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.”