The Alcohol Question (Again)

The Alcohol Question (Again)

Ref­er­ence to Churchill and abuse of alco­hol. When my father and I had lunch with Churchill at the House of Com­mons in 1952, I cer­tain­ly did not see Churchill drink any more than the usu­al lunch time glass of wine. My father nev­er men­tioned his exces­sive use of alco­hol in any form.—R.W.

He had an impres­sive capac­i­ty but you’re right. Except for a body­guard who helped him and Eden tot­ter home after a night of toasts with the Rus­sians at Teheran, no one close ever saw him the worse for drink. (Well, Alan­brooke some­times wrote in his diary that the boss was ine­bri­at­ed. But he wrote a lot of things in his diary late at night when he was exhaust­ed from argu­ing over strategy.)

Churchill’s intake was exag­ger­at­ed, not least by him­self, and hence the myth. What­ev­er the amount, it was not enough to affect him. He learned to “puri­fy” drink­ing water with a drib­ble of whisky in South Africa. He would nurse a drink like that for hours. One of his pri­vate sec­re­taries referred to it as “scotch-flavoured mouthwash.”

The perils of drinking alcohol neat

George Harvie-Watt (1903-1989)

In Mar­tin Gilbert’s Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. VI, 828-29, is an amus­ing account from autumn 1940, when George Harvie-Watt, Churchill’s Par­lia­men­tary Pri­vate Sec­re­tary dur­ing World War II, was com­mand­ing an anti-air­craft unit dur­ing a vis­it by Churchill and Gen­er­al Fred­er­ick Pile, which helps explain why why Churchill was able appar­ent­ly to imbibe so many whiskies—he always drank them well-diluted.

As the par­ty arrived, Pile told Harvie-Watt that  Churchill was “frozen and in a bad tem­per” and sug­gest­ed that the Prime Min­is­ter be brought “a strong  whisky and soda.” Harvie-Watt sent a despatch rid­er to find one. “Mean­while,” he lat­er recalled, “every­thing was going from bad to worse. The field was almost water­logged and the rain poured down. Every­thing I tried to show the Prime Min­is­ter he had seen before.” The search­light con­trol radar set, which had worked on the pre­vi­ous night, failed to func­tion, and so on.

“At this moment the despatch rid­er arrived with the whisky, and Harvie-Watt poured one for the freez­ing Prime Min­is­ter. Churchill swal­lowed a half tum­bler, then cried out at the taste of the neat whisky: ‘You have poi­soned me.'”

Churchill had an impres­sive capac­i­ty, but drank most of his alco­hol with meals; he did not nurse a bot­tle, as an alco­holic would. He had good advice for those who took it neat. “You are not like­ly to live a long life if you drink it like that.”

One thought on “The Alcohol Question (Again)

  1. amaz­ing the many peo­ple think he was a drunk . his son ran­dolph had way more prob­lems with alco­hol than his father. . churchill was a sol­id eater and a hard work­er. it dilutes the spirits .

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