It’s all over the Web. And entirely bogus.
After his retirement, goes the story, Churchill was cruising the Mediterranean on an Italian liner and an Italian journalist asked why a former British Prime Minister chose an Italian ship. “There are three things I like about being on an Italian cruise ship,” Churchill supposedly says. “First, their cuisine is unsurpassed. Second, their service is superb. And then, in time of emergency, there is none of this nonsense about women and children first.”
Amusing to some, anathema to others, including relatives of the Costa Concordia passengers and many embarrassed Italians, this is NOT by Winston Churchill. Some have attributed it to Noël Coward, but reader Nelson Bridwell (comment below) refers us to the Quote Investigator, which tracks it to travel writer Henry J. Allen in 1917. It did appear in a book of Churchill quotes which—as invariably is the case when false quotes are given—provides neither authority nor attribution.
Neither this quotation nor key words from it can be found in digital scans of Churchill’s 15 million published words in books, articles, speeches and private papers. Nor can I find any record of Churchill cruising on an Italian liner after his retirement as Prime Minister in 1955. (He voyaged frequently on the Onassis yacht Christina, a Greek vessel of Liberian registry, but not a cruise ship.)
A California congresswoman ignorantly compared the sinking of the Costa Concordia with that of the Titanic 100 years ago this April—which is historically inane, poor service to the British crewmen of 1912, and the Italians who struggled to save lives just recently. Churchill’s words to his wife about the Titanic serve equally to show how out of character would be his supposed remarks now circulating the Internet:
The strict observance of the great traditions of the sea towards women and children reflects nothing but honour upon our civilization…. I cannot help feeling proud of our race and its traditions as proved by this event. Boat loads of women and children tossing on the sea – safe and sound – and the rest Silence. Honour to their memory.