The Thirty-fourth International Churchill Conference went from triumph to triumph this month at the J. W. Marriott Essex House in New York City. Meeting from the 10th through the 12th in the capital of the world, the conference ranged across the spectrum of Churchill’s career with speakers that included Gen. David Petraeus, Andrew Roberts, and Lady Williams—who worked as a secretary for Churchill for six years.
The first day of the conference included a tour of historic Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, which includes the Jerome family vault, the final resting place of Churchill’s maternal grandparents. Michael Korda spoke at Chartwell Booksellers about his new book Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk, and an opening reception took place at the Essex House. Following the reception, guests were taken to the Museum of Modern Art for a special screening of the new film Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Director Joe Wright spoke to the audience after the film and also addressed the gala dinner on the following night.
Panel sessions officially started Wednesday morning with Former British Foreign Secretary Lord Owen emphasizing Churchill’s deep-rooted democratic convictions and how these had served the nation so well during the Second World War. David Lough spoke about Churchill’s business style when it came to negotiating, and Lord Watson addressed the virtually unexamined subject of Churchill and the German people.
During lunch, presentations were made by Tim Riley about the many activities of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College and by representatives of the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, which has purchased the sets from the new film Darkest Hour and will be using these to put together a new Churchill Exhibition opening next year.
On Wednesday afternoon, Lewis E. Lehrman spoke about Churchill’s relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt, and Thomas Ricks spoke about the parallels between the ideology of Churchill and George Orwell. This was followed by the conference highlight: a one-hour conversation between Celia Sandys and her grandfather’s former secretary Lady Williams of Elvel. An audience of more than 200 people rose in applause at the end of this emotional discussion.
The annual formal gala took place Wednesday evening in the Grand Ballroom of the Essex House. Lisa Daftari brought down the house with her introduction of keynote speaker Lord Dobbs, who reflected on his own career and how this had led him to write a series of popular novels re-imagining the career of Winston Churchill. International Churchill Society Chairman Laurence Geller then presented Dobbs with the Blenheim Award for his notable contributions to our understanding of Churchill’s life. The Somervell Award was presented to Churchill granddaughter Edwina Sandys for her article in the winter 2017 issue of Finest Hour “A Day at Chartwell.” Finally, the Winston S. Churchill Leadership Award was presented to Gen. David Petraeus.
On Thursday morning, Lord Bew and his son John discussed Churchill’s dealings with Ireland and relationship with Clement Attlee respectively. The two Irishmen maintained a lively and detailed conversation. Kevin Ruane kept this high level of analysis going with his presentation “Churchill the Nuclear Statesman,” and for the second year in a row Andrew Roberts wrapped up the conference with a flourish by reflecting on “Churchill’s Living Sense of History.”
Honorary Chair Celia Sandys closed the conference with a summary of all that had been presented and well-deserved praise for all those who organized it. In thanking Celia, Chairman Geller announced that the 2018 conference will take place in Williamsburg, Virginia.