March 12, 2015

Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 04


I’m a 23-year-old accountant, and I love history. My dad, a passionate man, always talked to me about great leaders and gave me books and documentaries. I learned about Churchill in high school but my interest soared after seeing “The Gathering Storm” in 2002. My dad gave me Churchill biographies by a Colombian author and Geoffrey Best.

Churchill is my hero for his bravery and patriotism in World War II. His speeches, filled with a love of England, made people cry; his passion in defending his beliefs was a model of courage. I also enjoy his sarcastic wit. Some people say he was rude, but people always hear what they want to hear.

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His hobby of painting is a lesson in developing an outside interest to escape from our daily cares, not locking ourselves into just one area. I identify with that because I also paint, and it helps me cope, as it helped him. Across the gulf of years I identify with his approach to life and to his way of thinking.


I am writing footnotes for a new edition of Churchill’s My Early Life. Readers may be amused by one of these. In Chapter VII the first paragraph, final sentence reads: “Before our horses departed [in 1896, pre-India] we had a final parade on Hounslow Heath at which Colonel Brabazon, whose command was expiring, took leave of the regiment….” Footnote: Hounslow Heath would later become Heathrow Airport.


Thanks for the two Churchill Companions and the kind note. No matter how much you know about Churchill, there is always something new and fun to learn. The Companions are a delight to read and suggestive of a lot of other good reading.


I write to let off steam after reading the reviews by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, in the New York Review of Books, of Paul Reid’s Defender of the Realm and Mary Soames’s A Daughter’s Tale. My disquiet is not so much from the accustomed lists of Churchill’s human frailties (although Wheatcroft also disparages Martin Gilbert’s work in the process), but by the political context by which they are introduced (removal of the White House Churchill bust, Churchill’s supposed role in the treatment of Obama’s grandfather, etc.) The snarky conclusion attacks Churchill’s own writings and his “paternalistic imperialism.” Wheatcroft speaks of the “American cult of Churchill” and concludes that “one indirect but beneficial consequence of Obama’s reelection [may be] the end of Churchillism. Might it not be time to put away the bust or busts, and with them the rhetoric of ‘special relationship,’ ‘English-speaking peoples’ and the idea of greatness?” Surely this cries out for a response! CHARLES CRIST, CULPEPER, VA

Editor’s response: Nothing gets the juices flowing for a celebrity intellectual like a positive biography of a great fellow countryman. They love the old crack, “America is the only country to have gone from barbarism to decadence without an intervening period of civilization.” But Mr. Wheatcroft writes for The New Republic and The Atlantic, both of which have odd takes on Sir Winston (see “Churchill Envy,” FH 58: 16 and “The Atlantic Takes a Dive” (FH 114: 14). It’s not our task to defend any books except Churchill’s. “Any review is a good review.” And your response is as good as any we could write.


I did stop my membership in 2010. I am particularly interested in Churchill the writer—I always found his award of the Nobel Prize for Literature one of the more amazing aspects of his life. Although I always liked Finest Hour, I felt its focus shifted more and more into obscure and relatively unimportant aspects of his life (a map of where he lived, quizzes, etc.). I also noticed the amount of bibliographic information seemed to wane over time.

Editor’s Response: We are always glad to have feedback. The decrease in bibliographic coverage is partly owing to publication of Ronald Cohen’s three-volume Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, a comprehensive work with unprecedented details on WSC’s books and articles, and how they came to be. Mr. Cohen remains a frequent contributor, and in a recent issue (157) he wrote about Dorothy Thompson’s Foreword to the second issue of A Roving Commission, which we republished for the first time since 1939. The same issue included Churchill’s writings about the French and his review of the play “St. Helena,” last published in 1936, and an article on the best Churchill biographies.

Scarcely any issue is without an article, speech or essay by Churchill—usually material not easily found. FH 156 was almost entirely devoted to Great Contemporaries, with commentaries you can find nowhere else. FH 155 was a “Summer Book Number” with fifteen book reviews. FH 154 contained the first true text of the 1941 Ottawa speech, based on recordings. FH 153 republished Churchill’s 1934 War Debts article. FH 152 ran an obscure Churchill playscript. FH 150-51 analyzed Churchill’s writings on Clemenceau. FH 149 explored the many editions of My African Journey. FH 148 published a bibliography of Churchill’s miniature books and pondered his essay “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” FH 147 discussed the poet Julian Grenfell from WSC’s book Into Battle. “Books, Arts & Curiosities” is a major part of every issue, though I admit it occasionally turns to toby jugs and cigarette cards. So I am a little perplexed as to what more we should be doing on Churchill’s writings.

We try to please all readers, from newcomers to advanced Churchillians who are bored by “routine” articles on well-trod subjects. I don’t recall running a map of where he lived (though we are always asked for more maps). Your impressions are important. Tell us what you would like to see that we’re not doing. Readers are our best guides.

Former Member Rejoins: I cancelled too soon! Maybe it just seemed like a dry spell for a time. I will rejoin. I have a copy of and have read Mr. Cohen’s amazing bibliography—certainly the best I have ever seen. Your book of Churchill quotations is the only book which I purchased both as a hard copy and a Kindle edition.


Hugh Axton, who has a great interest in Ralph Wigram, located Wigram’s grave and spent some time restoring it to close to its original condition. You can imagine his surprise over the small photo of Ralph Wigram (FH 157: 24) that he had never seen before. There was no note on its origins and I was hoping you could let us know where the photo came from.

Editor’s response: The only full-face photo we could find is from Time magazine, which we found using Google Images. It was so small that we omitted a credit line. Hugh Axton (who writes on another subject below) reports on the Wigram grave, and we provide an enhanced Wigram photo, on page 8.


Sarah C. Howells (FH 158) has winkled out some fascinating anecdotes. I would add a small point: an important reason why Britons supported Churchill in 1940 was that he was the leading figure who had denounced Hitler and opposed appeasement. This gave him great moral authority.

Churchill was not directly involved in the Ministry of Information, but the Minister was his trusted friend Brendan Bracken, one of the few MPs who had supported him earlier, a newspaper man. There was no more suitable person to ensure Churchill was appropriately depicted during the war.

I was delighted to note that the caption for the photograph of Churchill in the blitzed Commons chamber identifies Bracken as the person with him. That photo is often wrongly captioned.

We may well wonder how Churchill found the courage to keep going during the Blitz and the Battle of the Atlantic. For instance, on the night the Commons was destroyed, 10-11 May 1941, a broken water-main would have made for a firestorm if another raid had followed. But Churchill had been advised by the Bletchley Park decryption experts that a follow-up would not occur. Bletchley was key: that same month HMS Bulldog forced U-110 to the surface, and a boarding party led by S/Lt. Balme had captured vast quantities of Enigma codes and an Enigma machine. Of course, the decryption centre at Bletchley required the new Enigma settings monthly to ensure up-to-date decryption. Often we ensured the supply by sinking a weather ship and capturing the settings for the next few months (incredibly, the Germans used the same crypto for their weather reports as they did for operational signals). They did not seem to work out why we kept sinking their weather ships!

Doenitz kept asking his experts if we had broken the code, but they always reassured him that we had not. Before destroying everything at Bletchley it would have been amusing to give him a tour of the rooms full of “Bombe” machines and the “Colossus” computer whirling away, working out the starting position for each message. Churchill was the only person to receive the Ultra decrypts. Since he read them all, he had a confidence that no one else would have had.

I really enjoyed reading this excellent article by Sarah C. Howells. It brought back many WW2 memories including my own “siren suit”!  I wish Sarah all the very best in her future endeavours.

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