Finest Hour 113, Winter 2001-02
Send your questions to the editor
Q: Was Winston Churchill fond of turtle soup?
A: Soup and meat both. Researching Churchill’s visits to Virginia before our 1998 conference, the catering department at the Williamsburg Inn uncovered correspondence following Churchill’s request for Maryland Terrapin. They looked around for a supplier (the war had dried up most sources) and finally found one. The supplier reported that there were three grades. Grade 3 was “only fed to pigs”; grade 2 was “only eaten by [censored].” But grade 1 was probably “all right.” Churchill got grade 1!
Q: During what period was Winston Churchill Chancellor of Bristol University?
A: From the website of Bristol University, www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/ Churchill/Churchill/Churchill.htm — Churchill Hall, opened in 1956, “is named after Sir Winston Churchill, who was Chancellor of Bristol University from 1929 until his death in 1965.” There are 180 matches to “Churchill” on the B.U. website, most related to University activities. —BFL
A: The House of Commons moved across the road to Church House, Westminster, and then back to the Palace of Westminster, occupying the chamber of the House of Lords at the other end of the building, where it remained till the new House of Commons was built after the war. —PHC
Q: How many times did Churchill visit the United States?
A: Fourteen: 1895, 1900-01, 1929, 11931-32, 1941-42, 1943 (twice: May and August), 1946, 1949, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1959, 1961. The hyphenated dates mean he stayed over New Year’s. Details are in the official biography and Robert Pilpel’s excellent Churchill in America 1895-1961: An Affectionate Portrait (NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich 1976) chronicles each visit in detail. Mr. Pilpel has released the rights to his book to The Churchill Center, but we haven’t got round to it yet. Finest Hour would welcome a good article recapping Churchill’s visits to America.
Q: I keep wondering how Churchill, let alone Roosevelt, kept popping up in places such as Moscow, Teheran, Yalta and Morocco during the height of the war. I’m assuming he flew. But at what a risk to British morale? The only route from Britain to Moscow free of potential German air patrols would take him to Gibraltar and then across the Sahara and up through the Caucasus. So how was it done? Would he use many escorts or try to slip through with as little fanfare as possible? Any suggestions for further research?
A: Good question. Actually, his presence at distant locations was a morale booster, since it underscored that he could not be “grounded” by the enemy. Churchill deserved commendation for undertaking, in his mid-60s, so many dangerous flights in badlyheated, slow and uncomfortable aircraft. Although the summit meetings between them were vital to the war effort, neither Roosevelt nor Stalin logged so many miles so often.
In his “Glimpses” article this issue, Vic Humphries records Sir Martin Gilbert s note that during a Mediterranean voyage in 1942 Captain Pirn, who ran Churchill’s travelling map room, tallied up his wartime travels to date: “Churchill’s total distance by sea and air was, Pim calculated, 111,000 miles. He had spent 792 hours at sea, and 339 hours in the air.” By war’s end, of course, the tally was higher.
The best book on the subject is The Man Who Flew Churchill, by Bruce West (Toronto and New York: McGraw Hill, 1975), based on the recollections of the late Bill Vanderkloot, who was selected to command the PM’s first flight to Cairo in 1942 in a converted Liberator named “Commando.” From then on he flew many VIP missions, including Churchill’s flight to Moscow for his bleak first meeting with Stalin. Churchill proved to be an entertaining and impressive passenger who enjoyed spending long hours in the co-pilot’s seat, having himself learned to fly before World War I. Another useful reference is “Dunkirk to Berlin,” a large folding map showing all of Churchill’s travels around the world between 1940 and 1945 (London: Reprint Society, 1956).
Q: Can anyone tell me when Churchill ceased to be Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports?
A: Churchill was Lord Warden, until 24 January 1965 (the day he died). After his death he was succeeded by Australia’s Sir Robert Menzies. Upon Menzies’ death in 1978 the Lord Wardenship passed to Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Following Mountbatten’s murder in 1979 the Lord Warden became H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Her Majesty remains the current Lord Warden. —Rafal Heydel-Mankoo