QUOTATION OF THE SEASON
“The newspapers, with their alluring headlines, do not do justice to the proportion of current events. Everyone is busy or is oppressed by the constant cares and difficulties of daily life. Headlines flicker each day before them. Any disorder or confusion in any part of the world, every kind of argument, trouble, dispute, friction or riot—all flicker across the scene. People go tired to bed, at the end of their long, bleak, worrying days, or else they cast care aside, and live for the moment.”
—WINSTON CHURCHILL, HOUSE OF COMMONS, 12 DECEMBER 1946
Finest Hour 136 page 29 column 3: In the note entitled “Not WSC on Castro,” Carole Martyn’s name was misspelled, for which apologies. Also, the alleged statement by WSC about Castro was not made during the 2005 Queen Mary 2 lectures but originates from other sources.
FH 137 page 20, column 2: The CBE should be identified as the “Most Excellent Order…” not “Most Noble Order.” “Most Noble” is the prefix for the Order of the Garter.
23%: CHURCHILL WAS MYTH
(OR: WHAT A RELIEF! NOW WE CAN ALL GO HOME.)
LONDON, FEBRUARY 3RD— The poll to end polls, published today by UKTV Gold and BBC Worldwide, revealed that nearly one-quarter of 3000 Britons surveyed think Winston Churchill was a myth, while a hefty majority of 58 percent believe that Sherlock Holmes was real. Nearly half said King Richard the Lionheart was fictitious, while nearly one-quarter doubt the existence of Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale.
Canada’s Globe and Mail speculated that some respondents were so astonished at the questions that they played along and lied—much as people exiting voting booths tell pollsters they voted for X when they really voted for Y.
Other “suspected myths” included Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Dickens, the Battle of Waterloo and the Duke of Wellington. And 33 percent said they believed in the existence of W. E. Johns’s fictional pilot adventurer Biggles.
And Biggles said, “Let there be light.” And Holmes said, “We shall go on to the end…we shall never surrender.” And the winds blew and the storm raged, and for days the vision was bad…
BIG FEET, LITTLE GAFFES
CHICAGO, JANUARY 8TH— President George W. Bush invoked Churchill at the Union League: “I did a little research into the history, and it turns out Winston Churchill came here in 1932—right before I was born. When people think of Churchill, of course, they marvel at what he managed to do with the English language. When people think of me…[laughter].
“Winston Churchill, when he came here, by the way—I dug out a quote that I’d like to read to you. He said, ‘Some…regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is—the strong and willing horse that pulls the whole cart along.’ I don’t know if he said it right here in this very hall, but that’s what he said. Government policy ought to recognize who’s pulling this economy, and that would be the entrepreneurs and workers of America” [applause].
The people who actually “dug out” that quotation were Phil and Sue Larson, who were contacted by the White House. And there was no reason to suspect he said it right there because we told the White House when Churchill said it at Woodford Green, Essex, on 29 October 1959. So it goes!
PRAGUE, NOVEMBER 24TH— Alfred Duff Cooper, a relative of Britain’s Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who left Neville Chamberlain’s cabinet in 1938 over Munich, was remembered today when the Czech government presented Cameron with a 1940 letter from Duff Cooper to the then Czech Prime Minister, Edvard Benes, exiled in Britain during the Nazi occupation.
Duff Cooper never regretted his resignation: “I believe it would have been better for Britain and Europe, as well as for Czechoslovakia, if we had stood firm instead of surrendering.” Duff Cooper was appointed Minister of Information in Churchill’s cabinet a few days after he wrote to Benes. His father was Cameron’s great-great-grandfather. Cameron said he was proud of Duff, who died in 1954 aged 63. His bond with the Czechs is “in my blood,” Cameron added. “He stood up for your country, and for freedom.”
NYET ON NOËL
LONDON, NOVEMBER 12TH— Winston Churchill personally blocked a knighthood for Noël Coward even though the playwright had spied for Britain during the war, according to The Letters of Noël Coward, published today.
Noël Coward was recruited as a spy in 1938. In 1942 Churchill used the excuse of a relatively minor court case to block the title.
Two months earlier Coward had been fined a token £200 for inadvertently breaching wartime currency exchange laws by spending £11,000 on a trip to the USA. On 29 December 1942 Churchill wrote to the King: “I have examined in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the details of the case against Mr Noël Coward. The Chancellor and Sir Richard Hopkins are contented that it was one of substance and that the conferment of Knighthood upon Mr. Coward so soon afterwards would give rise to unfavourable comment. With considerable personal reluctance I have therefore come to the conclusion that I could not advise Your Majesty to proceed with this proposal on the present occasion.”
Coward was recruited in 1938 by Sir Robert Vansittart, a Foreign Office mandarin, who instructed Coward on a mission to the U.S.: “Try to get them on to the topic [of Nazi threat] as much as possible and let them rip.”
In 1940, Coward was recruited by Sir William Stephenson of British Security Coordination in New York, who asked him to target key American opinion formers. The 43-year-old playwright, who worked in secrecy, was vilified by a furious British press who assumed he was staying in America as a ruse to avoid the war. In a letter to Vansittart dated 21 August 1940, a frustrated but naive Coward wrote: “Would it be possible to tell the State Department the truth, which is that I was sent over by the Ministry of Information to work, with your approval, at gauging various cross sections of American opinion and reporting on it?….I think it would do away with a lot of the false rumour and wild surmise. I am most definitely not over here on personal business….If however, it were possible for me not to be quite disowned in all directions I think it would strengthen my hand.”
He later wrote: “If I ran away and refused to have anything to do with the war and lived comfortably in Hollywood, as so many of my friends have done, I would be ashamed to the end of my days.” Coward was knighted in 1970 and died three years later.
—CHRIS HASTINGS, DAILY TELEGRAPH
Finest Hour’s opinion: Such judgments and assumptions that are not warranted by what we know of Churchill and Coward’s relationship, as repeatedly suggested by the literature:
- 8 July 1938, WSC to his wife: “I have not yet lost the impression of that lovely play of Noël Coward’s [Operette] and I am ashamed to say I have not written him as I meant to do.” —Martin Gilbert, ed., Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume 5, Part 3 (London: 1982, 1095).
- August 1941: “Mr. Churchill asked if any officer in the ship had a record of Noël Coward’s ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen.’ This was produced, and Mr. Churchill proved that he knew the words and the tune.” —H. V. Morton, Atlantic Meeting (London: 1943, 62).
- 30 November 1964: WSC “had dinner at 7 p.m. so that he could watch the BBC tribute “Ninety Years On,” the star-packed variety show introduced by Noël Coward….He enjoyed the programme immensely…” —Roy Howells, Simply Churchill (London: 1965, 166).
Also incorrect is the notion that Churchill was a homophobe, given his friendships with people like Eddie Marsh. Repeatedly his concern about homosexuals was their susceptibility to blackmail by Britain’s enemies.
Sir Martin Gilbert sent us his view of the Churchill-Coward relationship: “Churchill was a friend and admirer of Coward, but breaching of currency regulations—as advised by the Treasury—would always be a barrier to an honour. As you know, we are mired in honours scandals just now. Even so, note that it was a knighthood ‘just now’ that Churchill advised against—and only ‘on the present occasion.’ See my volume VII, 1327 on their dinner in May 1945.”
Coward himself recalled that evening in his Future Indefinite (London: 1954, 327-28): “The Prime Minister was at his most benign, and suddenly, towards the end of dinner, looking across the table at the man who had carried England through her dark years, I felt an upsurge of gratitude that melted into hero worship. This was a profoundly significant moment in the history of our country; the long, long hoped-for victory was so very near, and the fact that we were in the presence of the man who had contributed so much foresight, courage and genius to winning it struck Juliet [Duff] and Venetia [Stanley] at the same instant that it struck me. Emotion submerged us and without exchanging a word, as simultaneously as though we had carefully rehearsed it, the three of us rose to our feet and drank Mr. Churchill’s health.” —Richard Langworth
LONDON, NOVEMBER 29TH— The Churchill Centre Board of Trustees member Celia Sandys is presenting in 2008 a TV documentary, “The Lion and the Bear,” on Anglo-Russian relations. One part is devoted to the Teheran Conference in 1943, and a plot to kill the Big Three, masterminded by Adolf Hitler’s favorite commando, Otto Skorzeny, the SS saboteur who temporarily rescued Mussolini in September 1943.
The plot, dubbed “Operation Long Jump” by the Germans, was foiled by Soviet agents including then-19-year-old Georg Vartanian who, during the filming, was asked by Celia Sandys how they had succeeded.
“Six German radio operators had been dropped by parachute into the holy city of Qum and made it to Teheran, where they established radio communication with Berlin,” Vartanian said. “Day and night we scoured the streets. Eventually, we found where the group was hiding. From then on the Germans were transmitting messages to Berlin that were intercepted by the Soviet and British intelligence. But the Nazi radio operators were nobody’s fools, and one sent a coded message, ‘we are under surveillance.’
“The Nazis decided against sending the main group, led by Skorzeny, to certain death,” he told Celia. “Your grandfather was staying at the British Embassy, where he had security guards. But the U.S. Embassy was on the city’s outskirts and staying there was too risky, so Franklin Roosevelt stayed in the Russian Embassy.” (See the Danny Mander story FH138, page 20.)
“The street between the Soviet and British Embassies, which were located close to each other, had been sealed off. They stretched a six-metre tarpaulin sheet to make something like a passage, guarded by Soviet and British machine-gunners. All the participants in the Teheran Conference were able to go back and forth safely. According to some information, the Nazis planned to get into the British Embassy through a water supply channel and assassinate Churchill on his birthday, November 30th. But these plans were foiled. I was close enough to see your grand-father, Stalin and Roosevelt. What struck me was their confidence and calmness.”
“You must have had a certain amount of luck,” said Ms. Sandys. Vartanian agreed: “Luck is important for many professions, and all the more so for that of an intelligence agent.”
—DAILY TELEGRAPH, RUSSIA SUPPLEMENT
WSC AND THE PRESS
LONDON, FEBRUARY 8TH TO MAY 11TH— Churchill Centre and Museum headquarters, the Cabinet War Rooms, is offering an exciting temporary exhibit on WSC as a celebrity, from his birth announcement in The Times to his death in 1965. Artifacts include a letter from Winston to his mother detailing his contract to act as a war correspondent for the Morning Post in South Africa, and his letter from the Staats Model School Prison in Pretoria (both from the Churchill Archives Centre).
The General Strike of May 1926 is documented by copies of The British Gazette, edited by Churchill on behalf of the government in the offices of the Morning Post. A section on Churchill the journalist displays his prolific output of articles and his contracts with various newspapers.
Visitors will learn about Churchill’s craving for news during the Second World War. Each morning he would read almost every paper, sometimes even ringing the Daily Mail at midnight to get his news before the papers went to press.
“Churchill and the Press” is accompanied by an impressive array of original newspapers, domestic and foreign, courtesy of John Frost’s Historical Newspaper collection, as well as images from Associated Newspapers and the Imperial War Museum.
The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, at Clive Steps, King Charles Street (tube station Westminster) are open daily from 9:30am to 6pm, the last admission being at 5pm. Admission costs £12, with children under 16 free and students and senior citizens £9.50. There is no extra charge for the Exhibition.
LONDON, NOVEMBER 21ST, 1934— A Daily Mail article from the John Frost Historical Newspaper Collection reveals what may be the first Parliamentary intervention by Churchill’s supporters in the campaign for rearmament. It reads:
“Mr. Churchill last night tabled amendment in reply to the King’s Speech on the opening of the new session of Parliament: ‘That in the present circumstances of the world the strength of Britain’s national defences and, especially of air defences, is no longer adequate to secure the peace, safety and freedom of your Majesty’s faithful subjects.’
“This is a drastic step and as he is supported by six of the most influential ‘back benchers’ in the House of Commons it is a warning to the Government.”
Those joining Churchill were Sir Robert Horne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1922; Leopold Amery, Dominions Secretary 1925-29; Captain Freddie Guest, Secretary for Air 1919-22; Earl Winterton, Undersecretary for India 1925-29; and Robert Boothby, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Churchill, 1925-29.
Although Brendan Bracken, Harold Macmillan and Alfred Duff Cooper joined Churchill’s “troublesome young men,” this is the earliest list we have seen of these individuals of conscience.
MoD TO SELL OLD WAR OFFICE
LONDON, DECEMBER 26TH— After more than a century’s illustrious service, the Ministry of Defence is planning to sell the Old War Office Building opposite Horse Guards Parade. The Ministry will ask £35 million for the deteriorating but well-located building, standing over underground tunnels that once connected it to some of the most sensitive sites in Whitehall.
The War Office was used by Secretaries of State for War and senior staff officers until the MoD was created in 1964. Churchill was based there between 1919 and 1921. Lord Kitchener and Lloyd George worked there as war minister and munitions minister during the First World War, and T.E. Lawrence was stationed there in 1914, drawing maps of the Middle East based on his travels.
The secret passages and their connections gave pause, and the Ministry of Defence considered selling it to another government department to retain their benefit. But officials decided to put the building on the market while “maintaining the integrity” of the Government Secure Zone of protected Whitehall sites
GLASTONBURY, SOMERSET, DECEMBER 20TH— Sir Winston’s granddaughter died today aged 58—the same age as her father, Randolph Churchill, at his death in 1968. In her twenties, Arabella, daughter of Randolph and the former June Osborne, ran off to join hippies in Glastonbury, where she helped found the local festival. Her son Jake, from her first marriage to Jim Barton, was born on a sheep farm they were running in Wales. Mr. Barton left his wife and son a year later. At the time of her death, Jake Barton was being arrested in Australia on drug charges. Arabella also leaves a daughter Jessica, 19, from her second marriage to Ian “Haggis” McLeod, a juggler fourteen years her junior. R.I.P.
THE SEARCH FOR MARIO
LONDON, FEBRUARY 18TH— A British game company producing “alternate reality” video games is developing a game called “Turning Point: Fall of Liberty,” which imagines what might have happened had Churchill been killed while crossing Fifth Avenue, New York, on 13 December 1931. (“My New York Misadventure,” FH 136:24.) The game producers are trying to find Mario Contasino, the driver of the car involved, or his descendants. So they’ve enlisted genealogists in the United States. There is no record in the U.S. Census, from 1790-1930, of anyone with the last name of Contasino. A search of Ellis Island and Castle Garden immigration records only Giuseppe Contasino, who arrived in 1913 at the age of 1. There are no Social Security records that record the death (from about 1960 to present) of anyone named Contasino.
So far, it’s a dead end. —The Times
Finest Hour’s opinion: The genealogists might have had better results if they had searched for “Constasino” instead of “Contasino”! Then again, Churchill himself might have misspelled the name in his 1932 account.
It would appear that The New York Times was responsible for the misspelling “Contasino,” and for wrongly describing Churchill’s mistake while crossing Fifth Avenue. From the Central Park side, Churchill looked left, which was of course correct. His mistake was to continue to look left after he was half-way across (as one does in Britain) when he should have looked right at the traffic coming up the avenue, including Constasino’s car. (In those days Fifth Avenue had two-way traffic.)
Churchill was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital on 13 December and discharged on the 21st. The book Churchill autographed for Constasino was My Early Life–priceless if it ever surfaced today.
The “what if?” scenario is a game which can be played forever: “What if Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor?” etc. Churchill himself enjoyed the game, per his 1931 article, “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg.” (FH 103:28).
DENTURES’ FINEST HOUR
LONDON, FEBRUARY 20TH— Two letters from 1952 and 1954, to be auctioned by Bonham’s in March, revealed a key ally without whom Sir Winston might have struggled: his dentist.
Throughout his life, Churchill feared that problems with his teeth would affect his public speaking, one of his most powerful attributes. So he relied on Sir Wilfred Fish, the most acclaimed dentist of his generation, to supply him with dentures to deliver his rallying calls.
Churchill showed his appreciation in 1954 when he wrote Fish confirming his nomination for a knighthood. Churchill, then 79, also enclosed a set of his false teeth for repair. He wrote: “I am very glad it fell to me to recommend you for a well-deserved honour. I enclose one set of dentures and I should be so much obliged if you would tighten them up a little for me. The others are working very well.”
Churchill’s false teeth were made to Fish’s specification by dental technician Derek Cudlipp. One of the spares kept by Cudlipp in case of emergency was donated by his family to the Royal College of Surgeons Museum in London.
A spokesman said: “For Churchill, a well-fitting denture was a crucial physical and psychological prop. It allowed him to speak effectively—a vital attribute for any politician, and especially for one whose speaking skills were so central to his success.”
Churchill’s original dentures were made from hardened rubber, but he found them uncomfortable and often put them in his pocket. Once he sat on them, prompting a frantic repair. A second version was made with a larger palate, which he found more comfortable.
When Churchill was a 16-year-old schoolboy at Harrow, his mother complained about how much money was being spent on his dental bills. Later he suffered from pain in his gums and was tormented by a toothache, which developed into an abscess and made his face swell to twice its normal size. A painful wisdom tooth was extracted in his teens when he recorded that he went to sleep under anaesthetic and “snored through the whole performance.” He lost many front teeth in his 20s, prompting the need for an upper set of dentures.
Churchill suffered from a pronounced lisp, which later became a trademark that he wanted to preserve with “soft fitting” dentures. His sessions with Sir Wilfred were accompanied by brandy in place of mouthwash, and two cigars.
When WSC’s patience wore thin at times of crisis, he would place his thumb against the dentures while he was wearing them and flick them against a wall.
—Paul Broster, Daily Express
AROUND & ABOUT
On the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, Garrison Keillor (on U.S. National Public Radio’s “Literary Calendar”) quoted a few lines from the immortal poem “In Flanders Fields,” (FH 121:6) and then criticized the poet, John McRae (FH 137:56) for suggesting that the dead wished the living to “take up the quarrel with the foe.” Bad advice, Keillor said: It is never right to prolong a war (or words to that effect). Mr. Keillor forgets the national aspirations that were met through that conflict, and continue today. From Estonia to Poland and Czechoslovakia, peoples long under the yokes of oppressors were presented for the first time in anyone’s memory with nationhood. We were reminded of this when we fell over Churchill’s review of World War I in The Aftermath, vol. IV of The World Crisis (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1929),159: “The war had been fought to make sure that the smallest state should have the power to assert its lawful rights against even the greatest, and this will probably be for several generations an enduring fact.” Thanks to another (cold) war, it is a fact forever.
Mark Kurlansky, reviewing Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke in The Los Angeles Times, March 9th, said World War II “was a particularly hard sell. Roosevelt and Churchill did it well and their lies have been with us ever since.” He continued with discredited arguments we have all heard before. For example, Kurlansky says everyone who dragged the western world into the war was an anti-Semite: Churchill, Roosevelt, Chamberlain. Even Hitler, apparently. —David Freeman
Terry Reardon of the International Churchill Society Canada reports a new children’s book, Winston of Churchill, “one bear’s fight against global warming,” for ages 6 and up. Churchill, Manitoba, the polar bear capital of the world, is named after John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. Winston is a “fierce brave bear” alarmed because the ice is melting in polar bear territory around Hudson’s Bay. He gathers his fellow bears around him and exhorts them with expressions like “We will fight for ice…we shall defend our island,” etc. Mrs. Winston says Winston’s cigar smoking is polluting the air, so he switches to chewing a twig! Details at www.pgcbooks.ca or the author’s website www.jeandaviesokimoto.com.
David Wondrich writes about “the story of the Manhattan [cocktail] being invented for a dinner at the Manhattan Club hosted by Jennie Jerome to celebrate Samuel Tilden’s election etc. etc. About five minutes of Googling will uncover the fact that Tilden was elected in November 1874, when La Jerome was in England, giving birth to Winston Churchill. (In fact, the banquet was held on the day Winston was christened; Jennie Jerome’s only connection with the Manhattan Club was the fact that the Club later moved into a mansion which had once belonged to her father). Contemporary newspaper accounts of the two Manhattan Club banquets held for Tilden’s election make no mention of Jennie Jerome, nor indeed of any woman present—these were strictly stag affairs. And old bar guides, one that we have being originally printed in 1860, list many a Manhattan cocktail.” Mr. Wondrich’s piece is on wiki.webtender.com.