April 14, 2010

Did Franklin Roosevelt Call Winston Churchill a “Stinker”?

Q:  What is the source of Franklin Roosevelt’s description of his first meeting with Churchill, in July 1918 at Gray’s Inn, when he thought him a show-off and a “stinker”?

—Andrew Roberts

A: The source is Joseph P. Kennedy’s papers. Kennedy wrote that FDR complained that Churchill “acted like a stinker…lording it all over us….”  My Roosevelt and Churchill: The Complete Correspondence (1984, vol. II, 355), quotes the “stinker” remark from Michael Beschloss, Kennedy and Roosevelt (1980, 200, 230). Beschloss had special access to the Joseph Kennedy papers, and seems the first to publish the “stinker” remark. Daun van Ee (Library of Congress) reports a slightly different version in Amanda Smith, ed., Hostage to Fortune: The Letters of Joseph P. Kennedy (2001, 411): A diary entry for 28 March 1940 quotes FDR as saying: “‘I always disliked him [Churchill] since the time I went to England in 1917 or 1918. At a dinner I attended he acted like a stinker.” Smith’s “editor’s note” (xxxiv) mentions various versions of her source texts, but gives no indication that this text was altered.

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Is Kennedy’s recollection plausible? Would Roosevelt have used the word “stinker”? Yes. It sounds like him. He seems to have sunk to today’s level of four letter words only rarely. (His mother, a formidable woman, surely forbade vulgar language.)  He threw out the occasional “damn,” and used “son of a bitch” at least once in, ironically, a reference to Joe Kennedy! (As in, to Eleanor Roosevelt, “I never want to see that son of a bitch again…”—also taken from Beschloss.)

—Warren F. Kimball

Atlantic Star

Q: I am at a loss as to why Churchill did not receive the Atlantic Star.  From my research of details of the award of the war service medals and campaign medals for World War II, and the qualifications required, it would appear that the length of time Sir Winston spent on Royal Navy battleships when he crossed the Atlantic or flew back across the Atlantic battle zone, he would have qualified for the medal in question.

—Reginald G. Beint

A: The Atlantic Star was awarded in the Royal Navy for six months’ service afloat in the Atlantic or home waters between 3 September 1939 and 8 May 1945, and to personnel employed in convoys to North Russia and the South Atlantic. Personnel must first have qualified for the 1939-1945 Star, with the qualifying time for this not counting toward the Atlantic Star. The same requirements applied to the Merchant Navy. There were separate requirements for RAF aircrew and Army gunners who served afloat, which would not apply to Churchill. Winston Churchill did not meet these requirements.

One further comment by Paul Courtenay: One could not have both the Atlantic and the France and Germany Stars; it was one or the other. If you qualified for both, you were given the one you earned first, to which was attached a clasp for the second award stating “Atlantic” or “France and Germany,” denoting the entitlement which did not bring you a further star; when the medal itself was not worn, the clasp was represented by a rosette on the ribbon.  Had Churchill qualified for the Atlantic Star, he would have earned a clasp, but not an extra medal.

—Douglas S. Russell (author of  The Orders, Decorations and Medals of Sir Winston Churchill)

Army Terminology

Q: Please explain the differences in the British army terms “commissioned, seconded, gazetted,” which are often applied to Churchill without explanation.

A: An officer is commissioned into a particular regiment or corps; this is a formal status, accompanied by a document signed by the Queen (in facsimile these days). So you don’t receive a fresh commission every time you are posted from A to B. Receipt of a commission is published in the London Gazette, hence “gazetted.”

Once you have your commission, you are frequently sent to jobs outside your regiment (perhaps to a headquarters staff or a training depot as an instructor or to a specialisation, e.g., linguist, parachutist, military attaché, etc.). You remain a member of your own regiment or corps and receive a posting to and from your assignment.

Sometimes you volunteer (or are invited) to fill a vacancy in another similar regiment; in this case, you would be attached (sometimes called “seconded”) for a temporary period. Sometimes this might become permanent—if it suits all three parties—in which case your transfer would be gazetted.

—Paul H. Courtenay

Never Despair

Q: Recently without warning, I was slandered by a colleague who then resigned, denouncing all of us and leaving a mess for his successors to clean up. Can you please recommend the most appropriate Churchill quotation for such a situation.

A: “The spectacle of a number of middle-aged gentlemen who are my political opponents being in a state of uproar and fury is really quite exhilarating to me.” —House of Commons, 21 May 1952

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