April 25, 2015

Finest Hour 121, Winter 2003-04

Page 46

Last Speech in America

Our executive director and editor daily answer Churchill questions from all over the world, which are often familiar, but occasionally intriguing. In September we had an urgent request from the Kenton County, Kentucky Sheriff’s Office for information on Churchill’s last speech in America, and whether he used his famous Harrow quote, “never give in.”

Do you know the answer? We didn’t until we referred to the excellent chronology in volume 8 of Robert Rhodes James’s Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897-1963 (New York: Bowker, 1974). Knowing that Churchill last spoke to Congress on 17 January 1952, we worked forward from there. There is only one later entry, from a press conference in Washington on 25 June 1954:

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“I have come with Anthony Eden to talk over a few family matters, and to try to make sure that there are no misunderstandings. The English-speaking family—or brotherhood—is a rather large one, and not entirely without a few things here and there. If we can work together, we may get along all right ourselves and do a lot to help our neighbours in the world, some of whom, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, seem to face even greater problems than we do ourselves.”

The next day Churchill met the press at the Statler Hotel in Washington. Whether this was a “speech” is debatable, but Robert Pilpel’s Churchill in America (NY: Harcourt, 1976) records some of what James Reston called “the largest news conference in the history of this capital.”

“I’m sure you will consider,” Churchill began, “that you must be generous, as you always are, and tenderhearted to an aged guest.” But he then demonstrated as quick a tongue as ever. Asked about “the temperature” of the Anglo-American friendship, he replied, “Normal!” Asked if he saw any prospect for Arab-Israeli peace he said: “I am a Zionist. Let me make that clear. I was one of the original ones after the Balfour Declaration I think it a most wonderful thing that this community should have afforded a refuge to millions of their co-religionists who had suffered so fearfully under the Hitler, and not only the Hitler, persecution.” But he did not predict an Arab-Israeli peace…

When a reporter asked Churchill if “larger Conservative and Republican majorities” in Parliament and Congress respectively might improve Anglo-American relations, Churchill replied with a quip that grew famous: “I refuse to choose as between Republicans and Democrats. I want the lot!” But it was on east-west relations that he spoke the longest, and here his disagreements with the Eisenhower administration were evident:

“I am of the opinion that we ought to have a try at peaceful coexistence, a real good try for it I am very much in favour of patient, cool, friendly examination of what the Russian intentions are You may some day hear that I have done something or other which looks as if I were going to become a Communist, but I assure you that I have been all my life…fighting this I even remember making a speech at Fulton six years ago [sic; he meant eight] at which I didn’t get a very warm welcome because it was so anti-Russian and anti-Communist I am not anti-Russian. I am violently anti-Communist. But I do beg you to make sure that no stone is left unturned in this period to give them a chance to grasp the prospects…”

“Never give in” might well be the title of these remarks, and the ellipses indicate we don’t have all the words, so he may well have said as much; we would welcome the full transcript.

Referring again to Pilpel, we find a brief impromptu speech on 4 May 1959, when Churchill arrived in Washington for a private visit with President Eisenhower. WSC was responding to the President’s welcome. This too follows the theme of “never give in,” though he clearly didn’t say those words: “Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I am most happy once again to set foot in the United States—my mother’s country I always think of it and feel it. I have come here on a quiet visit to see some of my old comrades of wartime days “

His very last public words in America came when he responded to the President’s toast at a White House dinner on May 6th: “It resounds in my mind, a precious and happy thought the union of the English-speaking peoples. I earnestly hope that an effort will be made, a fresh and further effort forward, to link us together.”

On May 8th he left Washington for the last time, and two years later, on 14 April 1961, he flew home from New York, where Onassis had brought him aboard Christina: his last visit to the USA. On this occasion he said nothing, merely lifted his hat to well-wishers at Idlewild Airport. He did, of course, make a “speech” at his honorary citizenship ceremony in 1963 (one of the few he did not write himself; the author was private secretary Anthony Montague Browne). But he was too infirm to be present and it was delivered by his son Randolph.

Whether “never give in” was part of his text on any of these final visits is still undetermined. But its sentiments, real and implied, he certainly expressed in 1954 and 1959.

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