February 10, 2015

On 13 March the First Lord presented his naval estimates of £48 millions to the House of Commons. Concerns over Britain’s ability to compete with Germany overcame the reservations expressed by Lloyd George about the country’s ability to afford it. In fact, other views, expressed by Lord Charles Beresford, argued that the navy was still understaffed and ill- prepared. However, the Daily Telegraph stated that “the Navy has never in its long history had a more persuasive spokesman in Parliament than the present Minister.”

In April Churchill was involved in what came to be known as the Marconi Scandal. His colleague, Lloyd George, was accused of improperly trading in shares of the Marconi Company. Churchill vociferously defended his friend. When the editor of the Financial News testified that Churchill himself had profited by trading, the accused exploded. He charged that anyone who stated anything other than his innocence “was a liar and a slanderer.” Not only was he believed to be innocent by the public but his friends were impressed by his self-defence. One wrote: “it is in affairs like these that breeding asserts itself.”

In May the Churchills set out on a Mediterranean cruise on Enchantress. They were accompanied by the Asquiths and their daughter, Eddie Marsh and Winston’s mother. At the time, Jennie was unhappily divorcing her husband, George Cornwallis-West, who had deserted her. They toured Venice in a gondola, visited Dubrovnick and went fishing in Vallona Bay on the Albanian coast. At a picnic luncheon Winston kept quoting Gray’s Ode to Spring. “At ease reclined in a rustic state. . . . “

At Athens they saw the Parthenon. Churchill, distressed at the sight of the collapsed columns, wanted to bring in a group of naval blue-jackets to set them upright. In Sicily Prime Minister Asquith, having reviewed his Thucydides for the occasion, entertained the party with an account of the Sicilian Expedition.

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The British press followed their journey with much interest. Punch published a cartoon showing the First Lord and Prime Minister relaxing on the deck of Enchantress. The Prime Minister is scanning a newspaper as Churchill asks him: “Any Home News?” To which Asquith replies, “How can there be with you here?”

At Malta the First Lord disembarked, visited the naval station and rejoined the party at Palermo. On visiting Corsica, Eddie Marsh and Churchill called at Napoleon’s house and stood together “for a full moment in silent cogitation.” Violet Asquith, the Prime Minister’s daughter, remembered particularly the evening card-games. Eddie Marsh was a serious bridge player who was often bemused by Churchill’s unconventional play. “I can still hear Eddie’s cry of pain” she has recorded, “when Winston, having led up to and sacrificed his partner’s king, declared, “Nothing is here for tears. The king cannot fall unworthily if he falls to the sword of the ace” – a dictum which left Eddie’s tears over his fallen king un-dried.”

Another amusing story from the voyage involved Clementine. On paying a visit to the galley to talk to the cook, she found a large and, to her beautiful, turtle. When it became obvious that it was destined for soup she obtained a dinghy and a party of men and returned the intended victim to the Mediterranean. Despite his love of culinary pleasures, Winston approved.

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