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.”
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.”
Watching Winston Churchill was no easy task. The use of personal bodyguards for Churchill began in 1921 and continued for the rest of his life. The story of the remarkable men who guarded him exemplifies courage and devotion that never wavered. Here follows a look at the two longest-serving bodyguards, Walter Thompson and Edmund Murray, and two others of notable interest, Bill Day and Neville Bullock.
WALTER H. THOMPSON
On 9 November 1920, the Director of Intelligence at Scotland Yard told Churchill, then a Liberal MP and the Secretary of State for War and Air, that a Sinn Fein cell in Glasgow had decided there should be kidnapping reprisals in Britain for reprisals in Ireland. Among those to be kidnapped were Churchill and Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Churchill was warned not to go to Scotland “for the next few days or weeks” and provided temporarily with a personal armed bodyguard, Walter Henry Thompson. Thompson’s temporary appointment lasted the next nine and a half years. After a gap of ten years, however, Thompson was recalled from his retirement in 1939 to protect Churchill again, serving with him for another six years until the war ended.
Thompson, a Detective Sergeant of the Special Branch at Scotland Yard, first called upon Churchill at the Cabinet minister’s house in Sussex Square in early February 1921 to discuss what would be their “routine.” By the end of an extremely satisfying talk, Churchill said: “Thank you very much Thompson. I have no doubt that we shall get on well together.”1Read More >
L-R: Stephen Sowards, Jennie Churchill, Laurence Geller. Photograph by Jonathan Shelgosh
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. Watch a short video of the highlights.
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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.