March 28, 2015

Finest Hour 131, Summer 2006

Page 43

By CAPTAIN HUGH OWEN RN


My father, Commander J.H. Owen RN, was Sir Winston Churchill’s naval adviser for his classic biography, Marlborough, His Life and Times, which was published in four volumes in Britain and six volumes in the USA between 1933 and 1938. Churchill also employed a young historian (Maurice Ashley) as an adviser, as well as an Oxford don who had a big part to play. This was Sir William Deakin, who distinguished himself in the Second World War, when he was chosen by Churchill to lead a mission to Tito, leader of the Yugoslav Communist Party, after Germany’s invasion of his country in 1941. (Seepage 17.)

My elder brother (who died aged 14) my twin sister and I were all brought up to admire Churchill and had no difficulty in doing so. When I was about nine my father drove us all from Chatham, where we lived, to Chartwell, where he had an appointment to discuss aspects of the book with the then-Mr. Churchill. We left him at Chartwell while my mother and we three children had a picnic lunch on a hill looking down on the property. From here we could see Churchill and my father pacing back and forth in his garden discussing the book.

On one of my father’s later visits to Chartwell, as he told us, Churchill’s youngest child, the twelve-year-old Mary (now Lady Soames), came home from school.

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“What have you learnt today?” asked WSC.

“We learnt that King John was a very bad king,” Mary replied.

“Ah, Commander,” said Churchill to my father, “if only our history was so simple.”

The next time I saw Winston Churchill was in February 1945, when I was a midshipman (the only one on the ship) serving in the cruiser HMS Aurora. After the Big Three Yalta conference between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in February 1945, Churchill flew to Alexandria, where he had a long talk with President Roosevelt.

Churchill used Aurora as his headquarters, though he spent most of the day in Roosevelt’s ship, the USS Quincy. However, he made time when he returned to HMS Aurora to speak to our assembled ship’s company, and to tell us about the Yalta conference. He said how well he thought he had got on with Stalin, expressed admiration of the Soviet army and urged the need to be friends with the Russians after the war. He concluded with appreciative remarks about Auroras war service.

With him were his son Randolph, his daughter Sarah, his doctor Lord Moran, three male and one female secretaries and Inspector Thompson, his Scotland Yard detective. It had been a gruelling trip for the aged Prime Minister, not to mention the President.

“How very old and tired [WSC] was going down the gangway for his visit to Roosevelt,” I wrote to my parents. When he left Aurora the entire ship’s company rushed to the side of the ship to watch him go. As the boat moved away he gave us the V-sign and called out, “God speed and good luck.”

He then flew to Cairo where he had meetings with the King of Egypt, the Emperor of Ethiopia, the President of Syria and the King of Saudi Arabia. The latter had come up to Egypt in an American destroyer and returned in the rather larger and more comfortable Aurora. Judging by the gifts he gave to each member of Auroras ship’s company, he was more than satisfied.

As a souvenir of the occasion, one of Churchill’s secretaries gave me a page of No. 10 Downing Street, Whitehall writing-paper with “Prime Minister” and the royal coat-of-arms on it. I still have it in my photograph album.

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