Walter Monckton

Walter Monckton

Walter Monckton was born in Plaxtol, Kent on 17th January, 1891. Educated at Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford, he served with the Royal West Kent Regiment during the First World War. He reached the rank of captain and won the Military Cross.

After the war Monckton became a lawyer and in 1932 he was appointed Attorney-General to the Duchy of Cornwall. In this role he was adviser to Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936.

On the outbreak of the Second World War the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, appointed Monckton as Director General of the the Press and Censorship Bureau. The following year Winston Churchill asked him to work under Alfred Duff Cooper as Director General of the Ministry of Information and Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

In July 1941 Brendan Bracken replaced Cooper as Minister of Information. Later that year Bracken sent Monckton on a propaganda mission to the Soviet Union. He wrote to a close friend about what he intended to do: "My idea is not to go out and say smooth things but to be quite candid about differences of ideology, and at the same time to let them see that we on this side realise how desperately each needs the other's help, and that in the last analysis we are on the same side."

In 1942 Monckton was Director-General of British Propaganda and Information Services in Egypt under Oliver Lyttelton, Minister of State Resident in Cairo.

Winston Churchill wanted Monckton to join his government. Monckton refused because he disagreed with some of Churchill's political views. However, in May 1945 he agreed to serve as Solicitor-General in Churchill's caretaker government and in July went to Potsdam as the United Kingdom delegate on the Reparations Commission.

After the war Monckton joined the Conservative Party and on 15th February, 1951 was elected to the House of Commons. Winston Churchill became prime minister following the 1951 General Election in October and Monckton was appointed as his Minister of Labour. He later wrote: "Winston's riding orders to me were that the Labour Party had foretold grave industrial troubles if the Conservatives were elected, and he looked to me to do my best to preserve industrial peace."

Anthony Eden appointed Monckton as his Minister of Defence in 1955. However, he was the only cabinet minister who disagreed with Eden's policy during the Suez Crisis. Eden believed that if this dispute became common knowledge it would bring his government down. Therefore he managed to persuade Monckton not to resign and instead he became Paymaster General.

In January 1957 Monckton was elevated to the peerage. After leaving the House of Commons Viscount Monckton of Brenchley was Chairman of Midland Bank (1957-64), President of the MCC (1956-57), Chairman of the Iraq Petroleum Company (1958), Chairman of the Advisory Commission on Central Africa (1960), and Chancellor of the University of Sussex (1961-65).

Walter Monckton died on 9th January, 1965.

Primary Sources

(1) Walter Monckton wrote about the abdication in his unpublished memoirs.

Before October 1936 I had been on terms of close friendship with King Edward, and, though I had seldom met her save with the King, I had known Mrs Simpson for some considerable time and liked her well. I was well aware of the divorce proceedings which led to the decree nisi pronounced by Mr Justice Hawke at Ipswich in October. But I did not, before November 1936, think that marriage between the King and Mrs Simpson was contemplated. The King told me that he had often wished to tell me, but refrained for my own sake lest I should be embarrassed. It would have been difficult for me since I always and honestly assumed in my conversations with him that such an idea (which was suggested in other quarters) was out of the question. Mrs Simpson had told me in the summer that she did not want to miss her chance of being free now that she had the chance, and the King constantly said how much he resented the fact that Mrs Simpson's friendship with him brought so much publicity upon her and interfered with her prospects of securing her freedom. I was convinced that it was the King who was really the party anxious for the divorce, and I suspected that he felt some jealousy that there should be a husband in the background.

No one will ever really understand the story of the King's life during the crisis who does not appreciate two factors: The first, which is superficially acknowledged by many of those who were closely concerned in the events of these days, was the intensity and depth of the King's devotion to Mrs Simpson. To him she was the perfect woman. She insisted that he should be at his best and do his best at all times, and he regarded her as his inspiration. It is a great mistake to assume that he was merely in love with her in the ordinary physical sense of the term. There was an intellectual companionship, and there is no doubt that his lonely nature found in her a spiritual comradeship. Many find any assertion of a religious side to the problem impossible to contemplate, but it was there. The King had the strongest standards which he set himself of right and wrong. They were often irritatingly unconventional. One sometimes felt that the God in whom he believed was a God who dealt him trumps all the time and put no inhibition on his main desires.

(2) Walter Monckton, letter to Leonora Corbett (27th March, 1941)

I get horribly depressed from time to time with the burden of this Ministry. There is so much to do, and with all his great and good qualities my Master (Duff Cooper) is very hard to get to the point of drastic action or to take great interest in a concrete form. Still I cannot expect everything and it is something that he does not worry or interfere with me. I am desperately anxious to get our work in the USA into a reasonable condition. At present I feel that the Ministry is flopping badly in its foreign propaganda, and that big changes in personnel must take place to improve the thing, but it is just in this direction that I find my Master unready to move.

(3) Walter Monckton, letter to Leonora Corbett (2nd October, 1941)

I have been in a frightful whirl during the last week over the Moscow project. I feel that there is a piece of work to be done and that it is the right gesture. I am not going out simply to get something or to make a bargain, and there is some virtue in talking over things with friends; and when two of you are fighting the same dragon and the lives of all are at stake it is just as well to be friends. My idea is not to go out and say smooth things but to be quite candid about differences of ideology, and at the same time to let them see that we on this side realise how desperately each needs the other's help, and that in the last analysis we are on the same side.

(4) Oliver Lyttelton, Memoirs of Lord Chandos (1962).

About this time (1942) Walter Monckton came to join me as Director-General of British Propaganda and Information Services. I asked him to stay at Beit el Azrak and he added greatly to our small society. Few people that I have known have been more persuasive, and his flexible mind and musical voice, so often used to advantage in the courts, were now turned either to the public business of propaganda or to embellishing the gaiety and conversation at Headquarters.

(5) Walter Monckton wrote about a meeting with Winston Churchill in 1944 in his unpublished memoirs.

On some date in 1944... I was at a lunch party with the Duchess of Kent at 'Goppins', and after lunch Mr Churchill took me for a stroll in the garden. After some general conversation he said: 'You must think me a very hard man.' I knew at once that he was referring to our difference about Malta... I said: 'No, I don't at all. I knew one of us had to go, and I did not think it would be you.' He then turned to me abruptly and said: 'It has been our only difference; you were right, and I was wrong.' A little later he said that he would like me to come back into public affairs, and to join his Government. I said I was not a Conservative, and that I should feel difficulty about that. He said he knew that, and did not think it made any difference. It was a Coalition Government.

(6) Walter Monckton wrote about the Potsdam meeting on 3rd August, 1945.

He (Truman) would come prepared on each subject with a short, firm declaratory statement of US policy, and when he had said his little piece he did little in subsequent discussion except reaffirm it. Winston was good but patchy. He was perhaps too ready to indulge in long dissertations which were evidently not to President Truman's taste.

Stalin, on the other hand, spoke quietly, shortly, in little staccato sentences which Pavlov, his young interpreter, translated immediately into forceful English. In the discussions Stalin was often humorous, never offensive; direct and uncompromising. His hair was greyer than I expected, and was thinning. His eyes looked to me humorous, and often showed as mere slits, but he had a trick of looking up when he was thinking or speaking, to the ceiling to the right, and much of the time he would be pulling at a Russian cigarette.

(7) Walter Monckton wrote about the Suez Crisis in his unpublished memoirs.

I was in favour of the tough line which the Prime Minister took in July when Nasser announced the nationalisation of the canal and I must say that I was not fundamentally troubled by moral considerations throughout the period for which the crisis lasted. My anxieties began when I discovered the way in which it was proposed to carry out the enterprise. I did not like the idea of allying ourselves with the French and the Jews in an attack upon Egypt because I thought from such experience and knowledge as I had of the Middle East that such alliances with these two, and particularly with the Jews, were bound to bring us into conflict with Arab and Muslim feeling

Secondly, and to an even greater extent. I disliked taking positive and warlike action against Egypt behind the back of the Americans and knowing that they would disapprove of our course of action I felt that the future of the free world depended principally upon the United States and that we should be dealing a mortal blow to confidence in our alliance with them if we deceived them in this matter.

One of the curious features of the whole affair as far as the Cabinet was concerned was that partly owing to a not unnatural habit on the Prime Minister's part of preferring to take into complete confidence, when things were moving fast, only those with whom he agreed, many of us in the Cabinet knew little of the decisive talks with the French until after they happened and sometimes not even then. A great deal of the public criticism of the conduct of the Suez affair was directed at its abandonment in mid-stream rather than at its beginning. There were some discussions, many of them at night, with Washington, and I have always thought that the decisive point was reached when Mr Macmillan was of opinion that the United States would make our financial position impossible unless we called a halt.

I ought to add for the guidance of those who may read this, that I was the only member of the Cabinet who openly advised against invasion though it was plain that Mr Butler had doubts and I know that Mr Heathcoat Amory was troubled about it. Outside the Cabinet I was aware of a number of Ministers, apart from Mr Nutting and Sir Edward Boyle who resigned, who were opposed to the operation.

Naturally I anxiously considered whether I ought not to resign. Resignation at such a moment was not a thing lightly to be undertaken. I felt that I was virtually alone in my opinion in the Cabinet and that I had not the experience or the knowledge to make me confident in my own view when it was so strongly opposed by Eden, Salisbury, Macmillan, Head, Sandys, Thorneycroft, and Kilmuir; for all of whom I had respect and admiration.

I knew that if I did resign it was likely that the Government would fall, and I still believed that it was better for the country to have that Government than the alternative. What the Labour people had in mind was a kind of rump of the Tory Government led by Butler, which they would support. This could not last. Moreover, far more than I knew at the time, the ordinary man in the country was behind Eden.

In any case in the result I wrote to Eden telling him that, as the fact was, I was very far from fit and did not feel I could continue in my office as Minister of Defence. At the same time I told him in the letter that had it not been for my fundamental differences with my colleagues over the size of the forces, and over Suez, I should not have been tendering my resignation at that moment. He behaved very generously, accepted the position that I would not go on as Minister of Defence, but kept me in the Cabinet as Paymaster General, thus preserving the unity of the front.

(8) Walter Monckton, memorandum (7th November, 1956)

I have remained in the Cabinet without resignation because I have not thought it right to take a step which I was assured would bring the Government down. The view which I have always expressed has been against the armed intervention which has taken place on the grounds -

(a) that we should have half our own country and 90 per cent of world opinion against us;

(b) that it was difficult to justify intervention on behalf of the invader and against the country invaded;

(c) that it would inflame opinion against us in the Middle East and upset the whole of the Arab world;

(d) that it would jeopardise our relations with the US which were the foundation of our international and defence policy.

I have not changed my opinion on these matters, but I have always felt that, inasmuch as my opinion was not shared by any of my colleagues, a certain measure of humility demanded restraint in action on my part. Moreover, I did understand the danger of doing nothing because Nasser was succeeding in undermining our position throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and would continue to take similar steps in Africa as a whole if he were not prevented. I further understood that such a policy was really playing into the hands of the Soviet Government and that Russia at the end of the day would be the predominating power throughout the area concerned, and this I view, like my colleagues, with grave misgivings.

In all these circumstances I have never been able to convince myself that armed intervention was right, but I have not been prepared to resign. I have lived on from day to day, and am still so living on, in the hope that I could within the Cabinet contribute towards a settlement as soon as possible.