Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Churchill Series - May 7, 2008

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

Many people think Churchill and FDR meet for the first time in December 1941 at the White House. Others think it was at Placentia Bay in August 1941 at what became known as the Atlantic Charter meeting. But as some of you no doubt know, their first meeting took place on July 29, 1918 at a dinner at Gray’s Inn, London.

Jon Meacham, author of Franklin and Winston, tells us something about the event:

In the opening hours of a mission to wartime Europe in July 1918, Franklin Roosevelt, then thirty-six and working for the Navy Department, looked over a typewritten “Memorandum For Assistant Secretary” to discover what was in store for him in London.

Reading the schedule’s description of his evening engagement for Monday, July 29, Roosevelt learned that he was “to dine at a function given for the Allied Ministers Prosecuting the War.”

Hosted by F. E. Smith, a government minister and good friend of Winston Churchill’s, the banquet was held in the hall of Gray’s Inn in London. It was a clear evening-the wind was calm-and Roosevelt and Churchill, the forty-three-year-old former first lord of the Admiralty who was then minister of munitions, mingled among the guests below a portrait of Elizabeth I. […]

The Gray’s Inn dinner was a glittering occasion, with high British officials going out of their way to pay homage to Roosevelt as the representative of their American ally. […]

Then Roosevelt — to his “horror,” he said-was unexpectedly asked to say a few words. He stumbled a bit as he began. Uncertainly, trying to find the right note, Roosevelt said he had been “given to understand that I should not be called upon to speak” and in his nervousness, looking around at the faces of his hosts, began to talk about the importance of the personal in politics and war.[…]
When they met again in 1941 at Placentia Bay, Roosevelt reminded Churchill of their first meeting.

Churchill couldn’t recall it which, as you'd guess, irritated FDR.

But the two leaders got on with doing their work.

Tomorrow I’ll post again about the two statesmen’s first meeting and some subsequent events related to it.
The passages from Meacham used in this post may be found here.