What Winston Churchill was Doing on January 24th

What Winston Churchill was Doing on January 24th

January 24th in the Churchill Saga

(Updat­ed from first appear­ance in 2012.)  A read­er writes to ask what Win­ston Churchill was doing on Jan­u­ary 24th, 1907. I hadn’t the fog­gi­est idea. So I spent awhile trawl­ing through the 100 mil­lion words by and about him com­piled by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project.

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It seems some­thing was often hap­pen­ing in Churchill’s life on Jan­u­ary 24th. It is best known as day his father died (1895), and when he dief as well (1965). A syn­op­sis of each Jan­u­ary 24th in his life would be interesting—as it would be for Sep­tem­ber 11th, that day of infamy.

On January 24th, 1907…

Gov­er­nor Sir Alexan­der Swet­ten­ham and U.S. Admi­ral Davis (Illus­trat­ed Lon­don News, 1907)

…Churchill was at the Colo­nial Office, Lon­don, deal­ing with an upcom­ing Colo­nial con­fer­ence and a diplo­mat­ic ker­fuf­fle. The Gov­er­nor of Jamaica, Sir James Alexan­der Swet­ten­ham, had churl­ish­ly demand­ed that marines from an Amer­i­can war­ship, USS Mis­sou, return imme­di­ate­ly to their ship. The ship was at Kingston dur­ing the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake of Jan­u­ary 14th. Amer­i­can crew mem­bers had been sent into town to lend human­i­tar­i­an assistance.

Gov­er­nor Swet­ten­ham, under the pres­sures of the moment, felt this action unnec­es­sary and imper­ti­nent. He declared that the Amer­i­can action was like a vis­it­ing “British admi­ral land­ing an armed par­ty to sup­port the New York police.” Rear Admi­ral Charles H. Davis, Jr. took offence in return, and his com­plaints reached high­er authorities.

On Jan­u­ary 24th Churchill advised King Edward VII that, act­ing on a telegram from Lord Elgin, the Colo­nial Sec­re­tary (in Scot­land), Swet­ten­ham had been rebuked and ordered to apol­o­gize to the Amer­i­cans. Sir Alexan­der did, and imme­di­ate­ly resigned. Though a dis­tin­guished colo­nial admin­is­tra­tor in British Guiana before Jamaica, he nev­er held office again. He died in obscu­ri­ty in 1933.

Tourmaster and host

Search­es for the date uncov­er two Jan­u­ary 24ths when Churchill act­ed as PR man. Jan­u­ary 24th, 1941 found him escort­ing Har­ry Hop­kins, Pres­i­dent Roosevelt’s envoy, to Dover. There they toured British gun emplace­ments. The same day he wrote FDR, invit­ing him to tour the new bat­tle­ship HMS King George V, arriv­ing at the Chesa­peake. It was all part of Churchill’s cam­paign to con­vince the Pres­i­dent that Britain was in the war to the end. Hop­kins’ favor­able impres­sions led to the FDR-Churchill Atlantic Meet­ing in Newfoundland.

On the Jan­u­ary 24th, 1943, Amer­i­ca was two years at war, and the Anglo-Amer­i­cans met at Casablan­ca. There Roo­sevelt demand­ed Germany’s “uncon­di­tion­al surrender”—a much debat­ed dec­la­ra­tion. Again the jol­ly host, Churchill took the Pres­i­dent by car to Mar­rakesh, which he called “the most beau­ti­ful place on earth.” Togeth­er they watched the sun set over the Atlas Moun­tains, and pon­dered an uncer­tain future.

But the most unusu­al Jan­u­ary 24th I was remind­ed of came ten years later…

January 24th, 1953

In 1983, Sir John Colville, Churchill’s long­time pri­vate sec­re­tary, addressed my first Churchill Tour in Lon­don. He a told a remark­able sto­ry. It’s best in his own words.

I went up to his bed­room one morn­ing to talk about some­thing, and he was shav­ing. He said to me, “Today is the 24th of Jan­u­ary.” I said yes, and he said, “It’s the day my father died.” I said some­thing suit­able, and he went on: “It’s the day I shall die, too.” There wasn’t any com­ment I could make. I just said yes and went on with what­ev­er it was he want­ed me for. But I remem­bered. It stuck in my memory.

Twelve years lat­er, I think on the 10th of Jan­u­ary, his fam­i­ly rang me up from Hyde Park Gate. They said he’d had a stroke—a big, final stroke—and the doc­tor said there was no chance of his sur­viv­ing. My wife will bear me out, as she was in the room. I said: “He won’t die until the 24th.”

Ten min­utes lat­er they rang up from San­dring­ham, because The Queen’s pri­vate sec­re­tary didn’t want to both­er Hyde Park Gate in case things were hap­pen­ing.. They thought that I might know some­thing, since I was exe­cuter and trustee. The pri­vate sec­re­tary said, “Do you know the lat­est about Sir Win­ston?” I said yes, I’d heard. And again I said that he wouldn’t die until the 24th. Mar­tin Char­teris, who was the sec­re­tary, remem­bers to this day that I said that.

Churchill lay in a coma for 14 days and on the 24th of Jan­u­ary he died. I can’t explain it. It may be coin­ci­dence. But it is, I think, the odd­est sin­gle expe­ri­ence I’ve ever had in my life.

One thought on “What Winston Churchill was Doing on January 24th

  1. What an unusu­al and remark­able man Win­ston Churchill was. Thanks for the story.

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