially ignored the request, and instead diverted them to Burma. Curtin insisted, and as the fleet sailed home across the Indian Ocean where an angry Japanese Navy was searching for Allied targets, Churchill left it without any protection.
The legend of Winston Churchill lies with his 'stand alone' image in the Battle of Britain and his Stirling oratory. Some analysts now see that his strategic skills left a lot to be desired and cost many young Australians their lives at Gallipoli and in Greece and Crete.
In political terms, Churchill could have cost Australia its freedom. John Curtin recognised this and turned to the United States, who by then had a vested interest in protecting the Pacific after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
As I pondered these things, I could not help but consider how far reaching was Curtin's decision. It accelerated the worldwide dominance of American culture, which came to Australia with the soldiers on Rest and Recreation and personal ties that developed, even before we had the ever present American shows on TV. Not least Billy Graham's visits and the huge change that bought to literally hundreds of thousands of Australians.
John Curtin could not have possibly foreseen the 'spiritual outcomes' of his decision to stand up to Winston Churchill – neither could anyone else. It is all part of God's miraculous plan.
John Robertson writing for Christian Today in January reported that Winston Churchill had at one time flirted with Islam. In the 1920's he travelled widely throughout the Middle East which the television program "Churchill's Bodyguard' illustrates.
Lady Gwendoline Bertie who eventually became the wife of Churchill's brother Jack wrote Churchill a letter which reads:
"Please don't become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise ... If you come into contact with Islam your conversion might be effected with greater ease than you might have supposed, call of the blood, don't you know what I mean, do fight against it."
The reality was that Churchill was imbued with people from right-wing anti-Islam bodies, such as the English Defence League (EDL), and maintained a strong link to Christian thought.
Even in the darkest periods of WWII Churchill never missed attending Easter services and his relationship with General Bernard Montgomery, a man of evangelical persuasion was renown for its clarity on such matters.
I think we might give a toast to Easter Services and how the mightiest amongst even of my parent's generation recognised something greater than military hardware. Think of Dunkirk, think of the Battle of Britain, think of VE Day.
This year, many will be attending Thursday night services. I'll be at my local church Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html