July 2, 2013


Intervention at 88


The Herskovits Library, Northwestern University, was preparing an exhibition to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the Gold Coast, which became Ghana on 6 March 1957. They asked if WSC had made any post-World War II visits to Africa, or had remarked about African independence, Ghana in particular, or Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister of independent Ghana.

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Churchill made no postwar visits to the continent other than brief stops at North African ports aboard Onassis’s yacht Christina. Aside from a few constituency addresses, he made no public speeches after retiring as PM in 1955; nor did he speak in Parliament, although he was an MP until mid-1964.

But we did find a reference to Ghana and Nkrumah, striking to read, given its date. Churchill generally made no attempt to influence international politics after his personal appeal to Eisenhower during the Suez Crisis in 1956. Yet he felt so strongly about Ghana and its leader in 1961 to advise Prime Minister Macmillan to call off the Queen’s state visit to that country. From the official biography, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 8, “Never Despair,”by Sir Martin Gilbert (London: Heinemann, 1988), 1130-31:

On 18 October 1961, Churchill dined with Anthony Eden, who three months earlier had been created Earl of Avon. The two men talked of the situation in Ghana. “I find,” wrote Churchill to Harold Macmillan on the following day, “that he shares the increasing perturbation with which I view the Queen’s forthcoming visit there.” Churchill went on to explain: “I have the impression that there is widespread uneasiness both over the physical safety of the Queen and, perhaps more, because her visit would seem to endorse a regime which has imprisoned hundreds of Opposition members without trial and which is thoroughly authoritarian
in tendency. “I have little doubt that Nkrumah would use the Queen’s visit to bolster up his own position. No doubt Nkrumah would be much affronted if the visit were now cancelled and Ghana might leave the Commonwealth. I am not sure that that would be a great loss. Nkrumah’s vilification of this country and his increasing association with our enemies does not encourage one to think that his country could ever be more than an opportunist member of the Commonwealth family.

“Is it too late,” Churchill asked, “for the Queen’s plans to be changed?” Macmillan replied that…It was “a great tragedy,” Macmillan wrote, that the Queen’s visit to Ghana “did not take place when it was originally planned over a year ago, for then things were calm. Unfortunately, it had to be postponed owing to the Queen’s baby. Now there is this dilemma to which you refer.” Macmillan also told Churchill: “I need hardly say that her wish is to go. This is natural with so courageous a personality.”

The Queen’s visit did take place: from 9 to 20 November. “Sir Winston is well,” [private secretary] Montague Browne wrote to Lord Beaverbrook on November 16, “but rather bored with events, and disturbed by the international scene and notably by the Queen going to Ghana and thus endorsing Nkrumah’s corrupt and tyrannical regime.”


During a lecture aboard the Queen Mary 2 in 2005, we were told that Sir Winston once said of Castro, “that man should have been castrated at birth.” Could this be true? —CAROLE MARTIN

We doubt the alleged remark: It doesn’t sound like him; he loved Cuban cigars and was well disposed toward Cuba; and by 1959, when Castro took over, he was not much concerned with world events. Incidentally, Castro gave an interview to Celia Sandys when she was writing her book, Chasing Churchill, laced with expressions of admiration for her grandfather.

I did look up “castrated” in the canon, and found this charmer, almost certainly not original to WSC, in Lord Moran’s Churchill: The Struggle for Survival (London: Constable, 1966, 198):

September 21, 1944….Winston made some gurgling sounds in his throat. “Do you know the yarn of the man who was castrated?” More gurgling. “A man called Thomson went to a surgeon and asked him to castrate him. The surgeon demurred, but when the man persisted and argued he eventually agreed, and took him into hospital. The morning after the operation Thomson woke up in great discomfort. He noticed that the man in the next bed was in pain and was groaning. He leant towards him over the side of the bed. ‘What did they do to you,’ he called. The man replied: ‘I’ve been circumcised.’ ‘Good Lord,’ Thomson exclaimed, ‘that’s the word I couldn’t remember when the surgeon asked me what I wanted done.'”


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