Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Churchill Series - May 12, 2009

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

We continue today a “walk in Churchill’s footsteps” which we began yesterday at The Savoy Hotel where Churchill often dined. From there we walked East along the strand past Charing Cross Station and to Trafalgar Square, an easy walk from the Savoy of less than 10 minutes.

Across the square is The Admiralty building. It was there on the evening of May 10, 1940 that Churchill received the call summoning him to Buckingham Palace where he knew the King would ask him to serve as his Prime Minister.

If you walk under Admiralty's famous arch you'll see the palace less than a mile ahead.

As you walk in the direction of the palace look to your left. You’ll see one of London’s loveliest parks, St. James. It has a lake which at its end closest to the Admiralty contains an area called Duke Island because - well, you can guess why.

Churchill loved St. James Park. When he was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915 and again from 1939 to 1940, the park was “in his backyard” because the First Lord lives as well as works at the Admiralty.

During the years 1911 to 1915 Churchill often took his young children to see and feed the ducks, geese, swans and birds that nest on Duke Island and the lakeshore.

During WWII Churchill frequently took his walks in St. James Park, which is also close to Downing Street. His principal bodyguard, Inspector Walter Thompson, tells a number of stories about those walks, often taken during blackouts. Thompson would beg Churchill not to go out in the blackout but off they went. One evening Churchill almost walked into a tree trunk.

The next day, a desperate Thompson convinced Churchill to let him make an adaptation to Churchill’s walking stick.

Thompson taped a flashlight (or as the Brits say “a torch”) to the end of Churchill’s walking stick. Then he taped a kind of “collar” around the light end of the torch so only a narrow beam shone from it. With the aid of that device, Churchill had no more close encounters with tree trunks in St. James.

Tomorrow, well turn away from Buckingham Palace and walk toward Churchill’s two favorite London destinations: Parliament and 10 Downing Street.