Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Churchill Series – Apr. 5, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Yesterday’s post contained historian and Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert’s recollections of how, as a three year old in 1940, he was sent by his parents from England to Canada, where he would be safer. Today, Gilbert tells us about his return to England, four years later when he’s about age seven:

I hated Canada, not the country but the separation from my parents, and while the war was still being fought, I returned to Britain. It was Churchill himself, I later learned, who had noted, in his regular scrutiny of ships in transit and in port, that the ocean liner Mauretania, then a troopship, as sailing from New York in the summer of 1944 with several hundred empty berths. He at once suggested that several hundred children be rounded up and brought back.

As a result of his intervention I found myself all alone, with an identification tag round my neck, on the night train from Toronto to New York, arriving bewildered in the yawning cavern of Grand Central Station, clutching my brand new Canadian passport (“valid duration war”) and standing in a long, slow-moving line by the quay-side on a sweltering New York summer afternoon.

I did not know, as we steamed across the Atlantic towards Liverpool, that Churchill had specifically asked the Admiralty to make sure (amidst his many other cares in the immediate aftermath of the Normandy landings) that there were enough lifeboats on board for all the extra children.

All that I can recall was a game with the American troops on board, throwing the lifejackets in the air and trying to catch them before they sailed over the side and into the sea.
I want to say more about issues relating to the evacuation of children from London and other high-risk areas during the war but time presses. I’ll say more tomorrow.

BTW - Some of you may recall stories you heard or read of soldiers who crossed over to England on troops ships so crowded the men often had to share berths and sleep in rotations. Those stories are true.

In that case, why was the Mauretania going to sail with hundreds of empty berths?

Much of the doubling up on berths occurred during the first years following America’s entry into the war. There were then fewer troopships available, and the great troop buildup in England before D-Day placed urgent and enormous demands on the ships’ carrying capacity.

By the summer of 1944, the troop buildup was slowing and ship-carrying capacity had greatly increased. So Martin Gilbert and the other kids on the Mauretania got to play with the Americans and the lifejackets Churchill had made sure they had.
Martin Gilbert, In Search of Churchill: A Historian’s Journey. (John Wiley & Sons) pg. 2


Anonymous said...

I believe Nancy Pelosi is in violation of the Logan Act of 1799, last amended in 1994. It would be interesting to see the President enforce the Act by arresting her when her plane lands.