Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | September 16, 2017

What would Winston Churchill Do? (Chapter 44)

Yet if we are to learn anything from the Leadership, the Statesmanship, and the Exercise of Power from Winston Churchill — we ought to look at the record and then take things in the form of historical sequence, as events dictate history, and great men lead it, and also write it, in both reality, and figure of speech.

For the Western Civilization, first came the struggle to survive, the darkest twelve months that Britain fought absolutely and unequivocally all alone, from the fall of France and the rest of Europe in June 1940, to the German attack on Russia in June 1941.

The highlights of this grim year, are still fresh in the minds of the people who were alive back then.

The horrible defeat and partition of France, & the formation of collaborationist Vichy Government of the half of France cooperating with Hitler.

The relentless Luftwaffe Air Attack on Britain that culminated with the Battle of Britain. The blaring nights of the awful blitz on London.

The vicious setbacks of the war in North Africa and the Sahel, called the Desert War.

The defeat of heroic Greece, and her enslavement in the hands of the Huns.

The Commando raids along the Norwegian and French coasts.

The fall and occupation of Norway by Germany’s storm troopers.

This setback was swiftly followed by the huge setbacks in the Balkans, in Asia, in Africa, and in the Middle East…

The year of 1940 was indeed a dark year of spectacular defeats, losses, and setbacks… Yet during this ‘Annus Horribilis’ the worst calamity of them all — was the failure of Morale and Conviction stemming from the “Loss of Heart” in all of our Allies, our Friends, and even our own Citizens.

Only the Greek people had given us an early Victory when they defeated the Italians early in the war, but this was not to be a lasting victory because the Germans attacked the Greek flank and uprooted the defenders of Liberty, launching their occupation powers and initiating a program of genocide by starvation against these valiant warrior people.

 

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During this desperate period Winston Churchill became the most inspiring figure in the Western world. He symbolized the fierce spirit of liberty, and clothed Britain’s determination to fight in words that no other Englishman could have summoned:

“The battle of Britain is about to begin.
Upon this battle depends the
survival of Christian civilization.
Upon it depends our own British life
and the long continuity of our
institutions, and our Empire.
The whole fury and might of the enemy
must very soon be turned on us.
Hitler knows that he will have to break
us in this Island, or lose the war.
If we can stand up to him
all Europe may be freed,
and the life of the world
may move forward into the
broad and sunlit uplands.
But if we fail,
then the whole world,
including the United States,
and all that we have known and
cared for
will sink into the abyss of a
new Dark Age
made more sinister and
perhaps more prolonged by
the lights of perverted
Science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to
our duty, and so bear ourselves that
if the British Empire and
Commonwealth lasts for a
thousand years, men will still
say,
‘This was their finest hour’.

Indeed — this might also have been the finest hour of Winston’s career too.
Certainly it was by far his finest speech ever…

Yet WInston was always modest and in his own account of the war, he declares modestly that at that moment — he was merely interpreting the strong mood and emotion that gripped the country.

He cites as an example the fact that when the crazed vegetarian Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, approached the British government and quite arrogantly made his “final peace offer” in the summer of 1940 — Winston Churchill’s government — the British Cabinet regarded this ‘German Overture’ as so supremely foolish, that not a single member even raised it for discussion.

Nevertheless Winston’s knowledge of military matters and his close concern with all operational undertakings animated the British effort with the necessary vigour and a boldness they had been lacking earlier. And his interpretation of the Country’s cause, not only thrilled millions of people all over the globe but raised British prestige to the
highest level in history.

The truth was that Winston had at last found his destiny. The world looked to him for a lead and all the pent-up energy of the immense machine that throbbed in his heart and mind was brought into play. He no longer knew the frustration of ideas that could not be brought alive, vitality that could not be spent, ingenuity that could not be tested. The
tremendous task that had fallen upon him equalled his stature as a man, and he grasped the supreme power of the State with eager hands.

The whole of 10 Downing Street throbbed with an energy it had not seen since the days of Lloyd George, and perhaps hoped not to see again. The routine of Government was turned topsy-turvy. Churchill stayed in bed half the morning dictating and stayed up half the night talking. Every afternoon, after lunch, he had a nap. Chiefs of Staff, Ministers, civil servants, had to adapt themselves to this routine as best they could. Most of them had to be at work at nine or ten in the morning; even so, woe betide them if they were not men enough to come when he sent for them after dinner, to stay up until the early hours of the morning.

I do not mean to suggest that Winston Churchill’s leadership was not of the most precise, orderly kind. On the contrary, he was a master organizer and at once set about shaping a small, efficient machine that could take decisions swiftly and work with the maximum effect. First he organized a War Cabinet comprised of only four members besides himself: two were
Labour leaders, Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood, and two were Conservatives, Mr Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. This War Cabinet met almost daily and took all the supreme decisions of the war. Besides this tiny, all-powerful, directing force there were sixty or seventy other Ministers of all Parties who formed the membership of the Coalition Government, but the latter were responsible only for their own departments; as Winston pointed out it was only the members of the War Cabinet “who had the right to have their heads cut off on Tower Hill if we did not win.”

Needless to say Churchill was the overriding figure in the War Cabinet. Never before in history has a Prime Minister exerted such wide powers; never before has a Prime Minister exercised so much control over the operational side of a conflict. He was not only the King’s First Minister but Leader of the House of Commons and, even more im-
portant, Minister of Defence as well. In this last capacity he initiated a new system which centred authority in his own hands. The Chiefs of Staff instead of reporting to their own Ministers, the men in charge of the War, Air and Admiralty departments, reported directly to him. He then asked the War Cabinet for permission to have the Joint Planning Committee, a body of professional staff officers of all three services, work under him as
Minister of Defence rather than under the Chiefs of Staff. Thus, by permission of the War Cabinet, he became virtually a dictator of the war machine and all efforts at the defense of England, and the prosecution of the war at all fronts.

He revelled in both the immense power and responsibility of his task,and arranged his day with careful thought. He woke up at eight, summoned his secretaries, read all the telegrams and reports that had come through the night, then from his bed dictated a flow of minutes and memoranda, a large part of which was taken to the Chiefs of Staff at their
morning meeting. Every afternoon he went to bed for an hour or longer, like a child, and slept soundly. This gave him the extra strength to remain at work until the early hours of the morning.

The two links between himself and the military machine, and himself and the political authority, were General Ismay and Sir Edward Bridges. These men interpreted his wishes, carried out his orders, and smoothed his path in. every direction. The huge mass of instructions from the Prime Minister which flowed through their hands were always in writing for Churchill was a firm believer in the written word. He had had enough
experience of Government to know how often verbal orders led to misunderstandings; besides, he had no wish to have his name used loosely.

Soon after he became Prime Minister he issued the following directive to Ismay and Bridges: “Let it be very clearly understood that all directives emanating from me are made in writing, and that I do not accept any responsibility for matters relating to national defence on which I am alleged to have given decisions unless they are recorded in writing.”

Altogether, Winston Churchill’s directives, memoranda, telegrams and minutes amounted throughout the war to nearly 1,000,000 words, enough to fill half a dozen good sized volumes, even though most of them were models of brevity and precision. A one-line minute which he penned to a high civil servant read as follows: “Pray remember that the British people is no longer able to tolerate such plush disorganization.”

No one can study Winston Churchill’s part in the war without being staggered by the scope of his interests and his colossal output. His contribution falls into distinct parts: first, his directives on military operations and second, his public leadership. In the first capacity one has only to study the minutes that are reproduced in his history to gather an idea of the enormous range he covered, and the powerful influence he had upon the course of the war. When Britain was alone, waiting for the full fury of the German attack to descend upon her, Churchill insisted that the nation should not merely sit back with brave endurance but should immediately take the initiative.

“The passive resistance war, (he wrote in a directive to General Ismay) in which we have acquitted ourselves so well, must come to an end. I look to the Joint Chiefs of the Staff to propose me measures for a vigorous, enterprising and ceaseless offensive against the whole German-occupied coastline. Tanks and A.F. V.s [Armoured Fighting Vehicles] must be made in flat-bottomed boats, out of which they can crawl ashore, do a deep raid inland, cutting a vital communication, and then back, leaving a trail of German corpses behind them.”

Amphibious warfare had always fascinated Churchill, no doubt as a result of the ill-starred Dardanelles venture which had been his particular brain child, and which, if it had been truly amphibious, probably would have resulted in the defeat of Germany in 1915. In July 1940 he set up Combined Operations under Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, which initiated the daring commando raids that put Britain on the offensive.

Time and again one finds him urging amphibious tactics. He repeatedly urged the
commanders of the desert war to mount a surprise landing from the sea but this advice was never heeded. And later on, when the attack on Italy was in preparation one finds him anxious to employ the sea-borne landings boldly. “Why crawl up the leg like a harvest bug from the ankle upwards? Let us rather strike at the knee.”

Winston Churchill’s flat-bottomed boats were invented, and not only played a major part in the commando raids, but became absolutely essential equipment for the final cross-Channel invasion of France. But undoubtedly his most important contribution was the idea of the great artificial harbors around which the D-day operation was built He had conceived this idea as far back as 1917 when he prepared a scheme for the capture of the two Frisian islands, Borkum and Sylt, which he submitted to Lloyd George.
In this paper he suggested making an artificial island in the shallow waters of Horn Reef: “A number of flat-bottomed barges or caissons, made not of steel, but of concrete, should be prepared. These structures would be adapted to the depths in which they were to be sunk, according to a general plan. They would float when empty of water, and thus could be towed across to the site of the artificial island. On arrival at the buoys marking the island sea-cocks would be opened, and they would settle down on the bottom. They could subsequently be gradually filled with sand, as opportunity served, by suction dredgers. By this means a torpedo, and weather-proof harbor, like an atoll, would be created in the open sea, with regular pens for the destroyers and submarines, and alighting platforms for aeroplane landings.”

Churchill fortunately did not publish this document when he came to write ‘The World Crisis’ and now he began toying with this particular brain-child again. Frances Perkins quotes President Roosevelt as saying: “You know, that was Winston Churchill’s idea. Just one of those brilliant ideas that he has. He has a hundred a day and about four of them are good. But Roosevelt apparently was unaware that Winston had been mulling over the project for many years, for he continued: “When he was up visiting me in Hyde Park he saw all those boats from the last war tied up in the Hudson River and in one of his bursts of imagination he said: “By George, we could take those ships and others like them that are good for nothing and sink them offshore to protect the landings.” I thought well of it myself and we talked about it all afternoon. The military and naval authorities were startled out of a year’s growth. But Winnie is right. Great fellow, that Churchill, if you can keep up with him.

Yet it was not only in the field of amphibious war that Churchill made his contribution felt throughout. He gave advice over the entire operational field. Scarcely an undertaking was formed; that he did not submit to the Chiefs of Staff detailed and technical papers advising on how the plan should be executed. This was almost without parallel; no British political leader, with the possible exception of Pitt the Elder, had ever exerted such a powerful influence on strategy and tactics; not even Roosevelt, who by rights was Commander-in-Chief of the American Army, attempted to assume any like responsibility. “During the war” (testified General Eisenhower) “Churchill maintained such close contact with all operations as to make him a virtual member of the British Chiefs of Staff; I cannot remember any major discussion with them in which he did not participate.”

Even Lloyd George’s ascendancy in the first World War never reached anywhere near the same scale. Lloyd George had been the inventor of the small, all-powerful War Cabinet which Winston copied. This Cabinet, like Churchill’s, had supreme control as long as it had the support of Parliament. It had the authority to dictate strategy and insist that generals carried out its policies. But in the first War this right was never exercised, for public opinion was strongly averse to political interference in military matters, the professional soldier was king.

The design of a battle was regarded as a matter for generals, and generals alone.

This had disastrous results.

Today very few experts would care to defend the strategy of the first War, with its terrible and unnecessary slaughter. Lloyd George tells how strongly he opposed the futile holocaust of Passchendaele. He protested repeatedly bolt orally and in writing, but he was not strong enough to carry the Cabinet in reversing the commanders on the spot. In his memoirs he gives a vivid discourse on this subject. He denounces the generals who sent their armies time and again to needless doom in scathing tones: ‘Such highly gifted men as the British Army possessed were consigned to the mud by orders of men superior in rank but inferior in capacity, who themselves kept at a safe distance from the slime which they had chosen as the terrain where their plans were to operate. Lloyd George makes the final summary: “Looking back on this devastating war and surveying the part played in it by statesmen and soldiers respectively in its direction, I have come definitely to the conclusion that the former showed too much caution in exerting their authority over the military leaders. They might have done so either by a direct and imperative order from the Government or by making representations followed, if those were not effective in answering that purpose, by a change in the military leadership.”

Churchill took these lessons to heart. He was determined to dominate the military machine from the start. As with Lloyd George, his power was dependent on the War Cabinet, and the War Cabinet on the House of Commons. But in 1940 he was the leader of a completely united nation…

The War Cabinet were inspired by him, and were content to take the burden of home affairs off his shoulders and let him direct the military effort. But it must be remembered that his authority depended on this body. If, for example, the Chiefs of Staff had resented his advice or interference, and had secured the backing of the War Cabinet, he would have been forced to give way. But the issue never arose. The War Cabinet gave him firm support throughout the struggle, and the only man who sat in it continuously from beginning to end, Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party, never faltered in his loyalty. During the difficulties of January 1942 Churchill records that Atdee ‘sustained the Government case with vigour and even fierceness.” It is also worth emphasizing that no crisis ever took place between Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff; not one of them ever threatened to resign during the whole six years of conflict.

This is some proof that the Prime Minister with his wide knowledge of military history, and his detailed study of tactics, was enough of a professional soldier to give advice that was useful and often brilliant. ‘Discussion with him, writes Eisenhower, “even on purely professional grounds, was never profitless.”

Winston’s suggestions for the conduct of the war covered a vast sphere.
Sometimes he advised on the movement of ships; on coastal fortifications;
on the strength and position of Air Force squadrons; the deployment of
troops; equipment of all kinds; the relative merit of different weapons;
new inventions; scientific experiments; and hundreds of other subjects.
On several occasions he pressed the Chiefs of Staff to overrule com-
manders on the spot who did not agree with directives sent them from
London. Churchill directly influenced the decision not to evacuate Calais,
and refused to accept General Wave’s advice to make terms with the
Iraq Government over the Habbaniya incident. General Eisenhower was
fascinated at the control he exerted. When he spent a weekend at Ditch-
ley he saw for himself the extent of Winston Churchill’s influence. ‘Operational messages arrived every few hours from London headquarters, he wrote, ‘and Winston Churchill always participated with the British Chiefs in the formation and despatch of instructions, even those that were strictly military, sometimes only tactical, in character.

Winston Churchill’s authority was very remarkable since, as he himself pointed out to Roosevelt and Stalin, he was the only one of the three who could be dismissed instantly at any time. Stalin was not an elected representative; and Roosevelt was secure for his four-year term. Harry Hopkins delivered a speech at Teheran in which he said that he had made “a very long and thorough study of the British Constitution which is unwritten, and of the War Cabinet, whose authority and composition are not specifically defined.” As a result, he said: “I have learned that the provisions of the British Constitution and the powers of the War Cabinet are just whatever Winston Churchill wants them to be.” This was a tribute to Winston Churchill’s persuasiveness for the hard truth was that, in telling the other two leaders, Winston exercised his authority only by permission of the War Cabinet; and the War Cabinet was willing and able to grant this authority only so long as he commanded the confidence of Parliament.

Once or twice this confidence was in doubt. In the early months of 1942
Winston Churchill’s position was seriously undermined. The previous six months had been grim and anxious. Greece and Crete had been over-run; Yugoslavia was invaded; the British Army had suffered setbacks in North Africa; the British Navy had lost two battleships the Prince of Wales and the Repulse which were sunk by the Japanese at Singapore.

The press was openly hostile and for the first time since he had taken office the Prime Minister was under fire. In some quarters there was even talk of his
resignation, and the extreme Left exerted pressure to put Stafford Cripps
in his place. Winston faced the storm and on 29 January, 1942, demanded
a Vote of Confidence from the Commons. The result was surprising.
Only the Independent Labour Party, numbering three members, refused
to support him, and since two were tellers, only one vote was recorded
against him. Less than six months later his leadership was again challenged.
This time criticism was precipitated by the fall of Tobruk. A Conservative
put down a Motion of Censure against him, but once more he had a
sweeping victory. The vote was 475 to 25. Despite Hopkins’ compliment,
Churchill was always acutely conscious of the fact that his leadership was
dependent on Parliament.

However, it is not impossible to draw a parallel between Winston’s leadership and that of his ancestor the soldier Duke of Marlborough. Professor Trevelyan writes that Marlborough “acted as head of the State in war-time for all military and diplomatic affairs, but he left to his colleagues the management of Parliament.” Winston left to his colleagues the management of home affairs. They both concentrated on war, diplomacy and foreign relations.

It is important to remember that Marlborough was a Commander who assumed the role of statesman — while Churchill was a statesman who assumed the role
of Commander.

All this was behind the scenes. The public saw the Prime Minister as a
fighting man who expressed in stirring language the emotions they felt
but could not put into words. He lifted millions of men and women out
of their humdrum lives and inspired them with a sense of mission; he
emblazoned the British cause across the world as the defence of freedom
and justice. He represented in his own person the spirit of indomitable
England. When he accepted office in 1940 he told the House of Commons,
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Whereupon, in a
characteristic manner, the nation drew a deep breath of relief and took
new heart.

His fierce and moving speeches, sometimes filled with passion, sometimes with humanity, made him the spokesman of all the democratic world. No one who was in the House of Commons on 4th of June, 1940, when France was being over-run, will forget the thrill of emotion that went through the assembly when he said in his strange rough and garbled almost French accented voice:
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing; strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the homes, we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might,
steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

No single man had worked harder to prevent the second World War than Winston, yet once the conflict had begun no leader enjoyed the excitement of the clash more than him. From his earliest youth his imagination had been stirred by the great battles that had decided the history of Europe, by the relentless struggle for power between men of different nations, and the clash between the different creeds. He had loved Marlborough, and he had loved the Crusades. He loved the stories of Camelot and he loved King Arthur and the knights of the round table. He loved Merlin and he loved Guinevere and Sir Lancelot too. Churchill was reared to be like them. A soldier for the Empire. A Leader and a fighter. An officer and a gentleman. And here was his own fight to win or lose and he was faced with the greatest battle where the stakes were the highest one could have wished for. Now, for the first time in his life he had the opportunity of employing all of his bountiful genius, his studied and practiced wisdom, and his boundless energy, by putting all of it in the good fight towards the cause of Liberty, Democracy, and Western Christian Civilization, in which he passionately believed. “In my long political experience I had held most of the great offices of State” he wrote, “but I readily admit that the post which had now fallen to me, the Premiership, was the one I liked best. Power, for the sake of lording it over fellow creatures or adding to personal pomp, is rightly judged base. But power in a national crisis, when a man believes he knows what orders should be given, is a blessing.”

He had always been a fearless man and derived excitement from physical danger. During the London blitz it was with the greatest difficulty that he was persuaded not to sleep at 10 Downing Street, which was a natural target for German bombers, but to move to the shelter in a Government building by Storey’s Gate, which came to be known as the Annexe. “Often when there was the drone of enemy planes overhead, when the guns were thundering and flashing and there was the steady crash of bombs exploding, he insisted on going up on the roof to see the sights. On one of these occasions an air raid warden approached him timidly and said: If if you’ll kindly excuse me, sir, would you mind moving?” “Why?” growled Winston. “Well, sir, you are sitting on the smoke vent, sir, and the building’s full of smoke.”

Throughout his life it had always been Winston’s nature to dramatize whatever part he was called upon to play and the war gave him a natural and an extensive scope. From childhood he believed he had been put on earth to perform a special service, and when the Premiership was offered to him at the very moment that German troops were streaming across France he was certain his mission was being realized as he later wrote in his book Their Finest Hour: “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

Conscious of his great position, Churchill was every inch a Prime Minister. A low-ceilinged room below the ground floor which, was once the servants’ hall, had been turned into a dining-room, and there were seldom more than seven or eight guests. Winston usually came into the room in a blue siren suit looking remarkably like a teddy bear with an air as autocratic as a monarch. He used to watch the guests struggling between surprise at his comic appearance and awe at his dignity. The success of the lunch depended entirely on what sort of mood he was in; sometimes he ate in such sullen silence your heart sank as you imagined that the war had taken some grave turn for the worse; at other times he was buoyantly talkative and held the table with a brilliant monologue.
But whatever the atmosphere, Winston Churchill was always unquestionably the Master. No one dared pursue a topic of conversation that did not meet with his approval; no one dared to ask any questions or take any liberties. Indeed, most guests would have found royalty easier to deal with…

Winston was aware of the fact that he was making history, and as a result he wrote his minutes and directives with care, so that they would bear the scrutiny of posterity. He saw the great battle Britain was fighting in its true historical perspective, and it is not at all surprising that on more than one occasion he compared his position with that of Marlborough.

For example, in the book, “Their Finest Hour” he comments on the close relationship he maintained with the King and Queen. Winston says that he valued as a signal honour the gracious intimacy with which I, as First Minister, was treated, for which I suppose there has been no precedent, since the days of Queen Anne and Marlborough, during his years of power.

But the feat that Winston executed his task with pride, and even relish, does not mean that he had a cold heart. On the contrary he was always deeply moved by suffering he saw with his own eyes. During the London blitz he often toured the Metropolis to inspect the damage, and on more than one occasion people saw him in tears. When he saw a small shop in ruins he was so upset, imagining the owner’s distress at losing not only a home but a livelihood, and perhaps his savings as well, that he resolved then and there that compensation for all damaged property must be paid by the State. Thus the policy of war damage came into being.

On another occasion General Eisenhower witnessed an example of Winston’s emotionalism. One day a British major-general happened to refer to soldiers, in the technical language of the British staff officer, as “bodies” writes the General. “The Prime Minister interrupted with an impassioned speech of condemnation he said it was inhuman to talk of soldiers in such cold-blooded fashion, and that it sounded as if they were merely freight or, worse, corpses. I must confess I always felt the same way about the expression, but on that occasion my sympathies were with the staff officer who, to his own obvious embarrassment, had innocently drawn on himself the displeasure of the Prime Minister.

Although Churchill carried the great burden of the war with zest, anyone who imagines that he never suffered from its weight is mistaken.
More than once it seemed almost crushing. In his war memoirs he tells how in June 1941 he went to his home at Chartwell, alone, to await the news of General Wavell’s final attempt to destroy Rommel’s army; and how when he learned that the attack had failed he wandered about the valley disconsolately for some hours.

On several occasions family members, friends, and intimates, also saw him deeply depressed. In the autumn of 1940, a close friend of my errant and lady smitten father Randolph, who would do anything for a lively skirt with a good pair of legs and boobs, who this time happened to be a wartime American journalist living n London, wrote, how she had motored to the official Prime Minister’s retreat in Chequers, for lunch and talks with Winston…

This lady was the wartime journalist Virginia Cowles who goes on to write:

“Mrs Churchill was away and only Winston Churchill’s daughter Mary and daughter- in-law Pamela were there. Just before lunch was announced one of Winston Churchill’s private secretaries came into the room and handed him a message from the Foreign Office. He read it standing before the mantelpiece in the drawing-room. Then, unexpectedly, he handed it to me. The message was a report picked up from the Berlin wireless stating that Petain had agreed to turn over to the Germans all aerodromes and ports in unoccupied France.”

“Winston Churchill right then was plunged into a state of gloom. He came into the dining room but ate very little and sat halfway through the meal with his elbows on the table holding his head in his hands. The secretary who had brought the news reminded him that it was only a report from Berlin and likely to be untrue, but the Prime Minister would not be consoled. “If it is true, it is a bitter blow” he said.”

“At last lunch mercifully ended and Churchill went out for a walk. I left about four o’clock and before that time, he came back into the drawing-room as vigorous and as lion-hearted as ever. He had received a message that the report was false.”

The journalist Virginia Cowles further writes: “A few months later I went again to Chequers, this time to be the godmother of Randolph Winston Churchill’s son, Winston junior. The christening took place in a small chapel about a mile from the house. Due to a breakdown in my car I did not arrive until the ceremony had begun, and found a place reserved for me between Winston Churchill and his son. I had always heard that the Prime Minister’s emotions were easily stirred and at times he could be as sentimental as a woman, and on this occasion I had proof of it, for he sat throughout the ceremony with tears streaming down his cheeks. He murmured: “Poor infant, to be born into such a world as this.”

After the christening we returned to Chequers for lunch. Only the family, Lord Rothermere, and the three godfathers, Lord Beaverbrook, Lord Brownlow and Brendan Bracken, were present Beaverbrook rose and proposed a toast to the baby, then turned to Churchill whose birthday it had been the day before, and proposed a toast to him. Beaverbrook was eloquent and reminded us that we had the honour to be in the presence of a man who would be remembered as long as the civilized world existed.

Once again I looked up to see Churchill weeping. When he was called
upon to reply he rose, and in a voice unsteady with emotion, said: ‘In these
days I often think of Our Lord.’ Then he sat down. I have never forgotten
those simple words and if he enjoyed waging the war let it be remembered that he understood the anguish of it as well.

But Churchill was enormously resilient. He never remained downcast for long. Indeed his moods could change so rapidly that frequently those who worked with him were uncertain how to handle him He often punctured his own indignation by a flashing witticism that completely altered the whole atmosphere. Once when he was fuming about his difficulties with General de Gaulle he said suddenly: “Of all the crosses I have to bear, the cross of Lorraine is the heaviest.”

On another occasion his cousin Clare Sheridan tells how she was working on a sculpture of him. She had been given permission to sit in his bedroom in the morning, and while he sat up in bed reading his reports and telegrams, to get on as best she could. She had just finished with the high forehead, and determined mouth, and was moulding the jutting chin…

Churchill who had been concentrating fiercely on his papers, suddenly jumped out of bed to take a closer look at what she had done.

His forbidding expression melted into a warm smile, as he said:

“Forget Mussolini, and remember that I am the servant of the House of Commons.”

To be continued:


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