Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Churchill Series – Sept. 10, 2008

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

Between May 10, the day Churchill became Prime Minister, and June 27, 1940, the date of the letter below, the Germans overran the Allies in the West and drove the British Expeditionary Force off the continent; France signed an armistice with Germany; Britain’s supply lines in the Atlantic were coming under intense U-boat attack; many were predicting England would soon be invaded; and the “smart people” were predicting Germany would soon crush Britain and force it to plead for terms.

It was in those circumstances that Clementine wrote Winston the following letter.

The French sentence you’ll read can be translated as “You rule a soul only by calm.”

The letter is presented here as punctuated in the copy found on pg. 665 in Martin Gilbert’s Churchill: A Life (Henry Holt, 1991). I’ve added a few paragraph breaks for readers’ ease.

June 27, 1940

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage ( a devoted friend) has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues & subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner –

It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like schoolboys & “take what’s coming to them” & then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders. Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming.

I was astonished & upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you – I said this & I was told “No doubt it’s the strain” –

My Darling Winston – I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled – except for the King the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker you can sack anyone & everyone. Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote: - “On ne regne sur les ames que par le calme’ –

I cannot bear that those who serve the Country & yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you –

Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality – (Rebellion in War Time being out of the question!)

Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful


I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now.

Winston’s pet names for Clementine were “Cat” and “Kit.” She ended the letter with a sketch of a cat.

They say a friend is someone who tells you what you need to hear; not what you want to hear.

Every time I read that letter it reminds me that Hitler was facing two very formidable Churchills.


Anonymous said...

I finally finished "Churchill's Triumph by Michael Dobbs. It's a novel about WSC based on the events of the Yalta Conference. It is concerned specifically with the Allies' failure to adequately protect the interests of Poland, allowing it to fall into Stalin's clutches. Among other things, the author has Sarah Churchill nearly raped by Lavrenti Beria!!
Good characterizations of all the major players, but I was bothered by the author's use of a Polish town that was completely fictitious--couldn't figure why. I think you might enjoy the read if only to critique it.
Tarheel Hawkeye