Writing a memo to General Sir Hastings Ismay on 6 July 1944, Winston Churchill urged the Chiefs of Staff to urgently consider the use of poison gas against German towns and cities. The memo came one month after British and American soldiers had landed in France and as Germany clearly faced imminent defeat, with the rapid retreat of its forces on all fronts.

Churchill asked the Chiefs of Staff to consider “very seriously” a plan “to drench Germany with poison gas,” informing them that “I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by… psalm singing uniformed defeatists.”  He ridiculed the concern of some over civilian casualties, insisting that “it is absurd to consider mortality on this topic… in the last war the bombing of open cities was regarded as forbidden. Now everybody does it as a matter of course. It is simply a question of fashion changing as she does between long and short skirts of women.”(1)

When the Chiefs of Staff expressed their reluctance, not on principle, but because it might provoke German retaliation, Churchill fired off another memo declaring himself “not at all convinced” by their opposition. In the end, the only problem which prevented Churchill from insisting on the implementation of the plan was that the weapons ordered from the United States would not be ready in sufficient quantity for another year by which time the war had finished.(2)


6 July 2018 – Prime Minister Theresa May slams down Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s suggestion to give members of the IRA the same legal protection from prosecution that he proposed for members of the armed forces implicated in terror killings, intimidation, torture or other offences.

Williamson had written secretly to the prime minister suggesting that she consider a “statute of limitations,” to prevent British soldiers implicated in mistreatment or murder from being prosecuted. He claimed that British troops serving in Northern Ireland should “get the protection they deserve,” adding “if this means a wider amnesty, so be it.”

This letter was leaked to the Sun where extracts appeared on 6 July 2018, under the headline “Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson Backs Amnesty for IRA Terrorists.” The Sun emphasised the critics’ insistence that the crimes of the IRA not be forgotten whereas investigations of the 302 killings by the British army was wrong since it was traumatising ex-troops now in their 70s and 80s for offences committed forty years ago.(3)

A spokesperson for Number 10 made it clear that any consideration for Williamson’s reluctant suggestion for an even handed approach was out of the question: “We cannot countenance a proposal where amnesties would be provided to terrorists.” He was apparently referring only to their (IRA) terrorists and not our own – the large number of UDR soldiers guilty of appalling acts of terror and intimidation.(4)


  1. Winston Churchill quoted in Graham Farmelo (2014), “Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Britain’s First Nuclear Weapons Programme,” Faber and Faber, London, p269 and also http://www.ppu.org.uk/war/environment/e_chemical/e-chemical03.html
  2. Winston Churchill quoted in Graham Farmelo, Ibid and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 43, January/February 1987, p49
  3. The Sun Online https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/politics/6707021/gavin-williamson-ira-amnesty-letter/
  4. “No Amnesty For IRA, says PM as Williamson Aims To End ‘Vendetta’ Against Troops,” The Daily Telegraph, 7 July 2018, p7



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