“The Turnip”: Churchill’s Breguet Pocket Watch

“The Turnip”: Churchill’s Breguet Pocket Watch

PC020038Sir Win­ston Churchill pre­ferred radio to tele­vi­sion and, not sur­pris­ing­ly, pock­et watch­es to wrist­watch­es. He called his gold Breguet pock­et watch “The Turnip.” There are sev­er­al amus­ing ref­er­ences to it:

Sarah Churchill, A Thread in the Tapes­try, 38:

“One day at lunch when cof­fee and brandy were being served my father decid­ed to have a slight ‘go’ at Pro­fes­sor Lin­de­mann, his sci­en­tif­ic advis­er] who had just com­plet­ed a trea­tise on the quan­tum the­o­ry. ‘Prof’ he said, ‘tell us in words of one syl­la­ble and in no longer than five min­utes what is the quan­tum the­o­ry.’ My father then placed his large gold watch, known as the ‘turnip,’on the table. When you con­sid­er that Prof must have spent many years work­ing on this sub­ject, it was quite a tall order. How­ev­er with­out any hes­i­ta­tion, like quick­sil­ver, he explained the prin­ci­ple and held us all spell-bound. When he had fin­ished we all spon­ta­neous­ly burst into applause. Over the years I made a spe­cial effort to ask those who had known Churchill well to tell me about Lin­de­mann. They all told the same sto­ry, that of clos­est friend­ship. Churchill’s nephew John­ny, a painter and racon­teur, told me when we talked at his home in Lon­don about his uncle: ‘He swore by Lin­de­mann.'”

Christo­pher Long, “Chartwell Mem­o­ries,” Finest Hour 126, Spring 2005, 33:

“I spent the entire after­noon in the draw­ing room, clam­ber­ing all over an accom­mo­dat­ing old man in an arm­chair who seemed designed for the pur­pose. Though very ancient, he had sev­er­al unusu­al attrac­tions to rec­om­mend him, which includ­ed an inter­est­ing gold watch on a chain strung across his stom­ach and a cig­ar which need­ed to be cut with a cig­ar-cut­ter. Indeed, at my insis­tence, it need­ed to be re-cut quite fre­quent­ly.”

William Man­ches­ter, The Last Lion II, 12:

“Even at Chartwell his dila­tori­ness is a source of dis­tress for both his fam­i­ly and the manor’s staff. Once a manser­vant con­spired against him by set­ting his bed­room clock ahead. It worked for a while, because he scorned that off­spring of trench war­fare the wrist­watch, remain­ing loy­al to his large gold pock­et watch, known to the fam­i­ly as ‘the turnip,’ which lay beyond his grasp. After his sus­pi­cions had been aroused, how­ev­er, the game was up; he exposed it by sim­ply ask­ing morn­ing vis­i­tors the time of day.”

Roy How­ells (WSC’s male nurse), Churchill’s Last Years, 20-21:

“We tried all kinds of rus­es to get him out of bed in time and one of them was putting for­ward every clock in his bed­room. We tried this too often how­ev­er and even­tu­al­ly he became wise to it. I spot­ted him one day check­ing the bed­room clocks against his pock­et-watch. In an attempt to beat this manoeu­vre I coun­tered by putting his pock­et-watch on ten min­utes when he was not look­ing. Still he was sus­pi­cious. He used to win in the end by ask­ing some­one enter­ing the room, no mat­ter how many clocks he had around him, ‘Uh-huh, what time is it?’ The per­son nat­u­ral­ly told the truth and we were back where we start­ed.”

Edmund Mur­ray, Churchill’s Body­guard, 85:

“The morn­ing passed in much the same way as the pre­vi­ous after­noon, and as one o’clock approached I looked at my watch. ‘It’s one o’clock, sir,’ I said, ‘time for lunch.’ With great delib­er­a­tion he pulled out his pock­et watch and con­sult­ed it. ‘No,’ he said at last. ‘It’s only five to one. Why do you wish to rob me of five min­utes of my life?’ ‘Sor­ry sir. My watch must be fast … but lunch is at one.'”

Photos courtesy Winston S. Churchill
Pho­tos cour­tesy Win­ston S. Churchill


Sir Winston’s Breguet, still in per­fect work­ing order, is now in the pos­ses­sion of his great-grand­son Ran­dolph, whose late father described it:

It is attached to a heavy gold waist­coat-chain which, at the end has a small round gold case for hold­ing gold Sov­er­eigns, a V for Vic­to­ry emblem (sim­i­lar, we believe, to one WSC gave the mem­bers of his Wartime Cab­i­net in 1945), a sil­ver head of Napoleon (of whom he was a great admir­er), a keep­sake medal­lion of the (West­min­ster) Abbey Divi­sion by-elec­tion of 1924 (which WSC lost by just 43 votes), a gar­net-stone set in a gold heart (the gift of Clemen­tine on their wed­ding day in Sep­tem­ber 1908) and anoth­er gold­en heart, which Clemen­tine gave Win­ston on his 90th Birth­day (after 56 years of mar­riage and less than eight weeks before his death).

9 thoughts on ““The Turnip”: Churchill’s Breguet Pocket Watch

  1. Odd­ly enough, “brain of a genius” does track to some­thing said ABOUT WSC, by Charles Hob­house, at the time Chan­cel­lor of the Duchy of Lan­cast­er, accord­ing to Ted Morgan’s biog­ra­phy, YOUNG MAN IN A HURRY: Hob­house thought Churchill “was just a spoiled child endowed by some chance with the brain of a genius.”

    But it does not track to any­thing Churchill said; it would seem more like­ly that Breguet Watch­es them­selves coined that paean.

  2. Was it WSC who said, “To own a Breguet is to car­ry the brains of a genius in your pock­et”?

  3. The watch was orig­i­nal­ly acquired by the Duke of Marl­bor­ough in 1890. It is a minute repeater chrono­graph, with a fly back sec­ond hand.

  4. I just saw this post. Very inter­st­ing Richard. What mod­el Bregeut, specif­i­cal­ly, did WSC car­ry? Any­one know?

  5. I am not a time­piece expert, and only have his grand­son to go by. But Breguet recent­ly spon­sored a Lon­don din­ner for The Churchill Cen­tre and the watch is pic­tured in the pro­gram.. The pock­et watch’s reverse bears a Spencer-Churchill coat of arms and is very old; per­haps Breguet didn’t put their name on all the faces. What you see attached to the ring in the low­er pho­to is not a watch but a small round gold case for hold­ing gold Sov­er­eigns (see last para­graph).

  6. Two dif­fer­ent watch­es are shown in this arti­cle. The one at the top with sub­di­als is key­less and lacks Breguet’s char­ac­ter­is­tic hands, and the oth­er at the bot­tom has a plain pen­dant and asso­ci­at­ed chain. Are they both by Breguet, or just the low­er one, and which of these was worn by Churchill through­out his life?

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