Sunday, December 23, 2007

Grandpapa Churchill & the toy trains

Winston Churchill was a courageous and eloquent statesman to whom the world owes a great deal. He was also a loving grandfather in whom there was a good bit of “the little boy.”

In Memories and Adventures (Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1989) Churchill’s grandson and namesake, born in 1940 during the London Blitz, tells us:

[My] greatest excitement was … a wonderful clockwork train set which Grandpapa and Grandmama Churchill had scoured London to find for me secondhand as no such thing existed in the shops in wartime.

Those who never knew him will find it astonishing that, even in his seventieth year with all his weighty responsibilities, he could find time to play trains with his small grandson, getting down on his hands and knees to adjust the track or attend to a derailment.

For corroboration of the following story I am indebted to Mrs. Kathleen Hill, [at the time his personal secretary. Mrs. Hill’s son was asked by Grandmama to unpack the trains and make sure everything was in working order.]

According to Mrs. Hill: “The train set consisted of two clockwork engines, some rolling stock and some gauge rails. Her son, Richard, knelt upon the floor, and arranged the rails to form a circle.

While engaged upon this, he noticed close beside him a pair of velvet slippers initialed ‘WSC.’ He looked up to find looming over him the figure of the Prime Minister. [He began to stand but was told:] ‘Carry on with what you are doing.’

Once the rails were completed the Prime Minister ordered: ‘Put one of the engines on the track.’ This was done and the engine ran around the circle until the clockwork ran down.

He then said: ‘I see you have two engines. Put the other one on the track as well.’ So both engines ran around the circle.

When they had stopped, the Prime Minister got down upon his hands and knees on the floor and declared, 'Now, let’s have a crash!’

Of course they duly crashed, much to the Prime Minister’s satisfaction!” (pgs. 31-32)
As those of you who’ve yourselves arranged such crashes know, they very rarely cause any real damage.

That was the case with young Winston’s trains which subsequently he and Grandpapa played with for years.

There’ll be no Churchill series posts on Christmas Eve and Day, but starting Wednesday, Dec. 26, look for some series “Golden Oldies” through the New Year.

I hope you all have happy and blessed holidays.