Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author ofA Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, 3 vols. (2006).
In this column I generally respond to questions brought to me by other Churchillians. Frequently these are about books or pamphlets people have encountered, which leave them puzzled or uncertain in some respect. I do not recall dealing before with a conundrum that has beset myself personally, but that is what happened when I recently came across a pamphlet in my own library to which I had not previously paid any attention.
The title is Churchill…Statesman of the Century. Although a nicely produced pamphlet of thirty-two pages with glossy card wraps, there is no author indicated, nor a publisher, city or date of publication. How unusual it all was. There are, of course, lesser pamphlet productions in the Churchill canon, but this one was not produced on the cheap. It is not listed in the late Curt Zoller’s Annotated Bibliography of Works about Sir Winston S. Churchill, nor can it be found in the catalogues of the British Library, Library and Archives Canada, or the Library of Congress.
As to content, the pamphlet is essentially a biographical summary, somewhat elementary in its presentation, which is divided into five parts: Part I—The Beginning; Part II—The First World War; Part III—Winston Churchill Between Wars; Part IV—The Second World War; and Part V—Into the Sunset. Read More >
Martin Gilbert and Larry P. Arnn, eds., The Churchill Documents, volume 22, Leader of the Opposition, August 1945 to October 1951, Hillsdale College Press, 2019, 2328 pages, $60. ISBN 978–0916308407
With hindsight, the years 1945–51 seem like an interlude between Winston Churchill’s two premierships, while Clement Attlee and the Labour party held power. But Churchill had a remarkable capacity for making history out of office, as well as in office. What might be termed his second wilderness years are a case in point—as this latest volume of documents vividly shows.
Far from being the “anti-climax” Churchill initially dreaded, he used the time to prodigious effect. Aided by his “Syndicate” of assistants and financed in style by his publishers, he completed five of the eventual six volumes of war memoirs. We can read his progress reports to Clementine, his queries about delicate issues such as the Dieppe Raid or the bombing of Dresden, his unconcealed pride when telling his King that 250,000 copies of Their Finest Hour had been sold in a single day, and his regular complaints about the workload: “Volume IV is a worse tyrant than Attlee.” Read More >
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, 3 vols. (2006).
When I first thought of this article, I had been struck by the number of recent Eastern Bloc editions. Then I thought, “Why only recent?” It seems intriguing to contemplate a longer time span. After all, while Churchill’s writings have been translated into thirty-one languages, thirteen of these are in Eastern Bloc languages, and, of the recent translations (since 2014), even Savrola and My Early Life are included, as well as the more predictable Second World War.
Intriguingly, the oldest of Churchill’s works to be translated was his very first, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (A1). It is also one of the more recent books to be translated into an Eastern Bloc edition. First published in March 1898, it was translated into Czech as Příběh malakandského sboru (Brno: Jota, 1997). Savrola(A3), Churchill’s only novel, which was first published in volume form in 1900, has been translated into eight languages, finally attracting Eastern Bloc treatment in Hungary as Savrola: forradalom Laurániában (Budapest: Metropolis Media, 2010) and Ukraine, as Саврола (Zhupansky: Kiev, 2017).
Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall “came tumblin’ down.” The largely peaceful end to the Cold War came “quite suddenly and quite unexpectedly,” as Churchill once described the end of the First World War, to the relief of a world that had long lived in fear of nuclear war.
Churchill did not begin the Cold War— as early as 1943 Stalin was directing his armies with an eye towards building his Iron Curtain— but it was Churchill’s famous speech at Fulton, Missouri in March 1946 that alerted the world to the situation that had developed. Timothy Riley tells the story of how Churchill’s remarks at Westminster College were subsequently complemented by those of Mikhail Gorbachev in the aftermath of the Cold War. Edwina Sandys then explains how she conceived the idea for her sculpture Breakthrough that now stands near where her grandfather first outlined the “Sinews of Peace.”
Churchill accepted the invitation to speak in the Show-me State when he saw that it had been endorsed by Missouri’s most famous son, President Harry S. Truman. Alan P. Dobson looks at how Churchill tried working with Truman to preserve the special relationship, even as the Prime Minister took exception to details in the organization of NATO that he felt diminished British importance. Read More >
British Government leaflets advising citizens on how to respond to a German invasion.
Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018
By Ronald I. Cohen
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, 3 vols.(2006).
An Ottawa Churchill Society member and good friend referred me to an online article he had spotted by Colin Marshall entitled “Winston Churchill’s List of Tips for Surviving a German Invasion: See the Never-Distributed Document (1940).” Given the apparent obscurity of the leaflet to which it refers (to judge by the title of Marshall’s article), my Churchillian friend wondered if I was aware of the document. I was indeed.
I should note straightaway that, while it is designated by Marshall as “Churchill’s” list of tips, they were not initially drafted by him, although he certainly did comment on them and ultimately approved their substance—more on that following the issue of distribution.
Fred Glueckstein wishes to thank Miss Tace Fox, Archivist and Record Manager at Harrow School, London for her invaluable assistance in researching the archives on his behalf.
Young Winston Churchill had just turned seventeen when his first published work was printed in December 1891 in the pages of the Harrow School’s weekly newspaper The Harrovian under the pseudonym Junius Junior.
Churchill’s first published work raises a number of curious questions. Why did he write the letter? What did the letter express? Was there a reason he used the pseudonym Junius Junior, and was there a response by schoolmates, or the school administration?
Letters to the Editor
Winston Churchill entered Harrow, an independent boarding school for boys in Middlesex, on 17 April 1888. While there, he took up fencing and spent a good deal of time in the gymnasium. Churchill eventually became fencing champion of the school in December 1892.
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, 3 vols. (2006).
It is hard to believe that, in a life rich with writings and crowned with the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, Churchill wrote so little autobiography. In a year in which he has been so present cinematically (two feature films—Churchill and Darkest Hour, an off-screen but strong presence in Dunkirk, and a significant role in the first series of The Crown), it seems appropriate to have a brief look at his sole autobiographical volume, My Early Life, which is also the only one of his books ever developed into a film, 1972’s Young Winston (see p. 10).
Churchill did write numerous autobiographical articles over the years—including, of course, the story of his escape from the Boers—that were published in periodicals such as Nash’s, the Strand, and Cosmopolitan. Seeking to gain additional income from the earliest of these, Churchill proposed in 1930 to use them in creating his first book since starting work on The World Crisis, four volumes of which had then been completed.
In February 1930, Churchill announced his projected autobiographical volume to his British publisher, Thornton Butterworth. He said that he wished to have the 50,000 words “in the articles I have already assembled” for My Early Life “set up in proof.” His demands were precise. “The book would vary from 100,000 to 125,000 words. It should be published at not less than a guinea. It could come out in the autumn publishing season of 1931.” In the end, Butterworth agreed with the typesetting proposal, and Churchill sent the first instalment off to Butler and Tanner, the printers, on 12 March. He was, as usual, enthusiastic about the content. “They [the old articles] seem to me to read extremely well and, when woven into the texture of a continuous narrative, they will I believe make a book of adventure, possibly of some permanent merit.”
Ronald I. Cohen MBE is author of A Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill (2006).
I was recently asked when Churchill’s only fulllength work of fiction was written, relative to its publication date. After all, most of the time (but not always), he chose his book subject and drove it forward to conclusion. That said, in later years, financial demands became a primary motivation, and the order of writing books occasionally changed as a function of publishers’ advances against royalties.
In the earliest days of his writing career, when his military histories and then his political perspectives and positions were paramount, Churchill wrote and published in order, except in the case of his only novel Savrola, about which he “misled” us in My Early Life regarding two not insignificant matters: his own attitude toward the book and the history of its creation.
In 1930, Churchill advised readers of My Early Life that, over the years he “consistently urged [his] friends to abstain from reading it [Savrola].” Although he stated that his attitude toward the work had not significantly mollified over the half-century between the publication of its first and second American editions, our acceptance today of this amusingly self-deprecating sentiment does not actually gibe with his expressed feelings at the time of writing and publication of the first edition. By way of comparison, consider the cautious restraint of his new foreword to the Random House republication in 1956, referring to the preface more than a half-century before: “The preface to the first edition in 1900 submitted the book ‘with considerable trepidation to the judgement or clemency of the public.’ The intervening fifty-five years have somewhat dulled though certainly not changed my sentiments on this point.”
In the left-hand panel of the certificate can be seen the Houses of Parliament and references to the muses of painting and writing. In the right-hand panel you can see Chartwell’s trellis-covered nursery wing at left and the first Duke of Marlborough at right.
Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018
By Svante Janson
Svante Janson is Professor of Mathematics at Uppsala University in Sweden. He is grateful to the staff of the Churchill Archives Centre and its director Allen Packwood for assistance in research for this article.
One of the most impressive objects on display at Chartwell is Winston Churchill’s 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature and the accompanying certificate. I have in my home in Sweden a typewritten copy of the letter nominating him for the prize that year. This letter is signed Birger Nerman, and my copy has a handwritten dedication to Gerda Serrander, my great-grandmother. It appears likely that, as nowadays, those making nominations were asked to keep their nominations secret, but that after the prize had been awarded, Nerman could not resist giving copies of his successful nominating letter to some of his close friends. We know, moreover, that Nerman also sent a copy to Churchill.
I spent the autumn of 2016 as a visiting Fellow at Churchill College in Cambridge, and I took the opportunity to contact Allen Packwood, the director of the Churchill Archives Centre, which is located in the college, and inquire about Churchill’s Nobel Prize. He found in the Archives a letter from Nerman to Churchill dated 19 December 1953, a week after the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony on 10 December, where Nerman explains that he has had “for some years the honour of suggesting your name for the Nobel Prize in Literature,” and that several persons, including Churchill’s Swedish publisher Captain Bertil Sterner, had encouraged Nerman to send the nomination to Churchill; Nerman enclosed a copy of the nomination letter together with an English translation of it. Churchill’s private secretary Anthony Montague Browne forwarded the letter to Churchill, together with a draft of a reply, which Churchill signed on 25 December, thanking Nerman for the copy of “your letter to the Nobel Committee in which you express yourself in such flattering terms.” Read More >
Specialized Churchill bookseller Barry Singer directed a query by Churchill collector Michael Barrington to me regarding the colour of the endpapers on copies of his one-volume edition of The River War (Longmans Green, 1902). Mr. Barrington was understandably concerned that the white endpapers were not original, as I had described the binding in my Bibliography as having coated black endpapers [see Cohen A2.2], and their appearance might have reflected the rebinding or other alteration of a copy of the abridged edition.
Let me first remind readers of a few points regarding Churchill’s second work, which chronicled his time as a war correspondent attached to the 21st Lancers, one of the regiments despatched to join Kitchener’s forces in the re-conquest of Sudan. Churchill left London on 27 July 1898 to board a ship at Marseilles bound for Egypt, where he arrived on 2 August, with a Morning Post contract to report on the conflict (at £15 per despatch). He filed the first of his fifteen letters to the paper on 8 August (it was published on 31 August) and the fourth on 2 September, describing the famous Cavalry charge at Omdurman (which was published on 23 September). By the time he had filed his sixth letter, he had determined to write a book on the campaign (which he dubbed the “River War”) and which lasted from April 1896 through February 1899.
Title page of the National Churchill Museum manuscript
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
An eleven-page essay by Winston Churchill entitled “Are We Alone in the Universe?” in the archives of the National Churchill Museum has developed into an international news story that revealed Churchill was clearly open to the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on other planets.
Churchill drafted his first version of the essay in 1939 and then revised the text slightly in the 1950s. The manuscript of the revised version was among four boxes of materials that were donated to the museum some thirty years ago by Wendy Reves, widow of Churchill literary agent Emery Reves. There it sat unnoticed until its rediscovery last year.
Seeking insights about the validity or the accuracy of Churchill’s astronomical perspective, Timothy Riley, Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum, provided the essay to Westminster science faculty as well as renowned astrophysicist Mario Livio, during his Hancock Symposium lecture at Westminster College last fall.
Excitement grew when Livio and the Westminster science faculty expressed great amazement over Churchill’s faith in science and his belief in potential alien life on other planets. Riley gave support to Livio, who wrote an extensive article about the essay for the 16 February 2017 issue of Nature, the prestigious science journal.
The article touched off an avalanche of news stories in the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, The Huffington Post, U.S. News and World Report, The Guardian, the South China Morning Post, the Times of Israel, El Universio, and El Diario and was carried by the newsagencies Reuters, Agence France-Press (AFP), AFP Japan, and Xinhua, the official news agency of the People’s Republic of China. And the story continued to grow.
Newsweek, Smithsonian, the Christian Science Monitor, The Independent, The Times of London, and hundreds of other publications began using the news story, followed by regional, national, and international broadcast outlets from NBC and Fox News to NPR and the BBC, as well as Yahoo and dozens of major online news portals worldwide. Read More >
Churchill had an incredibly quick mind, a sharp tongue and a very large vocabulary. He loved playing with words – creating new ones, adapting old ones – and using words to his advantage, quite often at the expense of others (although sometimes at his own, too!) Many of his speeches – and quotes from those speeches – are very well known, but his witticisms, bon mots, jokes and puns are perhaps less well recorded (or often misattributed). Churchill had a mischievous sense of wit. This couldn’t really be called ‘humour’; he wasn’t usually trying to be funny or make people laugh; nor did he tell bawdy or ribald jokes; this wasn’t in his nature. But he did enjoy the neatness and cleverness of a well-placed and carefully judged retort. He didn’t hesitate to use his particular talent with words on others. He had certain ‘sparring partners’ (as Richard Langworth puts it) who prompted him to fire off a quick riposte. Although these might have seemed off the cuff and spontaneous, they were generally carefully rehearsed, words carefully selected for punning potential, stored in his prodigious memory and then released on their unsuspecting recipient at the right moment. In 2013, he topped a poll of ‘history’s funniest insults’. Read more – and see the full list – here. In the Dictionary of Humorous Political Quotations, there’s a Churchill quote on nearly every page. As this journalist said, he’s the last word in political wit.
Churchill wasn’t only interested in writing history, biography and autobiography (with the odd dabbling in fiction and counterfactual fantasy). During his ‘wilderness years’, in the 1930s, Churchill took on the profitable (for him) role as screenwriter and adviser to the Hungarian-born film director Alexander Korda in Hollywood. He even acted as adviser and coach to a potential actor in what was a doomed early film adaptation of T. E. Lawrence’s Revolt in the Desert (Korda had bought the film rights to both this and Seven Pillars of Wisdom, later selling the film rights to Sam Spiegel and the director David Lean who went on to make the award-winning Lawrence of Arabia). Throughout his life, Churchill always read the latest fiction and non-fiction – and not just history. He counted among his friends and acquaintances literary figures of the day such as Somerset Maugham, Gertrude Bell and T. E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’). He’d worked closely with the latter in a professional capacity, while Colonial Secretary in the 1920s – he was just the sort of adventurer that appealed to Churchill – but he also admired his writing. While Churchill shared an interest in the science fiction – although not necessarily the politics – of H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Jules Verne, he didn’t tend to hold back on expressing his opinions of other writers of the day, particularly if their politics didn’t accord with his.
In the 1950s, Churchill devoted more and more time to reading the classics of literature. In 1953, he had been reading Trollope, the Brontes, Hardy and Scot, when he heard in October that he was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. This wasn’t, as some assume, for his work on The Second World War (the final and sixth volume was to be published in November 1953)but in recognition of his life-long commitment to – and mastery of – the written and spoken word. He was disappointed that it was not the Peace Prize. He was in Bermuda when the prizes were to be presented by the King of Sweden in Stockholm – there was no question which event took precedence – and Clementine accepted the award on his behalf.
Much of his writing was done at Chartwell, the country house he bought in 1922 and then gradually, and at great expense, renovated. You too can see the same desk – and study, library, drawing room – at Chartwell. Downstairs at Chartwell, there’s a room with maps on the wall and a telephone exchange; this is where all his researchers – junior (and less junior) academics from Oxford, research fellows – worked away, day after day, searching out nuggets of information and documents, looking for material for Churchill to weave into his books. Over sixty thousand books to supplement their research were housed in the Library, its towering shelves laden with volumes. Churchill used a special table – an upright desk – built to his design, for checking his drafts, for making all those changes that enhanced his writing and his speech-making; polishing them, incorporating all his favourite words and phrases, always with an eye – and an ear – for the most powerful and emotive emphasis and effect. See Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor, particularly Chapter 6, ‘The Great Dictator’, where he points out that Churchill produced not only more words than Charles Dickens, or more words than Shakespeare – but more than both of them put together!
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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.
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