Did Winston Churchill Invent the Term “Wizard War”?

Did Winston Churchill Invent the Term “Wizard War”?

Q: Churchill’s creation?

I’d like to know if you can shed light on Churchill’s use of the word “wiz­ard” for radar sci­en­tists and engi­neers (as in Their Finest Hour, Book 2, Chap­ter 4 “The Wiz­ard War”)?  He first used the term in pub­li­ca­tion in that book in 1949; is there any indi­ca­tion of his use of the word, to describe what the RAF called “boffins”, dur­ing the ear­ly days of the war itself?

“Wiz­ard” is of course a grand old Mid­dle Eng­lish word, and Churchill would have pre­ferred that to the new­fan­gled “bof­fin.”  But I won­der if his known affec­tion for the 1939 movie The Wiz­ard of Oz might have led to his choice of term?  I have not seen any­one oth­er than Churchill, pri­or to 1949, use the term to describe the sci­en­tists and engi­neers who devel­oped British radar. —Dr. Lar­rie D. Ferreiro

A: Probably not

“Wiz­ard” is bruit­ed about in the lit­er­a­ture, but Churchill didn’t often use it. By far his most fre­quent use applied to David Lloyd George, “the Welsh Wizard.”

I can find no instance of WSC using the word in his pub­lished works, except in 1949 as Dr. Fer­reiro men­tions. How­ev­er, “Wiz­ard War” was a com­mon expres­sion, at least post­war. Paul Alkon, in Win­ston Churchill’s Imag­i­na­tion, writes (156):

…such phras­es as “Wiz­ard War” and “The Romance of Design” are telling clues to the fact that the pos­si­bil­i­ties of mod­ern sci­ence stirred his vivid imag­i­na­tion no less than his pow­er­ful intel­lect. Imag­i­na­tive engage­ment with sci­ence was one of Churchill’s fun­da­men­tal traits.

“Wizard” in the literature

There are only a hand­ful of oth­er occur­rences, though amusing….

Young Win­ston, writ­ing King Edward VII from East Africa in 1908, men­tioned “sleep­ing sick­ness. It is like an old time wizard’s curse.”

In Sep­tem­ber 1943, Gen­er­al Mait­land “Jum­bo” Wil­son suc­cess­ful­ly cap­tured the Greek island of Kos. It earned him a nick­name (not nec­es­sar­i­ly by WSC): “the Wiz­ard of Kos.”

At the death of Roo­sevelt in April 1945, WSC alleged­ly mused to his staff that mil­lions loved or hat­ed FDR “as a wiz­ard who gets things done. I’ll be hat­ed. But I’m com­posed about it. It requires no res­ig­na­tion on my part. I am sure it took none for Franklin.”  —From Jack Fish­man, My Dar­ling Clemen­tine, 258. (N.B.: the Churchills’ daugh­ter Mary didn’t  take much stock in this writer.)

Dr. Fer­reiro is right that the famous Judy Gar­land film and its songs were among his favorites. Mar­tin Gilbert writes that after the 1945 elec­tion Churchill held a farewell din­ner at Che­quers for the Amer­i­can Ambas­sador, Gil Winant

…his tena­cious ally of the pre­vi­ous four years. Mary Churchill recalled that among the songs they sang was “We’re Off to See the Wiz­ard” which, after much gloom ear­li­er in the evening, had “a cheer­ing effect.”


Note: WSC did keep a kind of per­son­al wiz­ard. See “Fred­er­ick Lin­de­mann, Churchill’s Emi­nence Grise?

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