In 1949, after“the best feast of conversational entertainment ever enjoyed”
and an uncanny prophecy, Churchill suffered
his first stroke-within an hour of removing for the first time
his father ‘s ring from his hand. Lord Beaverbrook’ s companion offers rare insights into the Churchill persona, his long friendship
with “Max” -and words which bear an uncanny relevance today.
IT WAS raining heavily on the French Riviera on an August morning of 1949. Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Beaverbrook, and I were sitting in the drawing room of La Capponcina, Lord Beaverbrook’s villa at Cap d’Ail, across the bay from Monte Carlo. The gramophone was playing a selection of records picked more or less at random by Lord Beaverbrook. There were the French songs of the popular fancy that summer, La Seine, Polygon, Clopin-Clopant, mixed with a new rendering of Old Folks at Home, Grieg’s Homage March, pieces from Cavalleria Rusticana, and finally the Miserere from ll Trovatore.
“Let’s have some more, Max,” said Churchill.
“What sort do you want, popular or classical?” asked Beaverbrook.
“Let’s have some beautiful music like the last,” Churchill replied.
Beaverbrook rummaged, and put on Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. He said: “This will be played in fifteen years when they carry you through the streets of London.”
Churchill was silent for a moment, then shook his head. “I don’t much care what they do to me when I’m dead. I’ve thought I would rather like to be carried in a farm wagon.”
“Nothing of ________be buried with all the pomp and circumstance that is your due. The people will insist on it. And rightly. But you might as well listen to the music while you’re alive. It’s one of the greatest things ever written.”
Churchill listened to the triumphant tones of Land of Hope and Glory. His eyes glistened as his face became heavy with emotion. “It’s a terrible thing,” he said, “to have lived to see England brought down to ruin and the Empire lost -Egypt, Burma, India -I’ve always said I could defend India against the world – all except the English … For the first time in my life I hate the other side. They are mean and wicked, wallowing in their filthy slime! Damn!”
“And what folly to slang the Americans. After all, if I were an American, and had to listen to the abuse from the socialists over here, I think I might be tempted to say that America had no more money to spend on Europe and England. America has immense resources and almost limitless powers of production; all the gold in the world, because all the world wants her products but cannot pay in kind; is protected by the atom bomb; and will spend her resources to the fullest extent in raising the standard of her own people, rather than give it to bolster up a socialist state, and then be called ‘pot-bellied financiers’ for their pains. Inshort, I would become an extreme isolationist.”
The room in which we were sitting occupies the central portion of the villa. It has a row of French windows on one side and a great stone fireplace at the far end over which the arms of some long-forgot ten nobleman are carved, together with the motto “Ne derelictas me Domine“, “Do not forsake me, 0 Lord.” The words appealed to Lord Beaverbrook, who acquired them with the fireplace when he bought the house in 1939. When, as Chancellor of the University of New Brunswick, he built a wing to the library on the campus at Fredericton in memory of the Prime Ministers Bonar Law and Bennett, both of them boys of New Brunswick, he had the words carved into the stone over the entrance.
The room opens onto a wide verandah and garden, with a colonnade that frames a matchless view over the Mediterranean, usually sparkling blue in the sunlight. That day the sea was grey as the sky, and Churchill’s sombre mood just then seemed to match them both. He had come to La Capponcina for a holiday, arriving by air at Nice with a great retinue of secretaries, servants and detectives, French and English.
He had been at Strasbourg, laying the foundations of federation at the inaugural session of the Council of Europe. He had received a very warm welcome. M.lfuouard Herriot, the French statesman, in formally opening the proceedings pending the election of M. Paul-Henri Spaak to the Presidency, had said of Churchill: “You will permit me to offer our common homage to one to whom every free man owes so deep a debt – my illustrious friend Winston Churchill, who has shown us to what heights human energy is capable of attaining. In many moments of deep tragedy he bore on his shoulders the whole weight of a world crying for help. From his mind sprang the movement which has brought us together here.”
This was the truth. Winston Churchill’s address to the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946, was one of the epoch-making speeches of all time. In it he launched the idea of European federation in words that could hardly have come from any other man. “I wish to speak about the tragedy of Europe, this noble continent,” he had said, “the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory which its 300 million or 400 million people could enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that has sprung that series of frightful nationaHstic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations in their rise to power, which we have seen in this twentieth century and in our own lifetime wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind.”
What is the plight to which Europe has been reduced? Some of the smaller states have indeed made a good recovery, but over wide areas are a vast, quivering mass of tormented, hungry, careworn and bewildered human beings, who wait in the ruins of their cities and homes, and scan the dark horizons for the approach of some new form of tyranny or terror. Among the victors there is a babel of voices, among the vanquished the sullen silence of despair. That is all that Europeans, grouped in so many states and nations -and that is all that the German races -have got, by tearing each other to pieces and spreading havoc far and wide. Indeed, but for the fact that the great Republic across the Atlantic realized that the ruin and enslavement of Europe would in volve her own fate as well, and stretched out hands of succour and guidance, the Dark Ages would have retutned in all their cruelty and squalor. They may still return.”
He went on to state a remedy. “We must build a kind of United States of Europe … I am now going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a part nership between France and Germany … There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany. The struc ture of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single State less im-blankportant. Small nations will count as much as large ones, and gain their honour by a contribution to the common cause…
“But I must give you warning, time may be short. At present there is a breathing space. The cannons have ceased firing. The fighting has stopped. But the dangers have not stopped. If we are to form a United States of Europe, we must begin now. In these pre sent days we dwell strangely and precariously under the shield, and I will even say protection, of the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb is still only in the hands of a nation which, we know, will never use it except in the cause of right and freedom, but it may well be that in a few years this awful agency of destruction will be widespread and that the catastrophe following its use by several warring nations will not only bring to an end all that we call civilization, but may possibly disintegrate the globe itself … Therefore I say to you ‘Let Europe arise!'”
Mr. Churchill had a triumph in Zurich after his speech, and also in Berne, the Swiss capital, where he drove through the city in an open carriage, cheered by crowds of 100,000 people. Events then moved rapidly. Now, in August 1949, within three years of the Zurich speech, the Council of Europe was actually in being and was holding its first meeting at Strasbourg. But Britain’s role as an independent and kindly sponsor had changed. Britain had become an active participator. Churchill saw the need for caution. Moreover, a general election was in the offing. The Conservative Party and most of the British people were dead against any commitment that could impair British sovereignty. Churchill had behaved at Strasbourg like a reluctant suitor. “We must thor oughly explore,” he had cautioned. “To take a homely and familiar test, we may just as well see what the girl looks like before we marry her.”
CHURCHILL, in such a humour, had come to the right house. His host had the same aver sion, then as ever, to any idea of Britain beblankcoming entangled in the political meshes of Europe. Churchill planned to spend a week with his old friend of forty years and return to Strasbourg. From the moment he arrived at the villa, it was clear that he was in a holiday mood. He insisted immediately on putting on a pair of blue bathing drawers and walking down to the sea, down a hundred steps through Beaverbrook’s enchanted garden of bougainvilleas and orange trees and roses. Arriving at length where the Mediterranean laps the rocks at the foot of the garden, Churchill literally plunged into his holiday. He wallowed like a porpoise; he blew spouts of water like a whale, and he swam round and round like a schoolboy. He turned and he twisted, and he lost his baggy blue bathing drawers. It didn’t matter, for there was no one there to see him but Beaverbrook and me and his own male retinue.
Clambering out, he was rubbed down by his manservant and wrapped in a towelled dressing gown. He started to climb the hundred steps home, stopping every little while to sit and rest and talk and refresh himself from a waiting decanter.
“I’ve bought a racehorse,” he announced. “So I hear,” replied Beaverbrook.
“It’s going to run at Salisbury on the
Get the Churchill Bulletin delivered to your inbox once a month.