Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Churchill Series – Oct. 14, 2006

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

Folks, it's just fun today in the form of this "oldie" from Dec. 2006

In 1944 Fitzroy MacLean, a British diplomat, was serving behind German lines in Yugoslavia as a liaison with Tito and his partisans. At one point MacLean was pulled out of Yugoslavia and brought to Algiers for intelligence debriefing.

While there, he spoke by phone with Churchill. MacLean recalled:

In the spring of 1944 the military situation in Bosnia made it feasible to land an aircraft by night in a secluded valley, and I was once again brought out to report. When I reached Algiers I received a message inviting me to call the Prime Minister in London by radio telephone via Washington.

For this purpose I was taken to an underground room in Allied headquarters and handed over to a pretty American WAC sergeant. Before putting us through, she explained that our conversation would be scrambled, and that we could speak freely without fear of being overheard by the enemy.

What was my surprise, therefore, on hearing Mr. Churchill's well-known voice come booming over the ether and [on] announcing my own identity as instructed …being told by the Prime Minister to shut up! He then asked me whether I had spoken to "Pumpkin."

Disconcerted, I asked him what he meant. "Why that great big General of mine," he said in a stage whisper. "And what," he went on, "have you done with Pippin?"

Clearly one of us was off his head!

I hoped it wasn't me, but how much worse if it was the Prime Minister. In despair, I told him I had no idea of what he was talking about or how all these fruits and vegetables came in to it.

There was a pause, interrupted only by the inhuman wailing and crackling of the ether. Then, projected over the air, first of all across the Atlantic, from Downing Street to Washington, and then back to North Africa, came quite distinctly an exclamation of horror and disgust. "Good God," I heard him say, "they haven't got the code."

At this point, not a moment too soon, the technicians took over, arguing among themselves about whether we needed to use a code or not.

A few minutes later the Prime Minister was back on the air. "Shall we scramble?" he asked gaily. I replied that I thought I was scrambled. There was a rumbling noise, followed by silence, and Mr. Churchill's voice came through again. "So am I," he said.

After which, much to my relief, we were able to talk normally and very sensibly and to arrange for my onward journey to London. …

[The call ended. I] laid down the receiver with relief after this unnerving experience. I started up the stairs of our dugout but then turned back to collect something I'd forgotten. As I opened the door, I was startled to hear my own voice coming through it. "Pumpkin, Prime Minister?," I was saying, "I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean."

I looked in. The pretty American sergeant was playing our conversation back to herself, rocking with laughter. “And an English accent, too," I heard her say.
You can read more of what MacLean had to say about Churchill at a Churchill Centre page here.