Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Churchill Series - Jan. 17, 2008

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

Readers Note: This post is the first of a two-post series published in Dec. 2005.


November 30, 1943 was Churchill's sixty-ninth birthday. He was in Teheran attending a Big Three conference with Roosevelt and Stalin.

Because it was his birthday, Churchill hosted that night’s dinner for the three leaders and their aides. Toasts were drunk to his health, with many remarking on his great good spirits and inspiring energy.

But a few weeks later, Churchill's medical condition was critical and his personal physician, Lord Charles Moran, feared he would die.

This post and tomorrow’s post tell something of the battle for Churchill’s life and his remarkable recovery.

On December 2, Churchill flew from Teheran to Cairo where he immediately launched into a series of troop inspections, Allied strategy conferences, and diplomatic negotiations while in off moments reading correspondence from London and elsewhere, and dictating letters, memos, and planning documents.

By December 9, Churchill was so exhausted he lacked the energy after his bath to dry himself. Instead, he lay on his bed and wrapped a towel around himself. But he pressed on with what he often called "my duty."

On December 10, after another long and active day, Churchill had a private dinner with a young British officer. The officer had just returned to Cairo from months behind German lines in Yugoslav where he'd helped coordinate British support for the partisan Tito, whose hit-and-run attacks were tying down many German divisions Hitler wanted to use against the Russians or to bolster the Atlantic Wall he knew the Allies would soon attack.

With dinner over and Churchill satisfied he had learned all the young officer could tell him, Churchill's day had not yet ended. There was still the matter of a trip to the airport and an eight-and-a- half-hour flight to Tunisia to meet the next day with Eisenhower.

After the kind of day Churchill had put in, an eight-and-a-half-hour flight would be an ordeal for anyone, especially under wartime conditions. But for a sixty-nine year old man with a poor health history?

There were the problems with the flight. The plane landed at the wrong airport. For about an hour, Churchill sat on luggage beside the plane in a cold December dawn.

When matters were finally straightened out, there was another hour-and-a-half flight before he finally meet up with Eisenhower on December 10.

Later that day, Churchill sent Eisenhower a note:
I am afraid I shall have to stay with you longer than I had planned. I am completely at the end of my tether and I cannot go on to the front (for an inspection) until I have recovered my strength.
For most of December 11, he remained in bed while dictating to secretaries and meeting with military planners. He didn’t appear at all well.

On December 12 his temperature was 101. His physicians told him he had pneumonia and must cease work activities.

Churchill ignored them. He continued meeting with military officers and dictating letters and memos to staff.

Churchill’s biographer, Martin Gilbert, says that by the night of December 14:
Churchill’s heart began to show signs of strain. Lord Moran feared that he was going to die.

Churchill himself was philosophical, telling (his daughter) Sarah, “If I die, don’t worry – the war is won.”
Tomorrow we’ll see how Churchill’s life-threatening health crisis worsens before he begins a recovery, and goes on to lead in a war whose outcome was a great blessing to us all.
For references to Lord Moran, see his Churchill: Stuggle for Survival. (pgs. 151-162)

For other references, see Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (pgs. 760-763)