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Churchill looks back at the death of Ralph Wigram

Ralph Wigram was one of Churchill’s most important sources of information from within Whitehall. In 1936, deeply depressed by the German occupation of the Rhineland and by the poor prospect of a strong political stand against further German expansion, Wigram unexpectedly died. Here Churchill, writing in his memoirs after the war, looks back at the tragedy with the advantage of hindsight.

“The British and French submission to the violations of the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno, involved in Hitler’s seizure of the Rhineland, was a mortal blow to Wigram. ‘After the French Delegation had left,’ wrote his wife to me, ‘Ralph came back, and sat down in a corner of the room where he had never sat before, and said to me, ‘War is now inevitable, and it will be the most terrible war there has ever been. I don’t think I shall see it, but you will. Wait now for bombs on this little house.’ [It was actually smitten]. I was frightened at his words, and he went on, ‘All my work these many years has been no use. I am a failure. I have failed to make the people here realise what is at stake. I am not strong enough, I suppose. I have not been able to make them understand. Winston has always, always understood, and he is strong and will go on to the end.’

My friend never seemed to recover from this shock. He took it too much to heart. After all one can always go on doing what one believes to be his duty, and running ever greater risks till knocked out. Wigram’s profound comprehension reacted on his sensitive nature unduly. His untimely death in December 1936 was an irreparable loss to the Foreign Office, and played its part in the miserable decline of our fortunes.”

From Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War Vol.1 The Gathering Storm (London: Cassell 1948) pp. 154-155

Copyright Curtis Brown. Reference: Churchill Papers, CHUR 4/85