Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002
By JASON WOODWARD
Cdr. Mike Franken, commanding officer of the guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, welcomes a special guest at the International Festival of the Sea, 2001, when Patrick Kinna was invited to visit in honour of his being the last surviving member of Churchill’s wartime Private Office
Churchill hated whistling, Roosevelt always said hello, De Gaulle was a gossip, Stalin never smiled.
As one of Churchill’s personal secretaries, ICS UK member Patrick Kinna accompanied the Prime Minister everywhere he went and met many of the 20th century’s greatest statesmen. Though he stayed at the White House and slept at the Kremlin, he lived for most of the time in Downing Street.
Now aged 88, Mr. Kinna lives in Sussex Square, Brighton in the flat he shared with his sister Gladys until her death six years ago. He is the last surviving member of the “little people,” the close-knit Secretariat which surrounded Churchill during the war. Last summer he was guest of honour during the visit of USS Winston S. Churchill to Portsmouth Harbour, where he was given a full tour of the latest vessel named for his old chief.
“I had the most wonderful day,” he said. “I felt embarrassed because they made such a fuss of me. It’s all changed from my day. Almost everything on board was completely different from when I was on a warship. Time has moved on.”
More than anything, it was an opportunity to reflect on old times and recall the many memories and journeys of those wartime years when Mr. Kinna was one of Churchill’s most trusted aides. “When I look back now,” he continued, “I cannot believe it really happened. Did I really do all those things…did I really see all those people? It’s almost like a dream. It was so interesting, but at the time one did not have much opportunity to reflect on it all.”
Brought up in London, Patrick Kinna trained to become a verbatim reporter in the House of Commons, but his exceptional shorthand and typing skills brought him to the attention of the Cabinet Office shortly before war broke out in 1939. The day the war began he was sent to Paris to work for the Anglo-French Liaison Secretariat and as secretary to the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, who had abdicated in 1936 to marry Mrs. Simpson.
“He was a charming man,” Kinna said of the Duke. “When the Germans arrived he left for Spain very quickly to avoid being captured. Later he sent me a note apologising for not having time to say goodbye. I never saw him again.”
After the invasion of France, Patrick Kinna returned to England and was ordered to accompany Churchill on a secret trip to meet President Roosevelt “somewhere in the Atlantic,” the first of many wartime meetings between the two. “It was a wonderful opportunity for me,” he recalled. “Before I embarked, I remember asking if the PM had any pet likes or dislikes. I was told he absolutely detested people whistling.
“The first morning I was summoned to his cabin and was feeling very nervous. He ordered me to sit down, and just as I did, one of the sailors began whistling outside. He demanded I go and shut him up. He did not seem very friendly at all. It wasn’t a very good start and I thought I wouldn’t last. I was a bit scared of him, Winston being Winston. However, after that everything went splendidly.”
On their return to England, Mr. Kinna was asked to join Churchill’s personal staff as confidential secretary: “They needed male secretaries because they couldn’t take women on battleships. When Mr. Churchill travelled, I was the only one who could do shorthand and type. In a way I was indispensable, but at the beginning I would think, ‘Am I really here?’ ‘Am I really doing all this VIP stuff?’ I used to be afraid to go out, in case I said something I shouldn’t, or let something slip.”
In the event there was little time for social life. A normal day would start at 8 AM and finish at midnight. Mr. Kinna rarely went out to socialise and never took a holiday during his entire four years with Churchill. During that period he accompanied the Prime Minister on many dangerous missions abroad, including the conferences in Tehran and Yalta, where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met to discuss the war.
Patrick Kinna readily confirmed the incident at the White House when Roosevelt confronted a naked Churchill, which is often regarded as apocryphal. He was taking shorthand notes as Churchill sat in the bath, but the PM then got out, and continued to dictate a letter while pacing up and down the room stark naked. “Just then there was a knock at the door. Winston, thinking it was one of his staff, and said ‘Yes?’—only for the President of the United States to enter! Without any hesitation, Winston told him, ‘You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to conceal from you.’ It was a fantastic moment. They both fell about laughing.”
Much less humour attended Churchill’s first visit to Moscow, where Churchill had to inform Stalin there would be no Second Front in 1942, a message Churchill had likened to delivering a lump of ice to the North Pole. Churchill, Kinna recalls, was put in a foul mood by Stalin’s attitude:
“Stalin was very uncouth and rather a tough chap. I don’t know what they talked about in their first meeting but afterwards Winston was fuming. He stormed up and down the room cursing Stalin and even considered returning home there and then. The British ambassador reminded him that every room in the Kremlin was bugged, but it didn’t deter Winston.”
Churchill, of course, had turned his bugged quarters to advantage: “The next day the whole atmosphere had changed. Stalin was charming and insisted we attend a banquet.” Kinna’s impression of Stalin was of a very austere man who liked to be “king of the castle.” He also remembered how terrified and starving the Russian waiters looked at the banquet.
There were many other unique insights into world leaders and major historical events during the war: “I did not care for de Gaulle very much. He could not be trusted with secret things. He was a bit too talkative. Other times he was not talkative enough. I also met Tito quite a lot; he was a very honest and genuine man.”
Patrick Kinna was present on the fateful evening at Chequers, December 7th, 1941, and remembers Churchill’s relief on receiving the news of the attack on Pearl Harbour, knowing the Americans would now be joining the war. And he was present to observe Churchill’s despair on hearing that the Prince of Wales and Repulse had been sunk by the Japanese, and with them a personal friend, Admiral Tom Phillips.
On another occasion, Mr. Kinna was briefly given charge of the “C” box, the red case containing Britain’s atomic secrets, which accompanied Churchill everywhere he went. “We were in Canada and I was given charge of the box as we crossed a lake by boat,” he said. “The water was very choppy and I remember thinking, ‘If this boat goes down I had better make sure I go down with this box.’”
One of Patrick Kinna’s most moving memories came in 1945, when Churchill lost the election: “He was looking very glum and started reminiscing about all the trips we had been on, and all the people we had met. ‘But now,’ he said, ‘the British people do not want me anymore,’ and tears started streaming down his cheeks. It was quite extraordinary.
“Throughout my time with Churchill, he was always very professional. He always called me ‘Mr. Kinna,’ never ‘Patrick.’ He was very friendly but never chatty. He never chatted about anything. Even so, one had the impression he had a kind and tender heart behind that bulldog manner.”
After the war, Mr. Kinna turned down Churchill’s offer to be his private secretary in Opposition. “I was exhausted,” he remembered. “I’d worked four years without a holiday and needed a break.” There were no hard feelings and Churchill put his name forward to become an MBE as a way of thanking him for his loyal service.
After a rest, he was recruited by Labour foreign secretary Ernest Bevin, whom he served until Bevin’s death in 1951. He then left the world of politics and worked as a company director. He never married, and when he retired in 1973 he moved to Brighton with his sister. “We loved the seaside,” he said, “and regularly came down to visit the town and go for dinner. When I retired, we decided to move down here permanently.”
Patrick Kinna has precious few photos of the era that played such an important part in his life. At that time everyone was far too busy to pose for a picture. But in the hallway of his home hangs a solitary portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. “He was a wonderful man,” Kinna reflects: “—a very hard worker and a great leader. At the time, all of us thought how lucky we were that he was PM. Even in private he never doubted. He was sure we would win all along.”
One of the longest-serving members of our Board of Governors, Iowa District Court Judge Douglas Russell typifies their manysided interests. Active for fifteen years, he has served as treasurer, and heads the CC Awards Committee.
After recruiting a cadre of notable speakers, he assembled the first Churchill Center Speaker’s Bureau brochure, bringing knowledgeable and entertaining Churchill speakers to the attention of business, industry and associations. He is also author of The Orders, Decorations and Medals of Sir Winston Churchill, the only reference on the subject, published by ICS in 1990, and now to appear in a new edition (see FH 111).
Born in Chicago in 1948, Douglas received a degree in Political Science from Grinnell College, Iowa, in 1971, and a J.D. degree from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1978. He served in the Army, 197174. On a Fellowship in 1974-75, he spent a year of independent study and travel in Western Europe, focusing on new town planning in Finland and Great Britain.
He first became aware of The Churchill Center when he read an article on Churchill’s books in British Heritage. He was soon in touch with the editor, who swamped him with assignments and proposed odd projects. In 1995, following V-E Day celebrations in London, Douglas Russell, Richard Langworth, and two other avid bicyclists set off to bicycle the coast of Latvia—for no other reason, as far as Doug was concerned, than because it was there. The idea was to commemorate the fight for freedom that continued in the Baltic long after V-E Day. Despite chilly temperatures and gale force winds they completed the 410-mile course in ten days, presented President Ulmanis with a Latvian edition of Churchill’s The Dream, were declared “heroes” of the town of Kandava, and debated officials about how much influence Churchill really had at Yalta. (FH 87:27). They still speak to each other in Latvian, reciting strings of town names which to the uninitiated sound like real conversation!
While laboring on the new edition of his medals book, Russell has also been preparing a much larger opus. Shortly Brassey’s will publish his Lieutenant Churchill, 4th Hussars, a fresh account of Churchill’s military career, with new facts and obscure stories gleaned from years of research. Several CC meetings have already enjoyed his slide presentation on the same subject. Doug is married to Sue Feeney and shares a home with four stepchildren in Iowa City, Iowa.
On 24 January 1965, a 15-year-old high school student was listening to the radio in suburban Los Angeles when the 1 PM news announced the passing of Sir Winston Churchill. The boy experienced a perplexing sense of sadness: he did not really know much about the man, yet he thought he should. His quest for knowledge lasted far longer than he anticipated.
The student has since served as a career naval officer, a private school administrator, and a professional speaker and seminar leader. He wrote and spoke about Churchill, took up oil painting largely through Churchill’s example, served on the Board of the International Churchill Society (1991-94), and entered a personal “Englishspeaking Union” with the wife he met at a Churchill conference.
As a teenager, Larry scoured the used bookshops of Los Angeles, discovering Dawson’s Rare Book Store and Phillip Townsend Somerville, who was then also encouraging ICS founding president Dalton Newfield. Phillip was the nephew of Admiral Sir James Somerville, who had reluctantly ordered Royal Navy ships to open fire on the French warships off Oran in 1940. He helped Larry find several of his first Churchill books. In 1965, a first edition River War could be purchased for as little as $80—still too steep for the 15-year-old. But his collection grew, and soon surpassed the number of books by and about Churchill in local libraries.
In 1986, after twenty-two years in the U.S. Navy as a “ship driver” and weapons specialist, he began his long Churchill association. At the 1987 Dallas Conference he met Naomi Gottlieb; they married two years later. In 1988, Larry was Toastmaster for the Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, hosting Alistair Cooke and Governor John Sununu.
In 1996 Larry started Homeport Speaking & Seminars, a full-service executive development business (www.HomeportSpeaking.com). His most unique program is a painting keynote speech during which he completes a large oil painting to illustrate a motivational message. It is a visual synopsis of his business/self-help book, The Churchill Factors: Creating Your Finest Hour (reviewed in FH 110). His commanding performance keeps audiences riveted. It was especially well received at the recent Queen Mary student seminar (FH 114).
Larry’s novel presentation helps to keep Churchill’s memory alive and inspires new generations to benefit from Churchill’s wisdom.
Mr. Woodward’s article is reprinted by kind permission of Portsmouth’s The Argus from its editions of 25-26 August 2001