Churchill on Italian Cruise Ships: Untrue

by Richard Langworth on 20 January 2012

WSC observing the Barbary apes on Gibraltar, whose population he safeguarded owing to the rumor that British rule would end if the apes disappeared, during a stop on one of his "Christina" cruises, after his retirement as Prime Minister.

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.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

秋冬 ステンカラージャケット 品質 December 5, 2013 at 00:04

Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this
blog before but after browsing through a few of the posts I realized
it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely happy I stumbled upon it and I’ll be
bookmarking it and checking back regularly!

Nelson Bridwell January 28, 2012 at 12:48

Mr Landworth:

Your website is a genuine treasure that we look forward to exploring.

One of our acquaintances is the son of John Peck, who’s favorite quote is about being divided into two parts…


Richard M. Langworth January 27, 2012 at 11:07

Well done, Mr Bridwell! That is a very thorough quote site.

This cruise ship nonsense reminds me of other Red Herrings (see that section of this site), including the line Churchill repeated (but did not coin) to Bessie Braddock MP: “tomorrow I’ll be sober.” That was W.C. Fields over a decade earlier…..

Nelson Bridwell January 26, 2012 at 18:39

Actually, it appears to go back a ways further…

Nelson Bridwell January 26, 2012 at 18:27

In 1948 it was attributed to Noel Coward with regard to French ships…,4585552

Monty Waters January 24, 2012 at 15:32

By coincidence, I finished Martin Gilbert’s “Winston S. Churchill: Never Despair: 1945-1965” in December. I can affirm your research. If Churchill was ever on board an Italian cruise liner, Martin Gilbert did not record it, and there are very few details of Churchill’s life Gilbert did not record.

Richard M. Langworth January 22, 2012 at 18:34

Indeed. 1500 more people died on Titanic, and in those days the bridge depended solely on the Crow’s Nest.

James January 22, 2012 at 16:35

I think the whole Titanic vs Costa Concordia comparison is just more lazy thinking by the media (and the Cali congresswoman: pardon me, but wtf?). Facts are no longer so important in the fight for ‘eyeballs’.

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