“An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines,” he reported.
Churchill went on: “The ardour and spirit of the troops, as I saw myself, embarking in these last few days was splendid to witness.” And, on a day that ultimately turned the tide of the Second World War, and world history, he added: “Thank God, we enter upon it with our great Allies all in good heart and all in good friendship.”
Uplifting words to a war-weary country after five years of battle, they are even more prescient following President Donald Trump’s state visit to honour the Normandy invasion. When Brexit is, frankly, trivial by comparison, the last D-Day survivors, the descendants of all those who never returned from foreign fields, all those who tend war memorials here and our world allies must despair at the UK’s lack of leadership.
A Prime Minister in name only as Theresa May waits for the Tory party to choose her successor. A would-be premier in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a professional protester who chose to address anti-Trump activists rather than show some statesmanship. An autocratic Speaker in John Bercow who vetoed any possibility of President Trump addressing both Houses of Parliament to honour the heroism and bravery of D-Day, and a mayor of London in Sadiq Khan persisting in an undiginifed war of words with America’s leader rather than showcasing our capital city to the world.
They – and many others – are, frankly, a national and international embarrassment. President Trump might be the most divisive and disliked occupant of the White House in modern history, but this is not just about him – or his opponents. It is about the enduring relationship between Britain and the United States – one far more important than the whims, egos or tactlessness of any president or politician.
And it is about showing the gravitas personified by Churchill alongside world leaders of the stature of President Franklyn D Roosevelt and General Dwight Eisenhower – a future President – who had overall command of the D-Day operation.
As Churchill told MPs on this momentous day in 1944: “So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred.
“It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.”
Yet it is only when reading accounts of the last survivors – or previously unpublished accounts by Churchill’s small army of wartime secretaries to whom he dictated, and barked, battle orders at all hours of night and day – that reaffirm his leadership qualities and why they are still relevant today.
Churchill engendered loyalty. His staff worked all hours. He inspired discretion. D-Day was planned – and executed – in utmost secrecy. There was not one Brexit-like leak or hissy-fit. Churchill had conviction. His late-night dictation enabled him to clarify his own thinking. And, even at times of despair, he still had belief and resolution. He had gravitas. Today all Britain has to offer is negativity and indecision.
For, at a time when a Churchill-like figure is needed to lead us out of the biggest domestic crisis since the war, just look at who is in the running to become PM. Cabinet Ministers like Brexit flip-flopper Jeremy Hunt; the backstabbing Michael Gove; the unconvincing Sajid Javid; the little-known Rory Stewart and the hopeless Matt Hancock.
Then there are the ex-Ministers who quit over Brexit, from blustering Boris Johnson to the arrogant Dominic Raab, the recently departed Andrea Leadsom and the abrasive Esther McVey – presumably they will all surrender the office of PM at the first sign of trouble. And then the also-rans – too many to list – who are barely known in their own constituencies.
Not one of them – never mind any opposition leader – possess any of a fraction of the qualities of the great leader whose statue overlooks the Houses of Parliament. A depressing prospect as the Tory party faces up to its own darkest hour, it is also a damning indictment on the extent to which the heroism of D-Day has been betrayed by a generation of politicians who lack basic statecraft at a time when unity is sought. And to misquote Winston Churchill on this solemn day of reflection, never in the field of political conflict have so many been led so disastrously by so few.