Source 8

Copy of a letter from Winston Churchill to Clement Attlee, 1 July 1947

Reference

CHUR 2/43A-B images 250 and 251

Simplified Transcript

India
Political
Copy sent to Mr Eden

28, Hyde Park Gate,
London,
SW7

1 July 1947

My dear Prime Minister,

I’m worried to hear that you’ll call the India Bill, ‘The Indian Independence Bill’. This is completely against what we’d been told before. The only reason why I gave support to plans agreed with Mountbatten is because they’d establish Dominion status. Dominion status is not the same as Independence, although it may lead to independence. It’s not true that a community is independent when its Ministers have in fact taken the Oath of Allegiance to the King. This is a very serious issue and the correct process and naming should be used. The correct title would be, it seems to me, ‘The Indian Dominions Bill’. I’ll also support it if it were called ‘The India Bill, 1947’ or ‘The India Self-Government Bill’.
I’m glad to hear you’re thinking about these changes.

Believe me,
Yours sincerely,
WSC

Original Transcript

India
Political

COPY 28, Hyde Park Gate,
London, SW7
Copy sent to Mr Eden

July 1, 1947.

My dear Prime Minister,

I am much concerned to hear from my colleagues whom you consulted yesterday that you propose to call the India Bill, “The Indian Independence Bill”. This, I am assured, is entirely contrary to the text, which corresponds to what we have previously been told were your intentions. The essence of the Mountbatten proposals and the only reason why I gave support to them is because they establish the phase of Dominion status. Dominion status is not the same as Independence, although it may be freely used to establish independence. It is not true that a community is independent when its Ministers have in fact taken the Oath of Allegiance to The King. This is a measure of grave constitutional importance and a correct and formal procedure and nomenclature should be observed. The correct title would be, it seems to me, “The Indian Dominions Bill”. I should however be quite willing to support it if it were called, “The India Bill, 1947” or “The India Self-Government Bill”.
I am glad to hear you are considering such alterations.

Believe me,
Yours sincerely,
W.S.C.

The Right Hon. C.R. Attlee, C.H., M.P.

What is this source?

This is a copy of a letter from Winston Churchill to Clement Attlee, 1 July 1947.
 

Background to this source

Clement Attlee was the Prime Minister of the Labour Government that drew up plans to grant independence to India. Churchill was the leader of the opposition Conservative Party and was deeply worried about the plans. He objected to the use of the term ‘Independence’ because the new legislation was supposed to grant India and Pakistan dominion status. This meant that they recognised the British King, George VI, as their head of state and that Britain would retain some influence over the country.

Clement Attlee had become Prime Minister in July 1945 after the Labour Party won the General Election held at the end of the Second World War. The Labour Government supported the principle of independence for India and in February 1947 it announced that British India would become fully independent by June 1948 at the latest. In June 1947 Attlee’s government agreed a plan with the Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, to bring about an early transfer of power on 15 August 1947 and to partition British India into two new independent countries – India and Pakistan. This would result in the partition of the provinces of Bengal and Punjab.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that the source can be useful to us in investigating whether opinion in Britain was divided on the question of Indian independence. The sources can be analysed in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Why was Churchill writing to Attlee?
  2. Why did Churchill object to the title ‘India Independence Bill’?
  3. What did he propose instead?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

 

  On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
This letter is useful because it’s a private letter between two politicians showing Churchill’s views.
   
This letter only tells us about Churchill and nothing about Attlee.    
This letter tells us nothing about what other people thought about Indian independence.
   
There is evidence that some people in Britain supported Indian independence.    
There is evidence that some people in Britain opposed Indian independence.    

 

Need help interpreting the source?

The Indian Independence Bill established the following:

  • British India was to be divided into two new countries of India and Pakistan, from 15 August 1947;
  • The provinces of Bengal and Punjab would each be partitioned between the new countries;
  • Britain would have a representative of the King called the Governor-General in the countries.
  • The semi-autonomous areas of India known as princely states would be able to choose which country they wished to join.
  • The title ‘Emperor of India’ would be abolished and no longer used by the British King.

Explore the guide to interpreting letters