Document B

Churchill’s illicit acquiring of evidence

In October 1937 Churchill sent his old friend and colleague Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, information about German rearmament that he had obtained from serving officers within the War Office. Hankey’s reply highlights the difficulties and frustrations of Churchill’s position.

19 October 1937

“It shocks me not a little that Officers in disciplined Forces should be in direct communication with a leading Statesman who, though notoriously patriotic beyond criticism, is nevertheless in popular estimation regarded as a critic of the Departments under whom these Officers serve.

I do not question the motives of these officers. They can only be of the highest, for the reason that they have personally nothing to gain from their supposed revelations. On the contrary, they jeopardise their official careers by their action, for a slip might prove disastrous to them, and even though they escape this possibility, it may all come out years after and damage their reputations before posterity

Nevertheless I feel in my bones that these unofficial communications are all wrong, that the thing is infectious and subversive to discipline and that the damage done to the Services far outweighs any advantage that may accrue – especially as, when the matters in question are investigated, there is almost invariably a perfectly sound explanation forthcoming.”

Reference: Churchill Papers, CHAR 2/304/72-73