Day Winnie came to town

IT must rank as one of the most astounding General Election results of all time.

Within weeks of the end of the war in Europe, Winston Churchill, saviour of the free world, had been kicked out of office by an apparently ungrateful nation in a Labour landslide.

In 1940 Britain’s new Prime Minister had offered nothing but “blood, toil, tears, and sweat”, yet five years later he - with a little help from our American and Russian allies - had delivered victory over the Nazis.

On May 8, 1945 the world celebrated Victory in Europe Day yet by the end of July Britain’s voters had kicked Churchill back into the political wilderness.

Of course the British had had enough of war. Hundreds of thousands of homes had been bombed and the country still faced years of food rationing.

The voters of 1945 were tempt- ed by the social reforms promised by Labour - justifiably, as it turned out, for in Clement Attlee’s team they found one of the great reforming governments of the century, creators of the National Health Service, nationalisers of the railways and the utilities and reformers in education.

At the end of June, in the run-up to the election and exactly 60 years ago this week, Churchill came to Halifax and Calder Valley as part of an electioneering tour of Yorkshire.

He arrived in Halifax - his first visit for 40 years - from Bradford via Queensbury, where the crowd was swelled by workers of the giant John Foster and Sons’ Black Dyke Mills.

The Black Dyke Band played national airs and as Churchill came in sight they gave For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.

In Halifax, a lorry had been driven to the bottom of Lister Lane to serve as a platform and as the morning passed the crowd swelled until gradually the open spaces from Bull Green to Cow Green, stretching down Silver Street and George Street, were packed with people who had come to see Britain’s wartime hero.

The Halifax Courier and Guardian reported: “Roofs, win-dows, in fact any point that gave a view of the platform, had its assembled people. Some youths perched giddily on iron girders at the partly constructed building at the top of Silver Street.

“When Mr Churchill’s car app- eared, there was a burst of cheering accompanied by the waving of flags, hats and handkerchiefs and this was continued until, without any introductory remark, he came to the microphone.”

Sadly many of the 20,000-strong crowd didn’t hear what Mr Churchill had to say. “Owing to the resonance from high buildings, audibility was very poor and only those directly in front of the loudspeakers were able to fully hear Mr Churchill's speech,” said the Courier.

Churchill, then aged 69, was here to support the sitting Conservative MP for Halifax, Gilbert Gledhill, and in his 20- minute speech he appealed to Yorkshire common sense to support him in the task of rebuilding the country.

Apart from reviewing events of the war, Churchill also made a point of promising to rebuild Britain’s battered homes.

“I assure you we shall get to work with the highest possible energy and shall use all organis- ations, national and private.

“We shall treat the matter as if it were a military operation and if there be. . . obstructive forces of any kind that stand in our way we will lay them low as we have laid down others who have stood in our path these last years.”

After his speech, Churchill gave his famous V for Victory sign to the wildly cheering crowd and thanked his audience. He also asked for three cheers for the Conservative candidate, Mr Gledhill, who was with him on the platform.

When Churchill entered his car, the vehicle was surrounded by people trying to shake him by the hand; they had, said the Courier, to be content with touching him.

He relit a cigar and, waving his hat and bowing to the right and left, his car moved off slowly. Just before he left, a bunch of roses was thrown into his car.

From Halifax Churchill moved on to Sowerby Bridge, where he made another speech and then to Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, where he had lunch at Scaitcliffe Hall before leaving for Lancashire.

Churchill’s visit failed to help the Tory cause, either in Halifax or in the country. When the election results were announced, Labour had 390 seats, a net gain of 210, and the Conservatives had 195, a net loss of 175.

The victor in Halifax was a local Labour councillor, Dryden Brook, who polled 25,605, while Gilbert Gledhill, who had held the seat since 1931, polled only 14,824, almost 10,000 fewer votes than in the 1935 election.

The Liberal, Arnold Gelder, was fewer than 200 votes behind Mr Gledhill, with 14,631. Labour’s majority was 10,781 on a 77.5 per cent turnout.

The victorious party celebrated with a rally in the Labour rooms. Meanwhile the defeated Gilbert Gledhill declared it was “a tragedy that after all Mr Churchill’s efforts in the war, affairs should go against him”.

It was far from the end for the Tories or for Churchill, of course. At the General Election of 1951 the Tories were back in power with 321 seats to Labour’s 295 and Churchill was Prime Minister for the second time.