A Love of the (Hot-Water) Bottle: Wartime Anecdotes
Living Hot-Water Bottle
Q. “Rab” Butler, Churchill’s Minister of Education (1941-45) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1951-55), recalled that Churchill once told him he was doing less for the war effort than Churchill’s grey cat Nelson, who saved fuel and power by acting as a Prime Ministerial hot-water bottle. True?
A. Yes. Butler said this in a speech to the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill Society of Edmonton, Alberta. (This was the original Churchill Society, the only one sanctioned by Churchill personally). Butler spoke at their annual dinner on 6 May 1968. His speech is reprinted in The Heroic Memory, vol. 1, speeches from 1965 to 1989. Butler recalled that had drafted a paper for Churchill to sign, which the PM found unsatisfactory:
I saw him at an early hour of the morning having had very little sleep, but he dismissed my efforts immediately, saying that his cat could do more for the war effort than your humble servant. I asked him why, and he said, “At any rate, my cat is at least a hot water bottle to me, and you do damn little for the war effort.” But in the end, when he drafted the paragraphs they were far superior to mine.
Not an idea but a coincidence
WSC: “Sawyers, where is my hot-water bottle?”Sawyers: “You are sitting on it, sir. Not a very good idea.”WSC: “It’s not an idea, it’s a coincidence.”
Rolled up like a hedgehog
“We arrived well up to schedule by 10 a.m. There we were met by General de Lattre, the Préfet, the Mayor and a mass of other officials. Outside the station a band, a guard of honour and a large crowd. We solemnly stood in the snow whilst most of “God Save the King,” the “Stars and Stripes” and “La Marseillaise” were played through.Winston at lunch. He arrived completely frozen and almost rolled up on himself like a hedgehog. He was placed in a chair with a hot-water-bottle at his feet and one in the back of his chair; at the same time good brandy was poured down his throat to warm him internally. The results were wonderful, he thawed out rapidly and when the time came produced one of those indescribably funny French speeches which brought the house down.
I am going to give you a warning: be on your guard, because I am going to speak, or try to speak, in French, a formidable undertaking and one which will put great demands on your friendship for Great Britain.
2 thoughts on “A Love of the (Hot-Water) Bottle: Wartime Anecdotes”
Reference is to Fred Glueckstein, “Cats Look Down on You: Churchill’s Feline Menagerie,” Finest Hour 139, Summer 2008, starting at page 50:
When the photograph of WSC patting Blackie was published, cat fanciers were affronted. Cat, the monthly publication of the Cats Protective League, scolded that cats abhor head-patting and added: “He should have conformed to the etiquette demanded by the occasion, offering his hand and then awaiting a sign of approval before taking liberties.” No one ever said being Prime Minister was easy.
After the Newfoundland encounter, Blackie was renamed “Churchill” by the crew and became a beloved mascot of the officers and men. Later that year, Prince of Wales was sunk by Japanese aircraft off Malaya. Despite vast loss of life, Churchill made it with some of the crew to Singapore, where he encamped with the survivors. In February 1942, when orders came to evacuate Singapore, Churchill, who was believed off foraging for food, could not be found and was sadly left behind.
I asked Fred for his source. He names Angus Konstam in a chapter on Ships’ Mascots, Naval Miscellany, page204: “Blackie/Churchill”: The ship’s mascot of HMS Prince of Wales, a large cat called Blackie, was photographed being stroked by Churchill when Britain’s wartime prime minister met President Roosevelt in Newfoundland in August 1941. Blackie was duly renamed ‘Churchill.’ The Prince of Wales was sunk off Malaya in December 1941, but ‘Churchill’ managed to swim ashore, where he was found by British servicemen. He was left on Malaya when Singapore fell in February 1942.”
The caption for the photo says that Blackie, ship’s cat on the HMS Prince of Wales survived the sinking. Do you have any sources for that information? Aside from this site, I can find no other mention of a cat surviving the sinking of Prince of Wales in the south China Sea.