Heroes or Skunks

Heroes or Skunks

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
You’re right. It’s some actor. (See “One-Man  Churchill Plays”.)  I can­not track that quo­ta­tion, but it may be a bowd­ler­iza­tion of some­thing Churchill said about fight­ing the Ital­ians. Rather good—sorry I missed it in Churchill by Him­self. 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.

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.

3 thoughts on “Heroes or Skunks

  1. That was a big mis­take by the Ital­ians. While the rest of Europe was bend­ing down, tiny Greece stood up against four armies (Bul­gar­ia, Italy, Alba­nia, Ger­many) simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and much of the Ger­man army reached Rus­sia demor­al­ized and injured. Greece paid the heav­i­est price by loos­ing 10% of its population.

  2. While Churchill’s state­ment can­not be con­firmed, the per­for­mance of the Greeks in the Ital­ian war was undis­put­ed, as was the brav­ery of the Greek army. Even Hitler praised the courage of the Greeks, this is his­tor­i­cal­ly proven. Churchill’s state­ment is unproven and it is indeed a pity that the OXI Foun­da­tion uses it with­out ques­tion­ing it (and oth­ers) or check­ing its authen­tic­i­ty. You can see that there are peo­ple work­ing who have to do with mar­ket­ing and not with history.

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