Clement Attlee was a lawyer, World War I captain, socialist, Labour Party leader, and Deputy Prime Minister from 1942-1945 under Winston Churchill in his war-time coalition government. Attlee was to follow Churchill as PM from 1945 until 1951.
Despite his accomplishments, Attlee had a rather laconic, unimpressive personality more reminiscent of a bureaucrat or manager than a national leader in times of great change. While Churchill was on a bold mission to rescue the free world from the greedy claws of the German iron eagle, Attlee was more interested in civic life in Great Britain. As a member of the Labour Party, Attlee stood for policies that were in opposition to Churchill’s conservative ideals.
To Churchill, it must have appeared a little like the divide between the hunter husband battling off rival tribes and hunting fierce wild boar while his wife tended the hearth and waited for something to cook on the fire. Churchill was certainly well aware that there would be no society for Attlee to attend to, engineer, or micro-manage unless he himself succeeded in his hunt.
Churchill’s prey was of course the dictators of the 1930’s who became the despots on a quest for world domination in the 1940’s. As one of the few with the foresight to see the evil trajectory long before the intelligentsia or masses caught on, he became liberty’s staunchest defender, the lion who would not back down even in the face of a pack of hyenas—his own party members and countrymen, no less. In true Churchillian style he “never, never, never” gave in, and the world was saved an ignoble fate.
Thus, when someone referred to Attlee as modest, we can understand why the courageous and colorful Winston Churchill, with his familiar dry wit and sense of irony, said: “Well, he has much to be modest about.”