Review by SIR DESMOND MORTON THE EDEN MEMOIRS: The Reckoning, Vol. by the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Avon, K.G., P.C., M.G. (Cassell, 42s.).
THIS third volume of Lord Avon's Memoirs covers the period from February, 1938, after his resignation as Foreign Secretary in Chamberlain's government, to August, 1945, following the defeat of Churchill's government in the July elections.
It is divided into three "Books", describing events in a chronological order, so strictly adhered to that it is not easy at times to extricate the great flow of major events and policies from day-to-day matters of no more than passing significance.
The first two volumes of Lord Avon's Memoirs were rightly hailed as being of great historical interest. This is also true of the
third, in which, however, certain international issues seem to re ceive less considered treatment than they deserve.
At the same time, the discerning reader can pick out clues to these greater affairs from notes to which no special attention is drawn and which risk being overlooked as of ephemeral interest only.
Failure to make more of such matters may be partly due to the author's expressed and laudable desire to avoid giving unnecessary pain to persons still living. In addition—since the great issues underlying such matters continue to bedevil international relations— there may well be an intention to avoid comment lending to exacerbate contemporary emotions.
"Book One", which is the shortest (February to September, 1939). records some facts and experiences illustrating the terrifying unrcadiness of Britain for war up to the actual outbreak; due to the culpable obstinacy of Chamberlain and his supporters in refusing to believe in the failure of a policy of "appeasement", or even to take determined precautionary measures.
The author, on rejoining his regiment and discovering through personal observation the grievous lack of preparation, personally informed Fiore-Belisha, then Secretary for War, only to be snubbed with offensive rudeness.
"Book Two" runs from the outbreak of war — when the author was recalled to the Government as Dominions Secretary — la the German attack on Russia in April, 1941.
Meanwhile Churchill, on succeeding Chamberlain as Prime Minister, had appointed Eden (as he then was) to the War Office, where he began to find that dealing with Churchill, for whom he had the greatest admiration and affection — cordially returned — presented no small difficulty, especially where military matters were concerned.
Unless a Commander in the Field continually attacked the enemy -preferably with success — whether or not he disposed of men and material adequate to that purpose. Churchill classed him as useless. Should a Chief of Staff or other highranking officer defend the Commander's temporary inaetivity, he too joined the crowd in the condemned cell.
Mercifully, Lord Avon displayed great courage in defending the Generals, staunchly refusing to sack the lot and take command himself in the Middle East!
Given reinforcements in men, armour and aircraft, with the necessary time to prepare his attack, Wave!l won a resounding victory over the Italians in North
Africa, so restoring the pysehological balance in Downing Street — at least for a time and until the author's transfer to the Foreign Office in December 1940.
For the rest of "Book Two and the whole of "Book Three", Lord Avon, to use his own words felt that "responsibility (his own) must he greater as Churchill's colleague at the Foreign Office, than as his subordinate with the Army". Be it noted that on creating and assuming the office of "Minister of Defence". the Prime Minister had automatically made the Armed Forces Secretaries of State his subordinates.
Future historians must decide the extent to which Lord Avon's subordination continued, when he occupied the constitutionally more privileged office of Foreign Secretary.
With the change of office, the obligation to see justice done the Military Commanders became less pressing. though. as a member of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, the new Foreign Secretary. much to his credit, was still ready to speak up in their defence.
But he was soon to find himself tried to the point of collapse by the Prime Minister's demands for private conversations, by day and by night, in addition to almost daily meetings of the Cabinet or Defence Committee; recalling that Lord Avon was also Leader of the House of Commons and had urgent, time-consuming duties of his own at the Foreign Office. The task was made no easier by the danger of Churchill's unwitting intervention in foreign affairs. from time to time, through his private correspondence with Roosevelt and the latter's personal emissaries, such as Harry Hopkins and Harriman. While keeping the Foreign Secretary aware of these things. there was always a danger that damage could he done before Lord Avon heard of it.
The same applied to the Prime Minister's personal dealings with De Gaulle, while, at one time, Churchill developed a devastating admiration for Stalin; refusing to believe that this immoral thug had no intention of keeping any agreement made, should it cease to be to his advantage.
Other equally embarrassing events are mentioned, such as a frank, but private warning from the White House that there could be little question of an AngloAmerican, post-war settlement of world affairs. The President, and others. realised that the United States would dispose of a much greater potential in military and economic strength than arty other single nation. Hence no hyphen would be tolerated in any settlement affecting American post-war interests. and these would he world-wide.
The Epilogue strikes a sad note. When Japan surrendered in August. 1945, Churchill and Lord Avon dined privately with a few friends. The new Government had not invited Churchill to broadcast any message to the nation.