Source 4

A writ against the Daily Mirror issued by Winston Churchill in October 1951

Reference

CHUR 2/221/64

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

A writ issued by Winston Churchill against the Daily Mirror newspaper, October 1951

On 9 October 1951, the Daily Mirror printed false and malicious comments about Mr Churchill. The Daily Mirror said:“Whose Finger?

Mr Churchill has responded to our question ‘Who controls the nuclear weapons?’

Mr Churchill says we don’t need to worry because only Russia or America could fire nuclear weapons. But that’s why we do worry. A British finger can’t launch nuclear weapons.

Must we just sit and wait? It’s better to have a British finger on the trigger. Mr Churchill seems too ready to let somebody else decide. The world is safer with Attlee.”

 

Original Transcript

1951.-C-No. 4436.
In the High Court of Justice KING’S BENCH DIVISION.
Fos. 42.Writ issued 25th day Of October, 1951.
Between THE RIGHT HONOURABLE WINSTON LEONARD SPENCER CHURCHILL, P.C .Plaintiff

AND
DAILY MIRROR NEWSPAPERS LIMITED, HARRY GUY BARTHOLOMEW and SILVESTER BOLAM - - - - - Defendants
STATEMENT OF CLAIM.

4. In the issue of the "Daily Mirror" for the 9th October 1951 the first Defendants printed and published and the second and third Defendants caused to be printed and published falsely and maliciously of and concerning the Plaintiff the following words:-
“WHOSE FINGER?
“MR. CHURCHILL HAS REFERRED AT LOUGHTON, “ESSEX, TO OUR MUCH-QUOTED QUESTION 'WHOSE “ ‘FINGER DO YOU WANT ON THE TRIGGER?'
…………………………………………………………………………. ………………………………………………………………………….
“Mr. Churchill suggested that we need not worry—because “only Russia or America was in a position to pull the trigger. But “we do worry, precisely because he can make such statements. “They make our hair stand on end. The Tory leader's actual “words were these:-
“It will not be a British finger that will pull the trigger of a “third world war. It may be a Russian finger, or an American “finger, or a United Nations Organisation finger, but it cannot be “a British finger. Although we should certainly be involved in a “struggle between the Soviet Empire and the free world, the “control and decision and the timing of that terrible event would “not rest with us.' MUST WE JUST SIT AND WAIT? …………………………………….…………………………………………………… …………………………….……………….…………………………………………..
WHOSE FINGER DO WE WANT GUARDING OUR “TRIGGER? AT LEAST LET IT BE BRITAIN'S OWN FINGER. MR. CHURCHILL SEEMS TOO READY TO LET SOMEBODY ELSE DECIDE. THE WORLD IS SAFER WITH ATTLEE.

What is this source?

This is a writ, or legal action, by Churchill against the Daily Mirror newspaper. Churchill claimed that the article was malicious and untrue and was seeking damages for libel.

Background to this source

The Daily Mirror is a British national newspaper with a wide circulation. In 1945 Churchill had lost the election and a Labour government under Clement Atlee was voted in. Although he lost the election, Churchill was still respected even by his opponents. Atlee won the next election in 1950 but only by a very small margin – just six seats. Another election was held in October the following year (1951). The campaigns between the Labour and Conservative parties became increasingly bitter.

Churchill used his image as a successful war leader to try to increase support for the Conservatives and the Labour Party was aware of the power of his appeal. This may be what lay behind the attempt in this article to suggest that Atlee was more reliable than Churchill as a defender of the country.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating the relationship between Britain and the US. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Who is suing who? Why?
  2. What has the Daily Mirror accused Churchill of?
  3. What has Churchill taken offence at?
  4. Who, according to Churchill, were the only people in a position to start a ‘third world war’?
  5. Which political party and leader is the newspaper supporting?

 

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?
Britain had its own nuclear weapons.    
The Daily Mirror opposed Churchill and his policies.    
Churchill believed that Britain was totally dependent on the US for its influence in the world.    
The Cold War was a major issue in the election campaign.    
The US wouldn’t have been worried about a debate in Britain over who controlled nuclear weapons.    
Election campaigns were much dirtier then than they are now.    

 

Need help interpreting the source?

  • The election was only two weeks away when this newspaper article appeared.
  • Both parties wanted to appear strong in the world.
  • Labour accused Churchill of ‘war-mongering’, hence this newspaper story.
  • Fear of the Soviet Union was running very high.
  • The newspaper article is largely about the matter of trust. Who would you trust if a nuclear war threatened?