Churchill Visits Canada as World War II Ally Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Great Britain and Canada became allies in the struggle with Germany. In December, 1941, the war expanded when Japan attacked U.S., British, and French interests in the Pacific. British prime minister Churchill visited President Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., and then traveled to Canada, where he met with Canadian prime minister King and addressed the Canadian parliament. The diplomatic visit sealed wartime relations between Britain and Canada.

Summary of Event

Within days of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and the subsequent U.S. declarations of war against Japan, Germany, and Italy, British prime minister Winston Churchill planned a series of meetings, called the Arcadia Conference Arcadia Conference (1941) , with U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy] in Washington, D.C. Also participating was Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];British-Canadian relations[British Canadian relations] British-Canadian relations[British Canadian relations] Canadian-British relations[Canadian British relations] [kw]Churchill Visits Canada as World War II Ally (Dec. 29-31, 1941) [kw]Canada as World War II Ally, Churchill Visits (Dec. 29-31, 1941) [kw]World War II Ally, Churchill Visits Canada as (Dec. 29-31, 1941) [kw]War II Ally, Churchill Visits Canada as World (Dec. 29-31, 1941) [kw]Ally, Churchill Visits Canada as World War II (Dec. 29-31, 1941) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];British-Canadian relations[British Canadian relations] British-Canadian relations[British Canadian relations] Canadian-British relations[Canadian British relations] [g]North America;Dec. 29-31, 1941: Churchill Visits Canada as World War II Ally[00400] [g]Canada;Dec. 29-31, 1941: Churchill Visits Canada as World War II Ally[00400] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Dec. 29-31, 1941: Churchill Visits Canada as World War II Ally[00400] [c]World War II;Dec. 29-31, 1941: Churchill Visits Canada as World War II Ally[00400] [c]Government and politics;Dec. 29-31, 1941: Churchill Visits Canada as World War II Ally[00400] King, William Lyon Mackenzie Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;World War II diplomacy[World War 02 diplomacy]

Churchill had traveled for ten days before arriving in Washington on December 22 and then departed with King by train for Canada on December 28. While en route, King expressed his concern over the internal debate on conscription that could polarize Canadian politics. The two leaders arrived in Ottawa on the morning of December 29 and were welcomed by more than 160,000 Canadians. King and Churchill conducted meetings through the next few days, and Churchill returned to Washington on January 1, 1942.

On his arrival in Ottawa, Churchill settled at the Government House and had a luncheon meeting with King’s war cabinet. Minutes of the meeting show that the world leaders discussed a number of topics and updated the Canadian war cabinet on all aspects of Churchill’s discussion with Roosevelt and other leaders in Washington. The war cabinet was briefed by King and Churchill on the war efforts in Europe and Asia. Churchill reported that a joint declaration, which would formalize the post-Pearl Harbor alliance, was under development. Relations with France also were addressed, as was the progress of the war and its future strategy. Also discussed was the state of Hong Kong, Canadian staff representation in the United States, the Canadian army program for 1942-1943, and shipbuilding programs.

Returning to the topic of Europe, Churchill pointed out that Canada’s liaison with the French Vichy regime should be sustained, because the liaison could prove to be beneficial. The U.S. government, however, was opposed to any dealings with the Vichy government. On a strategic note, Churchill envisioned 1942 to be a period of assessment and “consolidation” (in fact, the first part of the year witnessed additional defeats and the loss of many human and material resources). He believed 1943 would be the beginning of the “war of liberation” in Italy and France, and he expressed hope that 1944 was perhaps the “year of victory.” Churchill’s forecast was not correct, but his sequence was right.

Churchill commended the valor of the two Canadian battalions that had been in Hong Kong and expressed sympathy at their loss. He stated that a Canadian military mission to Washington was probable and that Canadian interests and ideas would be respected. Although Canada recognized that it could not be as effective in the war effort as the more powerful United States and Britain, it was sure that its contributions would help Canada access power centers for the planning and execution of the war.

The Canadians reviewed the Canadian Army Program for 1942-1943, which included the conversion of an infantry division into an armored division and its transfer to Britain. Churchill welcome this recommendation and expressed his gratitude. With the program, Canada had developed multiple divisions that were critical in the invasion of Normandy and the fall of Germany. Also, the Canadians informed Churchill that their shipbuilding program specified one million tons of merchant shipping in 1942, a figure that did not include naval shipping. The nation’s shipbuilding industry, based on the east coast of Canada, expanded dramatically between 1940 and 1945.

Churchill then discussed Roosevelt’s agreement to appoint British general Archibald Wavell Wavell, Archibald (first Earl Wavell) as supreme commander of the Southwest Pacific Area (a joint communiqué from Roosevelt and Churchill on this appointment was released later that day). However, Churchill misread Roosevelt’s approval of Wavell as one that also meant Roosevelt was willing to accept Churchill’s recommendations in the future. U.S. general Douglas MacArthur and U.S. admiral Chester W. Nimitz took over command of the Pacific theater (now divided into two command areas) in March, 1942.

On the evening of December 29, Churchill attended a reception and dinner at Ottawa’s Government House. After the dinner he continued to work on the draft of his speech to the Canadian parliament. The following day Churchill delivered that address, praising the Canadians for being in the struggle from the beginning and castigating those who thought that Britain and its dominions and colonies could not stand alone against Hitler’s Germany. The speech had many goals, including the following: to extend appreciation to all Canadians for their defense of the British Empire-Commonwealth, to warn against the continued difficulties that lie ahead with the expansion of the war to the Pacific (Churchill still thought, incorrectly, that British forces could hold Singapore), and to stiffen the resolve of all and to assure them that victory over despotism was inevitable. Churchill’s rhetoric in this speech cast the struggle as one between the forces of freedom and light and those of bondage and darkness. He denounced Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese as enemies of all that was good in Western civilization.

The day after his speech, Churchill held a press conference to discuss a wide range of issues, including the war in the Pacific (especially the status of Singapore) and the progress of the struggle against the Germans in Yugoslavia. Churchill was guarded in his optimism and referred repeatedly to ultimate victory. It was obvious that Churchill was not aware of Japan’s resources or its strategies unfolding in the Pacific. On December 31, Churchill received information on the significant Japanese advances in Malaya; that evening, he departed Ottawa for another series of meetings with Roosevelt in Washington.

Significance

Churchill’s visit to Canada in December, 1941, assured a primary ally that it would be intimately involved in decision making in the extended war and would be not far from the center of power. Since 1939, Canada had provided significant military and financial resources in supporting Britain in the war with Germany. The entry of the United States into the war was welcomed by Churchill, but the British would not accept junior status in the alliance. Churchill used the Canadian visit to remind the United States of the extent of British power throughout the world—the dominions of Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa provided real assets in the war struggle and provided Churchill with diplomatic leverage with his new ally.

The Canadian visit was also significant because it bolstered the British-Canadian relationship and provided an interlude between Churchill’s visits to Washington, during which he could formulate his strategy for conversations with Roosevelt. No less significant was that the visit gave Churchill some time to recover from a heart attack he suffered during his first week in Washington, a medical emergency of which no one was aware, except his medical staff. The four-day diplomatic trip to Canada was a diplomatic and strategic success. The Canadians were recognized and applauded for their contributions, and Churchill had a respite during which he had time to physically recover and craft his plans for his critical meetings with Roosevelt. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];British-Canadian relations[British Canadian relations] British-Canadian relations[British Canadian relations] Canadian-British relations[Canadian British relations]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Best, Geoffrey. Churchill: A Study in Greatness. New York: Hambledon and London, 2001. Perhaps the most readable single-volume biography of Churchill. Includes valuable insights on Churchill’s use of personal diplomacy and his trips to Canada during World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dilks, David. “The Great Dominion”: Winston Churchill in Canada, 1900-1954. Toronto, Ont.: Thomas Allen, 2005. An excellent secondary source on Churchill’s visits to Canada, including his trip to Ottawa in December, 1941, The volumes include lengthy excerpts from primary sources as well.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1991. A biography by Churchill’s “official” biographer, providing a balanced perspective and extensive and detailed information on all aspects of Churchill’s work, including his trips to Canada during the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodal, Lian. William Lyon Mackenzie King: Dreams and Shadows. Montreal, Que.: XYZ, 2003. A general biography of King especially suitable for younger readers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">King, William Lyon Mackenzie. The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King. Library and Archives of Canada. http://king.collectionscanada.ca/. A Web site provided by the library and archives of the Canadian government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ramsden, John. Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and His Legend Since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. This important work analyzes the role Churchill played in the development of his own legend, and also looks at the interpretations of others in the making of the Churchill legend.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reynolds, David. In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War. New York: Random House, 2005. An outstanding book that focuses on Churchill’s leadership as a diplomat and a politician, and as a historian who advanced an interpretation of the war that was personal but has endured.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robbins, Keith. Churchill. New York: Longman, 1992. An excellent biography that focuses on Churchill’s activities during World War II. Ideal for general readers, well written, and accurate.

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