Fighting Retreat

Churchill and India

January 2024 9781805260509 344pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Winston Churchill was closely connected with India from 1896, when he landed in Bombay with his regiment, until 1947, when independence was finally achieved. No other British statesman had such a long association with the sub-continent—or interfered in its politics so consistently and harmfully.

Churchill strove to sabotage any moves towards independence, crippling the Government of India Act over five years of dogged opposition to its passage in the 1930s. As Prime Minister during the Second World War, Churchill frustrated the freedom struggle from behind the scenes, delaying independence by a decade. To this day he is ‘the’ imperialist villain for Indians, held personally responsible for the Bengal Famine.

This book reveals Churchill at his worst: cruel, obstructive and selfish. The same man was outstandingly liberal at the Colonial Office, risking his career with his generosity to the Boers and the Irish, and later speeding up independence in the Middle East. Why was he so strangely hostile towards India?


‘[Reid] is a sensitive, diligent historian with an admirably open mind … [and] deserves congratulations for bravely questioning Churchill’s attitude towards India and for rightly labelling it racist. This book is a polemic, but a careful and convincing one. … What shines through is a careful, lawyerly logic that leads to painful conclusions.’ — Gerard DeGroot, The Times

‘[Reid] contextualises numerous controversies around the man who led the fight against Hitler.’ — The Independent, ‘January Books of the Month’

‘An interesting exploration of a moral black hole… this is a fine read from a historian with an excellent grasp of his subject.’ — The Irish Times

‘[A] fair and sympathetic examination of Churchill and India … alert to both its subject’s faults and his virtues.’ — The Scotsman

‘A masterful exposure of Churchill’s views and actions regarding India.’ — The Asian Age

‘Walter Reid presents a finely balanced account, recognising Churchill’s achievements and setting some of his most objectionable utterances within the context of the norms and values of his time.’ — Morning Star

‘A thoughtful and even-handed history.’ — Business Standard

‘An important and immensely rewarding account.’ — Deccan Chronicle

‘Reid’s writing of this history is not just enlightening but also marked by an accessible style and an endearingly dry wit.’ — The Telegraph India 

‘Few will deny that this book is a worthwhile addition to a debate that is unlikely to end anytime soon. The writing is fluent and elegant, and the work is organised coherently.’ — Journal of the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association

‘Sir Winston Churchill’s legacy is often discussed – but is usually more complex than conversations suggest. Some call him one of the greatest Britons of all time – in India, however, he is regarded as one of the key villains of imperial rule.’ The Bunker’s Ahir Shah is joined by Walter Reid to discuss how Churchill is remembered:

‘Judicious, elegantly argued and a joy to read, Fighting Retreat addresses the thorny questions of why Churchill took such a jaundiced view of India and whether his obduracy over Indian independence fed the rancour that led to Partition. As the author of seminal works on both India and Churchill, Walter Reid is well placed to supply the answers. He does so with elan and conviction.’ — John Keay, author of India: A History and The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company

‘A splendid book, clear-eyed and dispassionate, which perfectly captures the essence of Churchill’s misguided ire towards India. The presentation of him and his approach to India, the various peoples of India and to Indian nationalism, is compelling. I have really, really enjoyed this. Not only does Reid write beautifully, but the issues are arrayed clinically, and despatched calmly and authoritatively.’ — Robert Lyman, author of A War of Empires and Slim, Master of War

‘History writing at its best. A fascinating and important story, beautifully, clearly and fairly told. An excellent read.’ — Oliver Everett CVO, Librarian Emeritus, Royal Library, Windsor Castle, and first secretary, UK High Commission, New Delhi, 1969–73

‘In this day and age, Churchill remains a controversial figure: he is seen as a great patriot in Britain but nothing less than an archetypical imperialist villain in India. Reid has put his hands into a wasp’s nest to examine Churchill’s attitude towards India. To his credit, he has come up with a fair and warts-and-all account that explains Churchill’s attitude, even while it does not excuse it.’ — Manoj Joshi, distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

‘Walter Reid pulls no punches in this troubling book, and the attentive reader will have much to reconsider.’ — John Hussey, OBE, Winner of the Templer Medal Prize for Waterloo: The Campaign of 1815

‘Reid’s account and assessment is critical and impartial. The real Winston Churchill emerges with blemishes and strengths but not a friend of India.’ — General T S Shergill, PVSM


Walter Reid is an historian educated at the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and the author of several acclaimed books on British politics and history, including Neville Chamberlain: The Passionate Radical. He raises sheep and cattle in Scotland and grows olives in France.  

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