Book Review

Books, Arts & Curiosities – Churchill as Literary Character: WSC in Fiction

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 48

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Graphically Efficient

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 47

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Un navire qui coule à pic

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 46

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Road to Hell

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 45

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – The Clattering Train

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 44

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Fine Furnishing

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 43

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Saddle Up

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 41

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – The Heroic Memory

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 40

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Daemonic Duo

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 39

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.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Man of the Hour

Finest Hour 179, Winter 2018

Page 38

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.

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Painting as a Pastime – The Last Canvas

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 54

For the last fifteen years of his life, Winston Churchill was protected by his bodyguard Sergeant Edmund Murray. One of Murray’s responsibilities was to serve as custodian of Churchill’s painting equipment and to set up these materials wherever they might be travelling. Yet Chartwell always remained Churchill’s favorite place to be and to paint. On the grounds, Churchill had no more preferred place to meditate than his beloved goldfish pool. One of his most famous paintings The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell was done at some point in the 1930s and became a treasured possession of his daughter Mary.

Fittingly, Churchill’s final painting is also an image of the goldfish pool. Less well known than the first, since it has never before been exhibited or reproduced, this second goldfish painting was done in 1962 when Churchill was eighty-seven. In his catalogue of Churchill paintings, David Coombs assigns it the number C 544.

Unlike many of Churchill’s landscapes at Chartwell, this painting is unusual in zooming right into the water, taking in the luscious foliage along the waterside. It is an exemplary essay in tonality and near-abstraction, combining multiple hues of greens and browns to striking effect with the Golden Orfe brought to life through vivid flashes of orange impasto.

Murray was a painter himself, and for the Churchills’ fiftieth wedding anniversary he made a painting of the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal in Venice, one of the cities that Winston and Clementine visited on their honeymoon in 1908. Churchill enjoyed it so much that he had the painting displayed at his Chartwell studio. It was the only canvas on display there not done by himself. In turn Churchill gave his own final painting to Murray. It will go up for auction this November at Sotheby’s in London.

Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Strong Women

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 52

Review by Anne Sebba

Queen Anne by Helen Edmundson played at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London in summer 2017

Anne Sebba’s most recent book is Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940’s (Orion £9.99 and St Martin’s Press $17.99). Her previous books include Jenny Churchill: Winston’s American Mother (2008).

The bravest soul. The keenest mind. The greatest woman of her time. Is that how Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, is remembered by posterity?

These powerful words are Sarah Churchill’s cri de coeur as she exits the stage of Queen Anne, a gripping new play about the twelve-year reign (1702–14) of the last Stuart Queen of England and her friendship with the wife of the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill. But Sarah is by this time a desperate figure who fears that the power and influence she craves, and has previously enjoyed, is slipping from her grasp. When the play opens, the nervous and sickly Princess Anne hangs on her friend’s every word. But the former Sarah Jennings pushes too hard, manipulating, scheming, and determined to wield power over the Queen, her intimate and vulnerable confidante since childhood.

Eventually Anne stands up to Sarah and rebukes her for telling her how she should think, insisting she is quite capable of thinking on her own. She resents the implication that she is devoid of understanding. She refuses to engage with her erstwhile bosom friend and imperiously sweeps out, telling her, repeatedly, that anything she wants to say can be put in writing. It is a glorious theatrical moment.

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Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Rigged Tale

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 52

Review by Larry Kryske

Megan Rix, Winston and the Marmalade Cat, Puffin, 2017, 192 pages, £5.99. ISBN 978–0141385693

Larry Kryske is a retired US Navy commander. He now runs Your Finest Hour Leadership Programs, which develop victorious leaders who have vision, courage, and determination.

This tale is mostly about nineyear-old Harry, who helps at the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA). He rescues a marmalade kitten, which he names Little Houdini. Meanwhile, John Colville, private secretary to Winston Churchill, is looking for a “marmie” kitten at the RSCPA for his master’s eighty-eighth birthday. Harry wants to keep Houdini but is persuaded to give him up for the Great Man. When, however, Harry shows up at Chartwell to give up the kitten, he learns that Churchill is at his London residence in Hyde Park Gate and that Colville has found another marmie for Churchill, which has been named Jock—Colville’s nickname. Eventually, Harry regularly brings Little Houdini around to play with Jock while Churchill smiles.

There are some absurd characters in this story like Old Ned, who is supposed to be Churchill’s childhood friend from a year of age but now lives near Chartwell. Churchill himself only makes brief appearances. There are flashback chapters about him and some of his former pets: Rufus the poodle, Nelson the cat, and Mr. Buttons—another poodle, which Churchill gave to his wife’s secretary Grace Hamblin. An absurd chapter has Harry and his classmates in school trying to identify the location where many of Churchill’s famous speeches were made—not a plausible activity for children.

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Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Through the Eyes of a Child

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 51

Review by Fred Glueckstein

Jonathan Dudley, Winston, Churchill, & Me: A Memoir of Childhood 1940–1950, Skyscraper Publications, 2017, 89 pages, £7.99/$7.61. ISBN 978-1911072195

Fred Glueckstein is a regular contributor to Finest Hour and the author of Churchill and Colonist II (2014).

Jonathan Dudley was eight years old in the spring of 1949 attending a pre-prep school in London. One day young Dudley, who shared a desk with a boy named Winston Churchill, was told by his schoolmate that his grandmother wanted him to bring a “little friend” with him for his summer stay in Kent. Winston asked Jonathan if he would be that friend. Jonathan said he would. Afterwards, he learned from his family that Winston’s namesake grandfather was the famous statesman and war leader.

Dudley recalls that during his first visit to Chartwell in August 1949, his main impressions were of Mrs. Churchill. He remembered her as a lady of “grace and composure,” cheerful and caring to young Winston and himself.

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Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Behind the Scenes

Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018

Page 49

Review by John Campbell

Andrew Holt and Warren Dockter, eds., Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister: Foreign Affairs from Churchill to Thatcher, Routledge, 2017, 213 pages. ISBN 978–1409441809

John Campbell’s books include major biographies of Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, and Roy Jenkins.

Compared to the White House or most other national centres of government, Number Ten Downing Street has always been an almost laughably small operation. Until quite recently the British Prime Minister was served by the Cabinet Secretary and a principal private secretary, plus just four or five subordinate private secretaries—youngish (that is, in their early forties) high-fliers destined to go on to senior positions within the civil service. The most senior, usually seconded from the Foreign Office, normally for no more than three years, dealt specifically with foreign affairs. Holders of this sensitive job were required to tread a fine line between loyalty to the Prime Minister on the one hand and civil service neutrality on the other. Some held strong views of their own which they pressed upon the Prime Minister, and sometimes acted independently on his behalf; others saw their role simply as smoothing the conduct of business between Downing Street and the Foreign Office. This arrangement survived, with varying degrees of intimacy and influence, from Churchill’s day to the early years of Mrs Thatcher, until she tested the system to destruction by allowing her third foreign affairs secretary, Charles Powell, to outgrow his role, refusing to let him move on as convention required, so that by the time of her fall he was virtually acting as deputy Prime Minister.

Unfortunately Powell does not feature in this book, which ends with his appointment in 1984, though he does contribute a typically elegant introduction describing some of his own experiences. Instead it comprises eight case studies by mainly British academics examining the relationship between successive Prime Ministers and the thirteen foreign affairs secretaries who temporarily served them. A concluding overview by Anthony Read More >

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