Britain’s Small Wars

The Empire strikes back, 1952–68

Authored by: Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon

The Routledge History of Terrorism

Print publication date:  April  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415535779
eBook ISBN: 9781315719061
Adobe ISBN: 9781317514879


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As dawn broke on the year 1952, the British government was perhaps better manned to oversee security operations in the Empire than at many other times in the twentieth century. On October 26, 1951 – just three weeks after Sir Henry Gurney, the British high commissioner in Malaya, was assassinated by Communist Terrorists – Sir Winston Churchill replaced Clement Attlee as British prime minister, bringing to power a Conservative cabinet more robust in its commitment to empire and more willing to use military force to defend it than its Labour predecessors. Between them, the cabinet and its junior ministers had much wartime service: the Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttelton and future prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Anthony Eden fought together in World War I, and War Secretary Anthony Head, future prime minister Edward Heath, future defence secretary Lord Carrington, and future colonial secretary Iain Macleod all served in World War II. 1 Yet it was not just military service but the political management of conflict that the cabinet had in droves. During World War II, Eden served first as dominions secretary, then as war secretary, and finally foreign secretary; Lyttelton served as president of the Board of Trade, then as minister of state in the Middle East, and finally as minister of production; and Macmillan served successively as parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Supply, undersecretary in the Colonial Office, minister resident in the Mediterranean, and air secretary. 2 In their recent history, members of Churchill’s cabinet had killed and had led others to kill on their behalf, and they brought this experience with them into the government in October 1951. 3

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