“Greeks Fight Like Heroes – Heroes Fight Like Greeks”: Not by Churchill

“Greeks Fight Like Heroes – Heroes Fight Like Greeks”: Not by Churchill

Q: Did Churchill say this about the Greeks?

“Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.” This quote is attrib­uted to Churchill and some­times accom­pa­nied by an audio clip which does not sound like him. My assump­tion is that he may have writ­ten it but the words were deliv­ered by some­one else. Is there any source of this quote or pos­si­ble mis­quote? It is used reg­u­lar­ly by the Greeks dur­ing Ohi Day cel­e­bra­tions.* It would be nice to find a source either way. —M.A., via email
(Note: When Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni demand­ed Greek Prime Min­is­ter Ioan­nis Metaxas sub­mit to Ital­ian occu­pa­tion on 28 Octo­ber 1940, Metaxas alleged­ly replied with a sin­gle lacon­ic word: όχι (No!). His actu­al reply was, “Alors, c’est la guerre!” Nev­er­the­less, the 28th has been cel­e­brat­ed in Greece ever since.)

A: Churchill’s sentiments but not his words

It’s rather good, but I can­not track that quo­ta­tion. It may be bowd­ler­ized from some­thing Churchill said about the Ital­ians. From Mar­tin Gilbert, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill, Doc­u­ment Vol­ume 15, Nev­er Sur­ren­der, May 1940-Decem­ber 1940 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2011), 853….


John Colville
: diary (Colville papers) 22 Sep­tem­ber 1940:

The PM gave vent to a most hor­rif­ic dis­play of abu­sive epi­thets when he saw a telegram about Sir S. Symes,​*​ Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al of the Sudan, who is said to be “bored with the war.” So strong­ly did he feel that he had to call me back and say, “Don’t put it to Cado­gan in quite those terms.” (The report had come from [Ambas­sador Miles] Lamp­son at Cairo.) Dis­cuss the Egypt­ian bat­tle which now seems to be open­ing. The PM is full of con­fi­dence and says that we have enough good troops out there to do what is nec­es­sary “unless, of course, our men fight like skunks and the Ital­ians like heroes.” But he feels the oppo­site is more like­ly to be the case.

Alexan­der Cado­gan, Per­ma­nent Under-Sec­re­tary for For­eign Affairs (1938-46), was a fre­quent crit­ic of Churchill’s. As a civ­il ser­vant he was rel­a­tive­ly insu­lat­ed, and WSC was care­ful with his lan­guage where Cado­gan was concerned.

Possible origins

Of course the “Greeks” phrase might have escaped my search and have been said on some oth­er occa­sion. Churchill was attract­ed to good turns of phrase and retread­ed and revised them often.

It is true that WSC was not impressed by the Ital­ian army. Equal­ly unsub­stan­ti­at­ed is the crack he made about it in his famous meet­ing with von Ribben­trop in 1937. When the Ger­man Ambas­sador remind­ed him that if there was anoth­er war, Ger­many would have the Ital­ians on her side, Churchill’s sup­posed reply (thus far undoc­u­ment­ed) was: “It’s only fair. We had them last time.” (I men­tion this pure­ly in the impar­tial role of historian.)

*Sir George Symes DSO

George Stew­art Symes (1882-1962) entered the Army in 1900. He saw active ser­vice in South Africa (1902), Aden (1903-04, DSO), and on the West­ern Front in the First World War, where he was men­tioned in despatch­es. He was Assis­tant Direc­tor of Intel­li­gence, Sudan, 1918-19; Gov­er­nor of the North­ern Dis­trict, Pales­tine, 1920-25; Chief Sec­re­tary, Gov­ern­ment of Pales­tine, 1925-28; Res­i­dent and Com­man­der-in-Chief, Aden, 1928-31; Gov­er­nor and Com­man­der-in-Chief, Tan­ganyi­ka, 1931-33; and Gov­er­nor-Gen­er­al of the Sudan, 1934-40. He was knight­ed in 1928.

See also:

Athens 1944: Some Lighter Moments in a Seri­ous Sit­u­a­tion” (2020)

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