Finest Hour 119, Summer 2003
By H. W. Thompson
The tall, angular features of Walter H. Thompson are visible in many photographs of Churchill with good reason. He was one of WSC’s longest-serving bodyguards, first assigned to protect the statesman by Scotland Yard in the 1920s. In answering a question in Finest Hour 111 (Summer 2001, page 9) we noted that according to another detective, Thompson left Churchill under a cloud “involving the waving around of a firearm” in 1945. This is not the case, as his son now reveals. —Editor
My father joined the Special Branch, Scotland Yard in 1913 and was bodyguard to Lloyd George and Churchill among others through 1932. He retired from the Yard in 1936, serving for a time as a private detective, and subsequently ran two grocery and provision shops in Annerley and Norwood, London. He sold these businesses when he was recalled to serve as Churchill’s personal bodyguard from September 1939 until May 1945. Only the late Edmund Murray had a longer period of service (1950-65).
Churchill held my father in great respect. They were of similar character and had great regard for each other. My father married Mary Shearburn, one of Churchill’s secretaries, after the breakdown of his marriage to my mother. He was not disgraced in any way and certainly did not leave under a cloud; indeed he was awarded the MBE for his service to the Prime Minister.
The shooting incident referred to in Finest Hour 111 occurred during the war, in the flat that my father used as a resting place when he was not on duty. When getting up to answer a telephone call from Downing Street, his revolver became dislodged from its holster. My father caught the revolver with his ankle, and as he did the revolver fired. The bullet entered his right ankle and travelled the full length of his leg, flattening into a disc when it hit his pelvis and causing a very severe wound. It was found that the accident was due to a faulty safety catch on the revolver.
“Lord Haw Haw” (William Joyce), the German radio propaganda broadcaster, inferred in his evening broadcast from Germany that Mr. Churchill’s bodyguard had attempted to commit suicide. Clearly this was not the case; if it were, no doubt he would have aimed a little higher!
It has also been suggested that my father was the victim of an assassination attempt against Churchill, and that the authorities put out the story that he had been wounded accidentally to cover the fact that he’d been shot twice by the assassin. I was on leave in London at the time, and was with my father at St. Thomas’s Hospital within an hour of the accident, and I can assure Finest Hour that this is untrue.
My father was born in December 1891 and died in February 1978. After leaving the service he still corresponded with Sir Winston in connection with the writing of his books and received a special invitation to attend Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral.
The reported death of my brother, Flight Lieutenant Frederick James Thompson DFC and Bar, Navigator, 7 (Pathfinder) Squadron, based at RAF Oakington, was of some concern to the then-Mr. Churchill and he sent my father a telegram of condolence while in the nursing home recovering from his accident. I still have the telegram in my possession.
A television documentary covering the association of Detective Inspector Thompson with Winston Churchill is in the process of being made.
Mr. Thompson is the eldest son of Detective Inspector Thompson, Winston Churchill’s bodyguard in the 1920s and in 1939-45.