The IHR Blog |

Sexuality and LGBTQ History in the IHR Library

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LGBT History Month is a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. (February in the UK, October in the US)  –

 

20170217_102658In honour of LGBT History month, a new collection guide on Sexuality and LGBTQ history has been created to indicate the range of material we have here and to help readers locate specific works that may be of use to their research.  The guide provides an overview of the Library’s collections and gives details of the relevant bibliographies, classmark locations and highlights works concerning sex customs and ethics, gender, sexual orientation, marriage and family policy.

 

As well as these, there are details of relevant University of London theses and electronic resources and periodicals that can be accessed from within the library. The guide brings together works dispersed across the Library’s collections, in particular from Women’s and Gender history, and also provides information of free seminars relevant to the study of the history of sexuality in the IHR.

New reviews: Ireland, Soviet Union, US egalitarians and C14 magic

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kennedyWe start this week with Liam Kennedy’s Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? Penelope Corfield and the author discuss a manifesto to Irish pluralism, which should be required reading for all historians of Ireland (no. 2067, with response here).

Next up is The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR by Chris Miller. Isaac Scarborough enjoys (with caveats) a work which betters our knowledge and understanding of the politics behind the Soviet economic collapse (no. 2066).

Then we turn to Sean Wilentz’s Politicians & the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics, as Christopher Childers assesses a mixed bag of essays in an age of political fracture (no. 2065).

Finally we have Rewriting Magic: An Exegesis of the Visionary Autobiography of a Fourteenth-Century French Monk. Benedek Lang reviews an unusual book, the chronicle of an intellectual trip (no. 2064).

Announcement from Professor Lawrence Goldman

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‘I intend to stand down as Director of the Institute of Historical Research from 1 May 2017 and will take up the role of Professor of History in the IHR to allow me to concentrate on the Disraeli Letters Project, which I have been successful in attracting to the IHR, and on other research in the Victorian period. I will also pursue grant and funding opportunities’.

The University will now begin a search for Professor Goldman’s successor as Director. From 1 May 2017, Professor Philip Murphy, Deputy Dean of the School of Advanced Study, will carry out the duties of the Director.

Bibliography of British and Irish History updated (February 2017)

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An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 14 February. 4,901  new records have been added. Some 633 new records relate to Irish history while 246 deal with the history of London,  299 with the history of Scotland and 129 with the history of Wales.  The overall total of records available online is now 584,478.

In the past we’ve shown the range of material available on BBIH when we have published an update. We’ve covered the international aspects of BBIH as well as the number of references by year. In this instance we’ve charted the number of references by century using the period covered option on the simple and advanced search, and a chart showing our editorial period ranges.

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We expect the next update to be released in June 2017.

 

Inaugural George Weidenfeld Lecture in Jewish History 2017

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Towards a History of Jewish Emancipation Politics

16 March 2017, Beveridge Hall, Senate House
18:00-20:30

Speaker: Professor David Sorkin (Yale University)

In this lecture, David Sorkin, Professor of Jewish History at Yale University, will examine the involvement of Jewish communal and religious leaders in the processes of Jewish emancipation in Europe from the early modern period onwards. In questioning whether historians have developed effective explanations and categories to explain Jewish political participation he will propose a new analysis of Jewish politics from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

Attendance at this lecture is free, but advanced registration is required

Lecture: 18:00
Reception: 19:30

Book online now


 

From Wapitis to Vampires: Indian Air Force aircraft and the politics of decolonisation 1933-1950

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This post has kindly been written for us by Aashique Iqbal, Royal Historical Society Marshall Fellow, IHR

The first aeroplane flown by the first squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF), on its formation in 1933, was the Westland Wapiti. The Wapiti, nicknamed the ‘What-a-pity’, by British pilots, was far from the cutting edge flying machine of its time. Air gunners had to be tied to their seats with a ‘monkey chain’ to be kept in place in the two seater biplane. The Wapiti often needed to be manhandled by teams of men into flying position and threw up great plumes of dust with its rotors. IAF Wapitis did not always come equipped with radios, meaning that pilots sometimes had to carry caged messenger pigeons with them in order to send important communications to ground stations. As the official history of the IAF would later note the force was ‘swaddled in the castaway garments of the the Royal Air Force ‘.[1] By 1950, however, the situation had undergone a sea change. The IAF operated a series of sophisticated aircraft comparable with its British counterpart including De Havilland Vampire fighter jets, Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and Douglas DC-3 Dakota transport aircraft.

Westland Wapiti Bi-plane, Indian Air Force Museum, New Delhi.

Understanding the rapid technological modernisation of the Indian Air Force in the period between 1933 and 1950 involves understanding the politics that underpinned and enabled it. In 1933 India was very much a central part of the British Empire whereas by 1950 the country had emerged as an independent republic. A case study involving a selection of aircraft of the Indian Air Force is revealing of the ways in which technological modernisation is a deeply political act. As David Edgerton has argued it is useful to think of technology as ‘things in use’ since things are owned and their ownership is often revealing of the roots of social power.[2] In the instance of colonial India the slow process of transition from British rule to independence had concrete consequences for the IAF, especially in determining what aircraft the force would fly.

The Indian Air Force was established in 1932, primarily as a concession to Indian political opinion, which had been demanding greater Indian control of the colonial military as a means of reducing the high costs of employing British personnel and of setting India on the path to self-government. The IAF was kept small, equipped with outdated aircraft like the Wapiti and confined to air policing operations against the tribes of the North West Frontier province. This state of affairs persisted into the Second World War when efforts by the colonial Government of India (GoI) to acquire new aircraft were stymied by His Majesty’s Government (HMG). New Delhi’s planned wartime expansion of the IAF had to be shelved since London was unwilling to release critical dollar reserves necessary to import new aircraft for the IAF from the United States.[3] While the IAF was able to acquire a few new aircraft including the Hawker Hart, the Hawker Audax, the Bristol Blenheim and the Westland Lysander these were barely sufficient to meet the needs of the growing force. The newly formed IAF volunteer reserve would continue flying Westland Wapitis well into 1942.

When war with Japan broke out in 1941 the Indian Air Force could have hardly have been less prepared. The force was still no larger than one functioning squadron, though others were being trained, and it was still remarkably ill-equipped. Against the odds, however, the IAF gave a good account of itself during the long allied retreat from Burma in 1942. Indian Air Force personnel emerged as masters of improvisation, inventing a wooden wheel for their Westland Lysander planes, which often suffered from damaged rear wheels.[4] They also managed to repurpose their ‘Lizzies’, which were meant for reconnaissance, with new bomb racks that transformed the aeroplane into a light bomber. For many IAF men the war was an opportunity to expand the force and in doing so to provide India with a military institution it would need to attain true independence. As the Squadron Leader of No 1 Squadron IAF serving in Burma, Karun Krishna ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar stated, the war offered the IAF a chance to escape its status as a ‘flying club’. Whatever reservations IAF men might have about fighting to protect the British Empire could be saved for after the war when Indians had their own air force.[5] When Majumdar’s squadron was ordered to scout Japanese positions it went beyond the call of duty to use its improvised Lysander aircraft to launch light bombing raids on Japanese forces as far away as Thailand from its base in Northern Burma. The raids, often led by Majumdar in person, had little effect in turning the tide of a conflict that decisively favoured the Japanese, but they showcased both the IAF’s expertise in improvisation and its wartime gallantry.[6]

The IAF was expanded and rapidly modernised by the Government of India following the string of defeats in 1942. Eight squadrons formed during the war would be equipped with Hawker Hurricane aircraft.[7] While the Hurricane was not the fastest or most sophisticated aircraft available it was considerably more advanced than anything the IAF had thus far flown. Perhaps most well-known for its role as a fighter aircraft in the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane was used by the IAF on the Burma front primarily for tactical reconnaissance. Hurricane aircraft would take the majority of the 16,000 photographic prints taken by the IAF during the war, serving as the eyes of the Allies in Burma. Since the Hurricane was inferior to the Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa fighter plane, the IAF had to perform reconnaissance while remaining unseen.[8] IAF personnel used tactics pioneered in air policing operations on India’s North West frontier, flying low and slow to avoid detection by the fast high flying Japanese fighters. While technological inferiority prevented Hurricanes from engaging Japanese aircraft they were encouraged to strafe ground troops. The IAF wreaked havoc on Japanese supply lines, attacking any targets of opportunity. Japanese troops quickly learned to take shelter in the thick Burmese jungle from IAF planes but their supply lines remained vulnerable. IAF Hurricanes strafed cattle trains, boats and, on several instances, elephants bearing Japanese supplies.[9]

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Ground crew with Lysander aircraft c 1942. Photo Courtesy: J.R. Nanda.

The fact that the IAF was not equipped with a plane suited for air-to-air combat was a consequence of its low position in the hierarchy of allied air forces. IAF needs were second to those of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in a theatre that was itself of relatively low importance for the British air planners. The premier fighter of the period, the Supermarine Spitfire, was not provided for the IAF until 1944, well after Allied air superiority had been acquired on the Burma front. Even when IAF squadrons received Spitfires there is some evidence to suggest that they were tasked away from zones where air combat might potentially occur. This was likely aimed at preventing Indians from gaining combat experience in the war and also reflected the widely-held notion that Indians were second-rate aviators. IAF Squadron No. 8, the first Indian squadron to be equipped with Spitfires was, for instance, tasked with defending the city of Calcutta, which had not been attacked by Japanese aircraft for over eight months.[10] The lack of Spitfire aircraft for much of the war and the tasking of the IAF meant that the IAF saw very little air-to-air combat during the war, with only one confirmed enemy kill in a dogfight in the entire conflict.[11] Nevertheless, the IAF was highly successful in utilising the Spitfire for bombing operations in the last two years of the war. The IAF’s reputation for accurate light bombing was further burnished with the adoption of the American Vultee Vengeance bomber, a plane infamous for the crashes occasioned by its high speeds. Assigned to the IAF partially because of its unpopularity with RAF personnel, the Vengeance came to serve as a highly precise means of delivering light bombardments thanks to a dive-bombing technique pioneered by IAF personnel in keeping with their penchant for improvising with the often problematic aircraft with which they were equipped.[12]

The extraordinary success of the IAF in the Second World War was recognised by the granting of the prefix ‘Royal’ by the King Emperor to the service on 12 March 1945. Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) Hurricanes had the distinction of escorting Major General Numata of the Imperial Japanese Army to the surrender ceremony at Rangoon later that year. At the end of the war the IAF could boast 1 Distinguished Service Order, 22 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 1 bar to Distinguished Flying Cross, 3 Air Force Crosses, 2 Orders of the British Empire, 7 Members of the British Empire, 5 British Empire Medals, 45 Mentions in Dispatches and 285 Jangi Inams.[13] It had expanded from a single squadron force of 16 officers and 269 airmen in 1939 to a nine squadron force that, in July 1945, included 1,638 officers and 26,900 Other Ranks.[14] The small force had sustained substantial casualties during the war, with 688 killed, 367 wounded and 3 captured.[15]

Perhaps the most important aircraft inducted by the RIAF in the 1940s would not be adopted during the war. The American Douglas DC-3 Dakota would only come into service on 1 December 1945 as part of the newly-raised No 12 Transport Squadron. The Dakota would play a key role in the two events that defined the passing of British rule in South Asia; partition and the Kashmir war of 1947. The Imperial defense of South Asia from the Japanese had been successful but costly. Colonial military control of the subcontinent was eroded by the passing of military technologies such as aviation from British to Indian hands and some form of Indian independence became inevitable after the war. Independence in 1947 was accompanied by the violent partition of British India into the independent dominions of India and Pakistan. As it became increasingly apparent that the creation of the two states would require the rapid movement of Muslim officials to Pakistan and non-Muslim officials to India, RIAF Dakotas were pressed into service. The interiors of the planes were stripped of seats and carpets to enable more passengers to board them. Thousands of government officials, along with their families, were moved to the dominions in which they were desperately required in order to expedite the formation of independent states. Even as the partition crisis was winding down, the two newly-created dominions of India and Pakistan went to war with each other over the disputed semi-autonomous state of Kashmir. As tribesmen backed by Pakistan poured into Kashmir in late October 1947, hoping to capture the state and hand India a fait accompli with the onset of winter, RIAF Dakotas were mobilised to fly in Indian troops to defend the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar. The war between the two new dominions would see the use of Dakota aircraft on both sides to move troops and supplies over Kashmir’s mountainous terrain. Again displaying the spirit of improvisation that had characterised it during the Second World War, the RIAF also used Dakotas for bombing operations by rolling bombs outside the planes’ open hatches.[16] Though the conflict ended in a stalemate it is clear that without the Dakota Indian forces would have been unable to occupy as much of Kashmir as they were eventually able to. Indeed it is possible that without the Dakota India may have been forced to concede most of Kashmir to Pakistan. The Kashmir dispute has served as the most significant source of hostility between India and Pakistan ever since 1947 and the Dakota enabled India to launch, sustain and eventually escalate military involvement in the region.

India’s main combat aircraft in the Kashmir conflict was the Hawker Tempest. The Tempest had come to replace the fabled Spitfire in the RIAF’s arsenal, reflecting the rapid development of aviation technology in the decade. As with the Second World War, the conditions of the Kashmir conflict ensured that there was little dogfighting over Kashmir. Consequently, RIAF Tempests were able to draw on institutional skills pioneered on the North West Frontier and honed during the Second World War in the conflict. RIAF Tempests were used extensively in light bombardment and tactical reconnaissance to interdict enemy lines of supply.[17] Their presence on the Kashmir front also served to deter the Royal Pakistan Air Force from using its aircraft to openly aid Pakistani forces, though covert operations were undertaken.

A major lacuna for India during the Kashmir conflict was the lack of heavy bombers. The British commander of the RIAF in independent India, Air Marshal Thomas Elmhirst, had suggested that India import Lancaster bombers from the United Kingdom, which continued to remain the prime supplier of aircraft to India. RIAF personnel led by Group Captain Harjinder Singh had a different idea.[18] Following the Second World War the RAF had been forced to dispose of a number of Consolidated B-24 Liberators in India which it had received from the United States under the terms of the Lend-Lease agreement. Liberators were sent to Kanpur, where they were damaged by RAF personnel in a variety of ways. Trucks and bulldozers were run into the aircraft, damaging their fuselages. Cockpits were smashed by dropping aircraft from cranes on which they were raised and engines were filled with sand, rendering them unusable. However, the RIAF, which had for years relied on salvage and repair operations to keep its equipment-starved squadrons operating, was able to repair the Liberators. Some 42 Liberators were flown from Kanpur to Bangalore by Jamshed Kaikobad ‘Jimmy’ Mistry, a Hindustan Aircraft Limited test pilot with no previous experience flying four-engine aircraft.[19] At the Hindustan Aircraft Limited factory at Bangalore aircraft were once more made air-worthy using spare parts cannibalized from other Liberators at Chakeri. Three Indian squadrons – No 5, No 6 and No 16 – would eventually be equipped with Liberator bombers. The RIAF became the last air force in the world to fly the Liberator which it only retired in 1967. In a testament to the excellent engineering skills of the IAF, the Royal Air Museum would ask for and receive a Liberator aircraft for display at its museum. The Liberator, which was flown in 1974 from India to the United Kingdom, is still on display.[20]

Foreign exchange saved by not importing Lancasters was spent instead on pushing India into the jet age with the purchase of licenses to build De Havilland Vampire fighter bomber jet aircraft. This was part of a broader attempt by the newly-independent Indian state to eventually indigenise aircraft production, which it saw as being central to the maintenance of Indian sovereignty. Over 410 Vampires would serve in the Indian Air Force over the next three decades, including night fighting and training variants.[21] The first of these was inducted into service with No 7 squadron in 1949. Only a decade earlier the Indian Air Force had been a tiny force flying Westland Wapiti aircraft.

The induction of Vampire jet planes built in India on license into the Indian Air Force in 1949 not only signaled the beginning of the jet age but reflected the vast political changes that had swept the continent in the preceding decade. Initially denied modern aircraft, the IAF had been modernised largely as a response to the exigencies of the Second World War. This modernisation in turn had the effect of loosening colonial military control, contributing ultimately to the decision to terminate British rule in the subcontinent. Aircraft inducted into the force after the war played a critical role in shaping modern South Asia, not least by drawing present day Indian borders in Kashmir. The RIAF was able throughout the period to excel in often adverse circumstances through improvisation of both aviation technology and flying techniques, eventually clawing its way into the jet age by bringing into existence entire bomber squadrons from scrap. In the decades after 1950 the IAF would continue to expand, eventually becoming the fourth largest air force in the world. The history of its aircraft in its first two decades serves as an example of the ways in which poorer countries engage with high technology. It is also revealing of the manner in which technological modernisation is deeply implicated in politics.

[1] B. Prasad, History of the Indian Air Force 1933-45, (New Delhi, 1961), p xix.

[2] D. Edgerton, The Shock of the Old, (London, 2008), p 212.

[3] B. Prasad, Expansion of the Armed Forces and Defence Organisation 1939-45, (New Delhi, 1956), p 142.

[4] S. Sapru, Combat Lore, (New Delhi, 2014), p 153.

[5] M.Edwards, Spitfire Singh, (New Delhi, 2016), p 146.

[6] R. Chinna, The Eagle Strikes, (New Delhi, 2006), p 61.

[7] V. Seth, The Flying Machines, (New Delhi, 2000), p 21.

[8] R. Chinna, The Eagle Strikes, (New Delhi, 2006), p 113.

[9] See for instance: Ministry of Defence (MoD), 601/9616/H, Operations Record Book No 1 Squadron.

[10] MoD, 601/9621/H, ORB No. 8 Squadron, 3 March 1945.

[11] B. Prasad, History of the Indian Air Force 1933-45, (New Delhi, 1961), p 177.

[12] J.J. Halley, The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth, (Tonbridge, 1988). p 523.

[13] R. Chinna, The Eagle Strikes, (New Delhi, 2006), p 236.

[14] B. Prasad, Expansion of Armed Forces and Defence Organisation, (New Delhi, 1956), p 153.

[15] TNA, AIR 23/3426, History of the Royal Indian Air Force.

[16] R.K. Pal, Sentinels of the Sky, (New Delhi, 1999), p 26.

[17] B. Kumar, An Incredible war, ( New Delhi, 2007), p 53.

[18] M.Edwards, Spitfire Singh, (New Delhi, 2016), p 321.

[19] http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/Aircraft/History/927-B24.html, accessed 10.1.2017.

[20] http://warbirds.in/ovb24/227-consolidated-b24-liberator.html accessed 10.1.2017.

[21] V. Seth, The Flying Machines, (New Delhi, 2000), p 39.

New reviews: Lincoln, Enlightenment lawyers, sleep and abbots

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healeWe start this week with Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union by Daniel Crofts. Phillip Magness and the author discuss a book which carefully grounds Lincoln’s presidency in evidence (no. 2063, with response here).

Then we turn to Karen Baston’s Charles Areskine’s Library: Lawyers and their Books at the Dawn of the Scottish Enlightenment, as Alexander Murdoch praises a profoundly scholarly study that reflects on the impact of Enlightenment culture (no. 2062).

Next up is Sleep in Early Modern England by Sasha Handley. Olivia Weisser reviews a valuable book that shows how something as routine as sleep can open a window onto the physical, spiritual, and emotional lives of the past (no. 2061).

Finally , we have Martin Heale’s The Abbots and Priors of Late Medieval and Reformation England. Katherine Harvey admires the broad scope, deep learning, and provocative conclusions of this ambitious book (no. 2060).

The Gerald Aylmer Seminar 2017

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The Gerald Aylmer Seminar 2017
Strongroom to Seminar: archives and teaching in higher education

24 February 2017, Wolfson Conference Suite, IHR
09:00-17:00

The Gerald Aylmer Seminar 2017 will consider the role of archives in higher education teaching. It will focus on the critical questions which surround how academics and archivists can build on a strong tradition of collaboration to engage in creative and innovative pedagogical practice. Just as teaching methods have evolved within higher education, so have the expectations of the modern student. In a digital world, the experience of how a new generation of researchers interact with archival resources has changed dramatically. What then is the role of document based teaching in this shifting landscape? How can technology be used to enhance the learning experience? What other insights does teaching with archival material in higher education bring?

Following the keynote by Professor Jo Fox, the seminar will offer three themed sessions in which speakers will address issues from multiple archival and scholarly perspectives. Session one ‘creator as teacher’ focuses on an established collaboration between archivists and academics based on the works of John Ruskin, who left his extensive collection with the specific aim of it being used as a resource for educating future generations. Other speakers will reflect on their innovative teaching practices involving archival material, including the use of digital collections and data sets, and the ways archivists can take an increasingly active role in shaping students’ engagement with archival collections.

A provisional programme is available to view online here

The seminar is free and open to all, but advanced registration is required. Register online now

All lunch and refreshments will be provided.

New reviews: C of E historians, East German memory, Irish biography and medieval Ravenna

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stubbs

William Stubbs, English historian and Anglican bishop.

We commence this issue with a review of James Kirby’s Historians and the Church of England. Alexander Hutton and the author discuss a rewarding, diligent, and empathetic excursion into a lost world of Victorian intellectual history (no. 2059, with response here).

Next up is Amnesiopolis: Modernity, Space and Memory in East Germany by Eli Rubin, and Jörg Arnold believes Eli Rubin has written a wonderfully inspiring study which will be of great interest to social and cultural historians of the GDR (no. 2058).

Then we turn to Padraig Lenihan’s The Last Cavalier: Richard Talbot (1631-91). John Cronin belatedly reviews a book which succeeds in giving us a more rounded and nuanced understanding of its subject (no. 2057).

Finally we have Ravenna: its role in earlier medieval change and exchange, edited by Janet Nelson and Judith Herrin, which Ross Balzaretti praises as a collection that challenges the myth of Ravenna’s early medieval decline and does so in great style (no. 2056).

Casting Churchill

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© IWM (A 6918)

MR CHURCHILL IN HIS SIREN SUIT AT THE WHITE HOUSE. 3 JANUARY 1942, WASHINGTON DC, USA. DURING MR CHURCHILL’S MISSION TO AMERICA. (A 6918) Mr Churchill, complete in his air-raid suit, which he announce to the press and cinema men present was his ‘siren suit’. poses with Mr Harry Hopkins and his daughter Miss Diana Hopkins along with her pet dog Falla. Also seen is Cdr Thompson ADC to the Prime Minister. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205140997

The IHR Wohl Library now offers access to the digitized archive of the private papers of Sir Winston Churchill, both within the library and remotely to holders of a membership card.

The archive, which contains some 800,000 items, is an extraordinarily rich resource, not just for those interested in the life and career of Churchill, but also in broad stretches of the twentieth century.

Today (30 January) is the anniversary of Churchill’s state funeral in 1965: the day when famously even the cranes along the Thames lowered their arms in a moment, it seems, orchestrated for the film news crews. Neither the American President nor the Vice-President attended (President Johndon informed reporters from his sick bed in the White House that his doctors had forbidden him from flying). Instead, the United States was represented by Earl Warren, the US Chief Justice. Many in Britain deemed this a snob to the ‘special relationship’, with some speculating that this was a small form of payback for Churchill missing President Roosevelt’s funeral in 1945 (the archive contains a telegram from Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, who attended the funeral, ‘Mrs Roosevelt said how sincerely touched she was that our country had sent a special representative [Eden]… The Governor General and I were the only representatives who made a special journey to attend the ceremony, except for the President of the Philippines, and I think this has touched people here… I find everybody here conscious of the heavy burdens which will be on you [Churchill] in the defence of both our peoples, indeed of Western civilisation now that F.D.R. cannot take part’ CHAR 20/214/124, telegram, 14 April 1945].

Churchill, of course, continues ‘to take part’ in world affairs, albeit symbolically. Few could have missed the various minor diplomatic disturbances and artificially-generated press scandals concerning the placement of the Churchill bust in the Oval Office of the White House, including that of the current occupant. The bust is by the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), and the White House has access to two casts, one donated to President Johnson in 1965 by a group of Churchill’s wartime friends, and the other loaned from the British Government Art Collection at the British ambassador’s residence in 2001 (before the attacks of 9/11) and first displayed in the White House while their cast was repaired. At some point the Government Art Collection’s cast returned to the British embassy, while the cast acquired in 1965 continued to sit outside the Oval Office. After 20 January 2017, the Washington Post reports, it moved inside, and was then, it seems, replaced by the British embassy’s cast, since the President-elect’s team had asked for another loan.

But what of the artist? Epstein was born in the Hester Street, New York City, the son of Jewish refuges from Augustów, Poland. He studied in Paris and then, in 1905 settled in London before becoming a British citizen, and soon earned a reputation as a sculptor. Artistic fame (and perhaps notoriety) came in 1908, with his carvings on Charles Holden’s British Medical Association in the Strand in London, boldly depicting nudity and pregnancy and challenging chaste public taste of the day: the Evening Standard suggested ‘no careful father’ would let his daughter view them. (In 1935, the Rhodesian High Commission took over the building and mutilated the statues, as the National Archives notes, an ‘ugly reminder of an unfortunate episode of artistic censorship/indifference’.) In 1918, his name appears in the Archive, in a telegram from his wife, Margaret Epstein, to Lady Randolph Churchill, asking, unsuccesfully, if the prime minister could ‘do anything’ to obtain him a position in which, as the Archive catalogue notes, ‘Epstein could use his talents for propaganda purposes’.

His star rose in from the late 1920s, and in 1937 he was chosen as the spokesperson for the London Group, which urged artists to refuse to cooperate with a Nazi attempt to organise an exhibition of British art in Berlin that excluded Jewish artists. During the Second World War he received commissions from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, including likenesses of Ernet Bevin and, in 1945, Winston Churchill (this was arranged by Sir Kenneth Clark, who wrote that ‘I think he will do something good, and at any rate you will not have to go far to get to the studio’ — Churchill and Epstein were neighbours in Hyde Park Gate, London). Several casts were to be made. After some discussion, Churchill agreed to the commission, and recommended a ‘third bust to go the United States of America.’ [CHUR 1/17A-B, 16 Oct 1945].

Churchill, as the archive makes clear, was rather busy at the time , and was initially unable to make space in his diary for the sitting (‘I am about to leave for an extended visit to the United States’). The Keeper of Pictures at the Imperial War Museum pressed the issue on a couple of fronts, noting ‘if it is not completed fairly soon we shall be unable to pay for it during the present financial year and later on we shall probably not have the money for it.’ More, flatteringly, ‘we  hope to re-open some of the galleries of the Museum [which had been bombed] very shortly and we are very anxious, of course, to be able to include a bust of Mr. Churchill in the exhibition.’ [CHUR 1/17A-B]. Sittings resumed, with Epstein summoned to Chartwell. The bust was exhibited in 1947. You can view one of the casts on the Imperial War Museums site (the bust remains in copyright).

Epstein died of a heart attack in 1959. A memorandum in the Archive reads, ‘You have always has friendly relations with Sir Jacob Epstein, your neighbour. Do you wish to send his widow a telegram’ [CHUR 2/522A-B, f. 171, 22 Aug 1959].  On the top of the note is a Churchillian tick, and we can assume that something was sent: on 29 August, Kathleen, Lady Epstein, replied ‘Thankyou for the kind & sympathetic messsage your sent me when my husband died. He went like any artist would like to go. We drank a glass of wine together in good spirits, sang a few songs, then he took a last look around the studio & died.’

Further guidance on how to access the Churchill Archive is here. Many of Epstein’s papers can be viewed online at Tate Archives (n.b., he wasn’t particularly complimentary about Churchill’s skills as an artist). The saga of the bust, and its continuing use as propaganda, continues.

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