Monday, July 02, 2007

The Churchill Series – July 2, 2007

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

Churchill’s biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, writes:

On the night of March 19 [,1941] Churchill gave dinner at Downing Street to [two aides of President Roosevelt, Averell] Harriman and [Anthony] Biddle. While they were dining, there was a heavy air raid on London, whereupon [Churchill took his guests to the roof of the Air Ministry to watch the raid.] . . .

[One of Churchill’s Private Secretaries, Eric] Seal, who was present tht evening, wrote home to his wife of how, while the “pretty bad Blitz” was stil in progress, “the PM insisted on taking two Americans …..onto the roof, & a fantastic climb it was – up ladders, a long circular stairway, & a tiny manhole right at the top of a tower. No bombs fell whist we were up – although fire engines were continually passing, & the guns were firing all the time, with planes droning overhead.”
Seal later remarked that the Americans felt they were “at last in the war.” Who would doubt that?

Churchill taking his guests and aides onto the Air Ministry roof during the raid was, IMO, foolhardy.

On the other hand there are those, including his principal bodyguard during the war, Scotland Yard Inspector Walter Thompson, who say Churchill took such risks because he felt he needed to set an example of sharing in the dangers Londoners were facing during the Blitz.

Perhaps there were elements of both foolhardiness and brave exemplar in Churchill’s actions that night. What do you think?
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour, 1939-1941 (Houghton Mifflin) (pgs. 1038-1039)


Anonymous said...

I'd previously mentioned the charcacter in Winds of War stating,'"Winston is a perpetual undergraduate about getting into combat.He's a great man,but it's one of his many faults."The same criticism was leveled against Edaward R. Murrow for exposing himself to danger (during the Blitz and going on bomber runs) needlessly.Not bad company.
By the way,I sometimes feel you're doing the 'series' just for me,so it's nice to see others commenting.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

This being ten months before Pearl Harbor, the American reps may well have still been under the influence of isolationist politics of the "he kept us out of war" sort.

Churchill did have a history of theatrically exposing himself to danger. But he also had a far more important reason for rubbing those diplomats' noses in the Blitz: to demonstrate that the Germans were returning to their WW I habits of mass attacks against civilians, and to create two witnesses who couldn't very well say in future that the war news was overblown.

Perhaps their personal descriptions to FDR assisted in first setting up Lend-Lease, and then assisting wholehearted cooperation with Britain in opposing the German-Japanese axis militarily after Pearl Harbor.