March 20, 2015

Honours and Reflections on a Long Life

Upon their return from America Winston and Clementine were greeted by their daughter, Mary, who was being demobilized. That spring mother and daughter decided to catch up on their education by visiting galleries, museums and exhibitions. Each weekend they went to Chartwell which was now being refurbished after wartime neglect.

Churchill was the recipient of many honours, and would often use those occasions to speak out on world and domestic affairs. On receiving the Freedom of Westminster he reflected on how “the human story does not always unfold like an arithmetical calculation on the principle that two and two make four… I The element of the unexpected and the unforeseeable is what gives some of its relish to life and saves us from falling into the mechanical thralldom of the logicians.”

On a visit to Holland he spoke on a favourite subject, the unification of Europe. “I see no reason why, under the guardianship of the world organization, there should not ultimately arise the United States of Europe, both those of the East and those of the West, which will unify this Continent in a manner never known since the fail of the Roman Empire.” The cornerstone of the new organization would be Anglo-French friendship and he wrote Prime Minister Attlee for approval to accept an invitation from the Mayor of Metz.

Mrs. Churchill also received honours in her own right including this letter from Clement Attlee: “I feel very sincerely that it would not be fitting if the Victory Honours lists did not include your name. I hope, therefore, that you will allow me to submit your name to His Majesty for appointment as a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in recognition, not only of your work for the Aid to Russia Fund, and for the promotion of Anglo-Russian understanding, but also of those other many services which made so marked and brave a contribution during the years of the war. I hope this will be agreeable to you, for I am sure it would be an houour which would be widely acclaimed”

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Glasgow University conferred upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) for, amongst other contributions, her role as a wife: ‘There are times when the fate of the world seems to depend on the life of one man. Such a time we have known. And we can but remember with gratitude what it meant to Mr. Churchill that there stood beside him in the evil days one who added womanly grace and womanly wisdom, a power to achieve, a faith to persevere, and a full measure of the courage which, as we like to think, reflects the ancient valour of a Scottish ancestry.”

Churchill often made some amusing remarks about how he maintained that relationship with his wife. When a visitor commented that he and his wife ate breakfast together, Churchill said: “My wife and I tried two or three times in the last forty years to have breakfast together, but it didn’t work. Breakfast should be had in bed, alone. Not downstairs, after one has dressed… I don’t think our married life would have been nearly so happy if we both had dressed and come down for breakfast all these years.”

He used his mornings abed in part for reading, in addition to all the major dailies he was a steady reader of the Manchester Guardian (“the best newspaper in the world”), greatly respected the Christian Science Monitor, and every week he had a good look at The Economist. His reading took him the better part of an hour as he sat in bed, propped up with pillows, eating a good solid breakfast of fruit, eggs, meat or fish, toast and coffee.

In the breakfast conversation, observed by Walter Graebner, the London representative for Time-Life, Churchill related how he was able to maintain such a rigorous schedule. “You must sleep some time between lunch and dinner, and no half-way measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one-well, at least one and a half, I’m sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities. Later, when I became Prime Minister my burdens were, of course, even greater. Often I was obliged to work far into the night I had to see reports, take decisions and issue instructions that could not wait until the next day. And at night I’d also dictate minutes requesting information which my staff could assemble for me in the morning—and place before me when I woke up.”

Churchill continued: “But a man should sleep during the day for another reason. Sleep enables you to be at your best in the evening when you join your wife, family and friends for dinner. That is the time to be at your best—a good dinner, with good wines…champagne is very good…then some brandy—that is the great moment of the day. Man is ruler then—perhaps only for fifteen minutes, but for that time at least he is master—and the ladies must not leave the table too soon.”

During this period his book writing focused on the preparation for publication of his speeches, including his secret wartime addresses to Parliament and, most particularly, his war memoirs. To that end he met with historian Bill Deakin, his tax adviser, his solicitor, representatives of the publishing house of Cassell and Lord Ismay, his military adviser. The great project resulting in the six volumes of The Second World War had begun.

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