PRIME MINISTER IN WAR 1916-18
As you enter Canterbury Cathedral your eye is at once arrested by a tablet naming in order all the Archbishops from St. Augustine to Cosmo Gordon Lang and William Temple. No such comparable list of Prime Ministers is visible as you enter Westminster Hall. If we select, somewhat arbitrarily, Walpole as the first of the line, and if we count from 1721 to Lloyd George in 1921, there are thirty-six names in the two centuries. Within that period the nature of the office and the men holding it varied greatly. There had never before, Lloyd George tells us, been a 'ranker' raised to the Premiership, 'certainly not one except Disraeli who had not passed through the Staff College of the old Universities'. Most Prime Ministers had been born of ruling families in affluent circumstances, and were conscious of an aptitude for high affairs. They inherited traditional policies and controversies and modified or extended them, here a little and there a little, with a gradualness which was never successfully menaced by catastrophic change. Many were great orators, and others usually had debating gifts above the average. They were at least as interesting to meet as bankers or field-marshals or millionaires, though a modern novelist has dismissed the lot as dull. 'For my part', sums up Somerset Maugham, 'I would much sooner spend a month on a desert island with a veterinary surgeon than with a Prime Minister.'
When criticizing Asquith in the Memoirs and describing the qualities essential to the Chief Minister of the Crown in a great war, Lloyd George drew his own serf-portrait. Asquith, he grants, had courage, composure, and judgement in a superlative degree:
But a War Minister must also have vision, imagination, and initiative--he must show untiring assiduity, must exercise constant oversight and supervision of every sphere of war activity, must possess driving force to energise this activity, must be in continuous consultation with experts, official and unofficial, as to the best means of utilising the resources of the country in conjunction with Allies for the