(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.] . . .Seal later remarked that the Americans felt they were “at last in the war.” Who would doubt that?
[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.”
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)