The Rt Hon Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society of British Columbia Annual Banquet Friday 13th June 2008
by Admiral The Lord Boyce GCB, OBE, DL
President, members of the WSC Society of British Columbia, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Very many thanks for your kind and generous introduction.
May I start by saying many thanks for the superb dinner we have enjoyed this evening; I am sure everyone would want to join me in congratulating the team here at the Vancouver Club for looking after us so well.
And may I go on to say many thanks for the marvellous welcome Fleur and I have had. It really could not have been friendlier and it certainly brings back happy memories to me of the couple of times I have previously visited Canada – although not to Vancouver, so this is a most pleasant experience. And I know it is already making an indelible impression on Fleur who is on her first visit to your beautiful country.
Ladies & Gentlemen, when I was kindly asked to come and speak at your Society’s Annual Banquet, I do not think I fully appreciated what I had agreed to undertake – but that became very clear when I received a copy of the ‘Heroic Memory’. My heart sank as my eyes ran down the list of my illustrious predecessors, all of whom seem to have had some personal knowledge of Winston Churchill to judge by their excellent renditions – which made my heart sink even lower as I read them, for I make absolutely no claim to be a Churchill scholar, nor have I any personal connections with him, nor any forebears who had. So to say that I am daunted as I stand before this knowledgeable gathering is putting it mildly. I hope, at the end of my contribution his evening, you are not minded to recall with a rueful sigh WSC’s words on being asked by a young MP whether or how he might have put more fire into his speech. WSC: “What you should have done was put the speech in the fire”.
I suppose, however, I have got something going for me in that I have, in a small way, followed in some of Churchill’s footsteps.
I have been a member of the Admiralty Board, and presided over the Navy Board (the Executive Arm of the former) as First Sea Lord, sitting in the same chair as he would have used as First Lord of the Admiralty in the historic Admiralty Board Room in Whitehall; and like him, no doubt, admired the famous 300 year old Grinling Gibbons carvings around the fireplace; and been distracted by musing over what sort of decisions may have been driven by the great wind indicator as our predecessors sat in that same room in the C18th and C19th in the days of sail. Incidentally we no longer have a First Lord as such, as the Admiralty Board is now presided over by the Secretary of State for Defence – as he does over the Army and Air Force Boards.
Then I go on to reflect that, like me, Churchill was an Elder Brother of Trinity House – an honour he assumed in 1913 when he was First Lord for the first time.
Trinity House is an ancient fraternity which obtained its charter from King Henry V111 in 1514 – primarily “to act for the relief, increase and augmentation of the shipping of this realm of England” – and today is still the lead authority for safe navigation around the shores of England, responsible for all light houses and buoyage; and is also a leading world authority in this area. WSC was enormously proud of his Elder Brother uniform and greatly enjoyed wearing it on ceremonial occasions and, indeed, wore it when he accompanied the Naval Division (which he had been largely responsible for forming) when it went to try to relieve Antwerp in the First World War. And you will also have seen him wearing his Trinity House cap in the famous picture sitting down talking to Franklin D. Roosevelt on board HMS Prince of Wales in 1941 – a picture caught in the life-size sculpture of them in the same pose that can be found in Bond Street in London.
He was proud too to wear his Royal Yacht Squadron cap that one sees in many pictures with his double-breasted naval looking coat because he was, as I am, an honorary member of the Squadron.
I think it is a happy thing that you are holding this anniversary meeting in New Hampshire, where, as you all know, Winston Churchill spent the last fifty years of his life.
I refer, of course, to the eminent novelist whose fame was so considerable that when the young Winston Spencer Churchill decided to publish a book, he wrote to Winston Churchill in New Hampshire saying he did not wish to trade on his fame or mislead the reading public. Thus the young, unknown, English author would henceforth publish his books under the byline, “Winston S. Churchill.”
No doubt most of you knew that, but I thought it would interest the few who-out of praiseworthy but mistaken devotion-today, I’m told, made a pilgrimage to Cornish, New Hampshire, which was where Winston Churchill lived and died.
I must say I’m glad that Richard Langworth gave a boost to my credentials because a lot of you must have wondered what I’m doing here. When I look through the list of all the very eminent scholars and Churchillians who have spoken to you; and when I think that since the 1960s there have been over two hundred books on Winston Churchill, all of which you’ve devoured, I feel almost as intimidated as Churchill did himself when he appeared as the guest of honor at the American Association for the Advancement of Science at M.I.T., on March 22nd, 1949. (It requires no great feat of memory to recall the date, since it happened to be the day my daughter was born.)
He looked out at an audience of Nobel Prize winners, the cream of scientific expertise from universities in North America and Europe. And he “confessed” that they not only intimidated but frightened him. “I myself never had the privilege of going to a University. I simply-er-had to pick up-ah-a few things as I went along.” Then he spent the next two hours instructing them in the future of science and all its applications in war and peace.
I can only say my main credential is that I was alive and sentient and interested in life, and politics, for the last forty to fifty years of Churchill’s life. I also have a Churchill library, modest but substantial, which includes one treasure that (my vanity hopes) nobody here possesses. It is a physically beautiful book, an edition of Churchill’s My Early Life. What makes it unique, I think, is that opposite the title page, in the scrawl of a very old lady, it says: “Inscribed by Clementine Churchill and presented to Alistair Cooke, whose broadcasts gave so much pleasure to the author.”
What I should like to do is to retrace Churchill’s reputation, his public reputation-not from the view of historians or insiders, but as it appeared at the time to the ordinary people who lived through those years. I hope this will serve to correct or to modify the picture that we have formed of Churchill from television documentaries, and especially from the new, insidious form of docu-drama. It’s true also, I think, of many recent biographies, that suffer from the innate curse of the biographical form: which is to pretend that the subject was at the focal center of the world or of his country, and that all the life of the time swirled around him.
Abstract: The 2008 International Churchill Conference in Boston had as its theme “Churchill and Ireland,” and numerous papers have been published in Finest Hour 142-145 under the rubric “Churchill Proceedings,” which are downloadable by registered users of this website.
Winston Churchill enjoyed a good joke. According to Dennis Kelly, one of Churchill’s former literary assistants, the following was one of his boss’s favorite stories, one that ‘he used to adore telling’: ‘British bomber over Berlin, caught in the searchlights, flak coming up, one engine on fire, rear-gunner wounded, Irish pilot mutters, “Thank God Dev kept us out of this bloody war.”’i
Last March, I was invited to deliver a keynote lecture on ‘Churchill, Fascism and the Fascists’ at the University of Lille (France), and when Dr Michael Kandiah asked me later in the spring if I were interested in giving a paper at the Cold War Conference which he was organising, I immediately thought of ‘Churchill and Bolshevism’ as the obverse of the same coin.
Probably the image of Churchill which continues to prevail in the remotest corners of the globe is that of the ‘Bulldog’ relentlessly resisting and finally defeating the Fascist Dictators – including of course their archetype, Hitler. But David Carlton, who has devoted a monograph to the study of Churchill’s attitude to Soviet Communism – or Bolshevism as it was better known before the Second World War – argues that Churchill’s real relentless struggle was against the Bolsheviks and Soviet Communists, a protracted one, in fact almost a lifelong task from the 1917 Revolution until his retirement from active politics, with the period from 1941 to 1945 not even constituting the lull which mainstream historians and biographers like to emphasise.
Carlton summed up the gist of his book in a paper which he gave at the Institute of Historical Research in January 2001 and published in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. Concluding the paper on a minute sent to Eden on 6 December 1953 in which Churchill addressed the Soviet threat in no uncertain terms, this is what Carlton has to say:
These are not the words of a serious pioneer of détente. For with great certitude they depict the Soviets as unreformable creatures of tireless aggression. In fact they represent the convictions of the visceral anti-Soviet that Churchill had never ceased to be since the first days of the Bolshevik Revolution. In short, his anti-Nazi phase, for which ironically he will always be principally remembered, was for him something of a digression, however necessary, in his extraordinarily long career. Thus, once the Battle of Britain had been won and the Americans had entered the war, the struggle to defeat Germany became for him no more than a second-order crusade. For in his own eyes at least the contest with Soviet Bolshevism was what gave his political life the greatest continuity and meaning.
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.
By Michael Wardell1
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 Il 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. Read More >
Abstract: When he was Home Secretary (February 1910-October 1911) Churchill was in favor of the confinement, segregation, and sterilization of a class of persons contemporarily described as the “feeble minded.” The most significant letter Churchill wrote in support of eugenics was not, however, deliberately left out of the official biography by Randolph Churchill for reasons of embarrassment, but simply through oversight. -Ted Hutchinson
The author (www.martingilbert.com) is an honorary member and trustee of The Churchill Centre, is the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill and the author of more than eighty books, on the two World Wars, the Holocaust and 20th century history as well as Churchill.
Randolph Churchill has been accused of deliberately omitting from his narrative volumes and from the companion volumes-because he was ashamed of it-a letter from Churchill to Asquith, written in December 1910, stating that “The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the Feeble-Minded and Insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate.” Read More >
Abstract: Although Winston Churchill personally admired Franklin Roosevelt and felt that the President¹s domestic policies were conceived with the best of intentions, he had serious reservations about the New Deal. His criticisms (most of which were written in the 1930s) centered on the idea that collectivist trends were ultimately destructive of personal freedom, and that even in times of great domestic political crisis the liberties and freedoms of the individual must remain supreme above the needs of the state.
Churchill was particularly hostile to the concepts of redistribution of wealth, and felt that even small steps in these directions, taken at a moment of turmoil, could someday lead to the destruction of personal freedom. The key to protecting against this in America, Churchill believed, was to honor the ideals of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in times of tranquility and crisis alike. –Ted Hutchinson
Racing to Victory: Churchill and The Lure of the Turf
By Katharine Thomson Finest Hour 102
In 1951, Clementine Churchill wrote to an old friend, remarking on her husband’s peculiar new interest: “Have you seen about his horse Colonist II?….I do think this is a queer new facet in Winston’s variegated life. Before he bought the horse (I can’t think why) he had hardly been on a racecourse in his life. I must say I don’t find it madly amusing.”1
Clementine could hardly have been more wrong. Before their marriage, Churchill had not only been on racecourses but had ridden round them, with some success. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had presided over a revolutionary change in racecourse betting. And in the next thirteen years he would go on to become one of the most successful racehorse owners and breeders in England.
Given Churchill’s background, it would have been more surprising if he had not been interested in racing. His maternal grandfather, Leonard Jerome, was a great supporter of the turf in America, building his own racecourse, while between 1889 and 1893 Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father, was a leading English owner. Lord Randolph only really became interested in horses after his withdrawal from politics in 1886, buying a black filly, “L’Abbesse de Jourrare.” (The public promptly labelled her “Abscess on the Jaw.”) Read More >
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.