Pim and Churchill’s Map Room by John Potter
Northern Ireland War Memorial, 76 pages, £5. ISBN 978-0992930103
Reviewed by PAUL H. COURTENAY
This very slim booklet tells the story of a little-known member of Churchill’s inner entourage, whose experiences deserve to be known about. Richard Pim was very much a Northern Ireland worthy and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. Shortly before the partition of Ireland in 1922, he had become a police cadet in the Royal Irish Constabulary and, after this date, was appointed a senior civil servant in the newly established government of Northern Ireland. In 1924 he added an important activity to his credentials by joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR); he attended regular training, which included extensive sea-time, rising to the rank of Commander. As a trained reservist, he was mobilised in September 1939 and was posted to the Admiralty and put in charge of the map-room on the day after Churchill’s re-appointment as First Lord. In May 1940 Pim was promoted to the rank of Captain on accompanying Churchill to Downing Street. Pim remained in this position until July 1945 and often was called to brief his master several times a day.
Pim reported to the Prime Minister each morning with a summary of overnight reports. At the time of the Dunkirk evacuation, he asked Churchill for temporary leave of absence so that he could take a boat across the Channel. He was allowed to do this for a period of four days, when he captained a flat-bottomed barge that carried a number of motor-boats that were launched to bring parties back from shore to ship. It is estimated that he rescued some 3,500 men, including a number of sailors from sunken vessels. Later, at a period of the war when nothing seemed to go right, Churchill told Pim that he was seriously thinking of handing over his load of responsibilities to other shoulders; Pim is reported to have replied, “By God, Sir, you can’t do that!”
Pim and his his maps accompanied Churchill to the meeting with President Roosevelt at Placentia Bay and later to both Quebec conferences; also to the White House, Cairo, Algiers, Marrakesh, Yalta, and Potsdam. At each of these places Churchill continued his practice of frequently visiting the map room wherever Pim had established it. Regular visitors also included Eisenhower, Alexander, and other commanders. Churchill brought the King, Roosevelt, Truman, and Stalin to see the map-room, when Pim would answer questions and describe how the facility operated. FDR was so impressed, that he had his own map room installed, taking Pim’s advice on its operation. Stalin said that he “had never seen the like.”
Author John Potter describes Pim’s activities in historical terms as year succeeded year, so that the reader gets a feel for how important he was to Churchill in the conduct of the war. After Potsdam Pim had one final duty: he kept a close tally of the 1945 election results as they came in, so that Churchill could be instantly informed. In August 1945 Churchill’s Resignation honours list included Captain Richard Pim, who became a Knight Bachelor; he was also appointed to the US Legion of Merit. After that, Pim returned permanently to Northern Ireland where he was selected for the post of Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary; on retirement he was honoured as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE). His wonderful record of public service is well recorded by John Potter, who (as a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment in the 1970s) was well acquainted with him.
Paul H. Courtenay is a Senior Editor of Finest Hour.