June 5, 2013

Finest Hour 143, Summer 2009

Page 48

Too Many Errors You Shouldn’t Know

274 Things You Should Know About Churchill, by Patrick Delaforce. O’Mara Books, 188 pages, hardbound, $25. Member price $20.

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By Patrick Delaforce

This slim volume is strictly for those who are new to the Churchill story; there is little in it which would be unknown even to semi-informed readers. Having said that, the story unfolds in a readable way. The author has chosen 274 topics which, packaged as 274 short, headed paragraphs, follow a reasonably chronological route from Lord Randolph Churchill to his son’s State funeral.

The author is of an age to have served in 11th Armoured Division in Normandy, where he was wounded, and certainly knows the general outline of Churchill’s life. But he reveals it in a way which casts doubt on his detailed awareness of much which occurred. It is, after all, easy to pick plums from a biography and to publish these in the way they are presented here, which is not to suggest plagiarism.

As I read, my reactions oscillated between approval and disapproval. The first sentence aroused my suspicions: “With grateful thanks to Dominique Enright…” Enright wrote The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill, published by the same O’Mara Books. In my review in FH 115 (http://xrl.us/bejq4v) I quoted her statement that “some of the stories are definitely authentic, but there are no doubt many that have been embellished….they have been selected for their Churchillian flavour.”

So I was primed to look for flaws—which came thick and fast.

Leaving aside a number of typo- graphical errors, which should have been eliminated by the publisher, I counted over forty errors of fact, ranging from incorrect dates through wrongly identified names to strange improbabilities. A few examples: 4th Queen’s Own Hussars was part of the Army in India (not the Indian Army); Churchill sailed from Lourenço Marques to Durban (he did not use a train); in 1914 Kitchener was Secretary- of State for War (not Commander-in Chief of the Army); in early 1915 the C-in-C of the British Expeditionary Force was French (not Haig); in 1916 Balfour was a former not future prime minister; in 1945 Churchill is said to have flown from Berlin to Potsdam (perhaps the aircraft taxied all the way); the 1945 nuclear test did not take place “in Mexico”; Lady Soames will be sur- prised to learn that she spent Christmas 1943 with her father in Carthage (it was her sister Sarah).

These examples give a flavour of the careless research and editing, which are balanced by only one amusing and original comment. Relating how Churchill ordered that code-names should not be overconfident, gloomy or frivolous, but that constellations and racehorse names were among the acceptable, Delaforce writes: “Race horses yes—but race meetings?….This author fought in Epsom, almost in Goodwood and was wounded in Ascot!” For this remark, I can forgive him almost anything: call it a draw.

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