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Why did the Allies find it hard to agree about a Second Front in the Second World War?

Source 6

Letter from King George VI to Winston Churchill, dated 2 June 1944


CHAR 20/136/4

Simplified Transcript

Dear Winston

I want to ask you one more time not to go to sea on D-Day. I understand why you want to and I want to go myself. But I realise that I can’t. And it’s not fair that you should go if I’m prevented from going.

Another issue is that it’ll be impossible to contact you and we may need you to make an important decision. Also, if you’re on a ship then the commander of that ship will be restricted in what he can do because he’ll be responsible for your safety.

If you went, you’d cause me and your fellow ministers a lot of anxiety.

Your friend
King George

Original Transcript

Buckingham Palace
GR- Royal crest/stamp June 2nd 1944

My Dear Winston,

I want to make one more appeal to you not to go to sea on D day. Please consider my own position. I am a younger man than you, I am a sailor, & as king I am the head of all three services. There is nothing I would like better than to go to sea but I have agreed to stay at home; is it fair that you should then do exactly what I should have liked to do myself?

You said yesterday afternoon that it would be a fine thing for the King to lead his troops into battle, as in old days; if the King cannot do this, it does not seem to me right that his Prime Minister should take his place.

Then there is your own position. You will see very little, you will seem a considerable risk, you will be inaccessible at a critical time when vital decisions might have to be taken, & however unobtrusive you may be, your very presence on board is bound to be a very heavy additional responsibility to the Admiral & Captain.

As I said in my previous letter, your being there would add immeasurably to my anxieties, & your going without consulting your colleagues in the Cabinet would put them in a very difficult position which they would justifiably resent.

I ask you most earnestly to consider the whole question again, & not let your personal wishes which I very well understand lead you to depart from your own high standard of duty to the State.

Believe me,

Your very sincere friend,

George R. I. (signed by hand)

What is this source?

A hand-written personal letter from King George VI to Winston Churchill.

Background to this source

This letter is just four days before D-day and follows on from previous discussions and correspondence between Churchill and the King regarding what each should be doing on D-Day.

Churchill was a highly capable war leader. Churchill had also been a soldier in his youth and he’d participated in active and dangerous fighting. He thrived on being in the thick of the action, taking risks, and attached little importance to his personal safety.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating why Winston Churchill was so worried about the Second Front. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What does Churchill want to do on D-Day?
  2. What does the King want to do on D-Day?
  3. Why does the King think Churchill shouldn’t go to sea on D-Day?
  4. What arguments does the King use to try to persuade Churchill not to go to sea?

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?
Churchill fully supports D-Day.

Churchill wants the glory of being involved in D-Day.

Churchill was an irresponsible Prime Minister.

The King would be jealous if Churchill went and the king couldn’t.

Churchill didn’t consider or care what his Cabinet colleagues thought about him.

The fact that Churchill didn’t go to sea on D-Day shows that the King had lots of influence over Churchill.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • The Prime Minister meets with the monarch at least once a week to discuss issues of state.
  • The King and Prime Minister wrote to each other frequently. Nevertheless, by writing such a long letter by hand (just imagine how long it would have taken the King to write this letter), the King is showing Churchill a) how much he respects him and b) how seriously he would like Churchill to take his argumentsIs the tone of this source friendly? Threatening? Cajoling?
  • What arguments might be effective in persuading Churchill?
  • Why might Churchill [and the King] want to be present at D Day?
  • What does this source tell us about Churchill’s attitude to D Day?
  • What does this source reveal about Churchill as a politician and as a person?

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Source 7

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