Mr. Jaap Engelsman in Amsterdam writes: “Since at least 1951 Churchill is said to have called Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands ‘the only true man in the Dutch government,’ or words to that effect. Can you track this quote to a reliable source?”
The only place on the Internet where we could find it is a Dutch war history site: http://bit.ly/1gTeH0s. We searched the online Churchill Archive but there are no hits for the phrase or key parts of it—frustrating because we suspect he felt that way on occasion during the war.
Churchill did have deep regard for Prime Minister Gerbrandy of the exiled Dutch government (whom he referred to as “Mr. Cherry Brandy”). Although, after the German invasion, the departure of the Queen and government was controversial in Holland, Churchill approved, since it meant Holland and her territories remained in the fight. He had hoped the French government would do the same. Gerbrandy regularly sent Churchill bottles of the fine Dutch gin “Jenever.”
Paul Wolfowitz (“Why They Mattered: Richard Williamson,” Politico, 22 December 2013) said Churchill denied calling Clement Attlee “a modest man with much to be modest about.” We think he did, but only in private. According to the late Truman aide Clark Clifford, who accompanied Churchill and Truman to Fulton for Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946, the President said: “Mr. Attlee came to see me the other day. He struck me as a very modest man.” WSC replied: “He has much to be modest about.” Other variations of this quotation are inaccurate.
In public, however, Churchill was more collegial toward his Labour Party rival, who had served loyally as Deputy Prime Minister during the war. WSC was once asked if he said: “An empty car drew up and Clement Attlee got out,” or that Attlee was “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” Churchill denied this, saying Attlee was a gallant gentleman with a long record of service to his country. This was a Churchillian characteristic; whatever the political quarrels, he never lost his sense for his opponents as servants of the nation.
Churchill was a colorful character, and several of the best examples of his wit involved his fellow Tory, Lady Astor. Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess Astor CH (1879–1964), MP for Plymouth Sutton, 1919–45, was the first woman to take a seat in Parliament (Sinn Fein’s Countess Markievicz was elected in 1918, but did not take her seat). If Churchill got over women MPs, he never quite got over Lady Astor, who trended left despite her Tory credentials, and was a declared teetotaler.
According to Harold Nicolson (Diaries 1939-45), when Astor was making one of her last speeches in 1945, she said that when she first entered the House (1 December 1919) Churchill was cold to her, and she asked him why: “I feel you have come into my bathroom and I have only a sponge with which to defend myself,” he said. The antipathy continued at least until World War II.
After Astor and George Bernard Shaw visited Russia in 1929 Churchill wrote in his Shaw essay (Pall Mall, reprinted in Great Contemporaries): “Lady Astor, like Mr. Bernard Shaw, enjoys the best of all worlds.…She denounces the vice of gambling in unmeasured terms, and is closely associated with an almost unrivalled racing stable. She accepts communist hospitality and flattery, and remains the Conservative Member for Plymouth.”
Somewhat mellowing by 1944, Churchill made one of his more humorous references, pausing during a long speech on the December Greek crisis: “At this point I will take a little lubrication, if it is permissible. I think it is always a great pleasure to the Noble Lady, the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth, to see me drinking water.”
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