June 5, 2013

Finest Hour 143, Summer 2009

Page 30

Glimpses – Guarding Greatness, Part I

By Ronald E. Golding

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For several years before The Second World War I served in the Special Political Branch of New Scotland Yard. In 1946, after five years in the RAF, I returned to the Yard to take up my civilian duties again. It was still a pretty grim period in England, particularly in London, for there was severe rationing and a bitterly cold winter. I had a trying time getting accustomed to normal life once more.

At the Yard too there was an air of general disillusionment. The Special Branch had sent many men to the war, mainly as combatants, some on intelligence duties. Twentythree had been killed. Those who returned represented all three services and ranked from Brigadier to Flight Lieutenant. For many, returning to police duties meant a tremendous cut in salary. In order to complete our rehabilitation, the police sent us on a special course lasting six weeks or so to become reacquainted with our normal police work. I had been back in the Branch only two or three weeks when I was summoned by the Superintendent.

“Golding, how are you settling down now?”

“Not badly I suppose, sir.”

“Hmmph. I want you to go on protection duty.” I raised my eyebrows.

“We’re putting another man on Winston Churchill. He’s a terribly difficult man as you know, but it’ll be a good experience for you.”

I should just think it would! I had been seriously thinking of resigning from the Police Force and emigrating to Canada. This, however, was something different.

A few days later I went to 28 Hyde Park Gate, Churchill’s London home. I was introduced. At the time I still affected a rather outsize Air Force moustache. The senior officer said, “Mr. Churchill, this is Detective Sergeant Golding. We are seconding him to your staff and he’ll be responsible for looking after you. Golding has recently returned from the RAF.” I made a slight bow and said, “How do you do, sir.”

Churchill was about to leave the house and had his coat on. The butler was handing him his black Homburg and silver-mounted walking stick. WSC looked me right in the eye, a stare familiar to everyone who worked for him. Finally he asked: “Did you fly?”

“Yes, sir.”


I followed him out to the car. The chauffeur, whose name was Bullock (WSC referred to the limousine as “The Bullock Cart”) opened the door, Churchill got in the back, 1 got in the front, and away we went. In the police car following immediately behind were my colleague Sgt. Williams, the butler and the cook—the renowned Mrs. Landemare. And so we travelled thirty miles down to Chartwell, Churchill’s country estate in Kent.

This was the first of many such journeys. Churchill loved Chartwell and spent as much time there as he could— every weekend at least. He was forced to spend a lot of time in London because of the many functions he needed to attend, particularly his duties as Leader of the Opposition. There was no doubt that his defeat in the 1945 general election had come as a shattering and unexpected blow.

My first few days at Chartwell were a bit of a night-mare because there were sixty to eighty German prisoners of war working in the grounds and on the farm. Sullen and subdued looking, they were armed with pick-axes and shovels, with only one English foreman to look after them.

Churchill was completely unconcerned. He would say “good day” to them when he went by. They would stop and look up from their digging; I’m quite sure they were absolutely amazed over where they were.

I was fairly athletic in those days and, mainly to impress the prisoners, used to run round the grounds, particularly in the early mornings, wearing a white sweater and shorts. I tried to look as fierce as possible, hoping that I would give the impression that I was a superman! I was indeed worried. If any of those prisoners had wanted to hit the old man with a shovel or pick-axe, it would have been very difficult to stop them.

The manor had started as a hunting lodge for Henry VIII. It had been much enlarged over the years, and by 1946 was quite a beautiful mansion. It is a two-storeyed building, and I was given a small flat on the ground floor which opened onto lawns. The property was lovely, neatly divided farmland stretching over both sides of a small valley.

Fascinated by water, Mr. Churchill had spent years engineering his system of ponds and rivulets. His source was a small spring, the Chart Well (hence the estate’s name), that rises near the house. He ran it through the grounds by pipes and spillways to artfully constructed small waterfalls, emptying into pools of various sizes. The water was then piped to the large lake at the bottom of the valley. A powerful pump forced the water back up from the lake so that it could run down again, reinforcing the natural supply and providing a fine display over the waterfalls.

To have a constant show of moving water, he needed a sufficient supply. In summer, the level of the Chart Well and the lake would fall. So Churchill built a reservoir on the far side of the valley, piping its water into the lake. Nearby was a large, heated swimming pool, fed from the lake and filtered. The system had required many years to complete, and was always a source of great interest and endeavour.

The lake at the valley’s bottom was a quarter-mile long, picturesque and stocked with fish, which were occasionally poached by herons. On the lake were a pair of black swans, a gift from Western Australia after the war (see “Black Swans Return,” page 8). When Mr. Churchill came within a certain distance of the shoreline he would give a loud and rather weird “swan-noise” and the birds would invariably answer. Whilst he continued down to the lake, a veritable conversation would ensue between him and the swans!

This was a regular performance whenever he was showing guests around, and it never failed to impress. Mr. Churchill was given credit for another wonderful gift: the ability to commune with wildlife.

I was very taken by this until one day I went down to the lake on my own, and the swans started to cry and call at me. By experiment I found they would call whenever a human came within a certain distance. Now, if one was clever enough, one could cry out just before getting to this critical distance; the swans would appear to reply if one continued to walk, and the “conversation” came naturally.

Some time after this discovery I was walking down to the lake with Mr. Churchill. I was a little in front, and watched carefully for the critical spot. I then called out in “swan-talk” and the birds dutifully replied. Mr. Churchill stopped dead. I turned round and he looked me full in the eye for a moment or two. Then the faintest suspicion of a smile appeared and he walked on in silence. No comment was ever made that this secret was shared.

During the war, Churchill had shut Chartwell for the duration. Golden Orfe from the small ponds were tipped into the lake where they would get enough food, and left to take their chance against herons and other marauders. In 1946 I had the interesting task of fishing in the lake (with very light tackle of course), pulling out the goldfish, now six years older and enormous. They were put in pails and taken back to their original homes in the smaller ponds. It was Mr. Churchill’s great pleasure to feed them regularly. They came to his hand after a while and this pleased him. He was very fond of demonstrating his “oneness” with nature.

He laid down a very lovely butterfly and moth “farm” at Chartwell in 1946 (See “Butterflies to Chartwell,” Finest Hour 89, Winter 1995-96). When he got the idea he sent for an expert, who bred very beautiful specimens. Churchill, of course, always had world-famous people to advise him on his hobbies and other interests. The pattern of conversation was typical when the butterfly man came.

He took the breeder for a walk round the grounds and gave a general idea of his plans; the expert then gave advice and went into technical details. Mr. Churchill said very little.

Rather like a penny dropping in the butterfly man’s mind, you could almost hear him thinking: “Ah, I’ve got the old boy. He’s not nearly as clever as I thought. This is one sphere in which I know a lot more than he does.”

The butterfly man became just the slightest bit patronizing and boom! Mr. Churchill came back at him with very lucid comments showing that he was fully acquainted with everything being said. Visibly shaken, the expert never tried to “talk down” again. It was a pattern of conversation I’d noticed with other experts. I can’t help feeling that WSC pretended ignorance to a certain extent, then came down like a ton of bricks if there was any attempt to patronize him.

A very successful scheme was put in hand and some of the rarest butterflies and moths of the greatest beauty were hatched out. By careful provision of the right flowers and bushes, the butterflies were kept well fed.

Churchill was usually always successful in his hobbies. His pigs and sows were famous throughout the land; a Guernsey cow, given him by the people of that island, won all the awards available. Whilst I was with him he bought his first race horse. I think it won just about every time it came out and was always very heavily backed by the public. I thought this was unfortunate because I used to back it too, and because of its favoritism, the odds were never very high.

On another occasion that I remember during wheat harvesting, Mr. Churchill’s farm manager and others were rabbit shooting. They had gone the whole morning without bagging a rabbit. About noon, I drove WSC up in a Land Rover, which he frequently used to get round the farm. We stopped at a field which was almost harvested, with just a small square of wheat in the middle.

Mr. Churchill clambered slowly out of the Jeep—he was about seventy-three years old at the time. Just as he got his feet on the ground there was a shout from the others and a rabbit darted from the center of the field. In a flash Mr. Churchill raised his gun and fired one barrel. The rabbit keeled over dead. It was a wonderful shot, the usual Churchill luck. The others had been waiting for hours for the opportunity.

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