Jock: Churchill’s Cat, by Larry Kryske

Jock: Churchill’s Cat, by Larry Kryske

Lar­ry Kryske, Churchill’s Cat: A Feline Remem­brancePlano, Tex.: Home­port Pub­lish­ing, 2019, 226 pages, paper­back, $12.99, Kin­dle $3.99. Excerpt­ed from “Jock, the Intel­li­gent Cat,” a review for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal arti­cle, click here. To sub­scribe to week­ly arti­cles from Hills­dale-Churchill, click here, scroll to bot­tom, and fill in your email in the box enti­tled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email address is not giv­en out and remains a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enigma.

More than a Cat, Jock was a Diarist

Churchill’s Cat is nei­ther a “juve­nile” for young read­ers nor a ven­ture into fan­ta­sy (apart from requir­ing you to accept that cats think about more than mice). Nat­u­ral­ly, it appeals to cat lovers and Churchillophiles, espe­cial­ly those of both per­sua­sions. But it also offers what few books do: a unique insight to Churchill in very old age, 88 to 90, when his state­ly ship of life, as Pres­i­dent Kennedy said, was anchored in tran­quil waters.

JockMar­malade cats answer­ing to “Tan­go” or “Mr. Cat” had lived at Chartwell long before the Sec­ond World War. The most famous was Jock, pre­sent­ed to Sir Win­ston in on his 88th birth­day in Lon­don by long­time pri­vate sec­re­tary John Colville. Jock died in 1974 aged 12, the feline equiv­a­lent of 84. Since then, an orange cat has by cus­tom resided on the grounds. The incum­bent is Jock VII, installed 2020—acquired like his pre­de­ces­sors from an RSPCA ani­mal res­cue center.

Lar­ry Kryske has pro­vid­ed Jock I with a trans­la­tor and a pub­lish­er, offer­ing a charm­ing insight into Churchill’s life. He asks you only to sus­pend dis­be­lief and accept that cats are peo­ple, too.

Notably, Jock nev­er refers to WSC as “my mas­ter,” but rather as “my human.” Among the famil­iar Churchill lines is the famous reminder: “Dogs look up to you, cats look down at you, but pigs treat you as an equal.” “Do you look down on me, Jock?” Churchill asks. No, Jock thinks. Theirs is a part­ner­ship of equals.


The paper­back is eas­i­ly read in a few evenings and laden with lines many will recall. The chap­ter titles, for instance, are most­ly the titles of Churchill books. Oth­er titles are from famous Churchill quotes: “These are great days… Keep right on to the end of the road… All will be well.”

Inevitably, Jock trav­els from Lon­don to Chartwell. That chap­ter is appro­pri­ate­ly enti­tled, “The New World” (Vol­ume 2 of A His­to­ry of the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples.) Like his human, Jock spends most of his time in the Ken­tish countryside.

The cat’s-eye view is entranc­ing: “Chartwell stood like a nov­el among a book­case of non-fic­tion.… It was sym­bol­ic of exis­tence itself—a fish in water, a bird in the air, Win­ston Churchill at Chartwell…. This cher­ished place was a glo­ry per­son­i­fied.” Rather insight­ful for a cat. (I told you he was intelligent.)

Of course, Jock the writer suc­cumbs to cat-like pri­or­i­ties. “Just look at this majes­tic view,” says WSC. “the Weald of Kent—there is no fin­er view in all Eng­land.” (That was from his father, Lord Ran­dolph, arriv­ing for the first time with his fiancé Jen­nie at Blenheim Palace.) But Jock is not impressed. “I’m not as influ­enced by scenic beau­ty. I am more curi­ous about what tasty crea­tures live among the bushes.”


Jock over­hears inter­est­ing conversations—fictitious, some of them. The most pro­found are with Lady Churchill. Alas Clemen­tine is in hos­pi­tal being treat­ed for exhaus­tion when their daugh­ter Mary brings news that their eldest daugh­ter Diana had tak­en her own life. Sir Win­ston “was too over­whelmed with sad­ness to speak. For the sec­ond occa­sion in his life, he had out­lived a daughter.”

Here Kryske cap­tures what most reporters ignore: the great man’s melan­choly in twi­light. Clemen­tine reminds him of all the good he had accom­plished. Win­ston Churchill feels only remorse. “I have pro­found mis­giv­ings about the future. Our lead­ers are more con­cerned with appear­ance than sub­stance. Grave dan­gers lie before us. Who will be the voice in the wilder­ness now?” Does that say any­thing to us in 2023? I fear so.

Remind­ed of how he had once risen to be a des­per­ate­ly need­ed voice, Churchill can only say: “Those were stir­ring times. But now they’re rel­e­gat­ed to his­to­ry books, as am I.” He repeats the lines of Thomas More (“Oft, in the Stil­ly Night”) that he first recalled vis­it­ing the Fleet in 1939. He was again First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty, the post he’d “quit­ted in pain and sor­row” almost exact­ly 25 years before:

I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some ban­quet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose gar­lands dead,
And all but he departed!

Churchillian phrases

Lille, France, 28 Octo­ber 1918: Churchill observes a march-past of the 47th Divi­sion. Mont­gomery, divi­sion chief of staff, is in front of Churchill at low­er left. Behind WSC (in bowler hat) is his pri­vate sec­re­tary, Edward Marsh. (Crown copy­right expired)

There is sol­id his­to­ry here too, as there only can be from an author steeped in knowl­edge of the saga. Jock the cat notices how vis­its from Field Mar­shal Mont­gomery cheer Sir Win­ston. Togeth­er they share old pho­tos. It takes a vet­er­an Churchillian to describe a 1917 pho­to that showed them both—with WSC’s sec­re­tary Eddie Marsh—during the Great War. “And there I am,” says Mon­ty proud­ly, “a dap­per lieu­tenant-colonel…. That’s prob­a­bly the first pic­ture tak­en of us togeth­er.” It was.

The last chap­ter is of course “Tri­umph and Tragedy.” The world saw his death as a tragedy. Sir Win­ston Churchill saw it as blessed relief. Jock the cat cap­tures the moment:

I leaped onto an emp­ty bed, the dark­ened room sur­round­ed by flick­er­ing can­dles. He wasn’t lying there any longer. Why not? Just off the foot of the bed sat a strange, ele­vat­ed box. I walked over to it. Win­ston was lying inside the box…. I looked down at his still, white face. He looked serene, indeed peace­ful…. I yowled with pain…leaped out of the box onto his bed, then out of his bed­room, nev­er to return.

Any­one attract­ed by the mag­ni­tude and char­ac­ter of Churchill will prof­it by this book. The words of a cat, per­haps, but they are words of deep understanding.

Jock the cat cap­tures the pain, the joy, the ethos.

2 thoughts on “Jock: Churchill’s Cat, by Larry Kryske

  1. Great days they were Richard!! That 1996 Churchill Soci­ety Tour in Eng­land remains the finest trip of our 33 years togeth­er! We are look­ing for a con­tender! Best to you and Barbara!

    Thanks, Paula, and all the best to you both. -R

  2. John my hus­band and I had sev­er­al mem­o­rable encoun­ters with Jock IV on our 1996 Churchill Tour stop at Chartwell, where we spent part of a day. Hav­ing a mar­malade cat of our own at home in Dal­las, we were charmed to meet Jock IV in the tick­et booth. The atten­dant intro­duced us, say­ing, “Jock meets me each morn­ing here in the booth at open­ing for some fishy sweets.” I again chanced to meet Jock in the gar­dens a lit­tle lat­er where he had tak­en shel­ter under­neath a flow­er­ing shrub dur­ing a brief rain show­er. I spoke to him in Cat; he lis­tened curi­ous­ly but did not run. He gave me a short meow back. I relayed a fel­low mem­ber of our tour, the charm­ing and wit­ty Ann Hazlett, who asked me what I thought Jock was telling me. “How do you know he wasn’t say­ing, ‘beat it lady!’” We laughed. I believe we caught a glimpse of Jock again in the house toward the end of our self-guid­ed tour. As a cat lover who now owns our sec­ond mar­malade, it is a cher­ished mem­o­ry of my vis­it to Chartwell.

    Thanks for the mem­o­ries, Paula; those were great days. WSC, quot­ing Nel­son, the Admi­ral­ty Cat: “These humans are very intel­li­gent. I believe they under­stand quite a lot of what we say.”

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