June 20, 2015

Finest Hour 100, Autumn 1998

Page 16

Dalton Newfield, who lived in Sacramento and worked for the State of California, was a World War II veteran who had served in England, where he gained a powerful respect for Britain’s greatest Prime Minister. From the day his first, closely-typed letter arrived in April 1970, we fell victim to his irrepressible enthusiasm. In his first FH contribution, Dal wrote the “postmaster” of Pabbay Isle (population two), which had issued bogus Churchill stamps: “If you are man and wife, one of you must be postmaster. Do you write to each other? There should be easier ways of communicating than by writing a letter…Could it be you have never been properly introduced?”

A true scholar, Dal couldn’t have arrived at a riper time. I had founded the Unit and published a dozen issues, the best thing about which is that I chanced on a perfect title. By 1970 I was moving to a new career, and had no time left for Finest Hour. Happily and gaily, Dal took over. If you have not seen back issues 14-32 (which are still available from Churchill Stores) you are missing Newfield in his prime. In these pages five years ago, David Freeman wrote that “it is difficult to overstate the value of Dai’s contributions. Under his stewardship, first as editor and later as President, the Winston S. Churchill Study Unit would transform itself into the International Churchill Society. Finest Hour would become a lively bulletin with the editor cramming in information up and down the margins.”

Dal knew FH needed good photos, so he begged a printer to produce the journal by photo offset when regular work was slack. The cover banner for numbers 15 through 32 was an attractive illustration from W.H. Thompson’s Sixty Minutes With Winston Churchill, set against a background of Churchill’s entry from Who Was Who. Rapidly Dal expanded our horizons, showing readers that Churchill was more than the subject on a stamp. FH became a clearing house for bibliophiles, scholars, students and collectors as well as philatelists. He published articles worthy of professional journals, answered questions, ran auctions, published critiques as well as praise. He was the forty-first member to join; by the time he retired as Editor, membership was nearing 300, with an active UK Section.

The Unit became the Churchill Society because it was no longer strictly philatelic. Most stamp collectors were “Churchillophiles,” and the latter far outnumbered the former; thus a general-purpose society would offer economies of scale. Finest Hour 21 (Sep-Oct 1971) was the first produced by the new International Churchill Society. Its cover portrayed Lord Mountbatten, who later became ICS’s first Patron.

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For five years and eighteen issues, Dal Newfield’s Finest Hour was the heart of the Churchill scene for many who had before known Sir Winston only as an inspired leader during World War II. Dal painted with much broader strokes: the cheeky child of Blenheim, the ambitious subaltern, the youthful adventurer-journalist, the nervy young MP, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the artist and historian, the prophet and thinker. Those who entered what Dal called “the spirit of the Society” learned a tale more fascinating, heroic, warm and absorbing than they ever thought existed.

“What is it about Churchill that so fascinates you?” I asked him once. “His humanity,” Dal replied instantly. “He wasn’t always right, nor even always wise, though the balance was pretty positive. But he was always so human.”

ICS was like all volunteer organizations: a few do the work, the rest root them on. Dal proved so adept as editor that he was soon elected President as well. New editors volunteered to relieve him, but didn’t come through. Wearily he would pick up unfinished issues, lick them into shape and post them off. “We must begin now to consider how ICS can be perpetuated through the election of a good slate of officers, so that this kind of situation will not recur,” Dal wrote in issue 32, March 1975. He soon received his answer. Finest Hour 32 was the last issue for over six years.

At exactly the time FH was shelved for lack of an editor, I had become a full-time freelance writer. I had learned so much about publishing, but Churchill was a side issue. In 1975 I took on three different vintage auto periodicals, one of which I still produce today. Had I substituted FH for one of the others, would we be farther along now? Who knows? The Churchill scene went into serious remission after the 1974 Centenary. Perhaps it was just as well that we left off when we did, and paused to take stock—and to grow up a little.

Happily for those who still cared, Dalton Newfield didn’t disappear. He founded the Churchilliana Company, the world’s first Churchill-only antiquarian book business, to sell books and memorabilia. Its newsletters carried much of the same old spark. Thus he kept the wheels turning. He also kept the ICS treasury in an interest-bearing account. Finest Hour would live to return another day.

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