Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Churchill Series - May 24, 2007

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

When Churchill came to the prime minister’s office on May 10, 1940, he inherited Chamberlain’s private secretary, John (Jock) Colville. A supporter of the Munich agreement, Colville held Churchill in very low regard, something Churchill knew. But Churchill kept Colville on and in time Colville grew to admire Churchill. After Churchill left office, they remained close friends until Churchill's death in 1965.

During his years at Downing Street, Colville, in violation of the rules, kept a personal diary which he later published as “The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries.” The following is an excerpt from William Manchester’s review of Colville’s book:

" When King George VI (who shared [Colville’s] doubts about Winston) handed Churchill the seals of office, Jock quoted R.A. Butler as saying the prime ministry had been "sold to the greatest adventurer in modern political history. . . . a half-breed American."

However, once the new Prime Minister had rallied the dispirited, defeatist country, a universal joint shifted somewhere in Britain's national mood, and Winston's conquest of Colville's heart began.

Americans, who knew little of Churchill until he began running the crusade against Hitler (running it from an office in the Admiralty; it took Chamberlain a month to move out of Downing Street) cannot understand why Englishmen were slow to grasp his greatness. As we watch him through the eyes of his private secretary, however, we see how his public's perception of him changed.

Only 18 months earlier they had rejoiced in the shabby deal at Munich. But in 1940, as Colville's admiration of him grew, the nation's grew also. Rarely in history has a leader actually led his countrymen from the garden path to the paths of righteousness, transforming them from sheep to lions.
Hat tip – The Churchill Centre