The Oscar Nemon bust in the Churchill Memorial Garden at Blenheim (above). Reverse side of the Garter Banner of Lady Soames hanging at the rear of the Nave of St. Martin’s Church, Bladon (right). The new gravestone at Bladon of Lord and Lady Soames was installed in May 2015 (below).
St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, is well known, not least to members of The Churchill Centre, as the final resting place of Sir Winston Churchill. Many of you will have visited the church and the Churchill graves. This anniversary year has had quite an impact on us, and it has been a privilege to welcome even more visitors who make their pilgrimage to pay tribute to Churchill.
All readers of Finest Hour know the date of Churchill’s death: 24 January 1965. Exactly fifty years to the day since he died, his family attended a quiet service of thanksgiving and commemoration at St. Martin’s. At Churchill’s grave the Last Post and Reveille were played, some of his great-great-grandchildren laid wreaths, and the actor Robert Hardy, who has played Churchill on so many occasions, read the poem At Bladon, which concluded Richard Dimbleby’s celebrated television commentary at Churchill’s State Funeral. At the same service I was also able to dedicate Lady Soames’s Garter Banner. Lady Soames bequeathed her banner as a Lady of the Garter to the church, and that now hangs proudly on the west wall. This is the Bidding Prayer that I adapted from the one used at the funeral in St. Paul’s in 1965:
Today we gather,
in the name of Jesus Christ, Read More >
Mark Herman, Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace, GMT Games, 2015, $70. ASIN: B013SCRACW
Three personalities dominated the allied conferences of the Second World War, whether or not they were all present in person: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. Now the ten major conferences are the subject of a new board game, appropriately named Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace, a 2015 release from GMT Games, one of the leading producers in the genre of table-top, conflict simulations.
Though technically classified as a “war game,” Churchill is more of a political design of simultaneous cooperation and competition where each of the three sides (the US, the UK, and the USSR) strives to advance its own national agenda. Long-time conflict simulation designer Mark Herman has injected a series of innovative concepts into the game that compel players to think and act in a manner similar to their historical counterparts.
This is not a family board game along the lines of Monopoly or Risk, nor is it nearly as easy to learn and as quick to play as chess. A session requires a minimum commitment of three hours for the tournament game (the last five conferences) and may take the majority of a day for all ten conferences. But the game is never boring because, unlike other multiplayer games, players are constantly involved, with almost no “down time.” Read More >
Andrew Marr on Churchill: Blood, Sweat, and Oil PaintDirected by David Barrie, Executive Producer for Wavelength Films: Patrick McGrady. First broadcast by the BBC in August 2015
During the fiftieth anniversary year of Churchill’s death, the BBC continues to probe his legacy. Veteran British journalist Andrew Marr ventured to Chartwell to examine Churchill’s painting studio and tell the story of how “Britain’s greatest prime minister”—his words—took to painting as a pastime and how this sustained Churchill from then on.
Marr interviews Churchill’s granddaughters Celia Sandys and Emma Soames, who recall how serious their grandfather was about painting. The studio at Chartwell was every bit as out of bounds for the grandchildren as the study, so much did Churchill dislike being interrupted while working. Celia explains that her grandfather became completely absorbed in his canvas while painting and that the grandchildren learned not to disturb him at these times even though they knew their grandfather loved them dearly.
Also interviewed by Marr is Churchill painting authority David Coombs. They discuss how much time Churchill spent in the company of the great English painters of his era, such as William Orpen and John Lavery, and how immensely Churchill respected these artists, who in turn respected him because they understood how seriously he approached painting. Read More >
Fake or Fortune? Season Four, Episode Four
Executive Producer: Simon Shaw First broadcast by the BBC on 26 July 2015
Each week on the BBC Television show Fake or Fortune? art experts examine paintings of dubious authenticity. Using forensic skills as well as Sherlockian methods, the experts eventually decide whether or not the owners of the paintings are about to become millionaires. This past summer the subject of inquiry was a painting possibly done by Churchill but which was unsigned.
The owner of the painting, Charles Henty, received the canvas from his father, who had bought a London house around 1962 that once belonged to Churchill’s daughter Sarah. Three paintings were found in the coal cellar: one was signed by Churchill and two were not. Henty’s father showed them to Sarah’s mother, Clementine, who took possession of the picture signed by her husband and a second, which she said was by Paul Maze. The finder was allowed to keep
the unsigned painting, which thus became the subject of the recent BBC programme.
The mystery painting certainly appears to the untutored eye as if it very well could have been painted by Churchill. It Read More >
Ian S. Wood, Churchill: A Pictorial History of His Life and Times, G2 Entertainment, 2015, 194 pages, £12.99.
Ian S. Wood is a professor of History whose principal expertise is on Merovingian rule over the Franks (whose territory covered most of modern France plus much of northwest Europe) during the 300 years from the mid-fifth century AD. Despite this narrow field, he has strayed into the world of Winston Churchill before, having previously published Britain, Ireland and the Second World War (2010) and a respectable study simply called Churchill (2000).
This new work, though, is clearly intended for coffee tables in the fiftieth-anniversary year of Churchill’s death. It consists of eighty-one illustrations; of these, only thirty-four are of Churchill himself, of which eight are unfamiliar. The text is unexceptional and covers the outline of the subject’s life in some seventy-five pages; these deal with the main points with only a few questionable opinions.
Despite the brevity of the text, however, there was some careless proofreading. Numerous minor errors undermine the reader’s confidence in what the author wishes to say. A few examples: in 1893 Sandhurst was the Royal Military College (not the Royal Military Academy); Clementine was not the daughter of the Earl of Airlie (he was her maternal Read More >
John Potter, Pim and Churchill’s Map Room, Northern Ireland War Memorial, 2014, 76 pages, £5.00.
This very slim booklet tells the story of a little-known member of Churchill’s inner entourage, whose experiences deserve to be known about. Richard Pim was very much a Northern Ireland worthy and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. Shortly before the partition of Ireland in 1922, he had become a police cadet in the Royal Irish Constabulary and, after this date, was appointed a senior civil servant in the newly established government of Northern Ireland. In 1924 he added an important activity to his credentials by joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR); he attended regular training, which included exten- sive sea-time, rising to the rank of Commander. As a trained reservist, he was mobilised in September 1939 and was posted to the Admiralty and put in charge of the map-room on the day after Churchill’s re-appointment as First Lord. In May 1940 Pim was promoted to Captain and accompanied Churchill to Downing Street. Pim remained in this position until July 1945 and often was called to brief his master several times a day.
Pim reported to the Prime Minister each morning with a summary of overnight reports. At the time of the Dunkirk evacuation, he asked Churchill for temporary leave of absence so that he could take a boat across the English Channel. He was allowed to do this for a period of four days, when he captained a flat-bottomed barge that carried a number of motor-boats that were launched to bring parties back from shore to ship. It is estimated that he rescued some 3,500 men, including a number of sailors from sunken vessels. Later, at a period of the war when nothing seemed to go right, Churchill told Pim that he was seriously thinking of handing over his load of responsibilities to other shoulders; Pim is reported to have replied, “By God, Sir, you can’t do that!” Read More >
Ellen Labrecque with illustrations by Jerry Hoare, Who Was Winston Churchill ? Grosset and Dunlap, 2015, 106 pages, $5.99.
I liked Who Was Winston Churchill? for two reasons. First it is just over 100 pages, and I had a reading assignment at school that called for a book with a minimum of 100 pages. Secondly, the book is about Winston Churchill. I really admire him and think he is super interesting.
When I flipped through the book at the store I noticed it had lots of nice pictures! That was cool, and it meant less reading too! I read it in one day and liked it. I learned new things about Churchill, and the drawings inside gave me a different perspective than just reading words. Read More >
Daniel Smith, How to Think Like Churchill, Michael O’Mara Books, 2014, 203 pages, £12.99.
The poet Rupert Brooke, well known to Churchill and to his secretary Edward (Eddie) Marsh, famously said, “A book may be compared to your neighbour: if it be good, it cannot last too long; if bad, you cannot get rid of it too early.” Of the books seeking to advise readers on how to live their lives, Daniel Smith’s How to Think Like Churchill is one of the least painful. A freelance author of more than twenty books, Smith writes in an amiable tone, brimming with fondness and respect for his subject. This book (one in a series by Smith) includes a refreshingly complete timeline of Churchill’s life, but, unsurprisingly, falls short of teaching us how to think like Churchill.
The fine, heavy paper and the aircraft bomber silhouettes in the table of contents add a certain charm, but the pleasant, breezy tone begins to wear rapidly as Smith trivializes that which he seeks to praise by heavily relying on catch-phrases and clichés. The author generally has his facts straight but still serves up slight inaccuracies, misquoting a passage written by Churchill here or excluding important details there. In his best moments, Smith’s writing flirts with history and biography, but altogether the sentences worth reading would fit only a pamphlet. Read More >
Fred Glueckstein, Churchill and Colonist II: The Story of Winston Churchill and His Famous Race Horse, iUniverse, 2014, $22.95.
It is refreshing to learn that not all of Winston Churchill’s races were political. We discover this in a recent book written by New York writer and frequent author on all subjects Churchillian, Fred Glueckstein.
In Churchill and Colonist II we discover that the British prime minister who walked side-by-side with us through the horrors of the Second World War dearly enjoyed walking into a horse race winners’ circle, or, for that matter, into the clubhouses of England’s racetracks.
Colonist II was a grey horse, and not a particularly pretty one, who was purchased by Churchill when the former prime minister was seventy-five. It was not Churchill’s first foray with horses—he had ridden joyfully at prep school and in the military—but it came at a time when his postwar political fortunes had dipped and so had his general mood. His son-in-law, Christopher Soames, saw the gloom and the need to address that. So he found Churchill a horse, Colonist II, and a love affair began. Read More >
Richard Hayton and Andrew S. Crines, eds., Conservative Orators from Baldwin to Cameron, Manchester University Press, 2015, x + 264 pages, £75.
In the United States there is a longstanding and very healthy tradition of rhetorical scholarship, which can be traced at least as far back as the founding of the Quarterly Journal of Speech in 1915. Jeffrey Tulis’s book The Rhetorical Presidency (1987) was a landmark, which considered (and was quite critical of) the ways in which modern Presidents had used public speech as a tool of governance. It is only comparatively recently, however, that British historians and political scientists have started to investigate systematically the oratory of UK politicians.
Conservative Orators is a welcome addition to this growing body of work and complements the editors’ earlier volume on Labour speakers. All the chapters are lucid and well-researched and the introduction and conclusion provide helpful context.
Readers of Finest Hour will, of course, be particularly interested in the chapter on Churchill by Kevin Theakston, author of Winston Churchill and the British Constitution (2004). Ideologically Churchill is rather hard to place. Naturally he deserves to be considered a Conservative orator, but of course he also spent about twenty years in the Liberal Party. In Read More >
Charles L. Mee, Jr., The Deal: Churchill, Truman, and Stalin Remake the World, New World City, 2014, 348 pages, $2.99 on Kindle. ASIN B00HO6ZEHC
In 1975 Charles L. Mee published Meeting at Potsdam. His account of the July 1945 summit between the victorious “Big Three” Allied leaders became a standard popular history of the subject, one frequently reprinted for new audiences. Last year, on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the conference, a book by Mee on the same subject but with a different title was released by Kindle. Has Mee revisited his work?
The answer is no. Mee’s The Deal is simply Meeting at Potsdam in a new format. Apart from the title, everything in the original text has been imported intact into the electronic version, with no effort to correct, modify, or update Mee’s original work. The only difference in the new format is the addition of Wikipedia links embedded within the text, which provide a useful way for readers to learn more about the principals and some of the other subjects that the author mentions in the text. Yet this alone is poor compensation for the deficiencies it contains. For all of the strengths that The Deal inherits from Mee’s original book, it is now burdened with an even greater share of weaknesses. Read More >
Richard Crowder, Aftermath: The Makers of the Postwar World, London and New York: I. B.Tarus, 2015, xii + 308 pages, $35. IBSN 978-1784531027
Most histories of the early Cold War, especially those written by Americans, give center stage to US statesmen, notably Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, and George Marshall. Richard Crowder, a youngish British diplomat educated at Oxford and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, focuses his engagingly readable account on the other side of the Atlantic. His narrative provides equal time to such British figures as Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin, and Duff Cooper. It also gives more attention to continental European leaders than they customarily receive.
It is significant that a Labour government led Britain into the Cold War with remarkably little internal dissent. Bevin, a former trade union leader with a rudimentary formal education was at first glance an unlikely foreign secretary. He is perhaps too easily caricatured. The author quotes him as telling the eminent career diplomat Gladwyn Jebb, “Must be kinda queer for a chap like you to see a chap like me sitting in a chair like this….Ain’t never ’appened before in ’istory” (120). At times Bevin could be too rough and blunt for his own good— as when, in an incident Mr. Cooper passes over, he accused American leaders of supporting mass Jewish immigration to Palestine because “they did not want too many of them in New York” (quoted in Robert J. Donovan, Conflict and Crisis, 317). Read More >
Kaarel Piirimäe, Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Baltic Question: Allied Relations during the Second World War, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, xvi + 276 pages, $90.
This book’s cover accurately labels the Baltic nations “a neglected corner of wartime Europe.” But Josef Stalin never neglected them, occupying Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania without ceremony in June 1940. He had waited while fighting the Winter War with Finland in the hope that the three states would Sovietize themselves— which they did not. The swift fall of France that spring only fed Stalin’s suspicions that some sort of Anglo-German entente was afoot, prompting his move.
What could the little Baltic states do? Caught between the Soviet Union and Germany, they had no political leverage and even less military strength. All they really had was their own sense of cultural and (to a somewhat exaggerated degree) historic nationalism. As with Finland, the West reflexively empathized and sympathized (though much less noisily)—and did nothing. Whether the West could have done anything effective is what this book is about.
The stage was set for the entire war by the initial reactions of Britain and the United States: reactions too minor to be called policy. The personal involvement of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt showed equal indifference. Soviet concerns and reactions were far more important to the two leaders than awkward promises of self-determination made in the Atlantic Charter. Read More >
Churchill and the Generalsis a quick and excellent read for those looking for a concise primer on the unique leadership dynamics embodied by Churchill and the generals whom he led. Although brief, the portraits of the military leaders include engaging details that span their childhood, education, military service, personal quirks, and challenges or triumphs interacting with Churchill.
All of this comes wrapped in an attractive package that includes beautiful illustrations, numerous photos of the subjects, two DVDs containing vintage footage of the Second World War, and an excellent photo timeline from 1939 through the end of the war. Whether well acquainted with the subject or a beginner, you will find Churchill and the Generals to be a must read.
Lepine’s pen portraits start with Churchill himself. Naturally this takes up the largest section of the book as Lepine expertly pilots the reader through Churchill’s life and career. Some of the most engaging portions are descriptions of Churchill’s early life, such as his relations with his parents, his childhood nanny Mrs. Everest, and his interactions with senior military leaders when he was but a junior officer in the British Army. Readers will see taking root the seeds of character that germinated to create the national leader of the Second World War. Read More >
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.