March 28, 2015

Finest Hour 131, Summer 2006

Page 26

By Michael Richards


In London on 25 July 1942, the Anglo-American allies met to plan forthcoming war strategy. Representing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins urged his colleagues to avoid “procrastination and delays” and to decide immediately to launch OPERATION TORCH, the invasion of North Africa.

It was an historic conference, as Joseph J. Plaud, President and Founder of the Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center remarks: “This of course was the first major American action in the war….It would appear then that this short snorter was a testament to this fateful decision in World War II, in which the major participants all signed the note….It’s a wonderful and historic piece that should be preserved.”

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Autograph collector Gary Schulze recently acquired the short snorter 10 shilling note pictured opposite, once carried by Harry Hopkins and signed by distinguished members of the “Short Snorter Club.” Although we have seen a few, we don’t believe we have seen a better collection of World War II autographs on a single piece of paper.

A “short snort” is a quick drink, and during World War II, fliers conceived of a Short Snorter Club. The website of the 456th Bomber Group describes the short snorter as a “bond of friendship amongst the crewmembers or comrades in arms, and it existed typically as paper money signed by two or more men and then separated (torn) so that when all were together again they would still have the money for a drink.”

Another version of a short snorter consisted of a roll of bills, each from a different person and/or place, all attached to form one long chain. The Library of Congress, which exhibits one of the latter, states: “The longer your ‘short snorter,’ the more countries you visited.” Their example is six feet long, begins with a dark green U.S. Silver Certificate, and includes a blue Congo franc, a deep red Chinese yuan, a light-green Ceylon rupee, and yellow, brown and purple currency ranging from a Palestinian 500 mils note to a Tripolitanian lire.

Although derived from these practices, the Short Snorter Club of VIPs was rather different. Flying the Atlantic then was much more hazardous for “the good and the great” than it is today. Churchill’s private secretary, John Martin, wrote in Downing Street: The War Years (London: Bloomsbury, 1991, 85-86): “The rule is that you must always carry about with you a dollar bill signed by the short snorters who admitted you and any others who may be added. If you meet another short snorter and challenge him to produce his bill and he can’t, he has to pay a dollar to each short snorter present. The PM is a short snorter and has been caught in this way. All of which must sound, as it is, a little mad.”

A 10 shilling note would do as well as a dollar. This one carries a printed legend on its border: THE HONORABLE HARRY HOPKINS, ‘SHORT SNORTER,1 NICKNAME ‘HARRY’ MADE AT LONDON 25/7/42. In line with the rules cited by John Martin, Hopkins himself did not sign his own bill. The legend around the border was probably written by a British colleague, given the dating style 25/7/42. (Unlike “honour,” “honorable” is known to have been spelt without the “u” in Britain.)

The circumstances of the bill’s origin are confirmed by one of those present, Harry Butcher, in his My Three Years With Eisenhower (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1946, 26), who wrote:

LONDON, SATURDAY, JULY 25, 1942

Lunched in Harry’s suite, other guests being Mrs. Randolph Churchill, Miss Kathleen Harriman, her father, Minister Harriman, and Ike, who came in from Marshall’s suite for a quick lunch. Found Kathleen had forgotten her “short snorter” bill, so she was penalized five shillings for each short snorter present. We discovered Harry hadn’t been made a short snorter, and he joined with pleasure and cash. He was happy to be going home, as his wedding with Louise Macy is set for the 30th at the White House. The Prime Minister and Mrs. Churchill and the Harrimans sent lovely silver gifts to be carried home. Other short snorters made and hooked were Tony Biddle, William Bullitt, and Lou Douglas.

On 16 July 1942 Hopkins, General Marshall and Admiral King, had flown to London as Roosevelt’s representatives for die meeting that planned “Torch.” They were accompanied by Steve Early, die President’s press secretary, who was sent to meet with British media personnel. On the evening of the 26th the Hopkins party departed via Presrwick, Scodand, arriving back in Washington on July 27th.

President Roosevelt, of course, was not in London, nor was Winston Churchill present on July 25th. Clearly, Harry Hopkins added signatures to his short snorter over time. That FDR’s and WSC’s signatures came later are suggested by their positions, well down in the stack of names. Only the first six are known to have been present when this snorter was created. But in all, the signatures are a marvelous collection of great names.

Those who signed the bill on the first day are Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Commander Allied Forces in Europe); Averell Harriman (Roosevelt’s special envoy to Churchill and Stalin); Stephen Early (FDR’s press secretary); Kathleen Harriman (Averell’s daughter); Harry Butcher (Eisenhower’s aide); Anthony Biddle (U.S. Ambassador to European exiled governments).

Those probably added later—most likely at the Casablanca conference in January 1943—are Winston S. Churchill; Stan Stanton (?); Hal Blackburne (?); D. C. Loomis (?); Hoyt Vandenburg (U.S. Army Air Corps general, later chief of staff U.S. Air Force); J. D. Love (?); George Durno (White House correspondent, accompanied Roosevelt to Argentia, 1941 and Casablanca, 1943); Jtesse]. B. Oldendorf (USN Admiral, accompanied Roosevelt to Casablanca); Franklin D. Roosevelt; D. Ray Cornish (?); G. A. Bisbee (?); and Elliott Roosevelt (FDR’s son).

On the obverse are Mattie A. Pinetti and Arlene Dreynal (both Women’s Auxiliary Army Air Corps); Hfarold] R. Alexander (Commander-in-Chief Middle East); Louis Mountbatten (Chief of Combined Operations); George S. Patton (Commander U.S. Army Western Task Force in North Africa and later the U.S. Third Army); two indecipherable names; Ross Mclntyre (Admiral and Surgeon General 1941-45, accompanied FDR to Yalta, 1945); F. J. Terry (USN chief yeoman, accompanied Roosevelt to Argentia, 1941); and Anthony Eden (British Foreign Secretary).

Robert Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins (New York: Harper, 1948, 685) mentions the obscure George Durno, with a key to when later names were added: “On January 21 [1943] Roosevelt, Hopkins, Harriman, Murphy, and Mclntyre drove with Patton to Rabat, eighty-five miles north-east of Casablanca, for a visit to the American troops of the Fifth Army, in training there under General [Mark] Clark’s command. [FDR] had lunch in the open air with some 20,000 soldiers. The menu: boiled ham, sweet potatoes, green string beans, fruit salad, bread, butter, jam, and coffee. I am indebted to Captain George Durno, former White House correspondent who accompanied the President on the Casablanca trip, for including in his official report the list of selections played by the Third Division Artillery Band during lunch that day: ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo,’ ‘Missouri Waltz,’ ‘Naughty Marietta Waltz,’ ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ and ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band.'”

Clearly Durno was possessed of sufficient jollity to qualify as an ideal short snorter!

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