April 18, 2013

RIDDLES, MYSTERIES, ENIGMAS: FINEST HOUR 152, AUTUMN 2011

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Q: How good a bricklayer was he? It has been reported, possibly in the recent film “Walking with Destiny,” that Churchill ‘s brick walls at Chartwell were poorly constructed and would collapse, so while Churchill was at lunch or otherwise occupied, his latest work was disassembled and rebuilt, with WSC none the wiser.

A: We’re not sure an entire section of wall was pulled down and replaced, but some rebuilding may have occurred. If you look at photos of Churchill laying bricks, you can see that although his layers are quite straight, the upper layers show considerable excess mortar, although of course he could have trimmed this away before it solidified. Although a member of the Building Trades Union (until its socialist leaders cancelled his membership) Churchill was an admitted amateur and did not practice the craft daily. One old-timer at Chartwell told us that a bricklayer would often go out when WSC had finished and smooth things over. He implied, however, that the boss was aware that this was being done.

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Anecdotes like this come up because Churchill was so genuine. Roosevelt seemed a more distant personage; although vigorous before polio, one would never have expected to catch him laying bricks. When Tito was asked what he especially admired about Churchill, he replied instantly: “His humanity— he is so human!”

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Q: Did Churchill write a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin? (This is in the article about Churchill and Claude McKay that David Freeman abstracted in Finest Hour 125:33.)

A: Yes. Churchill abridged (“retold”) twelve of “The World’s Great Stories” for News of the World (a much more respectable paper in those days than the one which recently expired) between 8 January and 26 March 1933. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the first, on 8 January. The rest were: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Moonstone, Ben-Hur, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, Adam Bede, Vice-Versa, Ivanhoe, Westward Ho! and Don Quixote. Churchill earned a handsome £1850 ($156,000 in today’s money) for the work. The stories were republished in The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, 4 vols. (London: Library of Imperial History, 1974), vol. 4, Churchill at Large.

Ronald Cohen’s Bibliography lists the series at C393a, and notes that Eddie Marsh assisted in the writing—some- thing that prompted shocked outrage by a latter-day critic who “discovered” Marsh’s involvement, itself already known for years through Sir Martin Gilbert’s official biography. Churchill was a great fan of the classic novels. Grace Hamblin said he once turned on her and said: “Just like Jane Eyre.” She was never sure what she had done to remind him of Jane.

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Q: I am co-authoring a historical novel revolving around an actual event that might have caused a breach security for D-Day. It seems that a number of copies of a “Most Secret” document listing the D-Day landing sites and codes blew out a window of the War Office in late May 1944. The novel intertwines with actual events and relates what happens after that. We incorporate scenes with the Prime Minister and Field Marshal Smuts, members of the Air Staff, Admiral Ramsay, Field Marshal Montgomery, and General Eisenhower. Some questions:

(1) How did Churchill address Ike, Smuts, Monty, Ramsay, and King George VI? (2) How did Churchill refer to these same people in private conversations with others? (3) How did others refer to him? (4) Did Churchill have a sweet tooth? (5) Where did he go and what did he do on 2-5 June, 1944? What is the best source? (6) Was Churchill aware of the “window incident”? David Howarth states it as fact in his book, Dawn of D-Day (page 23), where he says that a dozen copies actually blew out the window. Eleven were quickly recovered; the twelfth was found by a passerby who gave it to a sentry. I have read other references in which the number of copies varies.

I don’t believe Eisenhower or Churchill knew of the incident Churchill knew of the incident. Harry Butcher, Ike’s naval aide, makes no mention of it, but does comment on other possible security breaches like clues within crossword puzzles in the Daily Telegraph and the loose-lipped American general who was busted to Lt Colonel and sent home. It was a fascinating time. —GUS CAMPANA, ORLANDO, FLA

A: (1) In personal letters Churchill used “My dear Ike” and “My dear Smuts”; we doubt he would address Ramsay as anything other then “Admiral” and the King of course as “Your Majesty.” Most formal memoranda reproduced in The Second World War begin, “Prime Minister to Minister of Food,” etc.

(2) In conversation it would be the same, the King being addressed as “Sir” or “Your Majesty.” He liked nick-names such as “Ike” and apparently coined “Pug” for Ismay, but we don’t think Smuts had one. WSC and Smuts knew each other so well they were probably on a first-name basis. The same with intimates: “General Eisenhower” in formal exchanges; George VI was always “Your Majesty.”

(3) Formally others would call him “Prime Minister” or, for Americans like Eisenhower, “Mr. Churchill.” Only intimates like Bracken or Lindemann, and occasionally the King, would refer to him as “Winston.” “Winnie” should be struck out wholesale; he disliked it, and the only person to get away with it was his nurse Mrs. Everest when he was a boy. Masses of troops would occasionally shout, “Good old Winnie!” but that of course was a different situation.

(4) He had no special sweet tooth, judging by the book Recipes from Number Ten, by his famous cook, Georgina Landemare. But we’re not able to judge this with much precision. You could get a good idea of his tastes from the book itself; look for copies on www.bookfinder.com.

(5) The best account of his activities in June 1944 is in the D-Day chapters of the official biography by Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill (London: Heinemann; Boston: vol. 7, Road to Victory 1941-1945 Houghton Mifflin, 1986), readily available on Amazon or bookfinder.com.

(6) Howarth’s account of the lost D-Day plans is on Google Books. He provides no references or footnotes although he seems to have had a good reputation, some of the material that he recounts reminds us of the myth that FDR or Churchill knew in advance of Pearl Harbour -speculative and in the end empty. The crossword puzzle story is like the alleged Japanese “Winds Code” which everybody was supposed to know about. How would readers of the Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle connect a Nebraska city with a code word, intentionally signifying nothing, for a D-Day landing location? Such stories as Howarth writes, have “unlimited scope for growth.” Of course, in a novel, this makes no difference, but to accept the idea that a dozen copies of the entire plan for D-Day (complete in every detail) blew out a window, we’d like more to go on. Perhaps Howarth has notes in the back of the book?

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Q: I have heard Churchill’s words quoted to describe President Nixon after Nixon’s death, which of course is impossible. Can you provide the source?

A: After Nixon’s death in 1994, Finest Hour published a “Quotation of the Season” which was remarkably applicable to Nixon—though Churchill wrote it with regard to Lord Rosebery in Great Contemporaries (1937): “It might be said that he outlived his future by ten years and his past by more than twenty. The brilliant prospects which had shone before him until he became the leader were dispersed by the break-up of his Government and the defeat of his Party. The part he took as a patriot in supporting the War destroyed his hold upon the regard and confidence of the Radical masses….He severed himself by purposeful action from his friends and followers….Within a decade after achieving the pinnacle his political career was closed for ever. It was only two decades later that his long life ended.”

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Q: You have written that Churchill’s optimism prevented him from grasping the huge barriers to reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. Which statements of his support this conclusion?

A: Commenting on Palestinian statehood in 1936, WSC said: “When the Arab municipalities are conducting their affairs with anything like the progressive vigour that is shown by the Jewish community, and when you have come to the point of the whole principle of local government having been implemented by the good will and activities of the population, your case will be enormously stronger for a forward movement.”

This never occurred in his life-time, yet Churchill in 1951 was still optimistic, writing to Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann: “The wonderful exertions which Israel is making in these times of difficulty are cheering to an old Zionist like me. I trust you may work with Jordan and the rest of the Moslem world. With true comradeship there will be enough for all.” 

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