Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Did Churchill misunderstand Hitler?
A. From Karl-Georg Schon:
Let me see whether I can start something with three theses (for the sake of the argument I will sharpen them, perhaps oversharpen them):
1. Churchill completely misunderstood Hitler. For instance he called WW2 “the unnecessary war.” This is wrong because Hitler wanted war for war’s sake (vide his saying in August 1939: “Hopefully there won’t be someone to turn up with a mediation plan” or something to this effect; vide his disappointment that he was unable to crush Czechoslovakia by military force but had to do it with Munich). War was for Hitler the ultima ratio of life itself. Perhaps (only perhaps) war could have been avoided through military intervention during the Rhineland crisis‹when Churchill was conspicuously silent. From then on Europe was doomed. Another example is that Churchill saw in Hitler the (or at least some) embodiment of Prussian militarism. The reverse is actually true. Hitler crushed Prussian militarism forever. It was no historical accident that it was the truly Prussian element of the German officer corps who staged several attempts on Hitler’s life. Hitler, indeed, established (albeit in a perverted way) civilian control over the military.
2. Churchill’s greatness lies in his defeat if you measure defeat or victory in terms of the declared aims of an individual statesman. He said, “I have not become the King’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” yet he precisely did so. But in the way of doing it he defeated the most evil system of modern times and thus gave to the “liquidation of the British Empire” (one is tempted to say to the Empire itself) a noble meaning. Liquidation became “Their Finest Hour.” There is an element of tragedy in this. But is there greatness without tragedy?
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Q. I am looking for the brief speech that Churchill made to the graduating class of, I believe, Oxford or Cambridge. Memory serves that the speech was simply “Never give up, Never give up, never give up.” Is this correct?
A. This is our most frequent quote request. The speech was made 29 October 1941 to the boys at Harrow School. “This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” The full speech is contained in The Unrelenting Struggle (London: Cassell and Boston: Little Brown 1942, and is found on pages 274-76 of the English edition). It may also be found in The Complete Speeches of Winston S. Churchill, edited by Robert Rhodes James (NY: Bowker and London: Chelsea House 1974).
Listen the the speech here.
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Q. What did Churchill think of Scottish and Welsh Devolution?
A. Many Churchillians tend to believe that Winston Churchill would have opposed the development of separate Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, which they see as spelling the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. The Churchill Centre discussion group engaged in some of this banter in December. Professor Paul Addison of the University of Edinburgh and Allen Packwood of the Churchill Archives Centre put the discussion straight on this matter, proving once again that what is widely believed of Churchill is not always what Churchill believed…
A. From Paul Addison
A word or two in response to the gentlemen summoning up the ghost of Winston Churchill when attacking Tony Blair’s proposals for Parliaments in Scotland and Wales. Churchill himself before 1914 was a supporter of Home Rule for Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If his proposals for Irish Home Rule had been implemented before the First World War, the twenty-six counties might still be a part of the United Kingdom today. There was so little demand for Scottish and Welsh home rule after 1918 that the question of devolution disappeared for the rest of Churchill’s life, but some of his comments suggest that he continued to favour a federal UK including regional Parliaments in England.
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Q. Did Sir Alexander Fleming save Churchill’s life?
A. No. The Churchill-Fleming Non-Connection goes like this. The story that Sir Alexander Fleming or his father (the renditions vary) saved Churchill’s life has been roaring around the Internet for a long while now. We get frequent emails asking about this story. Charming as it is, it is certainly fiction. The story apparently originated in Worship Programs for Juniors, by Alice A. Bays and Elizabeth Jones Oakbery, published ca. 1950 by an American religious house, in a chapter entitled The Power of Kindness.
According to Bays/Oakbery, Churchill is saved from drowning in a Scottish lake by a farm boy named Alex. A few years later Churchill telephones Alex to say that his parents, in gratitude, will sponsor Alex’s otherwise unaffordable medical school education. Alex graduates with honours and in 1928 discovers that certain bacteria cannot grow in certain vegetable molds. In 1943 when Churchill becomes ill in the Near East, Alex’s invention, penicillin, is flown out to effect his cure. Thus once again Alexander Fleming saves the life of Winston Churchill.
Dr. John Mather writes: “A fundamental problem with the story is that Churchill was treated for this very serious strain of pneumonia not with penicillin but with ‘M&B,’ a short name for sulfadiazine produced by May and Baker Pharmaceuticals. Since he was so ill, it was probably a bacterial rather than a viral infection as the M&B was successful.
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Q. While watching Young Churchill the other day, I heard a reference to his brother. I have since learned he had a younger brother named Jack. I am highly surprised I have never heard about him before. Could you tell me something more about him?
A. John Strange Spencer Churchill, 1880-1947, known as Jack, a stockbroker. Wounded in action in the Boer War, 1899. Married Lady Gwendeline Bertie (1884-1941), daughter of the 7th Earl of Abingdon, in 1908. Major, Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars 1914-18. Served at Dunkirk, 1914; on Sir John French’s staff 1914-15; on Gen. Sir Ian Hamilton’s staff at Gallopili, 1915; on General Birdwood’s staff 1916-18. Accompanied Churchill on his lecture tour of North America, 1929, with WSC’s son Randolph and Jack’s son Johnny. His son Peregrine survived to be a vigorous octogenarian. The rumor that Jack was not Lord Randolph’s son, begun by biographer Ralph Martin, was put down when Martin lost a slander lawsuit, but occasionally still surfaces. Jack and Winston were very close; their descendants are still.
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Q. When will William Manchester finish his trilogy, The Last Lion, of which only two volumes have been published, taking Churchill’s story only through 1940?
A. The following information currently appears on the website of Little Brown, publishers of the first two volumes of the trilogy:
“William Manchester died on June 1, 2004 at the age of 82. Manchester was a true literary lion and was the author of many important bestsellers published by Little, Brown over four decades, including biographies of Douglas MacArthur, the Rockefeller family and John F. Kennedy. His last book, about life in the Middle Ages, was A World Lit Only By Fire, and it too was a New York Times bestseller.
Manchester completed two volumes of a three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, and was well into the concluding volume when a stroke made writing impossible. In May 2004, Manchester appointed a cowriter to finish Volume 3 based on his outline and notes. Paul Reid, a prize-winning journalist who has written several features about Manchester, picked up where Manchester stopped. Everyone at Little, Brown who worked with William Manchester admired his warm and forceful personality, his grasp of the great individuals and events of our times, and his commitment to the importance of serious writing.”
Manchester’s friend, journalist Paul Reid completed The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm which was the third and final volume of the series. It was published in November of 2012.
Q. I would like to purchase clean uniform copies of the eight Biographic Volumes of the Official Biography (“Winston S. Churchill,” by Randolph Churchill and Sir Martin Gilbert, published in London by Heinemann and in Boston by Houghton Mifflin). Should I look for British or American editions, which ones are available, and how much should I pay? What about the Companion Volumes?
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