From left: Queen Mary General Manager Stephen Sowards, Jennie Churchill, and ICS Chairman Laurence Geller
Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018
Members of the International Churchill Society gathered aboard the RMS Queen Mary on December 8th to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the ship’s arrival in Long Beach, California, with the opening of a new exhibit. “Their Finest Hours: Winston Churchill and the Queen Mary” was officially dedicated by Sir Winston’s great-granddaughter Jennie Churchill and International Churchill Society Chairman Laurence Geller.
The multi-media exhibition features sets designed for the critically-acclaimed film Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. The Imperial War Museum’s Phil Reed worked closely with the filmmakers to ensure authenticity. Three of these sets now serve as the gateway to the Churchill exhibit on the ship: the Cabinet Room, Map Room, and Churchill’s bedroom. The exhibit is wonderful for local schoolchildren, since visitors are encouraged to touch the displays. There is also a replica of Churchill’s shipboard conference room.
The British Vice-Consul in Los Angeles presented the ship with a framed replica of War Cabinet minutes made during one of Churchill’s wartime passages. On behalf of the International Churchill Society, Chairman Laurence Geller presented the ship with a framed copy of Churchill’s customs declaration form upon arrival in Southampton after his 1949 journey on the Queen Mary. Included on the declaration are 600 cigars, a generous supply of brandy, and— most intriguingly—several rubber ducks.
Jim Eldridge, Assassins, Severn House, 2016, 256 pages, $30. ISBN 978-1790290881 Portrayal * Worth Reading ***
H. B. Lyle, The Irregular: A Diﬀerent Class of Spy, Quercus, 2017, 288 pages, $27. ISBN 978-1681440279 Portrayal *** Worth Reading ***
Susan Elia MacNeal, The Paris Spy: A Maggie Hope Mystery, Bantam, 2017, 320 pages, $26. ISBN 978-0399593802 Portrayal ** Worth Reading ***
Review by Michael McMenamin
Michael McMenamin writes the “Action This Day” column. He and his son Patrick are co-authors of the award-winning Winston Churchill Thrillers The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, The Gemini Agenda, The Berghof Betrayal, and The Silver Mosaic.
Assassins is described by Amazon as “The first of a new mystery series featuring Winston Churchill and King George V” and “set in 1920s London.” It is not, but two out of three is not bad. It is a new mystery series, and it is set in 1920s London. Alas, the series does not “feature” Churchill or King George V, though both make appearances—Churchill in the first chapter and the King in the closing chapters.
Richard Wiles, Biographic Churchill, Ammonite Press, 2017, 96 pages, £10/$14. ISBN 978–1791453018
Review by W. Mark Hamilton
W. Mark Hamilton is author of The Nation and the Navy: Methods and Organization of British Navalist Propaganda, 1889–1914 (Garland, 1986).
Biographic Churchill is one in a new series of small and short books that presents a unique way of looking at the world’s greatest thinkers. Each compact volume takes fifty defining facts, dates, thoughts, habits, and achievements and conveys this information to the reader using “infographics.” Author Richard Wiles examines Churchill’s life, world, work, and legacy. With an intentionally sparse text, the reader examining Churchill’s long and accomplished life is drawn to the custom-designed images on every page.
The book includes many lesser-known facts about Churchill, such as how many times he was shot at in his youthful military campaigns (more than fifty), his numerous health issues over a long lifetime, and a detailed account of his “very generous” drinking habits and profligate smoking (up to ten cigars a day). Churchill’s quotes and phrases fill the book, and the author estimates that Churchill wrote more than 16,000 pages and ten million words over sixty-four years, including a 345-page novel.
Jean-José Ségéric, Churchill et la guerre navale, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2016, 435 pages, €39. 978–2343089980
Review by Antoine Capet
Antoine Capet is the former Head of British Studies at the University of Rouen. His book Churchill: Le Dictionnaire was published in January by Perrin.
The old saying, “the cobbler should stick to his last,” is frequently disproved—but not in this book. Captain Ségéric, retired from the French merchant navy and also a former officer of the naval reserve, must evidently be more at ease at the helm of a ship than with a pen. He is a poor writer: his French grammar and spelling would shame a schoolboy, his choice of words often wrong, and his sentences occasionally broken by incomprehensible punctuation. To make things worse, the proofs were clearly not read, leaving a deplorable number of typos. Readers with some knowledge of English or German will also notice how the author and publisher did not even bother to make sure the words quoted were correctly copied out. Added to this, Ségéric is completely lost in the complexity of British political history, describing Aneurin Bevan as an American, writing twice that Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty on 1 October 1939, asserting that Churchill had four children, and speaking of “Air-Marshal Tedder of the USAF.”
Like any author discussing Churchill and sea operations, Ségéric has to examine the Dardanelles expedition—Churchill’s degree of responsibility in the discomfiture, and the long-term consequences of the decisions he made regarding naval aﬀ airs: financial in the 1920s and operational in the years 1939–1945. The reader gets the impression that Churchill learnt nothing from the fiasco of 1915, as his impulsive nature always inevitably got the better of him, even in his later years. The book presents the Norway campaign of 1940 as the best illustration of Churchill getting out of his depth because of his misplaced self-confidence. Whereas many people today hail his perseverance, Ségéric disapprovingly gives an unsourced quote (“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”) with the idea that this supposed recklessness was bound to make him a poor naval overlord. But the book is not an undiluted enterprise in condemnation, as Ségéric laboriously strives to apportion blame and praise according to his lights, which are unfortunately severely limited.
Anita Leslie, Train to Nowhere: One Woman’s War, Ambulance Driver, Reporter, Liberator, Bloomsbury Caravel, 2017, 336 pages, $20. 978-1448216680
Review by Celia Lee
Celia Lee is co-author with her husband John of Winston and Jack: The Churchill Brothers (2007).
First published in 1945, Anita Leslie’s Train to Nowhere enjoyed success, but, like other stories about the work carried out by women during wartime, it fast vanished into obscurity. In 2017, like a time capsule buried for seventy years, this gem has been rediscovered. Prepare to have demolished all your illusions of angel-like girls wearing shining white nurses’ uniforms and nun-like head-dresses. When you take up Train to Nowhere, you will find that The Road to Hell would have been a more fitting title.
Anita Leslie, cousin to Winston Churchill and from a genteel background of titled gentry living in an Anglo-Irish castle in Ireland, plunged head-first into war work by becoming a female ambulance driver in 1940. She worked first for the Motor Transport Corps (MTC) and then the Free French Forces, serving in Libya, Syria, Palestine, Italy, France, and Germany.
Well into the war, and having gained a great deal of experience with the British Army, Anita wanted to delve further and so became an ambulance driver in the French Army. If it was to be at the centre of more action she wanted, she certainly got it! She was sent to Naples and attached to a barracks at Pozzuoli. Wrapped in blankets, she slept her first night on a floor coated in insect powder.
Peter Clarke, The Locomotive of War: Money, Empire, Power and Guilt, Bloomsbury Press, 2016, 418 pages, $30.00. ISBN 978–1620406601
Review by Christopher H. Sterling
Christopher H. Sterling is Professor Emeritus of Media and Public Aﬀ airs at the George Washington University.
This is not a book focused upon Churchill, though the man and some of his writings (chiefly The World Crisis) do figure throughout. Instead, Peter Clarke’s latest history can be read in two ways. In the first instance, the book oﬀers an assessment of the moralistic rhetoric used by national leaders compared with their military and economic actions both before and after the First World War. The second way to read the book is as a series of insightful biographical vignettes of a selection of those leaders. Either way, one’s time is well spent.
A retired professor of history at Cambridge University with numerous prior books to his credit, Clarke takes on the huge and still-expanding literature concerning the causes and eﬀects of the Great War. As its centennial is now being observed, Clarke reaches back to the lives and writings of a key selection of British and American leaders (and one Frenchman—Clemenceau) in order to understand better what happened and why. His argument is that once set on its rails, the initiative or “locomotive” leading to war (the imagery dates to Trotsky) is hard if not impossible to stop.
Brough Scott, Churchill at the Gallop, Racing Post Books, 2017, 229 pages, $34.95/£17.99. ISBN 978–910497364
Review by Fred Glueckstein
Fred Glueckstein is author of Churchill and Colonist II (2014).
In my office hang a number of photographs of Winston Churchill with horses. My favorite is Churchill with a horse named Colonist II, a big grey racehorse that he bought in 1949. Churchill and Colonist II captured the heart of the public and led me to write of their exploits together.
With an admiration for Churchill and a fondness for horses, it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to the release of Brough Scott’s Churchill at the Gallop. Scott, a well-known English jockey, broadcaster, journalist, and author, chronicles Churchill’s lifetime experiences with horses from his youth, serving in the military, and his intervening and senior years, a period stemming from Churchill’s early recollections in Ireland in 1879 to his final years, 1952–65.
Anthony Seldon with Jonathan Meakin, The Cabinet Oﬃce 1916–2016: The Birth of Modern Government, Biteback, 2016, 360 pages, £25. ISBN 978–12785901737
Review by Iain Carter
Iain Carter is Political Director of the Conservative Party. He was previously a special adviser to the Leader of the House of Lords in the Cabinet Oﬃce.
Modern government can be traced back to the founding of the Cabinet Office in December 1916. Since then “its role as the central coordinator of government policy and its implementation remains essentially unchanged,” according to the current Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. Yet, despite being at the heart of almost all major decisions taken by the British government in the past century, the department remains something of a mystery even to experienced Whitehall operators.
Anthony Seldon’s The Cabinet Oﬃce 1916–2016 chronicles how the modest-sounding task of taking and distributing cabinet minutes grew into this crucial co-ordinating role. In doing so, it lifts the lid on this little-understood corner of government. It also oﬀers a canter through twentieth-century British political history via the relationship between the Prime Ministers and their most senior official, the Cabinet Secretary.
The Memorial Addresses to the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society, Edmonton, Alberta, 1965–1989, The Churchill Statue and Oxford Scholarship Foundation, 2004, 437 pages, US$17.20, CDN$21. ISBN 978–1551951150
Ronald I. Cohen, ed., The Memorial Addresses to the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society, Edmonton, Alberta, 1990–2014, The Churchill Statue and Oxford Scholarship Foundation, 2016, 458 pages, US$17.20, CDN$21. ISBN 978–1791364126
Available as a two-volume set from Alhambra Books in Edmonton. Telephone 1 (780) 439-4195.
Review by Terry Reardon
Terry Reardon is author of Winston Churchill & Mackenzie King, So Similar, So Diﬀerent. He was honoured to be the speaker at the 2017 memorial dinner.
Some, if not many, will be surprised by the fact that Western Canada has a significant place in the Churchill world. The first statue of Winston Churchill was unveiled in 1943 at Albert E. Peacock Collegiate in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and the oldest Churchill Society—and the only one started in his lifetime—the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society of Edmonton, Alberta, commenced in 1964.
Barry Gough, Churchill and Fisher: Titans at the Admiralty, Seaforth (UK) and Naval Institute Press (US), 2017, 600 pages, £35 / $39.95. 978–1526703569
Review by Stephen McLaughlin
Stephen McLaughlin is an independent scholar who has written about both the Royal and Russian navies.
Canadian naval historian Barry Gough has written a book that is long past due—a dual biography of the two giants who presided over the Royal Navy from November 1914 to May 1915, Winston Churchill and Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher. While Churchill was a rising star in the Liberal party, John (“Jacky”) Fisher had been First Sea Lord—the navy’s professional head—from 1904 to 1910 and had been responsible for many reforms and innovations, the most famous of which was the introduction of the “all-big-gun” battleship HMS Dreadnought.
Churchill first met Fisher in 1907 and from the start was fascinated by the charismatic admiral. So in October 1914, when the somewhat passive First Sea Lord, Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg, came under fire for his German origins, Churchill decided to replace him with the energetic but controversial Fisher. Gough dubs them the “daemonic duo,” and indeed it was a fraught partnership that ultimately imploded. Frustrated by the siphoning oﬀ of resources for the Dardanelles, in May 1915 Fisher abandoned his post while Churchill was in France, leaving no one at the Admiralty’s helm. Yet eventually the two reconciled sufficiently to coordinate their testimony before the Dardanelles Commission to minimize each other’s vulnerabilities.
Nicholas Shakespeare, Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister, Harvill Secker, 2017, 508 pages, £20. ISBN 978–1846559723
Review by Peter Clarke
Peter Clarke is author of The Locomotive of War: Money, Empire, Power, and Guilt (Bloomsbury, 2017) reviewed on page 44.
Nicholas Shakespeare has made his reputation as a novelist rather than as an historian. But for vindication of his claim that “the writing of history need not be the domain solely of academics and specialists,” we need look no further than the book he has written about Churchill’s emergence in May 1940 as leader of the embattled British people. This was surely their direst hour, if we go by the meaning of “dire” in the Oxford English Dictionary, which simply quotes Dr. Johnson’s eighteenth-century definition: “Dreadful, dismal, mournful, horrible, terrible, evil in a great degree.” All of these adjectives could be applied to the abortive British campaign in Norway, which failed to prevent German occupation and gave Hitler the green light for the successive invasion of France through the Low Countries. In the meantime, Neville Chamberlain was replaced by Winston Churchill in little less than a political revolution, installing a broad-based coalition government that lasted until its mission was achieved in 1945.
This revolution necessarily involved displacing Chamberlain’s Conservative government, despite its large majority in the House of Commons, and—crucially—finding an alternative Prime Minister acceptable to the Labour opposition. All this took rather longer than six minutes. Shakespeare’s title thus deploys some literary licence in focusing our attention on the conventional six minutes that was allowed in the House of Commons for a division to be called and for MPs to troop through one of the lobbies, as they did on the night of 8 May 1940: Aye in support of the Chamberlain government or No in opposition. The motion itself, as put forward by Labour, was purely procedural (“That this House do now adjourn”), and the government carried it by 281 to 200 votes. But the abrupt fall in its normal majority signalled a political crisis, from which a new Prime Minister duly emerged—Winston Churchill.
125 Years ago
Winter 1893 • Age 18
“Distinctly Inclined to Be Inattentive”
Winter was not kind to Winston, but, as usual, he had no one but himself to blame. It began on 10 January during his holiday at the estate of his aunt Lady Wimborne. While being chased by his younger brother Jack and a cousin, Winston was cornered on a long bridge across a ravine some thirty feet below. There were a number of pine trees around whose tops reached the level of the bridge. Winston climbed over the railing. As he later wrote in My Early Life, “Would it not be possible to leap on to one of [the trees] and slip down the pole-like stem, breaking off each tier of branches as one descended until the fall was broken? To plunge or not to plunge, that was the question! In a second, I had plunged, throwing out my arms to embrace the summit of the fir tree. The argument was correct; the data were absolutely wrong. It was three days before I regained consciousness.”
It was a long fall onto hard ground and, in addition to a ruptured kidney, he had also broken his thigh, although the latter injury was not discovered until 1963 when an x-ray was taken aft er he had a fall in Monte Carlo.
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, 3 vols. (2006).
It is hard to believe that, in a life rich with writings and crowned with the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, Churchill wrote so little autobiography. In a year in which he has been so present cinematically (two feature films—Churchill and Darkest Hour, an off-screen but strong presence in Dunkirk, and a significant role in the first series of The Crown), it seems appropriate to have a brief look at his sole autobiographical volume, My Early Life, which is also the only one of his books ever developed into a film, 1972’s Young Winston (see p. 10).
Churchill did write numerous autobiographical articles over the years—including, of course, the story of his escape from the Boers—that were published in periodicals such as Nash’s, the Strand, and Cosmopolitan. Seeking to gain additional income from the earliest of these, Churchill proposed in 1930 to use them in creating his first book since starting work on The World Crisis, four volumes of which had then been completed.
In February 1930, Churchill announced his projected autobiographical volume to his British publisher, Thornton Butterworth. He said that he wished to have the 50,000 words “in the articles I have already assembled” for My Early Life “set up in proof.” His demands were precise. “The book would vary from 100,000 to 125,000 words. It should be published at not less than a guinea. It could come out in the autumn publishing season of 1931.” In the end, Butterworth agreed with the typesetting proposal, and Churchill sent the first instalment off to Butler and Tanner, the printers, on 12 March. He was, as usual, enthusiastic about the content. “They [the old articles] seem to me to read extremely well and, when woven into the texture of a continuous narrative, they will I believe make a book of adventure, possibly of some permanent merit.”
David McFall RA Woodford Statue of Sir Winston Churchill, Bronze, 1959.
Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018
“Add my most loyal salutations to you-know-who and tell him I’m going to do him justice in bronze.”1 —Sculptor David McFall to Wendy Reves
Timothy Riley is Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum.
On 28 January 1958, sculptor David McFall RA arrived in the south of France with a singular mission: to capture an image of one of the most famous and most recognizable men in the world—Sir Winston Churchill.
The formal announcement that McFall, thirty-eight and a native Scot, would be commissioned to create an eight-foot bronze statue of Sir Winston as a tribute to the statesman’s thirty-three years representing Woodford (formerly Epping) would follow in the weeks ahead, but McFall wasted little time in getting to work.
When McFall arrived at Villa La Pausa, Rocquebrune, Cap Martin, the home of Churchill’s publisher Emery Reves and his American wife Wendy, the sculptor found his subject on the brink of illness.
In September 1929, Winston Churchill made his one and only visit to Los Angeles as part of a grand tour of North America in the company of his son Randolph, brother Jack, and nephew Johnny. His visit coincided with the period when the motion picture industry was making the transition from silent film to “talkies.” At the end of the year Churchill published a description of what he found in Hollywood in an article for the Daily Telegraph.
Los Angeles spreads more widely over the level shores than any city of equal numbers in the world. It is a gay and happy city, where everyone has room to live, where no one lacks a small, but sufficient dwelling, and every house stands in a separate garden.
Here we enter a strange and an amusing world, the like of which has certainly never been seen before. Dozens of studios, covering together thousands of acres, and employing scores of thousands of very highly paid performers and technicians, minister to the gaiety of the world. It is like going behind the scenes of a theatre magnified a thousand-fold. Battalions of skilled workmen construct with magical quickness streets of London, of China, of India, jungles, mountains, and every conceivable form of scenery in solid and comparatively durable style. In a neighbouring creek pirate ships, Spanish galleons and Roman galleys ride at anchor.
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The next issue of Finest Hour will be about "Churchill, Race, and Religion." In the foreword, Lord Boateng, Chair of the Churchill Archives Trust, writes: “Sir Winston did not run away from controversy in his life and would not expect anything less in that which has followed. We do owe him and each other, however, civility and respect in the conduct of those arguments—not least, since we owe to him and the global anti-fascist fight, which he helped lead to such good effect, the secure freedom to hold those arguments at all.” … See MoreSee Less
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.