Hence, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks. This quote is often accompanied by an audio clip which does not sound like Churchill. My assumption is that he may have written it but the speech was delivered by someone else on the radio. Is there any source of this quote or possible misquote? It is used regularly by the Greeks during Oxi Day celebrations and would be wonderful to find a source either way. —M.A., via email
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.
Of course the “Greeks” phrase might have escaped my net and have been said on some other occasion. Churchill was attracted to a good turn of phrase and retreaded and revised them often.
Equally unsubstantiated is the crack he made about the Italians 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 reply (thus far unsubstantiated) was, “It’s only fair. We had them last time.” (I mention this purely in the impartial role of historian.)
*George Stewart Symes, 1882-1962. Entered the Army, 1900. On active service in South Africa (1902), Aden (1903-04, DSO), and on the Western Front (despatches). 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. Knighted, 1928. Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Tanganyika, 1931-33. Governor-General of the Sudan, 1934-40.