Winston S. Churchill 1940-2010

Winston S. Churchill 1940-2010

You can read about Win­ston Churchill’s career else­where. I’d like rather to indulge in the remem­brance of a friend.

We met through the post forty-two years ago, when he became the third hon­orary mem­ber of the Churchill Study Unit, after his grand­moth­er and his father. The lat­ter had only just sent a let­ter of encour­age­ment to our lit­tle group of stamp col­lec­tors when he him­self died. It was June, 1968. In send­ing con­do­lences, I asked Win­ston to take his father’s place. He accept­ed, adding, “It is con­sol­ing to know so many share my loss.”

And for four decades “Young Win­ston” was a stal­wart sup­port­er, friend and a col­lab­o­ra­tor on projects too numer­ous to recount. While kid­ding him that he was fast get­ting to be the “Not-So-Young Win­ston,” I felt he was time­less, always there for us: encour­ag­ing, prod­ding, donat­ing, par­tic­i­pat­ing. My grief at his loss, far too soon, is deeply felt.

He gave us per­mis­sion to pub­lish his grandfather’s arti­cles and speech­es in Finest Hour. He appeared for speech­es and pre­sen­ta­tions, from con­fer­ences to our Churchill Tours of Eng­land. He offi­ci­at­ed at joint cer­e­monies like the com­mis­sion­ing of USS Win­ston S. Churchill, the Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans Cen­ter, our 2006 Churchill Lec­ture. When we found­ed The Churchill Cen­tre in 1995, he was among the first to con­tribute to its endow­ment. He freely allowed his sig­na­ture to be used on solic­i­ta­tions, most recent­ly in a let­ter ask­ing lapsed mem­bers to renew, which, eeri­ly, was received by some after his death.

Like his father, he pre­ferred to com­mu­ni­cate by tele­phone, announc­ing him­self with a cheery “Win­ston here!” He would call to tell of his adven­tures, from fly­ing des­per­ate med­ical mis­sions for St. John Ambu­lance Air Wing to explor­ing scenes of his grandfather’s exploits—like the Malakand Pass, where he rode in an armoured car accom­pa­nied by sol­diers armed to the teeth. Tru­ly, he lived life large. In Lon­don and Wash­ing­ton, he knew every­body, just like his moth­er. As they said of Alis­tair Cooke: “He could reach back, reach for­ward, and make the con­nec­tions. He was always, tri­umphant­ly, in touch.”

On one of his trips to New Eng­land, when pro­mot­ing his book of Sir Winston’s writ­ings about Amer­i­ca, The Great Repub­lic, we took him to vis­it Plimoth Plan­ta­tion. There he accost­ed an Indi­an, assur­ing him they were relat­ed, “since my grand­fa­ther was part-Iro­quois.” Back in the car I let him have it: “Win­ston, you’re as Iro­quois as my cat!” “If you’re so smart,” he said, “prove it. Mean­while it’s my sto­ry and I’m run­ning with it!”

When I first vis­it­ed him in Lon­don, he showed me his per­son­al mem­o­ra­bil­ia. Here was the peer­less Orpen por­trait of his sad grand­fa­ther after the Dar­d­anelles; an orna­men­tal table once owned by John Churchill First Duke of Marl­bor­ough; a col­lec­tion of WSC’s works, all first edi­tions inscribed by his grand­fa­ther. I was a Churchill book­seller at the time, and he want­ed to know what I thought of his col­lec­tion. “Well,” I said, “you’ve made a good start…..”

We had sev­er­al lit­er­ary col­lab­o­ra­tions. When he assem­bled Nev­er Give In!, his col­lec­tion of Sir Winston’s best speech­es, I was able to dig out some obscure ones he need­ed, like his grandfather’s remarks in Dur­ban after escap­ing from the Boers in 1899. His writ­ings appeared in Finest Hour, most recent­ly in recount­ing the hero­ic con­tri­bu­tions of Poles in World War II, in issue 145. Sir Mar­tin Gilbert read it with­out real­iz­ing who wrote it: “I said to myself, wow,this is real­ly good, I won­der who wrote it (wish it had been me!)”

Our largest “com­bined oper­a­tion” was Churchill By Him­self, the book I couldn’t have pro­duced with­out his per­mis­sion. Win­ston pro­vid­ed his grandfather’s words, I pro­vid­ed edi­to­r­i­al notes. This, I assured him, would be “a pro­duc­tion to rival South Pacif­ic: music by W. Churchill, lyrics by R. Langworth.”

There were amus­ing adven­tures, like his call for “cig­ar quotes” for a com­pa­ny pro­duc­ing a new Churchill coro­na. I sup­plied the quotes and he asked if I want­ed to be paid. “Yes,” I said, “with a box of cig­ars.” Sniffed Win­ston: “I don’t touch the dread­ful things myself, but there’s no rea­son you shouldn’t kill your­self if you wish.” The box duly arrived with the price still on it, and I was tem­porar­i­ly ele­vat­ed to smok­ing a twen­ty-five dol­lar coro­na, cour­tesy of my friend in Lon­don. (Recent­ly I gave one to a Bahami­an pal, its elab­o­rate band sparkling with a red and gilt Churchill coat of arms. He looked as if he’d received a knighthood.)

Polit­i­cal labels are all too freely applied, and some labeled Win­ston a right-winger, but his views were too com­plex to be pigeon­holed. True, he broke with Mrs. Thatch­er by vot­ing against sanc­tions on Rhode­sia; he deplored the skin­ning-down of Britain’s armed forces; he wor­ried pub­licly over unre­strict­ed Com­mon­wealth immi­gra­tion and the mus­lim­iza­tion of his coun­try. But he was also pro-Europe; he strove for a more class­less soci­ety. And last year, when Barack Obama’s Cairo speech was regard­ed by the right as a sur­ren­der, Win­ston hailed it as a coura­geous break­through in Amer­i­can for­eign policy.

It is too easy to com­pare him to his grand­fa­ther and lament that he (or his father) were not equal­ly great. Who was? It is most awful­ly untrue “that no acorn grows under a mighty oak.” There are just as many prog­e­ny of the great who did bet­ter than their par­ents (begin­ning of course with Sir Win­ston him­self). For every “Ran­dolph” there was a “Winston”—among the Buck­leys, the Cham­ber­lains, the Kennedys, the Sal­is­burys, the Roo­sevelts, the Roth­schilds, ad infini­tum. It’s sim­ply wrong to imply on this basis that his life was futile. Ulti­mate­ly, most lives are.

And it is gra­tu­itous to com­pare him to his female rela­tions, since in those years, women were expect­ed to mind their own busi­ness and per­pet­u­ate the fam­i­ly. The Churchill women who exceed­ed those roles did so through their own tal­ent and char­ac­ter. Much more was expect­ed of the Churchill men—more, per­haps, than could be expect­ed of any­one. The onus was upon them both: Ran­dolph, only son of Win­ston; Win­ston, only son of Randolph.

Still, with their pens, Win­ston and his father could reach heights matched by few. Were they great jour­nal­ists? Read Randolph’s first two vol­umes on his father; read Winston’s biog­ra­phy of Ran­dolph; read their joint book on the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. The ques­tion answers itself.

Con­cern­ing his grand­fa­ther, Finest Hour once quot­ed Shakespeare’s Malvo­lio: “Some men are born great, some achieve great­ness, and some have great­ness thrust upon them.” Win­ston was one of those whom some tried to thrust great­ness upon. He shook it off by being himself—not what some thought he was oblig­ed to be.

His record was one on which I think he was con­tent to be judged. Hav­ing no doubt about the ver­dict, it seems appro­pri­ate to con­clude with anoth­er quote, by Rossiter Ray­mond, which adorns the tomb­stone of  Par­ry Thomas, the great Welsh rac­ing dri­ver: “Life is eter­nal, and love is immor­tal, and death is only a hori­zon; and a hori­zon is noth­ing save the lim­it of our sight.”

3 thoughts on “Winston S. Churchill 1940-2010

  1. At the ban­quet dur­ing the Boston con­fer­ence in 2008, I was seat­ed with Pro­fes­sor David Free­man (who was on the pro­gram). David ran into Win­ston lat­er and asked him to sign a book, which he was hap­py to do. He spent a few min­utes with us at the table and was charm­ing and gra­cious. I took a pho­to of him sign­ing the book and I will glad­ly send it to any­one who asks.

  2. i was sur­prised when i heard the news . he out­lived his father by some 10 years but still a long way from sir win­ston himself.he car­ried a big name with him.

  3. Now that’s an obit­u­ary; supe­ri­or in every way to oth­er examples.

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