Winston ChurchillRonald Tree, a Conservative Member of Parliament between 1933 and 1945, visited Germany in 1934, where amongst other things he saw a Hitler Youth camp. This and other meetings and conversations he had there convinced him that Hitler had expansionist plans. On his return he sided with Anthony Eden and Winston Churchill against the more accommodating Neville Chamberlain and made speeches in the House of Commons warning of Hitler’s intentions.
In 1937 Churchill and Eden visited Ditchley for a house party and clearly enjoyed the Tree hospitality. When the Battle of Britain started in 1940 Churchill was advised not to go to Chequers, the Prime Minister’s official country residence in Buckinghamshire, “when the moon was high” (the title of Ronald Tree’s autobiography), as German bombers were expected to attack it. He invited himself (and members of his war cabinet) to Ditchley for the weekend of 9-11 November 1940, and subsequently came for a further twelve weekends up to September 1942. Ronald Tree was at that time a Junior Minister in the Ministry of Information charged with fostering Anglo-American relations and invited many influential friends of Roosevelt, including Harry Hopkins, to meet Churchill during his Ditchley weekends. The early stages of “Lend Lease” were negotiated at Ditchley.
In the general election in 1945 Ronald Tree lost his seat at Market Harborough and decided against a return to politics. He and Nancy divorced in 1948 and his second wife Marietta was disinclined to live in the English countryside. He sold Ditchley in 1950 and returned to the US, living in New York and the Bahamas for the rest of his life. He returned to Ditchley posthumously and is buried in the parish churchyard at Spelsbury.
The estate was owned briefly by Lord Wilton, but he found it too large, and in 1953 it was bought by Sir David Wills, a member of the Wills tobacco family and a great philanthropist. He donated the Mansion and 290 acres of parkland to the Ditchley Foundation, which was formed in 1958. Sir David’s vision in creating the Foundation was to ensure that the UK and the United States had a venue for strengthening the transatlantic dialogue through discreet and relaxed discussions on matters of mutual concern. The first conference was held in 1962 and they have continued to be held regularly ever since.