Monday, October 08, 2007

The Churchill Series – Oct. 8, 2007

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

During WW II Churchill arranged with his Private Secretaries that documents he was expected to read would be presented to him in boxes, with the documents stacked in an order Churchill developed knowing he could not always read everything his aides passed to him.

The documents were stacked as follows:

Most important or urgent matters at the top.

Than in descending order:

Foreign Office telegrams

Military Service telegrams

Reports he had requested

Parliamentary questions

Documents requiring his signature

Documents his aides decided he should see

Reports from General Ismay, his chief military aide

Documents called “Answers Others” from cabinet members and the like seeking answers to specific questions


Week-end (significant but low-priority documents the staff thought could wait to be read on the week-end.).

A few JinC comments:

You may be wondering why, in time of war, reports from General Hastings “Pug” Ismay were so far down in the box.

I can’t say for certain, but I’d bet it was because Churchill saw Ismay almost every day, they were close friends and often traveled together during the day. So it would be easy for Churchill to say, “Pug, I didn’t get to your documents today. What should I know?”

Why, in time of war, were Foreign Office documents placed ahead of the Military Services documents?

Again, I can’t be sure, but I’d bet it reflected the great importance of diplomatic events and policies in allied and neutral nations.

Why was Ecclesiastical on the list?

The King was head of the Church of England, so his First Minister would be expected ……

The order in which papers were presented to Churchill is found in Steven F. Hayward’s Churchill on Leadership (Forum, 19970 (pg. 77)