June 21, 2013

Finest Hour 137, Winter 2007-08

Page 4

Despatch Box


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Finest Hour continues to outdo itself every issue in terms of both design and content. In “Around and About” (FH 136:9) you relate General Marshall’s wonderful quote, mention that he left no diaries, and wonder aloud about his opinion of WSC. First and foremost, the General would not have presumed to express his opinion of such an august figure, and he was similarly reticent about FDR. It’s clear, however, that his opinion of both men was finely nuanced.

In Forrest Pogue’s invaluable George C. Marshall: Interviews and Reminiscences (Marshall Foundation/Johns Hopkins, 1991) there are a couple of priceless anecdotes that illuminate Churchill and the General. On page 551 et seq., Marshall tells the laugh-out-loud story about his efforts to keep WSC off the subject of Mediterranean strategy when the two of them met for dinner in Algiers in May 1943. Marshall’s strategy, every time there was a pause in their conversation, was to raise questions about subjects Marshall hoped would inspire the PM to expatiate.

He started by raising the impeachment of Warren Hastings (Governor-General of India, 1772-85; he was ultimately acquitted). The strategy worked like a charm. When WSC showed signs of slowing down some twenty minutes later, Marshall raised the subject of Hess’s parachute jump into Scotland and, bingo! The PM launched into another disquisition. About half an hour later, WSC seemed to be flagging slightly so Marshall raised the subject of the Abdication of Edward VIII. This prompted another flood of oratory. Marshall recalled: “It was a marvelous lecture, just marvelous. Then the steward announced dinner, thank God, and it was all over.”

On page 463 et seq., Marshall tells an even funnier and more illuminating story about Clementine Churchill’s indiscretion during the 1942 visit to Washington. Marshall had let her view a rough cut of Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” series. She was so enthused about it that she asked him to show it to the Prime Minister. Rightfully fearful that White House involvement would delay for months the release of the series for general G.I. viewing, Marshall swore Clemmie to absolute secrecy. “Well, she promised me. Then she went over to the White House, got to talking to Harry Hopkins, and they told the Prime Minister,” who of course insisted on viewing the series (which FDR barely knew about).

The clash of titanic wills that followed between the General and the PM had me laughing out loud. I won’t spoil it for you except to report Marshall’s final and unalterable termination of their argument: “I am very very fond of Mrs. Churchill, and I admire her greatly, but I will never forgive her for telling you.” This last was of course hyperbole, but WSC did not get to see “Why We Fight” until he was back in England—another instance of his immense admiration for people who stood up to him.

On page 51, Warren Kimball says he’s paraphrasing FDR, but the correct reference is to WSC’s speech to the Canadian Parliament in December 1941, when he memorably exclaimed, “Some chicken!…Some neck!”

You will kick yourself when I tell you that the front-bencher in the sombrero on page 31 is none other than our good friend Arthur Balfour, who was given to headgear even more exotic than Winston Churchill’s.

Editor’s response: Mr. Pilpel is the author of Churchill in America 1895-1961 (New York, 1976). His article, “What Churchill Owed the Great Republic” {FH 125) won our Journal Award as our best article in 2005.

Professor Kimball has already upbraided me for the wrong paraphrase in the article title “Some Kewpie!” (mine). I was thinking about FDR’s response to Churchill, when WSC told him that he had first visited America not as an infant (as someone had told FDR) but as a young man of 20. Roosevelt replied: “Some baby!” Alas I forgot all about the far more apposite “Some Chicken!” line to the Canadian Parliament in December 1941.

However, the character in the illustration on page 31 is not Arthur Balfour, headgear collection or not, first because in 1912, Balfour would have been on the Opposition bench; second because “Dear Arthur” never looked like the Cisco Kid! —RML


In Christopher Harmon’s fine article in Finest Hour 135, “The Fulton Speech and Today’s War,” I am baffled by his comment on Page 28: “Countries such as Germany and Britain have done a great deal, actually and symbolically. I am disappointed in Canada….But for such ills there are tonics. Australia has been a most vigorous and impressive ally.”

My facts are that at present there are approximately 1000 Australian troops in Afghanistan compared to 2300 Canadians. Australian troop deaths total one; Canadians total 70 (just behind British of 76 and ahead of Germans of 24). I don’t have any statistics on Australians wounded but Canadians wounded total 270 compared to 131 British and 52 Germans. Surely Prof. Harmon’s “disappointment” cannot be due to Canada’s refusal to join in the war in Iraq?


The autumn edition of Finest Hour, a favorite publication of mine, states (page 11) that the Mosquito fighter aircraft was the fastest piston engine plane of World War II. Following my suspicion, research showed the maximum cruise at 407 mph, while the P51 Mustang tops out at 437, and the P38 Lightning comes in at 414. The new look of the “Journal of Winston Churchill” is greatly appreciated.

Editor’s response: Many thanks. Perhaps our source meant the fastest British fighter?


Ronald Cohens excellent “Playing with Words” {FH 136:50) discusses WSC’s use of the word ‘landslide” in The World Crisis, vol. 1: “The result of the polls in January, 1906, was a Conservative landslide.”

The Tories fell to a crushing defeat. Surely this was a Liberal land-slide? Not so. The word is a derivation of “landslip”—”a mass of land sliding down a mountain,” a good way in WSC’s view to describe the Tory debacle in 1906.

Webster’s English Dictionary in 1880 defined landslide as synonymous with landslip: “land which slips or slides down,” but does not mention it in relation to elections. But Barbara Langworth unearthed “landslide” being used to describe great electoral victories in The Washington Post in 1888 (http://xrl.us/bbrsd) and in The New York Times in 1891 (http://xrl.us/bbrrr).

Lexicographers are cautious souls; the Oxford English Dictionary did not define “landslide” until 1992: land-slide=LANDSLIP; also fig. (cf avalanche), esp. with reference to a sweeping electoral victory. While the Post and the Times thought “landslide” meant a great electoral victory, WSC viewed the image of Tory voters slipping and sliding in the mud as synonymous with inglorious defeat.

I agree with Mr. Cohen: Churchill wins again. His definition was right; you cannot win elections when the land beneath your feet gives way as in a biblical flood! Received opinion among the English-speaking peoples, including all today’s lexicographers, plus all foolish folk who say that elections are won by sliding helplessly down a mountain, are wrong.

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