May 22, 2013

Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010

Page 12

Winston Remembered

On the Spot Years ago Winston Remembered when I was in Manchester, I rang up Mr. Churchill’s local office as a Member of Parliament for Davyhulme. He answered the phone personally. I asked if I could go to his office to get his autograph. He immediately told me to come right down because he was about to leave. I took a postcard of his grandfather, which he signed on the reverse. I still have it.

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Mr. Churchill..Mr. Churchill

During the late 1980s I was posted to London as deputy commander of U.S. Coast Guard Activities Europe. In 1989 a London friend, John Guthrie, arranged a meeting in the Member’s Lounge of Parliament between Mr. Churchill and Captain Churchill, an odd occurrence that reminded me about the meetings between the English and American Winston Churchills in Boston in 1901.

For about thirty minutes, we discussed world affairs, observing that (a) we were very nearly the same age, and (b) we both took our tea with lemon juice. We also agreed that since his family background was Devon/Dorset and mine is Northamptonshire/London, any evidence that we were blood-relatives was lost in the mists of time!

Distant Relatives

We met in October 2006 in Seattle, where he gave a speech on “Leadership in Times of Crisis” (FH 133). My grandmother was a Churchill, and as a member of my family I was honored to meet him. I gave him my research on the New England branch of the family. He said he was unaware of the New England Churchills, and sent my research to the Churchill Archives at Cambridge. Mr. Churchill was a wonderful man and I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to have known him.

Standing Before History Yelling “Stop.”

We’ve seen the smallness of some remarks after his passing, so why not some praise of our own? I met him just twice, both times at Churchill conferences. He was very polite and cheerfully agreed to sign my copies of his books after I had cornered him on both occasions in a rather cheeky way. I have read all of his books as well and found them all good.

Winston Churchill was absolutely right to condemn the Soviet Union as a “giant concentration camp” at a time when that amiable fool Michael Foot was quietly pocketing KGB money to finance the petty costs of the journal Tribune. There is a very obvious parallel here with the career of Sir Winston Churchill, who denounced Bolshevism while Britain’s Looney Left took marching orders from Lenin and Stalin.

Another parallel is in the way both grandfather and grandson became alienated from the leadership of the Tory party by having the audacity to predict that human tragedy on an epic scale would follow premature majority rule in former British colonies: India for Sir Winston, Rhodesia for his grandson. Both were right in foreseeing what would happen and quite wrong to believe that they could stop it. Nationalism can be an irrational tyranny, but as William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote, it takes great personal courage to stand before the forces of history and yell, “Stop!”

Winston as Jogger

During my four years as president of The Churchill Centre, I often called upon Winston for support which, if even remotely possible, he graciously provided, often at considerable inconvenience. Whether I sought his private advice or active participation, his contributions were substantial and gratefully received. His eloquent speeches never failed to reflect his reverence for his grandfather’s legacy and the traditions and achievements of Western civilization.

Our last time together was at the Centre’s “Churchill Weekend” in 2006 in Seattle, a highly successful blend of speeches and educational events, skillfully managed by Jim Lane. Winston was the centerpiece of these eventful days, appearing at seminars and giving two fine speeches to packed houses at the Seattle Club and University of Washington. The University turnout was notable because he competed for attention with the then-increasingly-popular Barack Obama, who was appearing at the same time at an open public forum only a short distance away.

When we were finally able to leave the auditorium, Winston and I approached a lengthy stairway up to our car. Suddenly he broke into a trot and bounded up the stairway to the very top! Pride and a lack of good judgment obliged me to follow suit, but I never caught him. As we stood panting at the top, Winston said, “Sorry I beat you but I needed the exercise.”

Driving back to our hotel, he recalled that on a recent visit to the “Republic of Mustang,” a rugged, remote border area in northwest Tibet, he’d realized he needed to exercise more frequently. Whether or not the place was “republic” he couldn’t say, but he said that he took such trips to regain his perspective by “stepping off the planet.”

Upon arriving at his hotel, I half seriously suggested that a quick jog around the block would promote a good night’s sleep. He declined but as he left the car he said “perhaps tomorrow,” and bid me goodnight. Alas, tomorrow never came.

The Winston of Oz

The late Neil Kenworthy and I met him in 2006 at the Sofitel Hotel in Melbourne, where the three of us shared a two-hour breakfast. He was in Australia for only thirty-six hours, to deliver a lecture on “The Dangers of Fundamentalist Islam.” We proposed he return for a lecture tour across Australia. He was unable to commit himself, but he later wrote saying he hoped to return in 2009 and “combine some Churchill Centre functions with the promotion of my next book.” Sadly, this could not happen.

He signed my copy of his biography of his father, His Father’s Son, noting in his inscription that it was May 28th, the 95th anniversary of his father’s birth. I asked if his elder son Randolph intended to continue the family tradition of writing about his father. He replied, “I certainly hope not!

I am not so sure that’s a bad idea, for Winston Churchill was a modest, patient and well-organized man who led a life of adventure.

President Clinton’s Advice

On a late summer afternoon in 2000, immersed in my book Franklin and Winston, I called on Winston in London. Generously giving me a brief tour of his grandfather’s memorabilia, he showed me an entire bookcase—if memory serves, it was to the left of the fireplace, over which hung a beautiful portrait of his father Randolph—of Sir Winston’s published works, all bound in red morocco. Included in the collection was a Book of Common Prayer and a King James Bible.

“You are an American,” he said, “and so I will tell you a very American story.” The Bible had been given to Sir Winston by his American mother, on the occasion of his wedding to Clementine Hozier in 1908. When Winston’s own mother Pamela Harriman died, she was, of course, serving as U.S. Ambassador to France. In preparation for a memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral, Winston brought along the Bible. He’d been asked to read a lesson, and thought it appropriate that a Bible which came from an American woman should be used to commemorate the life of a another woman who had served the nation.

At the Cathedral, Winston was told that he could not use the King James translation—too fusty and remote, the clergy told him. Before the service, Winston mentioned this prohibition to President Clinton, who was on hand. “Man, read what you want!” said the President of the United States. “Once you’re up there, who’s gonna stop you?”

And so it was that the noble language of the KJV rang out to bury Winston’s mother.

In The Wake of 9/11

I remember Winston best at the 2001 International Churchill Conference in San Diego. We were all still numbed by September 11th and in his superb address he consoled, inspired, and strengthened his audience.

I especially appreciate meeting him at the 2008 conference in Boston. At the banquet we were seated with Professor David Freeman, who asked if he would sign a copy of His Father’s Son. He obligingly came to our table, signed the book, and talked pleasantly with all of us. The photo on page 12 was one I snapped at the time.

Finest Hour

He was a man of many talents and, bearing the name of the greatest Briton of the 20th century, he needed to be. I am sure that during his life he was constantly being compared to his namesake.

I had the honour of being present on an occasion when he met the challenge in a manner that would have made his grandfather proud. It was 11 October 2001, exactly one month after those fateful attacks on New York and Washington. Winston was the guest speaker at the National Press Club in Washington, and I joined other Churchillians to cheer him on. We were all still in shock but, more than that, we were confused. Why had this happened? Why was there so much hatred directed at America? In his speech, Winston explained what was happening in the madrassas in Saudi Arabia. It is common knowledge now but it wasn’t then. He focused on the importance of education in the fight against oppression and ignorance; he challenged his listeners to stand up for freedom, democracy and the rights of the individual throughout the world.

Members of the National Press Club have heard many great speakers though the years. I suppose that they have developed a certain degree of skepticism, even cynicism. But on this day they stood and gave Winston a rousing standing ovation. It was indeed one of his “Finest Hours.”

Devotion to History

I will never forget the first time we met. I had taken over responsibility for his and his grandfather’s literary affairs. But although we had spoken a number of times on the phone—on permissions to extract from his grandfather’s books or speeches in exam papers or works of history, new editions of the canon, and Winston’s own writings and collections—we had not yet had a face to face encounter.

I was returning from the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge when my mobile phone rang. Anyone who ever had one of those calls will remember the pacing of the words and the burr in the voice. “Gordon? Winston here! We should meet.”

A swift check of our diaries revealed that, owing to an upcoming trip to the States (with his extraordinary schedule he was often in London only for few days at a time) our sole opportunity was within the hour—twenty minutes after my alighting the train in London. I duly presented myself at the pillared doorway of his Belgrave Square home. He ushered me through the double doors off the hall into the room that no one who ever visited it will forget: warm wood panelling, deep and luxurious chairs, and objects which looked like ornaments but which on closer inspection turned out to be the most extraordinary historical artefacts.

I was offered a drink. I asked for whatever he was having. He said he was not having one, but that I should. A gin and tonic seemed the obvious early-evening choice. However, the gin bottle was not readily to hand, the tonic was not cold, and the bottle opener had been temporarily mislaid. Ice had to be sourced from a distant kitchen. But Winston would not countenance me changing my mind. So I sat and waited, under the watchful eyes of not only Sir Winston, but the doe eyes of Jennie and the sparkling ones of Winston’s mother, Pamela, ranged around the room.

The drink arrived like a prize, and I accepted it gratefully but with not a little embarrassment. From then on, however, we were on ground that could only get firmer, and which indeed did so, almost by the day, until the very sad news of his passing.

At that first meeting, Winston made it very clear that, besides all our ongoing work of rights management, a prime objective of my tenure had to be the conversion of the Cambridge archive into digital form that could be accessed by readers worldwide. And thus began a five-year journey towards finding the right digital publishing partner, in conjunction with the Sir Winston Churchill Archive Trust.

We hope to have news to announce of this exciting international project in the coming months. It is a project that will grow and expand into myriad areas as the years progress, and it will be a fitting tribute and lasting memorial to a man whose vision for the potential of his grandfather’s work was second to none.

True Patriot

In 2007, in an echo of his grandfather’s long and lonely fight against disarmament and appeasement in the 1930s, Winston became the founder-President of the UK National Defence Association, formed to highlight Britain’s chronically underfunded and overstretched armed forces, and to lobby Parliament to increase the resources available for the defence of the Realm.

The group was launched at the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum. Alongside Mr. Churchill at the launch were our founder-patrons, former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, and three former chiefs of the Defence Staff: Admiral Lord Boyce, General Lord Guthrie and Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig.

Under Winston Churchill’s leadership, the UKNDA played a key role in pushing defence and national security higher on the political agenda (see back cover). Chief Executive Commander John Muxworthy, who had worked closely with him, said his untimely death was “a greater tragedy for the country WSC was generous, hard working, pro-active, and an inspirational leader. A true patriot, he followed in the steps of his grandfather Eighty years on, ‘our’ Winston has been fighting the same battle. He never faltered in his devotion and commitment to this country and its national and international interests. Our sympathies go out especially to his family who have supported him in his valiant struggle, and especially in the final months when they were at his bedside at all times.

“Farewell, Winston. If there is a Valhalla, you are surely there.”

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