Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Churchill Series - Nov. 3, 2008

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

In Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, Sir John (“Jock”) Colville, for most of WWII Churchill's private secretary and later a close personal friend of both Winston and Clementine, tells us:

Churchill trusted all who worked for and with him, and in those whom he grew to know well he was prepared to confide even his innermost thoughts.

Some of his private secretaries became his lifelong friends and all of them formed part of that secret circle to which he would often refer, glaring round the dining room at wartime meals, when he was about to launch into a confidential discussion of military operations or foreign policy.

They never let him down: there were sometimes leakages from the Cabinet, but never from the officials whose duties, on social as well as on ordinary working occasions, gave them access to views, information and items of gossip for which the press would have been willing to pay a small fortune and the enemy a vast one. (pg. 86
It's remarkable how many people Churchill trusted and confided in, and how few could be considered to have violated his trust.

What Colville means by “glaring round the dining room at wartime meals” has to do with Churchill’s practice of reminding those around the table after the meal of their secrecy oaths; and then presenting them with some critical issue to discuss.

He would sometimes assign people roles to play. So, for example, he would reveal he was going to tell Stalin there'd be no invasion of France in 1943 which would take some pressure off the Russian army. Stalin would naturally be angry.

What could Britain do to mollify him?

“You, Colville, you’re Stalin. Start thinking about what you’d demand from us when I give you the news. “Prof, (his science adviser, F.A. Lindemann), do we have the shipping to deliver more aide to Russia?” “Hastings (Gen. Hastings Ismay, his senior military aide), what sort of equipment does the Russian army most need and can we spare any if the Prof says we have the ships?”

So it would go, often for hours.

I can’t think of a single instance during the war when a member of his staff violated Churchill's trust. In fact, I can’t think of a single instance of even an unintentional leak by his staff and others he trusted, although I don’t doubt that one or more may have occurred.