Cita Stelzer is author of Working with Winston: The Unsung Women behind Britain’s Greatest Statesman to be published this May and from which this article is adapted.
In the course of his long career, Winston Churchill published numerous histories (earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature) containing some thirteen million words. He also produced untold memoranda, letters, directives, and an estimated 5,000 speeches for delivery in the House of Commons and to audiences in Britain, America, Canada, the Soviet Union, and other countries, as well as over the wireless. When completed, The Churchill Documents, published by Hillsdale College, will consist of twenty-three hefty volumes. And those volumes do not include his published books. Without the help of his many talented and devoted personal secretaries, such an enormous, high-quality output would almost certainly have been impossible. Most of it was dictated to his teams of ever-present secretaries, some of it while in cars, planes, trains, and some of it while in bed at 8 AM or again after dinner until 2 AM. Whether preparing to correspond with President Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, or his wife Clemmie, or to transmit instructions to his generals, Churchill knew that the shout of “Miss” would instantly produce a young lady to “take down.”
Churchill was a non-stop worker, especially during the Second World War when he rigorously enforced his rule (a blessing for later historians) that every instruction, every thought, must be reduced to written memoranda to avoid confusion, or perhaps deliberate misinterpretation. This made accurate transcription of his words essential to his direction of Britain’s war effort. True, he did take an occasional afternoon off to paint except during the war, but even then it was the job of his secretaries to see to it that proper paints, brushes, and canvasses arrived wherever he might be when he found time to relax. And the blue paint requested was not just any blue, but often a specific hue, such as cobalt. Read More >
Winston Churchill was a professionally trained army officer. It would have been surprising if he had started out as anything else. From boyhood, he was fascinated by military history and deeply proud of his descent from one of Britain’s greatest generals, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Identifying these traits in his son, Lord Randolph Churchill steered him in the direction of the army. The rest is history.
Major General P. A. E. Nanson, the present Commandant of The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, begins this issue for us reflecting on the impact his institution had on Gentleman Cadet Winston Churchill. Douglas Russell then surveys Churchill’s army career in peace and war—a period that lasted nearly thirty years and was not without danger.
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.
John Bird’s reconstruction of Churchill’s route at Witbank
Finest Hour 180, Spring 2018
By John Bird
John Bird lives in Witbank, South Africa
On 12 December 1899, Winston Churchill escaped from the State Model School in Pretoria, where he had been held prisoner by the Boers since his capture the previous month. After brazenly walking out of town, he found a railway line, which he hoped led on to his goal: the Portuguese colony at Delagoa Bay. In the evening, he scrambled onto a freight train and caught some sleep. But he knew he could not continue on the train after dawn, since he might be spotted on board and he would need to find water.
In the early hours of the 13th, Churchill jumped from the train and began to make his way on foot until he miraculously happened upon help at the Transvaal & Delagoa Bay Colliery near Witbank. While he subsequently recorded what he could of this journey, the precise route he then took has hitherto remained a complete mystery. It took many years of research, but I have now been able to put together a plausible itinerary. To do this, I found two keys were necessary to trace Churchill’s journey from the time he sprawled off the train at a quarter to four on the morning of 13 December until he was taken down a mineshaft at the colliery at a quarter to five the following morning. Read More >
Fifty years but only 180 issues of a quarterly magazine? The numbers do not appear to compute. This discrepancy, along with the entire history of the International Churchill Society, is explained by myself in the lead article of this our fiftieth anniversary issue. Churchill wrote that “the veils of the future are lifted one by one, and mortals must act from day to day.” This appositely describes the unexpected evolution of a tiny group of enthusiasts into the global organization to which you belong if you are reading these words.
Churchill led a life of adventure, and so “Churchill’s Adventures” is a suitable theme for our half-century milestone. Publishing a letter to the editor of a school newspaper may not appear to be adventurous, but it must be remembered that writing became Churchill’s primary source of income. Setting out on a career that Churchill sensed would be important to him was the beginning of a life-long adventure, as Fred Glueckstein shows.
Oscar Nemon statue of Clementine and Winston on the grounds of Chartwell
Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018
By Jonathan Dudley
Jonathan Dudley retired from the University of Wolverhampton after a career in education.
A couple of years ago, that would be in 2015, I decided to take myself back to Chartwell. I had just finished writing the first full draft of a short memoir capturing the strangeness and the wonder of staying there with Mr. and Mrs. Churchill in the summer of 1949 and again in 1950. [See p. 51.] In 1949 I was eight years old: classrooms at my all-boys school in London were furnished with double-desks, each one shared by two boys sitting side by side. The little boy I was told to sit next to in this our final year at the school could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as my great friend. I had hardly spoken to him during the two or three years we had been at this expensive private school in South Kensington. Nevertheless Winston, for that was his name, mentioned one day that his grandmother had asked him to bring a friend when he went to stay with her and his grandfather in their country house in Kent this summer. “Would I,” he asked me solemnly, “like to be that friend?
It was a difficult one. I was not at all sure that Winston and I had anything much in common: I loved nothing better than kicking a football around, Winston seemed little interested in sport. He seemed to enjoy making artworks of different kinds, maybe cutting out bits of paper, colouring them in, all that sort of thing and frankly, it did not interest me very much. The fact that we had not had much social contact at school seemed to me a bad omen. Perhaps he was short of friends. Read More >
“A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.” Speaking thirty years ago in Dallas at the fourth International Churchill Conference, these were the words that Grace Hamblin, Lady Churchill’s former secretary and Chartwell’s first Administrator, remembered Sir Winston having said many times. He called it his “factory,” but it was so much more than that: it was his dream house, his refuge, his chief pleasure, his pride, and his muse.
In this issue, we look at the Chartwell story from its acquisition by Churchill to current plans of the National Trust for future development. David Lough, the leading authority on Churchill’s finances, starts us off with the story of how Churchill came to purchase his “blessed plot” and the constant monetary strains that went with it.
Life at Chartwell has been described by many. We are pleased to present here recollections from two voices new to the record. Leo Amery was a lifelong friend of Churchill’s. Published here for the first time are extracts from Amery’s diary recording some of his visits to Chartwell. Jonathan Dudley was only a boy when he visited with the Churchill family. He now draws upon his recently published memoir to give us a boy’s-eye view of the Churchills at home.
Thomes E. Ricks, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, Penguin, 2017, 352 pages, $28. ISBN 978–1594206139.
This book explains what Churchill and Orwell meant by freedom, how they fought for it, and why that battle continues. Explanations are scattered throughout alternating chapters on each man, designed to provide parallel lives. Coverage is cradle to grave, with focus on the 1930s and 1940s. The book seems intended as either review for those familiar with both, or as an introduction for neophytes. It is best as review. Ricks’s thesis is that “Churchill helped give us the liberty we enjoy now. Orwell’s thinking about liberty affects how we think about it now.” In his “Afterword: The Path of Churchill and Orwell,” Ricks urges readers to walk that path.
Because available pages are insufficient for ample biographies, the intertwined narratives too often seem like erratic Cliffs Notes with odd inclusions and omissions. Unfortunately omitted are any discussions of Savrola, My Early Life, Marlborough, or even the Nobel committee’s explanation of Churchill’s Nobel Prize for literature. Coming up for Air is merely listed among “close to unreadable” fiction by Orwell.
The oddest inclusion, as companion to analysis of Homage to Catalonia, is two short paragraphs from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls quoting unpleasant characters without any attempt to distinguish between what they say and what the novel intends by including their remarks. Ricks ends his glance at Hemingway by quoting “Orwell’s friend Malcolm Muggeridge” dismissing Hemingway as “boozy, preoccupied with the image rather than the reality.” So much for Papa.
邵力競 (Shao Lijing) 亂世領袖 學: 邱吉爾二戰英雄記 (Leadership in an Age of Turbulence: the Heroic Legacy of Winston Churchill in World War II), Enrich Publishing and Hong Kong Economic Journal, 2015, 254 pages, HK$118. ISBN 978–9888292653
Western writers have long explored the unique legacy of Winston Churchill. Chinese writer Shao Lijing takes a reflective approach, arguing that only when politicians learn the art of politicking itself can effective leadership be established for upholding democracy.
Born in Shanghai, Shao was educated in Hong Kong and earned his Ph.D. at Oxford. Previously he wrote a series of articles called 十四年亂象回顧 (The Reflection on Fourteen-Year Frenzied Phenomena). These articles analyze in depth the issues involved in the governing of Hong Kong. Shao suggests that Hong Kong’s leadership should borrow Churchill’s knowledge of statecraft and adapt it to today’s rapidly-changing and more challenging world, that people need to ponder how the British Parliament kept running even during the most difficult times of the War, and that historians and government officials need to rethink in what way the post-war powers were reconstructed, how colonialism and nationalism evolve, and what challenges democracy is facing today.
To find lessons in the most effective methods for running a democratic government facing a mortal threat, Shao examines Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War. For Shao, to learn the lessons of war is to avoid the actuality of war. He argues that wars in the 1920s, economic and political, led to the Second World War. Future tragedies can result if people do not now reflect upon the causes of these earlier conflicts. Taking the surrender of Singapore as an example, Shao suggests that many politicians in Hong Kong need to learn from Churchill and not act like “事後孔 明 [the wise man after the event]” (85).
Jonathan Asbury, Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, Imperial War Museum, 2016, 224 pages, £30/$45. ISBN: 978–1904897491
Visiting the Churchill War Rooms is a powerful experience. The secrecy, urgency, and importance housed within the walls immediately surround and intoxicate your senses. Solemnly pacing the halls, peering into the map room, and perusing the exhibits gives you a feeling of their immense historical importance. You can almost smell wafts of Churchill’s cigar smoke as you contemplate how he and others like General Brooke and General Ismay directed the war. Replicating that experience with a book might prove a difficult task. Jonathan Asbury’s Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, however, does so with aplomb. Published by the Imperial War Museum, the book provides an informative and engaging account of life in Churchill’s bunker.
Asbury’s book joins the ranks of several other texts written on the subject including The Cabinet War Rooms (1996), The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms (2005), and more recently Richard Holmes’s final book, Churchill’s Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of the War (2011). Like those books, Asbury relies a great deal on the account of the first “inhouse” historian at the War Rooms, Peter Simkins. Asbury admirably pays respect to Simkins’s work, The Cabinet War Rooms (1968) in his acknowledgements and notes that Simkins himself “played a major role in the preservation and restoration of the site” (219). But as a testament to Asbury’s thoroughness and thoughtfulness, he reminds his readers of the role Nigel de Lee, a historian from the Royal Military Academy, played in preparing an unpublished history of the War Rooms. De Lee’s work informed both the accounts of Simkins and that of Jon Wenzel, the first Curator of the War Rooms, in his curation of the site right down to the correct furniture required.
Nigel Hamilton, Commander in Chief: FDR’s Battle with Churchill , 1943, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 480 pages, $30.00. ISBN 978-0544279117
“I am everlastingly angry only at those who assert vociferously that the four freedoms and the Atlantic Charter are nonsense because they are unattainable. If these people had lived a century and a half ago they would have sneered and said that the Declaration of Independence was utter piffle.”
This 1943 statement by President Franklin Roosevelt is a stellar example of visionary rhetoric and is one of many examples of FDR’s drive to use the Four Freedoms (Freedom of Speech and Worship; Freedom from Want and Fear) as his compass to lead the war effort. In his latest book on Roosevelt during the Second World War, Nigel Hamilton continues his quest to give FDR his “day in literary court.”
This engaging read is Hamilton’s second volume (Mantle of Command being the first and reviewed in FH 168) investigating Roosevelt’s continued maturation into the role of commander in chief. Hamilton’s narrative goes beyond Roosevelt’s challenges commanding the US war effort. This account captures the myriad trials associated with galvanizing world leaders toward a vision of the post-war world. FDR used notions that, although they may have been novel at the time, have now been accepted as foundational for organizations such as the United Nations and NATO. Thus, this latest account engagingly describes a seminal moment in world history created by a dynamic leader, which changed the world permanently.
Churchillstarring Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson, written by Alex Von Tunzelmann, directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, released by Lionsgate Films: June 2017
Historical dramas require some artistic license. The events of several days, months, or years must be compressed into a viewable timespan. In assessing such films, the reviewer should ask two questions: 1) Does the story remain true to the historical framework? and 2) Does it entertain? Sadly this Churchill fails on both counts.
With regards to accuracy, much can be forgiven up to a point. Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, and The King’s Speech all won the Best Picture Oscar as dramas that entertained while remaining within the essential framework of history. Directors Mel Gibson and Oliver Stone have shown that even when that framework is willfully disregarded, the results can still sometimes make compelling viewing. Alas, Churchill, starring Brian Cox in the title role, commits the greatest of all cinematic sins: it’s boring.
A film about the events leading up to the Normandy invasion in June 1944 should not want for drama, but a low budget, indifferent acting, uninspiring direction, and—above all—a hopelessly insipid script have made it so. It is incredible to think that this is intended to be a theatrical release and not simply a made-for-television movie.
The producers were so anxious to save money that there are only about a dozen speaking parts. None of what is spoken comes from the Churchill canon. Rather than pay a license fee to the estate, the filmmakers opted for phony, pseudo-Churchill speeches. For once we have a film about the D-Day landings that includes no action scenes from the beaches, not even stock newsreel footage. The most aggressive moment on screen comes when an angry Churchill swipes his breakfast off the table.
Churchill had been determined to have a happy family – to maintain those ‘dominating virtues of human society’ – but he lived so many other lives – as a politician, as a war leader, and had so many passionate interests (writing, painting, holidays) – that his family was, to a greater or lesser degree, squeezed in among these other busy lives. There were painful consequences, of course, but Clementine had always accepted that her husband must come first (and ‘second and third’) and worked tirelessly to support him. And his children, however, they responded to the pressures of being the great man’s children, appreciated, and were proud of, all he had done for them and for the country.
But it wasn’t always an easy marriage. Apart from their political disagreements and heated arguments – and spinach throwing episodes – both Winston and Clementine were prone to periods of depression – Churchill with his ‘black dog’ and Clementine with all her worries and concerns about life with the great man and the children – and both were also increasingly frail and unwell. When the War was over and Churchill had been voted out of office, life was miserable. With Churchill exhausted and increasingly depressed by his enforced inactivity, the children continuing to cause concern and distress and Clementine herself suffering from ill-health, there was considerable friction in the Churchill household. They had always holidayed separately, since 1918. Now tensions at home were eased by increasing time spent apart – Churchill began to spend more and more time abroad for his health, and his painting, with Clementine staying at home, relishing the peace and quiet and recuperating from her own ailments – and these separations served to remind them of their dependence upon each other; throughout these lengthy periods of separation, they continued to write each other affectionate letters. They did, however, travel together to France in 1958, to Lord Beaverbrook’s villa, La Capponcina, at Cap D’Ail where they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.
‘I cannot explain how it is but in our misery we seem, instead of clinging to each other to be always having scenes. I’m sure it’s all my fault, but I’m finding life more than I can bear. He is so unhappy & that makes him very difficult… I can’t see any future.’
Clementine to Mary, 26 August 1945, quoted in Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill
Sarah (born in October 1914 in the first months of the First World War) and Marigold (born just after the end of the War, in November 1918) were Churchill’s younger daughters. Life for them was to prove troubled and, in the case of Marigold, sadly very brief.
‘Many years later my father told me that when Marigold died, Clementine gave a succession of wild shrieks like an animal in mortal pain. My mother never got over Marigold’s death.’
Mary Soames, Prelude to A Daughter’s Tale
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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.