Those who know do not speak
When Chamberlain understood that he was not the Prime Minister most capable of leading Britain in war, he chose himself his own successor, as was the tradition with the English Conservative Party. He named Lord Halifax.
In order to give maximum strength to the government, he wanted Churchill to be part of the Cabinet. He summoned him and said, “Halifax is the best, but we need you. Will you accept being number two?”
Churchill, through patriotism and a sense of duty, said “yes”.
A few hours later, a man of some genius, Lord Beaverbrook, the tycoon of the British press, asked to see Churchill urgently. He said, “it seems you have agreed that Halifax should be Prime Minister? It’s not possible!” Churchill replied that it was an affair of state and would not discuss it. Beaverbrook insisted. Churchill said he had no alternative.
Beaverbrook said, “It’s a crime against the nation. Only you can mobilise the country.” He persisted, he argued. Deep down, Churchill agreed with Beaverbrook, but objected: “I gave my word, and I shall not retract it.”
Then Beaverbrook said: “I ask just one thing of you. When you and Halifax are summoned by Chamberlain, and the latter asks you to confirm your agreement, remain silent for three minutes. Three full minutes. One-hundred and eighty seconds before saying “yes”. In the name of your country, I ask you to do this!”
Churchill found this laughable and did not see how this could alter the situation, but he liked and admired Beaverbrook. He promised.
The next day, Churchill and Halifax were in Chamberlain’s office in Downing Street, and Chamberlain said, “Would you please confirm to Lord Halifax that you agree to be in his cabinet? ...” Churchill remained silent. One minute. He kept silent. One and a half minutes, he kept silent. Before three minutes has passed, Lord Halifax was saying: “I believe it is Winston Churchill who should be Prime Minister.”
The very least we can say is that these three minutes played a major role in the history of World War II.
Translated from the book
“Si je mens”
by Francoise Giroud