The chill, gilded chamber of the House of Commons was hushed as the neat grey man in the neat grey business suit reached the climax of his speech. In the packed galleries tense, brown-skinned men leaned forward to catch every word. Prime Minister Clement Attlee's thin voice carried a statement fat with destiny. He read:
"His Majesty's Government wish to make it clear that it is their definite intention to take the necessary steps to effect the transference of power into responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948."
Thus, last week, Great Britain took another and most decisive step to end her 175 years of rule in India. Britain's declaration had no strings attached. The Manchester Guardian called it "the greatest disengagement action in history."
Clement Attlee had another paper to read. There would be a new Viceroy in India for the 15-month period of Britain's withdrawal. Bluntly dismissed (but rewarded with an earldom) was taciturn Field Marshal Viscount Wavell of Cyrenaica and Winchester, the one-eyed soldier who did not always see eye-to-eye with his Labor Government bosses in London, or with Indian leaders. In his place would be handsome, 46-year-old "Dickie" Mountbatten (Rear Admiral Viscount Mountbatten of Burma), second cousin of King George VI.
Thunderstorm. When Attlee finished his speech, all eyes turned to Churchill, who had been sitting on the Tory front bench wrapped in glowering gloom and a heavy black overcoat. He rose ponderously, demanded the reason for Wavell's replacement.
"No, sir," snapped Attlee. "I have made this announcement with regard to the termination of the viceroyalty of Lord Wavell, and I do not propose to add anything to it."
Again & againseven times altogether Churchill charged to the attack amidst growing hubbub. "Surely," he cried, bringing up his left arm as his voice rose, "the right honorable gentleman did not wake up one morning and say, 'Oh, let us get another Viceroy!' It must have some purpose or reason behind it." He scowled across at Attlee, then slowly wheeled round like a battleship's gun turret and returned to his seat.
When the M.P.s were trooping out of the chamber, Attlee deliberately joined Churchill. As the argument grew hot between them, a crowd of M.P.s gathered around. As Churchill, still wrapped in his bulky overcoat, waved his arms up & down, Attlee seemed to shrink in size. They talked earnestly for a few moments, then Churchill's chubby face, still flushed, broke into a smile. The thunderstorm was over and they parted amicably. An M.P. privately explained: "Churchill also had difficulty with Wavell. He didn't give any reason when he fired Wavell from his Middle East command. There has been growing friction between Wavell and the Government."