Motor On: Churchill Thwarted (Or: For Once, the Authorities Prevailed)

Motor On: Churchill Thwarted (Or: For Once, the Authorities Prevailed)

The dis­tin­guished his­to­ri­an Paul Addi­son sends along a minor but amus­ing tale of a Churchill motor car (prob­a­bly his new Napi­er). Churchill didn’t get his way, because he him­self wasn’t behind the wheel. Had he been dri­ving, he would like­ly have pro­ceed­ed to get round the obstruc­tion by dri­ving on the pave­ment (side­walk).  This per­ilous endeav­or was wit­nessed first­hand lat­er on by WSC’s body­guard, Detec­tive-Inspec­tor Wal­ter Thomp­son.

Turned Back: The Home Secretary and his Motor

Dai­ly Her­ald, 10 April 1911— Mr. Win­ston Churchill had a curi­ous expe­ri­ence on Sat­ur­day while motor­ing to Banstead. Part of Sut­ton High Street is under repair, and two bar­ri­ers are erect­ed. The first bar­ri­er does not com­plete­ly bar the way.

Mr. Churchill’s car was able to pro­ceed past the first bar­ri­er before hav­ing to stop. As the car stopped, Adams, the fore­man in charge of the work, stepped out and told the chauf­feur he would have to turn back as the road was stopped.

Mr. Churchill sent the chauf­feur to ask per­mis­sion of the con­sta­ble on the beat for the pas­sen­ger of the car, and the bar­ri­er was at once low­ered. The fore­man, how­ev­er, placed him­self in front of the car and said they would have to go over his body first.

“Don’t you know who it is?” whis­pered the officer.

“I don’t care who it is,” retort­ed the foreman.

Mr. Churchill, gen­tly remon­strat­ing, said, “Don’t get cross,” to which Adams respond­ed, “You’re not going through here, who­ev­er you are. Those are my instructions.”

After a few words with the con­sta­ble, the car was turned round and pro­ceed­ed on its jour­ney through the side streets.

Pressing on Regardless

Churchill stopped dri­ving him­self in the late 1920s, after numer­ous hair-rais­ing motor adven­tures between Lon­don and his coun­try home Chartwell. When WSC decid­ed to dri­ve per­son­al­ly, his body­guard Wal­ter Thomp­son wor­ried: “It either means that he is cross and sub­con­scious­ly wants to smash up some­thing, or that he is dan­ger­ous­ly elat­ed and things will get smashed up any­how through care­less exuberance.”

This didn’t make him any less a men­ace on the road, since he con­stant­ly urged his dri­vers to exceed speed lim­its and over­take fre­quent­ly. Two anec­dotes from Part 2 of my arti­cle, “Blood, Sweat and Gears”….

Once, doing 80 on a curve, a rear tyre blew and “a van full of irate con­sta­bles screeched to a halt along­side. They had been try­ing to catch the run­away for miles.” Real­iz­ing who it was, they helped fix the tyre. “Churchill stood off to one side, serene­ly puff­ing at a cig­ar. He made no sign of apol­o­gy but only got in and cried, ‘Dri­ve off!’ The con­sta­bles salut­ed humbly.”

On a cam­paign trip to Wales, Churchill con­versed gar­ru­lous­ly with O’Brien, his PR offi­cer. They passed the brandy back and forth. Churchill urged such reck­less speed that Clemen­tine Churchill cried: “Please let me out. I refuse to con­tin­ue this ride.” With the utmost cour­tesy, Churchill stopped at a coun­try rail­way sta­tion and escort­ed her to the plat­form. Then, ply­ing the brandy bot­tle, he ordered the dri­ver “down the road like a bat out of hell for Cardiff.”

By the time they arrived, what with the brandy and his nerves, O’Brien was “done up—out prac­ti­cal­ly cold. Churchill super­vised the lay­ing out of his PRO on a table in the rear of the hall. Then he went ahead and made a rouser of a speech. After­ward, he appeared con­fused about the ori­gin of O’Brien’s trou­ble, and expressed the opin­ion that it was ‘prob­a­bly some­thing he ate.’”

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