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The Winston Churchill Society of Michigan Meets in Ann Arbor

By Dick Marsh and Bob Pettengill

The Winston Churchill Society of Michigan held a well-attended dinner meeting on September 30, 2011 at the Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor. The principal speaker was Brian D. Shaw, President of the George C. Marshall Foundation based in Lexington, Virginia. Brian’s talk was titled “With Affection and Admiration – The Letters of George C. Marshall and Winston S. Churchill.” Recognizing that many books have been written about these great men and the smallest details garner at least whole chapters, Brian’s approach was to share some short stories and vignettes.

Some selected points from Brian Shaw’s talk: Born in different social backgrounds their academic performances were sub-par and did not portend great achievement in adult life. Both found a focus in military schools. Both received Nobel prizes in 1953, Churchill Literature and Marshall Peace. Marshall reached the pinnacle of his army career when he became Army Chief of Staff on the very same day as Germany invaded Poland. At that moment the US Army was ranked 17th in the world. Marshall understood with total clarity that the United States would eventually be drawn into this war of mega-aggressors, whether in Europe or Asia, and he set about to prepare the army. Marshall first met Churchill in Newfoundland, Placentia Bay, in August 1941. He was in the gallery when Sir Winston spoke to a joint session of Congress four months later on December 26 just after war between Germany and the United States had been declared. Marshall encountered Churchill’s sometimes exasperating penchant for detail when he, Marshall, received a well-argued letter about code naming military operations. Several objectionable names on a draft list had been marked through in red. Winston Churchill’s main point can be summarized: “…do not enable some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called Bunnyhug or Ballyhoo.” Marshall agreed. Another episode included some considerable tension between these two war leaders. Marshall was arguing for a total effort focused on what was to become the Normandy invasion. Churchill was arguing for what Marshall considered “side shows”, one being the Greek islands. Following Churchill’s insistence “His Majesty’s Government cannot stand idle – Muskets must flame” the argument was concluded by Marshall saying “…not one American soldier is going to die on that G..damn (Greek) beach.”

Brian closed his presentation by quoting the letter Winston Churchill sent to the first chairman of the Marshall Foundation at its creation: “During my long and close association with successive United States administrations there are few men whose qualities of mind and character has impressed me so deeply as those of General Marshall. He is a great American, but he is far more than that. In war he was as wise and understanding in counsel as he was resolute in action. In peace he was the architect who planned the restoration of our battered European economy and, at the same time, labored tirelessly to establish a system of Western defense. He always fought victoriously against defeatism, discouragement and disillusion. Succeeding generations must not be allowed to forget his achievement and his example.” Churchill had wept at their final meeting which was at Marshall’s bed side after his stroke in 1958 and death not long after in 1959 at the age of 78.

Bob Pettengill gave an update on the Society’s Education Outreach program. Response to last year’s effort was disappointing. However, taking note of Winston Churchill’s famous admonition to Harrow students “Never give in…” this year letters were sent to 173 high school principals and the reach was extended to the seven counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Livingston, St. Clair and Monroe. In the letter the Society offers to conduct history class sessions about Winston Churchill. This can include an already prepared presentation or the content and approach can be tailored collaboratively with the teacher’s input. In addition to an in class appearance the Society offers its help to any student who participates in either of two writing competitions: the Churchill Centre’s “Research Paper Competition” and the Churchill Museum’s “Student Essay Contest”. As previously reported two local students won second and third place in last year’s essay competition. These communications also include county curriculum consultants. In the two largest counties, Oakland and Wayne, they have agreed to support the initiative in their communications directly with their history teachers.

Dick Marsh, chapter president, reported on the recent Celia Sandys organized cruise on the Mediterranean from which he, his wife Mary Jo, Gary Bonine, chapter founder, and his wife Beverly had just returned. One of the highlights besides the good weather, the food, the scenery, and the shore excursions was the 89th birthday celebration of Mary Churchill Soames, Lady Soames, on September 15th, which was also the publication date in Great Britain of her memoirs “A Daughter’s Tale”. The birthday cake was in the shape of a cigar box including a lid that opened. During the cruise several sites were visited that had been previously visited by Sir Winston, including vistas that he had painted.

To complete the picture of this meeting the venue was good, the presentations were good, the food was good, the casual conversations were good. To add spice there was a sports buzz in the room that Brian accommodated by announcing at some point the Tigers were tied with the Yankees 1-1 in the first game of the AL Division series (that the Tigers would go on to win three games to two). He also reminded us that Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ star pitcher, and he are from the same city Richmond Virginia. He also told us he would be crossing off an item long on his wish list by going to the University of Michigan’s “Big House” (not too far from where we were meeting) to see the game against Minnesota which U of M won 58 – 0. Brian did not know at the time but he was to be one of 111,106 in attendance that next day!

Many thanks to Brian Shaw and his wife Jayne for making the trip to Ann Arbor to add a few more nuggets of information to our knowledge of Sir Winston Churchill and, in this case, to information about that great American General George Catlett Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State and finally Secretary of Defense.

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