The shameful truth about Churchill

Despite Winston Churchill's major role in one of the greatest famines in the history of mankind he is still unduly lauded by the British people


The British people love Winston Churchill. To most of us, Churchill represents triumph in the face of all odds; of plucky little Britain’s ability to defeat Nazism and, in many ways, to save the world. He has been heroically depicted in everything from Doctor Who to Young Indiana Jones and with two major biopics about Winston Churchill released within the last six months, it comes as no surprise that a BBC poll found him to be ‘The Greatest Briton of All Time’.

However, despite the noble and heroic character popularised in European and American media, Churchill’s role as leader of the British Empire, which was directly responsible for four million Indian deaths, is woefully ignored in Britain. For a fifth of the world’s population however, it is the single action for which Churchill is most infamous. Madhusree Mukherjee’s recent book, ‘Churchill’s secret war’ reveals the true extent of both his racism and his involvement in the Bengal famine of 1943.

Only two hundred years previously, Bengal – the fertile region in Eastern India and Bangladesh – had been the economic heart of the great Mughal empire. Known as The Paradise of Nations, the region accounted for 12% of the world economy and boasted better wages and living standards than anywhere in Europe. However, as the East India Company, and later the British crown, began to exert power over the region, it’s wealth was sent off to Britain, leading the region into a period of slow relative decline.

In 1943 a famine hit. The Second World War was in full flow and Bengal, now predominantly agrarian – a result of two centuries of forced colonial deindustrialisation – was hit with a major shortage of food. It was in the midst of this famine that the British government, fearing a Japanese attack, enacted a scorched earth policy across Bengal, burning boats and fields of crops en masse, to ensure that the Japanese would not be able to hold the land. But, the Japanese never arrived.

Hoarding began and soon starvation gave way to cholera, dysentery, malaria and smallpox. The British government held large reserves of wheat, and this would have been an obvious time to use them, yet despite it being a direct result of colonial policies in the region, no help was given to the victims of the famine. Indeed, Churchill, the British prime minister at the time, ordered that the Indian food reserves be diverted to buffer reserve stocks in countries such as Greece instead. Historians Professor Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper write in their 2005 book “The prime minister believed that Indians were the next worst people in the world after the Germans. Their treachery had been plain in the Quit India movement. The Germans he was prepared to bomb into the ground. The Indians he would starve to death as a result of their own folly and viciousness.”

Mukherjee explains how Churchill refused to send aid to Bengal, or indeed let others help, ‘in spite of repeated appeals from two successive Viceroys, Churchill’s own Secretary of State for India and even the President of the United States’. In response to a telegram from Delhi regarding the millions dying of starvation due to the famine, Churchill simply asked “Why isn’t Gandhi dead yet”.

I hate Indians,” he proclaimed to Leopold Amery, the Indian Secretary of State. “They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” The famine was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits”.

By the time the famine ended, an estimated 4 million people had died, three times more than during the Rwandan Genocide. That autumn, food stockpiles in the United Kingdom swelled to 18.5 million tonnes.

Despite the mass of films about Winston Churchill’s youth, his physical health and his relationships with his family, there is yet to be a single film revolving around his relationship to empire and the Indian Subcontinent. His reputation as saviour and embodiment of British values has yet to take into account his role as leader of the largest empire the world has ever seen.

With post-Brexit Britain relying so heavily on its relationships with the Commonwealth, it is more important than ever for us to address our shared colonial past. To many in the Indian subcontinent, Churchill’s reputation is parallel to that of Hitler in Europe. Indeed, prominent Indian politician Shashi Tharoor has proclaimed, “This is the man who the British insist on hailing as some apostle of freedom and democracy, when to my mind he is really one of the more evil rulers of the 20th century, only fit to stand in the company of the likes of Hitler, Mao and Stalin”.

The Bengal Famine is not the only smear on Churchill’s reputation. Further cited ‘war crimes’ include the bombing of Dresden, the handing over of the whole Eastern block to the USSR and the awarding of £26,000 (over a millions pounds today) to Brigadier Dyer, the mastermind behind the brutal Amritsar massacre.

And yet, in September 2016, only eight months after the Oxford Union voted in favour of tearing down the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the walls of Oriel college, Winston Churchill’s face crept onto every five pound note in the country. This new move attracted no controversy.

A year and a half on and two popular biopics later, Churchill is still widely regarded as ‘The Greatest Briton of All Time’. Once again it is time for the British to look in the mirror and begin questioning its Imperial past.



  1. […] Despite Winston Churchill’s major role in one of the greatest famines in the history of mankind he is still unduly lauded by the British people. In response to a telegram regarding the millions dying of starvation due to the famine, Churchill simply asked “Why isn’t Gandhi dead yet”. […]

  2. I’m sorry – but as a British leader (which is what he was) – he was a great one.

    You can revise history and blame him for these crimes. That’s the luxury of doing so from 2017. Applying convenient western liberal ethics on a 1940s world.

    India has its own ethical issues looking back – it’s caste system for a start. And it’s tendency to move to England.

    Glass houses. Stones.

    • How does India having a caste system justify starving the Bengals during famine? Forget the fact that Britain has been feeding off India for a long time. What happened to basic humanity? 4 million is a large number today but is a much larger number in 1940s.

    • How does India having a caste system justify starving the Bengals during famine? And what history is being revised?

      Forget the fact that Britain has been feeding off India for a long time. What happened to basic humanity? 4 million is a large number today but is a much larger number in 1940s.

    • You epitomize Churchill’s bigotry with your statements…He’s no better than Hitler or Stalin. He raped and plundered the subcontinent as much as Hitler and Stalin did to those they ruled and felt he had every justification for doing so.

    • Shaking Head. I am sorry too. For you.

      You are living in a classic ignoramus fools paradise by turning a blind eye (and covered ears for that matter) to the facts and to several qualified historians conclusions. Your weak (and Trump like) attempt of deflecting / obfuscating the point of this discussion with irrelevant references to the Indian caste system, Indians moving to Britain and “Western liberal ethics” simply fail (for anyone with at least half a brain).

      In order to feel less sorry (and realise history is not being revised here, rather ignored – by you), I suggest you simply watch your very own BBC’s doc on the famine (and yes your hero Churchill’s roll in it) which is freely available online. The fact that Churchill was a racist who hated Indians and openly voiced his hateful views (his comments prove that beyond doubt be in 1940 or 2017). The fact is he directly ordered the exporting of grain (from India to Europe) for the “Tommies” during WW2. The fact that his decision played a direct roll in the deaths of millions.

      Feel free to continue to deny the facts and history, but do brace yourself for the new world order (which is well underway in case you missed it) where you will encounter more books, more movies, more documentaries, more voices and more historical evidence denouncing your hero Churchill’s racist views and atrocities. Not from your “Western liberal” friends, but from the very people who were directly impacted by Churchill. The Indians.

      PS – If you (or any of your fellow deniers) need any help with history simply watch Hans Rosling’s (a top Swedish statistician / data scientist) TED Talk on India / China’s per capita income and life expectancy during and after colonisation. While your brain might play tricks on you when it comes to (selective) narratives, numbers don’t lie.

  3. Greatest ever briton? ……. what a stupendous scandal. He personally made decisions that led to the death of millions including our forces. This drinking , gambling and cigar smoking twat is responsible for causing as much pain to our country as the nazis. But people do not want to hear the truth. They prefer the fantasy image put forward by the propaganda media in this country. Many millions hated churchill and rightly so. He could have and should have ended up in prison for his crimes but instead the system promotes him as some sort of saviour. It is a sham and a shame that the truth is not heard and is suppressed by those in charge. This establishment in this country is a total disgrace.

  4. Perhaps he is a direct reflection of the dastardly nature of the British peoples. The whole world is still suffering from the machinations of the British. That’s why he is still the greatest Briton: the rest are far worse and far less

  5. The idiot that wrote the article conveniently left out the fact that a drought had more to do with the famine in Bengal than what Churchill had.

    As for the same idiot blaming Churchill for the spread of communism into Eastern Europe has he not heard of Operation Unthinkable nor how Hitler collaborated with Stalin in the defeat of Poland thus allowing the Communists to move into Eastern Europe in the first place.

    Sam Dalrymple clearly doesn’t know anything about the history he is writing about and shouldn’t be given the time of day.

    • ….a man-made famine brought about by the colonial policies of the ‘Raj’ no doubt. You conveniently missed the point that not a finger was lifted to help prevent the famine despite the large stockpiles of food available.

      • It was 1943 & Churchill & Britain were in the middle of the most destructive war in human history and in amongst the British Empires struggle to survive Churchill still made attempts to help the straving in that famine.

        “24 April 1944: 10 Down­ing St.

        The War Cab­i­net had before them a Mem­o­ran­dum by the Sec­re­tary of State for India (WP (44) 216). It reviewed the lat­est posi­tion as regards the Ben­gal food grain sit­u­a­tion. The result was a net wors­en­ing of 550,000 tons. The Viceroy, in addi­tion to the 200,000 tons already promised, now required 724,000 tons of wheat. This was the min­i­mum needs of the civ­il pop­u­la­tion and the Army were to be met.

        The Sec­re­tary of State for India said that the posi­tion had been wors­ened by unsea­son­able weath­er, and by the dis­as­ter at Bom­bay,* in which 45,000 tons of bad­ly-need­ed food­stuffs and 11 ships had been lost. He was sat­is­fied that every­thing pos­si­ble had been done by the Author­i­ties in India to meet the sit­u­a­tion. Giv­en the threat to oper­a­tions which any break­down in India’s eco­nom­ic life involved, he felt that we should now apprise the Unit­ed States of the seri­ous­ness of the posi­tion. It must be for the War Cab­i­net to decide how far we should ask for their actu­al assistance.”

        It’s a lie that Churchill & the British Government made no attempt to help those starving in the Bengal Famine.

  6. Dalrymple’s book will end up as a remainder and given away. One cannot look back in history and apply the standards we live in today – to do so is to ignore history. One should (if possible) talk to the men and women that lived through WW2 to hear what they have to say. I can recall my grandparents informing me in 60s and 70s that Churchill was an outstanding statesman (and they didn’t vote for him). He was an outstanding orator – a man with many flaws – but a great leader nonetheless. At the time I don’t think any other man could have led the people as he did – from Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, London bombings, U boat attacks on conveys and so. on.

  7. @Mike

    Your link leads to a quote from 1944. Whilst the famine was not over by this point, it was over a year and a half after the incidents Dalrymple describes

    • Ben, It still relates to the 1943 famine as that famine took place from 1943 to 1944 so you saying it was a year & a half to late is wrong as that would mean the famine was in 1941 which it clearly wasn’t.

      • Ben, By the way my link leads to an entire article & not just a quote that debunks the claim that Churchill never lifted a finger to help those suffering during the 1943-44 Bengal Famine.

  8. The ignorance of some of these comments is astounding. Britain plundered every country they invaded, including my country. India was a wealthy, self sufficient country with a rich and colourful culture before the British destroyed it and reduced it to poverty. Churchill was a great leader for Britain during the war, he was willing to let millions and millions of innocent Indians starve to death to make sure that the British population had plenty, and more. I suppose every monster is someone’s hero.


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