Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Churchill Series – Oct. 1, 2008

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

Today we start a two-post series within the Series with the following by a noted Churchill scholar - - -

The recent revelations from the Public Record Office about British plots to assassinate Hitler in 1944 raise intriguing questions about the possibility of similar German plots to assassinate Winston Churchill. The following correspondence relating to the testing of Winston Churchill's cigars survives among his papers at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, England.

Churchill's penchant for cigars and fine drink was known throughout the world. His private office was regularly being offered gifts of alcohol and tobacco. Clearly there was a risk of poisoning that had to be taken seriously.

In the early part of the war such gifts appear to have been intercepted and passed to Scotland Yard for testing and safekeeping. In January 1941 the Maceo Society of Camaguey in Cuba presented the British Legation in Havana with two boxes of cigars for the Prime Minister.

These were sent by the Foreign Office to Scotland Yard, who in turn passed them to the senior official analyst at the Home Office, one Roche Lynch, an expert in poisons working at the Department of Chemical Pathology at St Mary's Hospital in London.

Lynch offered to perform his routine tests but observed that, " is impossible for me to test the cigars for every known poison especially when it is possible that they could have been treated with some tropical poison not seen in this country."

Lynch further added that, "If an attempt on the life of anyone is to be made with cigars, I would suggest that the poison is not likely to be inhaled in the smoke as the heat of combustion would destroy nearly all the poison."

However, a poisoner could achieve his goal by incorporating poison into the mouth end of the cigar, which would come directly into contact with the intended victim. He pointed out that a number of poisons have a fatal dose of less than one grain, and that "From photographs of the P.M., I should say that he probably chews the end of the cigar which would make this possibility more easy."

In his report Lynch confirmed that he could detect no signs of tampering and had found nothing of a "noxious nature". He had also smoked a single cigar from each box "with no untoward effects". . . .

(to be continued tomorrow. In the meantime, can we agree Roche Lynch was a scientist of some courage and perhaps, like the P. M., favored fine cigars? )