Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Churchill Series – June 5, 2007

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

At a Churchill Centre dinner in 1990 the guest speaker was the Countess of Mountbattan of Burma, daughter of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbattan. During WW II her father served in many capacities including heading Combined Operations in the early years of the war and later serving as Supreme Commander of the China-Burma-India theater. Referring to the relationships of her family members with Churchill she recalled:

The family relationships spanning the generations went back to the years before the Great War early in the century when my grandfather, then Prince Louis of Battenberg, was appointed First Sea Lord. That is the professional head of the Navy; Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, the political head, so they worked in close harmony.

With the onset of the 1914 war there surfaced a curious, irrational, anti-German hysteria throughout the country. For instance to play music by Wagner was unpatriotic; dachshunds were kicked in the streets. You can hardly believe it, especially for English people, but anyone with a German name was reviled.

People started whispering that the head of the Royal Navy must be a spy because he had a German name. My poor grandfather eventually felt that despite his immense popularity, despite the fact that he was known to be the most marvelous First Sea Lord, and everything that he had done for the service, to which he had dedicated his life (since the age of fourteen when came to England and became a naturalized British subject) now he felt he was a possible source of embarrassment.

After much heart searching, he decided that the only course was to resign his post, and this very nearly broke his heart. It also greatly saddened Mr. Churchill who, as First Lord of the Admiralty, tried to dissuade him but was unsuccessful.

Amazingly, when my father in his turn was appointed First Sea Lord some forty years later - the only son to succeed his father in that post - Mr. Churchill was Prime Minister. And Sir Winston was overjoyed that the terrible wrong suffered by his old friend Prince Louis had now, in some measure, been put right.
I’ll say more about Battenberg and Churchill in tomorrow’s post.