THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER, Mr Boris Johnson, appears to be strongly dependent on his chief adviser, Mr Dominic Cummings. Mr Johnson’s hero, the late Winston Churchill, was also very reliant on his chief advisor Professor Frederick Lindemann, First Viscount Cherwell (1886-1957), a scientist. Madushree Mukherjee, the author of “Churchill’s Secret War”, wrote:
“On most matters, Lindemann’s and Churchill’s opinions converged; and when they did not, the scientist worked ceaselessly to change his friend’s mind …”
Lindemann created the ‘S Branch’, a group of specialists whose role it was to report to Churchill after distilling “ … thousands of sources of data into succinct charts and figures, so that the status of the nation’s food supplies (for example) could be instantly evaluated…” (Wikipedia).
“… the mission of the S branch was to provide rationales for whichever course the prime minister, as interpreted by the Prof, wished to follow.”
It would seem from this that Churchill pulled the strings, and even the great Lindemann was somewhat of a puppet. In contrast, it is difficult to say whether the puppet-master is our present prime minister or his chief adviser.
Two Commonwealth countries, Australia and New Zealand erected large war memorials to their citizens near Hyde Park Corner and the gardens of Buckingham Palace. A more modest memorial complex, the Commonwealth Memorial Gates (inaugurated 2002), was put up to commemorate the great contribution that people from countries in the Indian subcontinent, the West Indies, and Africa made to defending the British Empire during the Second World War. An information panel informs the viewer that during the First World War, 1,440,500 men and women from the Indian subcontinent and Nepal “Volunteered for military service in the Indian Army”, and during WW2, “…over 2,500,00… “ men and women from the subcontinent fought for the forces of the British Empire. Between about 64,500 and 74,000 of the military personnel from the Indian subcontinent died in combat during WW1, and over 87,000 Indian (that is from pre-1947 ‘British India’) soldiers died during WW2. These figures are of necessity approximate and without doubt horrific. However, during WW2, the number of Indian citizens, who died of starvation in their own country during WW2 is far more difficult to know. The most reliable approximations give the number of Indians dying of starvation in Bengal during WW2 as being at least three million, that is about half the number of civilians who died because of Hitler’s demented racial theories.
The three million or most probably more Indians, who starved to death, lived mainly in Bengal. They did not perish by accident, as Madhusree Mukerjee explained in her book, which has been highly acclaimed. Unlike other famines in India caused by failures of harvest, what happened in Bengal in 1943 and ’44, the starvation of the Bengalis was probably largely man-made. And, as the book suggests using damning evidence that has come to light since WW2, two men who were most significant in its making were Churchill and his chief adviser Lindemann.
Churchill was quite rightly focussed on winning the Second World War and at the same time preserving the integrity of the British Empire, which was being challenged by Indian nationalists throughout the two decades leading up to the outbreak of war and after the fighting began. For reasons I cannot explain Churchill did not like the Indian people. To give just one example, he is reported to have said of them in November 1942 that they were:
“… the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans.”
His adviser, the eugenicist Lindeman (Cherwell) was also no lover of the Indians. Mukerjee wrote in her book:
“Inferior as the British working class was in Cherwell’s view, he nonetheless ranked it far above the black and brown subjects in the colonies.”
Later, she wrote:
“All the evidence points to the prime minister and his closest adviser having believed that Indians were ordained to reside at the bottom of the social pyramid …”
Long after India had become independent, Lindemann described (according to Mukerjee who provides reference for this):
“… ‘the abdication of the white man’ as the worst calamity of the twentieth century – more deplorable than the two world wars and the Holocaust”.
The gist of Mukerjee’s book is that important amongst the reasons that the 1943 famine in Bengal was not relieved was that Churchill was not in favour of releiving it. The author wrote that although at times vital supplies and shipping were at critical levels, there were opportunities for famine relief supplies to be sent to Bengal. However, the British government under the leadership of Churchill came up with many excuses to avoid supplying famine relief.
I found the evidence provided in Mukerjee’s book to be reliably persuasive. However, there are many who would prefer not to hear anything but good of the man who helped Britain and its allies win WW2, Winston Churchill. For a defence of Churchill’s behaviour during the Bengal famine, I refer you to https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/in-the-media/churchill-in-the-news/bengali-famine/, an on-line article that tries to demolish an article by Gideon Polya with the title “Media Lying Over Churchill’s Crimes”, published in 2008 (see: https://sites.google.com/site/afghanistangenocideessays/media-lying-over-churchill-s-crimes).
You can judge Churchill’s possible role in Bengal’s 1943 famine however you wis, but see what Professor Amartya Sen, a former colleague of my father at the London School of Economics said. Michael Portillo said to him in a BBC interview on the 14th of January 2008:
“What’s interesting about your description is that it doesn’t appear to rest upon a shortage of rice.”
Sen, who appears to be far more generous than Mukerjee about Churchill’s attitude to the famine, replied:
“No it wasn’t. I think I have to say the British Indian government was callous. I don’t think they were criminal but they were certainly extremely callous and didn’t really worry too much about it. And secondly they were badly misinformed. What had happened is that there was a considerable expansion of demand for food because of the war boom. And with the same supply they were having rising prices. So it wasn’t connected with food deficit at all.”
Seeing the war memorials near Hyde Park Corner and a Holocaust memorial nearby in Hyde Park, and having recently finished reading Mukerjee’s book, inspired me to write this short piece in order to provoke interest in one of the horrible tragedies that happened during WW2, the Bengal Famine of 1943.
Mukerjee’s book presented me with one very superficial resemblance between Churchill and his admiring biographer Boris Johnson. Both had their devoted advisers. Although Churchill might not have done things to everybody’s satisfaction, he did play an extremely important role in suppressing the forces of evil that were threatening Britain and its allies during WW2. Let us hope that Boris will follow in Winston’s footsteps in our fight against another evil enemy, the Corona virus, and lead us to victory.