Winston Churchill's Last Campaign: Britain and the Cold War, 1951-5

By John W. Young | Go to book overview

10
FROM BERLIN TO GENEVA, JANUARY-JUNE 1954

THE BERLIN CONFERENCE

THE New Year began with renewed speculation in the Press about Churchill's fitness for office, the Daily Mirror leading the way with criticisms. 'Jock' Colville believed that there could yet be a retirement in May. Certainly Churchill's health was now far from good. He had a tendency to doze off during meetings. His mind wandered, he frequently preferred novels or bezique to government work, his sparks of genius were becoming rare.1 None the less, Eisenhower had reports that, during January, 'Winston (was) getting a new lease of life' and the Prime Minister continued to hope that, even if it made no breakthrough on Germany, the Berlin Conference, now (on Soviet insistence) due to start on 25 January, might somehow lead to a 'top-level' meeting. In Cabinet he criticized a proposal for US military aid to Pakistan, fearing this would upset the Russians ahead of Berlin.2 Neither were he and Eden entirely at odds over dealing with the Soviets. When the Prime Minister criticized the State Department for its propaganda 'verbiage' ahead of Berlin, the Foreign Secretary agreed, adding: 'I sometimes wonder why our American friends keep Ambassadors . . . since they clearly don't believe in diplomacy.'3 When the preparations for Berlin became deadlocked over which buildings should be used for meetings, both Eden and Churchill sought a compromise. Churchill argued that 'one can get better treatment out of the Russians

____________________
1
Press discussion of Churchill's condition went on into Spring; his health and confidence at this time seem to have been extremely variable: see esp. Lord Moran, Winston Churchill. The Struggle for Survival ( 1966), diary entries of 12, 21, and 26 Jan. and 4-8 Feb.; E. Shuckburgh, Descent to Suez: Diaries 1951-6 ( 1986), 127-8.
2
The Diaries of Dwight D. Eisenhower (microfilm, Frederick, Md., 1986), reel 3 ( Eisenhower to Baruch, 30 Jan.); Public Record Office (PRO), CAB. 128/27, CC (54) 1st (7 Jan.). On 26 Dec. the Soviets (replying to the Western note of 8 Dec.) had insisted on meeting no earlier than 25 Jan.: D. Folliot (ed.), Documents on International Affairs, 1953 ( 1956), 112.
3
PRO, PREM. 11/664 (1 and 7 Jan.).

-238-

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