Churchill feeds the fish at Chartwell | Photo courtesy of Alamy.com
Finest Hour 183, First Quarter 2019
By Piers Brendon
Extract from Churchill’s Bestiary (2018)
In 1938 Churchill stocked his round pond at Chartwell with 1,000 little golden orfe, pale yellow in colour with the occasional dash of red, some of which grew to be well over a foot long. He was very excited about them and correspondingly grateful to Prof. Lindemann, who gave him a pair of polaroid glasses so that he could see them better underwater.
The superior maggots he eventually selected to feed his fish were sent by rail from Yorkshire in fibre-packed tins at a cost of 22s and 6d a week. “Aristocratic maggots, these are,” he sometimes said. “Look how well the fish are doing on them.” As Prime Minister, Churchill took little exercise but occasionally, feeling the need for movement, he did go out to feed his golden fish during the war. And even at its climax they were not far from his thoughts. A couple of weeks before the D-Day landings in Normandy, he gave orders that his fish supplier should “go down to Chartwell on a hot day and look at the fish.” He received a report that the fish were still doing well despite lack of nourishment, though there was a warning about the presence of adders. Worse than adders were otters, whose depredations in April 1945 left Churchill with but a single goldfish.
After his defeat at the polls three months later, Churchill set about restoring Chartwell’s grounds and restocking its waters with fish. By the 1950s golden fish had become such a key part of Churchill’s life as often to divert him from serious work. Going to see them was an established ritual, as visitors who were bidden to accompany him observed. After lunch he would stroll down to summon the gleaming horde, rapping his stick on the paved path and calling out “Hike, Hike-Hike, Hike.” “See they can hear me,” Churchill would exclaim. “Look how they’re all coming towards me.” He would feed them by hand, addressing them as “Darlings.”
Kevin Ruane is author of Churchill and the Bomb (2016) and teaches history at Canterbury Christ Church Univeristy.
David Cohen, Churchill and Attlee: the Unlikely Allies Who Won the War, Biteback Publishing, 2018, 356 pages, £22. ISBN: 978–1785903175
As a cursory internet search will confirm, the popular perception of the Winston Churchill-Clement Attlee relationship is largely shaped by two purportedly Churchillian remarks. The first—the wording alters marginally depending on where one looks— goes thus: “An empty taxi drew up outside Number 10 Downing Street and out stepped Mr Attlee.” The second has Churchill dismissing Attlee “as a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” From these quotes, it is reasonable to infer that Churchill regarded Attlee, the Labour Party leader (1935–55) and his deputy as Prime Minister during the Second World War, as a vacuous non-entity. There is, though, a problem with such an inference: Churchill did not actually utter the remarks upon which it rests. Indeed, when apprised of the barbs he was supposed to have shot in Attlee’s direction, Churchill became angry and upset.
Popular perceptions are quick to set but slow to shift. In 2002, the BBC commissioned a public television poll to determine the “Greatest Britons” of all time. Churchill came top. Attlee did not even make the top 100. In contrast, David Cohen reminds us in his new book Churchill and Attlee that in 2004 British historians were polled on the most successful UK Prime Minister of the twentieth century. Attlee came first, Churchill second. Historians, then, as opposed to the public, have never lost sight of Attlee and his importance.
Nigel Hamilton is Senior Fellow in the McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts Boston. War and Peace, the final volume of his “FDR at War” trilogy, will be published in May 2019.
David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov, eds., The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt, Yale University Press, 2018, 660 pages, $35. 978–0300226829
At first glance The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt promises to be the book we—those of us still deeply interested in the history of the Second World War—were waiting for. David Reynolds is a distinguished historian of Anglo-American relations and Vladimir Pechatnov a leading scholar of Soviet relations with the West, having access to significant new primary sources.
The good news for readers is that the seventeen-page introduction—clearly penned by Professor Reynolds—is worth the price of the book alone: a wonderful, essayistic tour d’horizon of the three great leaders of the Allied coalition in the Second World War: their different personalities, their political aims, and their strengths and weaknesses, spiced with wonderful quotations. Told in 1944 that they resembled the Holy Trinity, Marshal Stalin—who had studied for six years at the Tiflis Russian Orthodox seminary—quipped: “If that is so, Churchill must be the Holy Ghost. He flies around so much.”
Writing in his famous essay Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill said of his favorite hobby: “I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.”
There have been several good books that gather together examples of Churchill’s paintings. This is the first book, however, that gathers together all of Churchill’s speeches and writings about painting. It is worth reading.
Sir David Cannadine writes and speaks frequently about Churchill. As a professional historian, his resume is unsurpassed. So it is notable that he does not underestimate the importance of painting in Churchill’s life. He has never been alone. Included in this book are essays by six people from the professional art world during Churchill’s time showing their appreciation for the statesman’s passion.
Allen Packwood, How Churchill Waged War, Frontline, 2018, 260 pages, £25/$34.95. ISBN 978–1473893894
Reflecting on his reputation after the war, Churchill noted: “People say my speeches after Dunkirk were the thing. That was only a part, not the chief part. They forget that I made all the main military decisions.” Indeed, Churchill did not just lead by inspiration; he waged war—exactly what he said he would do in his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister. How Churchill went about it is the subject of this gripping new study by Allen Packwood.
For many years Packwood has served as Director of the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge. His deep familiarity with the papers of Winston Churchill has resulted in this his first (and, I hope, far from last) book. Every page illustrates his extensive knowledge of the primary documents, for this book uses citations at the bottom of each page and not endnotes following the chapters or buried in the back. A quick glance down shows that Packwood is supporting his arguments with original archival documents. Even his secondary sources are mostly the published versions of primary materials, such as diaries, letters, and memoirs.
Armed with this formidable knowledge, Packwood does not attempt to provide a comprehensive account of Churchill as warlord. Instead he has chosen ten subject areas that interested him in particular as he set out “to try and answer the question what did Churchill do? How did he wage war?” Each chapter is a thoughtful but fast- paced and self-contained study. The chapters give a good chronological spread of the war years, starting in 1940 with Churchill’s decision as Prime Minister to serve also as Minister of Defence and concluding with his determination to run an aggressive campaign in the general election of 1945.
Zoe Colbeck is the General Manager for the National Trust at Chartwell.
David Lough, ed., My Darling Winston: The Letters Between Winston Churchill and His Mother, Pegasus Books, 2018, 598 pages, $35. ISBN 978–1681778822
This is the first time that the letters between Lady Randolph Churchill and her son Winston have been gathered into a book. Mother and son are said to have corresponded more than a thousand times. David Lough, whose previous book No More Champagne (2015) provided a meticulous examination of Winston Churchill’s finances, has unearthed and transcribed nearly 800 of these letters and selected 450 for inclusion in this fascinating book. The result not only tells us about the relationship between Winston and the former Jennie Jerome over the course of their shared lives and how it changed; it also illustrates the upper class life which they lived.
Lough observes that Winston’s letters have “great passages of self-analysis that make his correspondence with his mother such a valuable source of insight into his character.” It is fascinating to be able to see into Churchill’s mind this way, and I was really surprised by some of what I read. He realised that his education had been utilitarian: focused on getting him into the army. To reach his goal of becoming a politician, Lt. Churchill would have to increase his knowledge and read the books he would have learnt from had he gone to university. To this end he had his mother send him many books, as well as the records of the House of Commons, so that he could learn more about how Parliament worked.
Raymond Callahan is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Delaware.
Larry P. Arnn and Martin Gilbert, The Churchill Documents, Volume 21, The Shadows of Victory: January–July 1945, Hillsdale College Press, 2018, 2149 pages, $60. ISBN 978–0916308391
Churchill entitled the final volume of his war memoirs Triumph and Tragedy. The final volume of the Churchill War Papers underscores that dual theme. The astounding war effort that, under his leadership, the British people produced made victory possible. Without the British decision in May-June 1940 to fight on—a decision Churchill both organized and embodied—it is all too easy to imagine the war ending in a very different way, leading to a very different world. But, as this volume opens, victory had become certain. As that victory came in sight, however, so did the enormous cost. The Britain that would celebrate victory would be a very different country from the one that went reluctantly to war in 1939—much poorer and much reduced in power. In Corelli Barnett’s striking words, Britain ended the war “a warrior satellite of the United States.” It was also a country on the brink of epochal change. Looming ahead was the end of the coalition, a general election (the first since 1935 and involving an entire new cohort of voters), and the need to adjust to a new global configuration in which the United States and the Soviet Union would dominate, the British Empire would unravel and British society undergo the most dramatic, far-reaching revolution in its long history. Not all of this is reflected equally in the 2000 pages of documents in this volume, but all of it is there.
125 Years ago
Winter 1894 • Age 19 “Keep Down the Smoking”
With graduation from Sandhurst pending, Winston began to consider his future service in the Army. On 11 January, he wrote to his mother and listed five reasons why he preferred a cavalry regiment rather than an infantry regiment. First, promotions came faster in the Cavalry than in the Infantry. Second, commissions also came “much sooner” in the Cavalry. Third, the 4th Hussars were going to India, and, if he joined the regiment before it left, he “would have 6 or 7 subalterns below me in a very short time.” Fourth, Cavalry regiments were “always given good stations in India and generally taken great care of by the Government,” whereas the Infantry “have to take what they can get.” Fifth, keeping a horse was much cheaper in the Cavalry, because the government provided stabling, forage, and labor.
Winston had also listed these same reasons in a letter to his mother’s friend, Colonel Brabazon of the 4th Hussars. In the letter to his mother, he added a sixth reason that included more attractive uniforms, the advantages of riding over walking, as well as being in a regiment where his mother knew some of the officers.
Courage meant a great deal to Winston Churchill. In his 1931 profile of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII titled “Alfonso the Unlucky,” subsequently published as a chapter in Great Contemporaries, Churchill wrote,
Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives. Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.
Indeed, courage was a personal quality frequently attributed to Churchill himself. Colonel Thomas (Tommy) Macpherson, a highly decorated Second World War officer, wrote of Churchill’s “extraordinary mixture of emotional sentimentality and steely courage.” Churchill’s, Macpherson elaborated, was “not heedless, reckless, momentary animal courage, but the self-disciplined, durable mental courage knowing all the dangers and still holding course.”
Annie Gray is a historian specialising in British food and dining c.1650–1950. Her biography of Georgina Landemare, Victory in the Kitchen: The Story of Churchill’s Cook, is due out in spring 2020.
Long-time Finest Hour readers will be familiar with the name Georgina Landemare. She was, along with Grace Hamblin and Victor Vincent (the Chartwell gardener), one of the longest-serving of the Churchills’ paid retinue, with them on and off (mainly on) for twenty-two years. She catered networking parties during Churchill’s Wilderness Years, policy-making gatherings when he was Prime Minister during the War, and family get-togethers during his bitter postwar years in opposition. Mrs. Landemare tends to have only a walk-on role in the many books about the Churchills, however—a surprising omission, given the important role she played in the smooth running of the family home.
Georgina’s early life was entirely average. She was born into what was categorised at the time as the “affluent working class,” meaning working class people with jobs and steady wages. Her father was a coachman, her mother a maid. They were from Hertfordshire, and Georgina was born at her maternal grandmother’s house in Aldbury, near Tring. Today it is a commuter village for London, but it remains a chocolate-box style picture of English countryside sweetness. When I visited there last winter, it was snowing, and I hid in the firelit warmth of the local pub—at one time run by relatives of Georgina’s mother—trying to visualise it as it was in 1882 when Georgina was born: a struggling rural outpost ruled by a handful of local gentry families. She never lived there, however, moving at a young age with her family to London. She started work at thirteen, and then, aged fifteen, became a scullery maid in a house in Kensington Palace Gardens. Looking back, she described it as “starting her track of life,” even then determined that service would be a career and not merely a job.
Catherine Grace Katz’s book The Daughters of Yalta will be published in 2020. Extracts from the writings of Sarah Churchill are reproduced with the permission of the Master and Fellows of Churchill College, Cambridge.
One day in early November of 1943 I was summoned to the commanding officer and told by him that leave of absence was to be granted to me so that I could accompany my father on an important journey. The RAF station at Medmenham was quite near to Chequers.…I hurried there now, and my father told me that a conference between the President of the United States, Stalin and himself had been arranged at Tehran, that the President, despite his health and physical handicap was making the long journey and that Stalin had finally been lured from his lair. My father and the President were to meet in Cairo before the conference in Tehran. I was to accompany my father as one of his aides-de-camp….I walked on air.—Sarah Churchill1
Though many people remember Mary as the most visible of Winston Churchill’s children from the Potsdam Conference in 1945 through the postwar period, few realize that it was actually her older sister Sarah who accompanied the Prime Minister as his aide-de-camp during his tripartite wartime conferences with Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Early in the war, Winston and Clementine had decided that a member of the family should accompany the Prime Minister on his travels as his confidante and supporter, as well as a chronicler of family history.
Two of Winston Churchill’s longest serving private secretaries were, like the man they worked for, keen and sharp-witted observers, as shown here.
John (known as “Jock”) Colville (1915–87) was as an Assistant Private Secretary to Churchill twice during the Second World War, his service interrupted by time in the RAF. He served Churchill again, as a Joint Principal Private Secretary, in 1951–55. He also worked briefly for Clement Attlee in 1945. When Attlee praised one of his own appointments as someone who “was at Haileybury, my old school,” Colville recorded in his diary that “Churchill, though he sometimes said nice things about me, never included in his recommendations that we were both Old Harrovians. I concluded that the old school tie counted even more in Labour than in Conservative circles.”
Anthony Montague Browne (1923–2013) also served as an RAF pilot during the Second World War and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions against the Japanese in Burma. He joined Churchill’s staff when he was chosen to be Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister in September 1952. After Churchill’s retirement in 1955, Montague Browne continued to serve Churchill as Private Secretary until Churchill’s death ten years later. When the behavior of Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden became increasingly difficult to cope with in 1953, Montague Browne remarked to Eden’s Private Office: “The difference between us is that I work for a great historical figure, and you work for a great hysterical one.”
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