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Douglas S. Russell Speaks to the Society in Michigan


By Robert Pettengill

Meeting notes: May 14, 2011

The Winston Churchill Society of Michigan met on May 14, 2011 at the Forest Lake Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Richard Marsh, Society President, introduced the Hon. Douglas S. Russell the principal speaker who is known to Churchill Centre members as an active member over the years and as a Mary Soames Associate of the Centre. He served in the United States Army, Military Intelligence and now serves as a Judge of the Iowa District Court and lives in Iowa City.

Douglas Russell’s most recent book is Winston Churchill: Soldier: The Military Life of a Gentleman at War. His talk focused on the material in the book and as he explained less on the much written about statesman and more about Churchill’s early life. Throughout these formative years Churchill had a sense of destiny. He aspired to statesman following and eventually besting his father’s accomplishments. To the younger Winston, as to many British of his class and military rank, war was an adventure. A turning point in Winston’s attitude came as a result of the battle with the Dervishes, “The River War”, the Omdurman campaign. There the excitement of the battle was followed by his tour of the battle ground and its horrific scenes. Also, Churchill was particularly critical of Kitchener over the killing of wounded Dervish soldiers, the profaning, the destruction, of the Mahdi’s tomb and the decapitating of the corpse for purposes of display. Doug’s talk also recounted Churchill’s Boer War experience including capture and escape as well as other episodes. His talk and following Q&A’s were well received by this friendly audience. All of the books on hand for sale were quickly sold-out.

Other items of local interest were covered. Richard Marsh reported on area showings of “Winston Churchill, Walking with Destiny” a production by Moriah Films of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. This film “highlights Churchill’s years in the political wilderness, his early opposition to Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and his support for Jews under threat by the Nazi regime”. Sir Martin Gilbert was the historical consultant. Dick Marsh is in attendance at these showings to make a short presentation and to answer questions.

Dick also reported on his successful bid for a letter signed by Winston Churchill, one of the items at Christie’s auction of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts in New York this last December. The Winston Churchill items were from the collection of the late Malcolm Forbes. The letter, dated November 24, 1945, is to Ava, Lady Anderson typed on Chartwell stationary. The subject is the trial of Pierre Etienne Flandin in France as a Vichy collaborator, a capital offense, and Churchill’s four page letter to him, a carbon copy of which was included in the purchase, for use in his defense. Dick has now written an essay he calls “Churchill, Flandin, and Wigram: The Rest of the Story” to answer several questions of “what, why and who” necessary to fully understand this correspondence.

Robert Pettengill gave a report on the Society’s Education Outreach Program now in its second year. Letters were sent to over 150 high school principals in five southeastern Michigan counties at the beginning of the 2010/2011 school year. The suggestion is that one history class session be for the study of Winston Churchill, usually integrated into the study of World War II. The offer is that a member of the Michigan Society will help in the preparation and be available to assist or to lead the presentation and discussion. Social Studies Consultants for the five school regions have also been included in the communications and have generally been supportive. While there were a couple of responses none led to a success. Several reasons have been put forward for this non-response. The Society is considering how to proceed next year.

Peter Hollinshead gave a report on the support provided some local students in a recent essay contest. As a part of the Michigan Society’s education outreach the Churchill essay contest sponsored by The National Churchill Museum in Fulton was communicated to the same five school regional consultants. The essay topic: “Winston Churchill: a Renaissance man?” As a result of a personal contact by Peter, a middle school English teacher accepted the challenge. Peter made a presentation to the class and as a result seven students agreed to write essays and enter them into the contest. A few months and a few meetings later the 1,000 word essays were submitted mere hours before the midnight April 11 deadline. Results were announced May 9th. Two of these students, Joseph Devine and Claire Burton, won second and third place respectively. This was a tremendous accomplishment for the students and their wonderful teacher, Rick Joseph, of Covington School in Birmingham, Michigan. In keeping with our mission to perpetuate the memory of Winston Churchill there are now seven young students who “know” Winston Churchill that did not know him before and in a level of detail that he should stick with them. One of the essays was titled “I Met a Man Named Winston”. One concluded “Winston was clearly a renaissance man and an inspiration to all who have studied his life and work. I hope to follow in his many footsteps one day.” Sir Martin Gilbert very kindly wrote a paragraph specifically for the use of these students including his thoughts on Churchill’s modern Renaissance man attributes.

All of these proceedings followed an excellent lunch overlooking the club pool and the golf course beyond.

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