April 24, 2013




Issue 149 reminds me again to express gratitude for the kindness and support given my article, “Eye-Witness to Potsdam,” by the Finest Hour Editorial Board in naming it for the Somervell Award.

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Last week three local newspapers printed articles about the award, and I have been asked if I will give a story to the Liverpool Echo, which covers Merseyside. Local schools want me to appear as well so I am preparing to talk to future generations about what Sir Winston did for us all.


In discussing Richard Holmes’s In the Footsteps of Churchill, included in his “Five Best Recent Churchill Books,” (FH 148: 40), John P. Rossi quotes Holmes’s statement that “Without Churchill, Britain would have lost the war.” Mr. Holmes also stated (page 230, Basic Books paper- back edition): “In 1940-41 Britain would not have survived as an independent nation had it not been for the agricultural, industrial and financial aid received from Canada.” By the end of World War II, Britain had received $3.5 billion in gifts from Canada, and more in loans.

Editor’s response: In an interesting if depressing column, “Dependence Day,” in the January 2011 New Criterion, Mark Steyn writes: “Three- sevenths of the G7 economies are nations of British descent. Two-fifths of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are—and, by the way, it should be three-fifths. The rap against the Security Council is that it’s the Second World War victory parade preserved in aspic, but if it were, Canada would have a greater claim to be there than either France or China”.


I must tell you that Finest Hour seems to be going from success to success and I find myself engrossed for a day or two after each arrival. The current issue is perhaps the best ever. The information about intelligence is new, at least to me, and fascinating.


Your article on the digital world’s effects on joining organizations (FH 148: 44) is intriguing. And worrying. How do any of us find financial support in Googleworld? I don’t have an answer, but I think you are right. We cannot resist the tide, and must find ways of floating on it. Rupert Murdoch is making a brave attempt to move his newspapers to the web, but I think it is far from certain he will succeed. How long can we rely on the overly generous contributions of time and money from people who have sustained so many non-profits for so long? I don’t know. You are entirely right to raise the issue and have it discussed. The worst aspect of the “Churchill industry” is how parts of it refuse to move with the times, want everything to stay as it was—to see Churchill through spectacles so deeply tinted with rose that they cannot look ahead.

Incidentally, I spoke at the Imperial War Museum in December, supporting WSC as the Greatest British Prime Minister, during a debate for London History Week. Talking about him to a diverse audience had them standing on their feet (and buying books). Whenever we manage to get the message across, I find it is always well received.


I take exception to the statement on page 5 (FH 148) that Clementine Churchill was within her rights to destroy the 1954 portrait of Sir Winston by Graham Sutherland. This was a work of art commissioned by Parliament. As I see it, civilized people respect art even if they lack the ability to appreciate it. It would be more intelligent to publish photographs of the portrait, as well as Sutherland’s portraits of Somerset Maugham, Helena Rubinstein and Konrad Adenauer, together with a commentary from a qualified critic of modern portraiture. This would not include anyone in the employ of Hallmark greeting cards.

National galleries and government offices are filled with portraits the subject disliked. Dolley Madison was willing to risk her life to save a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, whether or not Martha liked it. The National Trust spends time and money to preserve buildings, art and memora- bilia, and would deplore the wanton destruction of so-called private property. It is fortuitous that Clementine did not destroy Chartwell, which she also disliked.

Editor’s response: Lady Churchill did not dislike Chartwell. Without her enthusiasm and support, preparing the house for exhibit by the National Trust would have been problematic. What she disliked, at least in the early years, was its expense.

The controversy over the Sutherland painting is bewildering. Unlike Stuart’s Washington, it was not the property of the nation. It was private property, regardless of who presented it. Some believed that it should have been donated to the National Trust, even though it never hung at Chartwell. That has a familiar ring. Prominent people are forever being told that they should give their property to society, that to do what they please with it is, well, tacky. The origin of this presumption lies in the belief that private property is literally a gift, which all right thinkers should pass along for appreciation by critics (in this case provided they don’t work for Hallmark). A more sensitive view of the matter is in Lady Soames’s book on her father’s life as a painter, which we quoted.


I am remiss in sharing a few cherished stories about time spent with Sir Winston’s late grandson, an experience which showed a surprising technical side of him that I didn’t read in the remembrances in Finest Hour 147.

Soon after I had departed as commanding officer of USS Winston S Churchill, Winston wanted to visit the ship during one of his stays in Washington. I think he wanted to verify that the satellite TV he had purchased for the crew was working, that the ship had maintained its lavish pub-like chiefs’ mess, and that the books he so generously donated were not on display, but rather being read.

We organized a rendezvous south of DC. The plan was for me to escort him to the Norfolk Navy Base in his chauffeured automobile. We had an intriguing talk during the three-hour drive. During intermissions, to let our jaws rest, he broke out his laptop and immediately began emailing, while speeding down I-95, his fingers flying across the keyboard.

Since this preceded 4G networks and the common use of “hot zones,” I asked how he managed to get a signal. That unleashed a torrent of techno-speak in reply. Winston went on and on about how to rig one’s car to maximize reception, the proper phone network in the central Atlantic states versus the Miami metropolitan area, burst transmissions, condensing emails, and other crucial tips to stay connected in the 21st century. The conversation continued into a truck stop (my recommendation—appropriate, I thought, since we had been discussing The Great Republic, his book on his grandfather’s writings of America). Alas we had an absolutely heinous meal, memorable to a fault. We laughed about that truck stop for the next two days.

The ship visit was pleasant for Winston and a bit emotional for me. He was most at home with the fire control and electronics technicians— the two ratings responsible for much of what makes a modern destroyer modern. [His grandfather is erroneously credited with coining the term “destroyer,” which actually dates to the 1890s. —Ed.]

Our drive home was about radar signals, wave theory, electro-magnetic induction, weapons control systems, and modern navigation techniques (he favored the old ways of navigation). For a journalist with a liberal arts education, he found a comfortable niche in the techno-babble that is today’s Navy. I thought I saw in his eye a longing to go to sea. You may be interested to know that Sir Winston’s 1897 observations of the Northwest Frontier, also in Finest Hour 147, still hold true in the Punjabi region:

…tribes war with tribes. Every man’s hand is against the other and all are against the stranger….the state of continual tumult has produced a habit of mind which holds life cheap and embarks on war with careless levity and the tribesmen of the Afghan border afford the spectacle of a people who fight without passion and kill one another without loss of temper….A trifle rouses their animosity. They make a sudden attack on some frontier post. They are repulsed. From their point of view the incident is closed. There has been a fair fight in which they have had the worst fortune. What puzzles them is that the “Sirkar” should regard so small an affair in a serious light.

After two and a half years of dealing with the strategy, policy, and planning for the Middle East and the Central and South Asia regions, I find the young Winston Churchill as right today as he was in the days of the Malakand Field Force.

Who knows…but my next posting may lead to a modern appreciation of The River War. Maybe even a unique destination for The Churchill Centre’s meeting of the board. We shall see. 

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