12 MAY


Winston Churchill in 1920 – James Guthrie – oil on canvas – Scottish National Gallery.

[ 12 May 1919 ]

Winston Churchill is now widely acknowledged to be among the most admired Britons in history. This is no doubt possible because history has remained quiet about many of Churchill’s less glorious moments. One such instance occurred on 12 May 1919, when he penned a memo as the newly appointed Secretary of State for Air, regarding the best possible British military response to an anti-British insurgency in Mesopotamia (now Iraq.) In it, he explained that he was ‘strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.’1

He wrote this a mere six months after the end of the First World War, during which gas warfare had caused many thousands of deaths and over a million casualties, inflicting the most gruesome injuries even among soldiers who had at least some rudimentary protective equipment. Churchill, however, appeared eager to use poison gas against ill equipped insurgents in Iraq and other frontier areas of the Empire. The RAF was equally willing, but it was unable to carry out Churchill’s suggestions because it still didn’t have the ability to spread lethal gas effectively by aerial bombing


  1. Winston Churchill cited in Graham Farmelo, Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Britain’s First Nucelar Weapons Programme, Faber and Faber, London, 2013, p. 30. Original Source Winston Churchill departmental minute, 12 May 1919, Chartwell Papers 16/16A.

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© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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