Winston Churchill: the Liberal Phase, Part I

Drawing on letters and diaries written when her husband was a close associate of Sir Winston's, Lucy Masterman offers a portrait of him in his early Parliamentary years.

Early in 1906 Charles Masterman, afterwards my husband, then a new Member of Parliament, was invited to a dinner party by Mrs. Sidney Webb at which Arthur Balfour was present. In making his farewells, Balfour thanked her for introducing him to some of the young Liberals, adding, “The young Conservatives are so dull.”

When Prime Minister, he had had a young Conservative below the gangway who, whatever his shortcomings, was certainly not dull.

As an orator Churchill had disabilities: a stammer at times paralysing, and a lisp. But he had courage, wit, a superb sense of vocabulary and a mind almost too hospitable to ideas. He had seen quite a lot of active service in the wars that the victorious power chose to consider small, on the Indian frontier, in Egypt, Cuba and South Africa, and had written a book about each. He had been taken prisoner and escaped.

Altogether, one would have said, a young man to be annexed as soon as possible and given the grooming of office, especially as it was plain that the only thing he would not contemplate was idleness. But Balfour considered he could do without him, a thought that was to occur later to both Baldwin and Chamberlain.

All this was before 1908, the year I married Charles Masterman and became officially concerned with politics. Consequently, though he dined once or twice at my home, my chief knowledge of him before that was second-hand gossip, and, especially after he crossed the floor and entered the Liberal Party, much of it inimical.

My father, General Lyttelton, had known him during the Natal Campaign in South Africa and used to recall with amusement an incident during the battle of Vaal Kranz, a hill that after its capture was undergoing what for those days was a stiff bombardment.

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