1940, Thursday 10 October;
Churchill sat in the red leather chesterfield, cigar in hand, a large brandy on the side table. Dinner was finished, it was time to sound out some ideas with his close friend Brenden Bracken. “It has come to my attention that things are not too good in the Far East. I’ve spoken to Admiral Noble, just back from Singapore, and he paints a very poor picture of affairs there. And he’s not the first I’ve heard from, but the fact he made a point of wanting to meet me about it, only heightened my concerns.
It’s time for a clear out, I’m going to change the lot, it’s simply a mess out there. I’ve spoken to Lloyd in the Colonial office, and he’s already replaced Thomas as Governor. The Civil Government needs a firm hand but with a good understanding of the complexities presented by the numerous small states that make up Malaya, and he thinks we have the right man for that. On the military side, I’ve agreed with the CoS on a unified command structure, the Army and RAF clearly can’t be left to work in harmony together, we need to unify them. The problem is who? I’m not so troubled by the Navy, Layton’s a good man, and they were never a problem anyway.”
“That’s a potential big post to fill Winston, what would their responsibilities be?”
“Singapore and Malaya, Hong Kong, Borneo, but we’ll give Burma back to India to look after. Just the higher direction and control of major military policy and strategy, small staff, as both the Army and RAF will manage their internal affairs. But I need someone to bang heads if needed, and get them working together.”
“So, who do you have in mind Winston, who could we afford to lose out there?”
“Ah so that the devil of it all, who? Newall has suggested bringing Brooke Popham back, do you know him, was Governor of Kenya, he’s been running the Commonwealth Air Training Plan lately”.
“Yes, I have met him a few times, charming man, can get things done, but not going to bash any heads”
“Yes, that’s what I thought, this is just Newall promoting the RAF, he argues as they have the main responsibility of defence, they should have the command, all a bit parochial to my mind, especially as they can’t provide the aircraft required to defend the colony. In fact, Newall himself has become a concern, Beaverbrook is adamant he must go, he simply can’t continue working with him, and so it’s a no to Brooke Popham.
“So, someone from the Army, Winston? A chance for a new star or a shuffle of the pack?”
“Army, yes I think so. So, I thought of one of the older generals, Wilson, Auchinleck, Paget, but anyone decent is needed either here for home defence or in North Africa, and jumping up an unproven commander could give me more problems. No, it has to be someone with some proven experience at a senior level, which rules out the younger ones.”
Now let’s see, Wavell’s out, has to stay in the Middle East, Brooke out, Home Forces, Dill out, who else? Tiny?
“If you’re referring to Ironside, I am reliably informed he has taken himself off to his estates in Norfolk, and there shall he remain”
“Well that really only leaves one other in my mind Winston, Lord Gort”
“Good god man, not him, no never”
“Winston, you’re letting your personal feelings cloud your judgement. Is this about him defying you in France? You know it must have taken him some considerable courage to do that, and what’s more he was right. He’s not going to be a bother to you out there, but if, and I say if, a decision of great magnitude arose, we know he wouldn’t shy away from it”.
“France? no I have never held that against him, and neither have I with Brooke before you say so. But Gort is no great brain, he’s a guardsman, all spit and polish”.
“Come on Winston, you being unfair, granted Tiger’s no Wavell, but he can get on with people, he organises well and will take the right decision regardless, he sounds like just the man you want”
“Well perhaps it will be better sending him rather than any of the others, I just hope we don’t all regret it later”