DATELINES: FINEST HOUR 146, SPRING 2010
SEALS ON THE BREAKERS
CAMBRIDGE, NOV. 30TH— Lecturing on “Churchill and Empire,” Piers Brendon said that Churchill loved Kipling (the love was not reciprocated) and used to recite his poetry in the bath. Piers Brendon writes FH:
“According to David Gilmour’s book The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling (2002), page 164, the cadences of ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ may have owed something to the seals in The Jungle Book, who ‘fought in the breakers, they fought on the sand, and they fought on the smooth-worn basalt rocks of the nurseries’—speculation, of course, but amusing speculation.”
FAIL ON THE BEACHES
LONDON, NOVEMBER 12TH—Churchill’s most famous wartime speech was awarded an “F” grade by a computerised exam marking system in the UK. The computer particularly disliked Churchill’s use of repetition, as in: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields…we shall fight in the hills.” His use of the word “might,” as in “the might of the Army,” was also picked out as the erroneous use of a verb instead of a noun.
This sorry saga was revealed at a conference to discuss testing and assessment in the UK. David Wright, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA), the professional body representing markers, told how a copy of Churchill’s speech had been uploaded to a website which had been set up to assess English literature.
Salil Bhate, a pupil at King Edward VI grammar school in Chelmsford, Essex and a member of the executive of the English Secondary Students’ Association, said: “Young people simply don’t trust electronic marking. You study for two years and at the end of it there’s a computer which decides whether you get an ‘A’ or ‘C’ grade. We deserve more respect than that.”
Of course, Churchill’s speech was not a literary text, and therefore not designed to be treated as a piece of English literature to be marked according to exam standards. [Why not? —Ed.] But Mr. Wright and his colleagues at the CIEA used it to make the point that the computer could not take into account dramatic effect. They also said it had perhaps been too rigid in rejecting the use of the word “might” as a noun.
Churchill was not the only famous person to fall foul of the electronic marking system. The computer also dismissed the works of Ernest Hemingway and William Golding. —RICHARD GARNER, NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Finest Hour‘s opinion: It looks as though the experiment was set up in order to make a mockery of the electronic marking of English and it certainly did so, but this is no guarantee that it won’t be introduced little by little. It suits a world in which English has become an international business language stripped down to a functional minimum. The danger is that the English of Shakespeare and Churchill will become the exclusive preserve of scholars and lovers of literature— one more good reason for encouraging the young to read and enjoy Churchill. —PAUL ADDISON, UNIV. OF EDINBURGH
FH IS BILINGUAL
LONDON, DECEMBER 1ST— A reader writes: “Finest Hour could be greatly improved if written in English rather than American.”
It is time for our periodic reminder that since 1982, every word in FH that originates in Britain or the Commonwealth (although we have difficulty discerning the differences between British and Canadian) is published in the author’s spelling. We wonder idly if there is any other publication in that so handles English and American contributions.
We take our bilingual quality so seriously that even the news articles within a department (like the next entry), are spelled in English not American, if they originate in England. But we are prepared to accept Professor Henry Higgins’ injunction in Pygmalion: “There even are places where English completely disappears. In America they haven’t used it for years.”
NEW CIGAR RECORD
AYLSHAM, NORFOLK, JANUARY 28TH— A half smoked cigar, abandoned when Churchill dashed away to an urgent wartime Cabinet meeting, estimated to fetch £350, has sold for £4500.
The stogie, 9.5 cm (3.75″), its band emblazoned with Churchill’s name, was retrieved by a member of the Number Ten staff sixty-nine years ago. Picking up the stub, Downing Street valet Nellie Goble grabbed a sheet of official notepaper and scribbled a note to a friend: “To Jack, with all good wishes from Nellie. Just a small souvenir to remind you at some future date of one of the greatest men that ever lived in England.”
“Jack” treasured the letter and cigar until his death in 1987, when it passed to his daughter, who wants to remain anonymous. She kept it wrapped in the note in a drawer at her north Norfolk home.
Andrew Bullock of Keys Auctioneers said: “It is a collector’s dream to own something that is so very, very scarce, or even unique. Anyone who collects Churchilliana would love to get their hands on something no-one else in the world has…and when it relates so directly to the iconic image of the man, it has added value. Apparently it was extremely rare for Churchill not to finish a cigar, so it must have been something very, very urgent that demanded his immediate attention in the Cabinet Room. As this was wartime, it is fascinating to speculate as to what it might have been that was so important.”
But Churchill in fact often failed to “finish” a cigar, leaving them around half-chewed or half-smoked when he was distracted. On-scene observers have told us that he sometimes chewed them more than he smoked them. And there are plenty of his cigars around, including a provenance-equipped unsmoked cigar, which sold only four years ago for £70.
Last November, a cigar said to have been smoked by Churchill as he planned D-Day was discovered in a small market village “after being hidden for over fifty years,” according to the Daily Telegraph, London.
If a cigar WSC actually held in his lips is more valuable, consider the half-smoked one valued at £800 by an expert during the filming of the Antiques Roadshow. Christian Williams, 33, was given that one when he was just 12 by his grandfather, Ronald Williams, a World War II veteran. It was taken from a meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt at the 1943 Casablanca Conference. Williams said he felt like he owned a piece of history: “I’ve kept the cigar a secret and completely to myself since my granddad gave it to me all those years ago. I can remember so clearly what he said to me as he handed it over: ‘You’ll know what to do with it one day and realise what it is’….I’ve never dared to touch it and never picked it out of its box, it’s far too precious to me. I don’t even keep it at home because I’m worried about it, it’s held in a safe place and I only take it from there for special occasions. It’s a really powerful object because when I look at it I can imagine where it came from. “I guess I have part of a 20th century icon, as we think of Churchill….”
Ronald Williams, who served in the 8th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, was asked to act as butler to the Prime Minister for the Casablanca Conference, code-named “Symbol,” held 14-24 January 1943 at the Anfa Hotel. Here the Anglo-Americans plotted their European strategy, and how they were to tackle occupied Europe. Probably toward the end of the conference, Williams decided to take some souvenirs of the occasion.
Finest Hour‘s opinion: Provenance among Churchill cigars varies widely, but their constant appearance on the market shows that people who believe such items were touched by Churchill are prepared to invest in that belief, even in the absence of concrete evidence. It tells you something about the psychology of today, and the need for artifacts to link us to our heroes; but it tells us nothing we did not know about Sir Winston. —ALLEN PACKWOOD, DIRECTOR CHURCHILL ARCHIVES CENTRE, CAMBRIDGE
BLANKLEY ON CHURCHILL
WASHINGTON, JANUARY 5TH— Reviewing Paul Johnson’s Churchill (see page 37) in The Washington Times, Tony Blankley derives Johnson’s five qualities that made Churchill what he was: “1) He aimed high, but never cadged or demeaned himself to gain office or objectives; 2) there was no substitute for hard work—even though he was brilliant; 3) he never allowed mistakes, disasters—personal or national—accidents, illnesses, unpopularity and criticism to get him down. His powers of recuperation, both in physical illness an in psychological responses to abject failure, were astounding; 4) he wasted extraordinarily small amounts of energy on hatred, recrimination, malice, revenge, grudges, rumor mongering or vendettas. Energy expended on hate was energy lost to productive activity; and 5) he always had something other than politics to give joy to his life.”
P-R TOPS AGAIN
TRENTON, N.J., DECEMBER 15TH— A champagne tasting by the House and Garden Department of NJ.com pronounced the Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Cuvée the best among prestige champagnes.
“Prestige cuvées have more concentrated aromas and flavors than what you find in non-vintage champagnes,” said Jean-Louis Carbonnier, French spokesman and U.S. representative for the Champagne Region and its producers.
“We began sniffing and spitting. Yes, we did spit Dom Perignon, Roederer Cristal and all the other champagnes. With the prestige
cuvées retailing from $135 for Nicholas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or to $280 for Roederer Cristal, that averages about $15 per taste and spit.”
Carbonnier’s tasting partner was Wendy Taft, sommelier and managing director of the Park Avenue Club in Florham Park, and owner of La Bakerie restaurant in Morristown. When tasting the 1998 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill, which turned out to be the top prestige cuvée for all the judges, Tate exclaimed: “This champagne embodies the power and inspiration of Churchill himself while dancing across my palate with the dexterity and finesse of Fred Astaire.”
33 ECCLESTON SQUARE
LONDON, DECEMBER 2009— A beautiful property in Eccleston Square in London, the house purchased by the Churchills after their marriage, has come onto the market. At a time when MPs’ expenses were less under scrutiny, Winston Churchill and his family lived in this smart terraced house for four years. A blue plaque commemorates his sojourn. After being offered for up to £4.75 million with no takers, the house is now being offered for rental and is available to let at £3000 a week through Ayrton Wylie estate agents (020 7730 4628).
Churchill moved to 33 Eccleston Square in spring 1909, a year after marrying Clementine Hozier. His first two children were born here: Diana in 1909 and Randolph in 1911.
During Churchill’s time at the stunning house, built in 1835 by Thomas Cubitt, he was promoted to a number of senior positions in and out of the Cabinet. In this period he assisted in drafting the new social welfare system, the protection of workers’ rights and the introduction of the first minimum wage. Although they leased the house to Lord Grey in 1913-16, the Churchills retained ownership through May 1918. —CHERYL MARKOKS
KEN PERKINS 1926-2009
OCTOBER 23RD— Major-General Kenneth Perkins CB MBE DFC was an unusual man. In the postwar period when reputations were made or lost in the British Army of the Rhine, he sought active service in the Far East, and further shunned the career mainstream by training as a pilot.
Commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1946, he saw service in the Middle East, and flew 214 observation sorties during the Korean War, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. He served in operations against the communist insurrection in Malaya, attended Pakistan Staff College, commanded an artillery battery in Germany, and instructed at the Staff College, Camberley, where he questioned the practicability of the “trip-wire” and nuclear strike response to a Warsaw Pact attack in Central Europe with a laconic “Rubbish in, rubbish out.” At the Commandant’s invitation, he rewrote this exercise.
All this and his relentless intellectual energy proved ideal preparation for secondment to command the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces. Sultan Qaboos faced a rebellion begun as a call for modernisation during his father’s reign, but which by 1975 turned into a communist-inspired insurrection by the People’s Republic of South Yemen. Served by outstanding subordinates, Perkins concentrated on strategic defence, integrating substantial Iranian and Jordanian contingents of troops and aircraft. In two years he wound up the war and returned the oil-rich Sultanate to peace and prosperity.
He was rewarded by the Order of Oman and appointed CB, becoming Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations) before retiring to become a military adviser to British Aerospace.
In retirement he devoted his energies to painting and writing, including his amusing and modest autobiography A Fortunate Soldier, and was literary assistant on the Churchill books of his wife Celia Sandys. She survives him, together with their son and daughter, and three daughters of his first marriage. —SUNDAY TIMES
We will remember Ken as an affable Churchillian who lived up to the Times‘ description, ever able to deflate superfluous pomp with a wry comment or laugh. At a 1987 Churchill Tour dinner at the Reform Club, we tenuously asked him to say Grace, hoping it wouldn’t be one of those long-winded affairs. Grasping the need, Ken rose and said, “For what we are about to receive, Thank God.”
On another tour, hosting with Celia a garden party at their Wiltshire home for our party, our coach was blocked by low-hanging limbs of the Savernake Forest. Shuttling people down the lane in his car, Ken was much bemused when someone, mistaking him for the help, handed him a one pound coin: “The first tip I’ve ever received. I’m going to frame it.”
Ken was a modest man with much to be immodest about: he never stood on ceremony; a great raconteur, he always underplayed his many accomplishments, joining happily in our appreciations of his spouse’s grandfather. R.I.P. —RML
WINSTON S. CHURCHILL
LONDON, MARCH 2ND— With great sadness the Churchill family announces the death of Winston S. Churchill after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 69 and died peacefully at home in London. He is survived by his devoted wife, Luce, four children from his first marriage and eleven grandchildren.
Sir Winston’s grandson, he was a war correspondent, author, politician and patron of a number of charities, and was a Member of Parliament for twenty-seven years. He bore his final illness with the great fortitude that those who knew him would have expected. There will be a Memorial Service at a later date.
Condolences sent to the Society will be forwarded to his family and the editor welcomes memorials and reminiscences for our summer issue.
BERYL MURRAY 1919-2009
TAVISTOCK, DEVON, OCTOBER 7TH—My mother, Beryl M. Murray, widow of Churchill’s bodyguard the late Sgt. Edmund Murray, died peacefully today. My parents ever looked forward to Finest Hour, and were happy to take part in Churchill Centre events.
Polite and modest, unassuming but not shy, Beryl was a favourite of Sir Winston, accompanying him and Edmund on a cruise on the Onassis yacht Christina and at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. She was the ideal foil to my father, especially at public events after Sir Winston’s death, when he began speaking of his experiences.
Beryl kept diaries and press cuttings over the years my father spent with Sir Winston, which produced his memoir, I was Churchill’s Bodyguard, (reviewed in Finest Hour 56, Summer 1987, which we republish in his memory on page 43.) Beryl and Eddie Murray and their family were grateful for all The Churchill Centre does to continue the memory of the great man. Speaking for myself, I have always thought it unbelievable that I had the privilege of meeting and talking to him. —WILLIAM MURRAY [email protected]