[Drop-head title:] The Fighting Line.
Two Speeches on the Army. Delivered in the House of Commons on May 23rd and May 31st, 1916.London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1916 Stock Code: 127608
NotesFirst edition, only printing. Cohen's bibliography states: "the pamphlet does not appear to have sold well and, although it may have continued to appear in Macmillan catalogues as late as 1924 or early 1925, most, if not all, unsold copies, were, in fact, destroyed in 1918" (vol. I, p. 196). Martin Gilbert asserts that 5,000 copies were printed (Winston S. Churchill, III, Companion Part 2, 1972, p. 1513) although Cohen comments that "I myself have found no corroborating records in either the Chartwell Trust papers or the Macmillan Archives" (ibid.). Conspicuously scarce: Library Hub cites copies at six British and Irish institutional libraries (BL, Oxford, Cambridge, Scotland, Trinity College Dublin, IWM), WorldCat adds five among international holdings (Auburn, Dartmouth College, Princeton, Bibliothèque de Genève, Lyon); just a single copy at auction, making 266 at Sotheby's in 1964.
After receiving much criticism for his involvement in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, Churchill's stock in Britain was very low. He resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty in November 1915 and "sought active service" (ODNB). By January 1916 he was in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and served in the front line until early May 1916, when "the amalgamation of his battalion with another led to the extinction of his command and gave him a presentable excuse for resigning his commission and coming home" (ibid.). He returned to the House and in these two impassioned speeches "appealed for a policy which would enable all able-bodied men to take their place in the fighting line and which would draw upon the great reserves of manpower which remained neglected or untapped He did not believe that Britain could win the war by hurling men continuously to their death, and he despised the government for trying to do so. The premature offensive against which he warned took place on the Somme within six weeks of his speech" (Gilbert III, pp. 770 and 774). Gilbert goes on to note that "the public was impressed by Churchill's parliamentary protest. Many soldiers and soldiers' wives, wrote to express their gratitude that he had spoken out so frankly about the wastage of manpower" and that Asquith "knew of the general impact of Churchill's speeches. He had no desire to see Churchill's concern for the soldiers lead to a growth in anti-government feeling, and two attempts were made at once to involve him in a semi-official manner in the Government's affairs" (ibid. p. 777).
A fascinating and highly uncommon pamphlet that reflects Churchill's deeply felt concerns over the prosecution of the war and his recent front line experience - "nearly 1,000 men - Englishmen, British, men of our own - are knocked into bundles of bloody rags every twenty-four hours, and carried away to hasty graves or field ambulances" (p. 14) - recalling, as Churchill would have been keenly aware, the solicitous reputation of his great forebear, the Duke of Marlborough, known affectionately by his men as "Corporal John".
Octavo, 32 pp. Sewn in original self-wrappers. Housed in a burgundy quarter morocco solander box with chemise by the Chelsea Bindery.
Wrappers a little soiled, previous owner's penciled annotations at head of front wrapper, small patch on the first page lightly skinned by the removal of a label, pale toning to the text, very good.
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