A Much Maligned Hero

If there is a list of less than attractive characteristics, my hero is on that list – alcoholic, psychopath, megalomaniac, autistic, faults and addictions, these labels are all heaped upon his well-known head.

He didn’t have an easy start in life – his American mother, a famous society beauty was too busy socialising to spend any time with him, or visit him at school; while his father was too busy with his brilliant career, and finally too embittered by his terminal illness to have any time for him at all, and never once visited him when he was packed off to boarding school at seven. His mother required him to write to her in French and frequently returned his letters unread, saying his French was so appalling that she had no intention of reading them. The wounds and scars from beatings on his back, administered by a sadistic head master between the ages of seven and nine, finally convinced his parents to send him to another school.

The one person who loved him was his nanny. He loved her  until the day she died, and was with her at her death-bed. At his schools, he was unpunctual and unconventional, and no-one had a good word to say for him. He failed his military exams, and when he finally made it into Sandhurst was broken-hearted that his father had died before seeing that at last he had succeeded in achieving something. Because his father had died young, he always felt that he would too, and since he always felt that he had come into the world to fulfill some great purpose, he felt he didn’t have a lot of time, and had to hurry!

He had a brief and brilliant military career, earning medals and commendations, and took part in the last great cavalry charge in history at Omdurman against sixty thousand dervishes. Leaving the army he became a newspaper correspondent, and while reporting on the Boer War was captured and had a famous escape, which brought him to the notice of the world. Back in England he went into politics like his father, and having by then educated himself with massive reading programmes, and developed a great gift for words and oratory, he was very successful. In the First World War he unfairly took the blame for the disaster at Gallipoli, though he was merely one of a group of people who’d been behind the scheme, there being no scope for dictatorship by second ranking politicians in the English constitution.

His career apparently ruined, he went and fought in the front line on the Western Front. After the war, returning to politics with some success, he was then vilified and disliked by most people, because he warned about the inevitable war with Germany all through the thirties. While in politics, he had worked for an old age pension for every-one and for better working hours for men and women. With an intelligent powerful wife like Clementine, he supported votes for women, but not the methods of the Suffragettes, especially after one militant feminist tried to push him under a train, and his wife only just pulled him back in time. During this time in the wilderness he supported his family by writing and lecturing.

When war was declared in 1939, no-one in politics really wanted him, from the King down, in spite of him having been proved right about Hitler and the dangers of appeasement. But the people did, and he became prime minster at the time of the greatest danger England or the world had ever faced.

For the next two years, Winston Churchill held the free world together. He not only united his country in the face of fighting a war they could well lose, against a foe whose brutality and inhumanity had already been demonstrated all over a devastated Europe, but he sustained the people in all the defeated countries. They risked their lives to listen secretly to his speeches on their radios, knowing that if they were discovered they would be shot.

“There goes the British Empire”, the American Ambassador heard a workman say as Churchill conducted him around the smoking ruins of a city hit by the Luftwaffe the night before. He was there to report to President Roosevelt on whether he thought the British were going to be able to stand up to Hitler. When the US finally came into the war when Japan attacked them, Churchill knew that with America’s might they could win the war, however long it took. But for two years he alone bore the whole burden of the war on his shoulders, and people waited to hear his speeches to raise their spirits and inspire them to hope even in such hopeless circumstances.

When night after night, London and all England’s other great cities were bombed, its citizens sometimes buried in mass graves, as in Coventry, and irreplaceable architecture, homes and churches destroyed, Churchill’s words kept the nation and the free world going.

People who worked with him were devoted to him. He was very affectionate and treated his staff like his family, inviting them to share all his family meals  when they came to stay every weekend, while Churchill worked – usually until 3am. They were part of the family, playing cards, croquet and going for walks. He had a wicked wit.  When Lady Astor said to him at dinner, “If I was your wife, I’d put cyanide in your coffee,”  he famously replied, “If you were my wife I’d drink it”. When Bernard Shaw sent him a ticket for the first night of Pygmalion, writing : “Bring a friend if you have one”, Churchill replied: “ Cannot make first night, but will come to second, if you have one”. He described an opponent (fairly accurately) as ‘a modest little man, but then he has much to be modest about!’

His capacity for work was prodigious as was his eye for detail … he sent a memo to the top navy, army and air force men telling them to give dignified names to operations, saying if a mother heard that her son had been killed in a battle with a silly name like ‘Operation bunny hop’, it would diminish the dignity of her dead child. He began every memo to his staff:  “ Pray… could you …etc.”  He cared about people, and was devoted to his wife and family after his miserable childhood. He was a talented painter as well as writer, who won the Nobel prize for literature for his four volume series  ‘The History of The English Speaking Peoples.’

He was often inconsiderate and sometimes arrogant, but never mis-used power, his proudest boast being that he was the servant of Parliament and the English people who elected him.  And when his party lost the election as the war was ending – in spite of the love the people had for him – he told every-one that they had to respect the will of the people.

And in old age he could still laugh at himself … when a nervous MP whispered to him that his fly buttons were undone, he replied ‘Never fear, the dead bird never leaves the nest.’ His beloved private secretary Sir John Colville said that he never saw him drunk, though champagne and brandy were his favourite tipples. And as for the other labels … I’m sure he’d rebut them with that old English saying; ‘ Sticks and stones  may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…’

What a man!  I think he’d prefer: What an Englishman! And yet he was deeply proud of his American ancestry too. When his dark- eyed, dark- haired mother died, it was reported that her face bore: “all the hallmarks of a native American inheritance”. His descent from another great Englishman and soldier, John, Duke of Marlborough, was the inspiration for his belief in his destiny … which could be summed up quite briefly – to save the free world.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Hot summer days, and heaps of fresh vegetables – many from the gardens of my lovely neighbours. So today, it’s crudités with that lovely mayonnaise made with my new mixing stick in the last recipe.  Fresh batch today with garlic added, making it aoli, to be eaten with hard boiled free range eggs, fresh raw baby carrots, tomatoes warm from the sun, new potatoes from a neighbour’s garden – cooked with fresh mint –  cucumber and a jar of artichokes. We’ll start with some sweet corn dripping with hot butter, the corn almost pearly, it’s so fresh … fresh purple plums with that dusty bloom on their skins to end with … a summer feast ….

Food for Thought

History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience. The only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.

Extract from his tribute to his old opponent Austen Chamberlain on his death,  by Winston S Churchill 1874 -1965  politician, writer, painter, visionary leader


Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, history, humour, life/style, military history, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, world war one, world war two

47 responses to “A Much Maligned Hero

  1. It is said that had Winston Churchill been in the depressed stage of his BiPolar illness, the war would not have ended. His brilliance resulted from his mental illness in the manic stage. Never underestimate a fellow human, no matter what. Thanks for bringing him to light (again).


    • Hello Lesley, I hadn’t realised that his depression had become bi-polar illness… another label…. one that was also pinned on Princess Diana along with borderline personality syndrome ( if I read enough about these mental conditions, I become convinced I have them all too!) And yes, by their deeds shall ye know them!


      • We do have them all, Valerie, all of us. To us in human form they may appear as “illness.” In reality, they are yet another expression of the Divine! xoxoM


  2. A moving and profound tribute….thank you!


    • Thank you Rebecca… it’s so satisfying writing about things one cares about… as you would know! I meant to get back to you after that last quote you sent me on the story about synchronicity… I loved it, and it set me off on all sorts of reading… maybe another bog in the making!


      • I knew within a few sentences who you were writing about…Churchill was an amazing man who happened to be at the moment in history when we needed him the most. So glad that you are back!!!!


  3. THis reads great. Must admit loved the description of the food at the end!


  4. Thank you, always good to hear from you… good about the food- not only do I love eating it, but I love reading about it and writing about it!


  5. A great tribute to Churchill, Valerie. A name that will always be respected and admired. Love your veggie meal you described. Nothing like fresh from the garden.


  6. What a life he had. No wonder he coined the phrase, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”

    If we were sitting over a cuppa just now, Valerie, I’d tell you the story about the famous Canadian Portrait photographer doing battle with WC over his cigar. Karsh was determined Churchill’s portrait would not include the cigar. Churchill was determined it would.

    This blogger tells the story well and shows the iconic photo of this great man: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/winston-churchill-by-yousef-karsh/


    • Amy, good to hear from you. I’d love to sit down over a cuppa with you! I went straight to the blog you pointed me to – what a fascinating story, and what a magnificent picture… I well remember Karsh of Ottowa – he was one of the great names in photography when I was growing up….


  7. Michele Seminara

    Thank you for the education Valerie, I wasn’t aware of all these facets to Churchill’s personality and achievements!


  8. Valerie,I lived this post; I am in the midst of reading “Prague Winter” by Madeline Albright. I am at the part of the book describing WW11, and Churchill’s brilliant leadership at that time. You added several interesting facts to the story. Much obliged!


  9. Great story. I am always amazed at how some people overcome painful childhoods and some do not. He certainly did. Perhaps having a nanny helped his as she became is surrogate mother.


    • Yes, I’m sure you’re right. Without her love and support – she always wrote to him ” My darling boy”, I think he’d have been an emotional wreck and quite unable to fulfill his destiny..


  10. Alice

    Churchill was/is quite fascinating. Did you see the series “Into the Storm?”


    • Hello Alice, so good to see your smiling face! No, I didn’t see that – was it a TV series… I might see if I can find it on Youtube….


      • Alice

        I think BBC –I got it from the library–First part is The Gathering Storm…I like “gathering” better…interesting for Churchill history and biography


      • Thank you for replying Alice. I get it now, that title is the title of the first of his six books on the war… they are all wonderful titles, including Their Finest Hour, The Hinge of fate, Closing the Ring, Triumph and Tragedy… I’ve read the books – now I’ll search for the Fillums!!!!


  11. What a wonderful post, Valerie. I read it aloud to my sweet husband, who is much better versed in history than I am, and we both enjoyed it enormously! I recently did a “mind map” and, interestingly, Churchill showed up and “insisted” on being part of my developing projects. Your post sheds much light on why that might be. Thank you! xoxoM


  12. Dear Margarita, thank you so much for your perceptive comments – so glad you enjoyed the blog… it was written from my heart, as it makes me sad how often Churchill is denigrated, or his character vilified to prove some point the writer wants to make.
    I know what you meant in your other comment, and I agree.. we are all one and all is perfect in the larger picture we cannot see…
    A ‘mind map’ sounds very interesting… I’ll google it to find out how to do it, as I suspect that if I ask you it would take too long to explain!.love V .


  13. As usual your post are filled with valuable information but where on earth do you know so much of Churchill’s life? I always had boundless admiration for his courage and charisma but never knew that many details on his childhood onward… Thanks for sharing it, amazing post 🙂


  14. Brilliant Valerie. Oddly, I was doing some research on WWII this morning and was reminded of Winston Churchill and a life size model I saw of him at Warwick Castle a couple of years back, it was very surprising. We always think of him as larger than life, but in his younger days he wasn’t very big.

    As always Valerie, you have treated your subject with great care and sensitivity. I have learned things I didn’t know and gained new respect for this great man.


    • Hello Val, thank you so much for your comments. So glad you enjoyed it, I really cared that so many people get the wrong impression of him from careless things that are said about him. I really value your perceptive comments


  15. Oh, your summer feast! It sounds absolutely wonderful as we sit here in the middle of our winter!

    Thank you so much for this post and for the way you told it. Had you started with his name, I may not have read on but you lead me in in such a way that I was caring about this person long before I came to who he was and I learned so much! Thank you very much for a brilliant post. 🙂


  16. I come from a family that has ‘metal illness’ and the flip-side of brilliance in the form of genius…although I think it all skipped me and I just got common sense. HA



    • The thing is, Linda, that common sense is not very common,
      I think it’s one form of Brilliance, and often the most useful, – This is from a person who’s convinced herself -probably mistakenly – that she too has common sense!!!


  17. thoughtsfromanamericanwoman

    I have always admired Winston Churchill, this was very interesting.


  18. Pat

    Oh for hot summer days and crudites…. winter here and snow expected…. My stick blender is being used for hot warming soups. Carrots and parsnips with potatoes and home made chicken stock.
    brrr! I am thinking of hibernating!


  19. Perhaps it is time to add a good biography of Sir Winston to my reading list? I do enjoy a well written biography! Merci beaucoup!


    • Yes, there are some good ones, but it sounds as though the latest, Max Hastings’ has been written to cause comment, sensation and sales, rather than for accuracy. His extracts I’ve read are historically shaky and taken out of context… Roy Jenkins one was a good one, I seem to remember, and Mary Lovell’s book The Churchills for a quick pic.!


  20. Pingback: Blog of the Year Award – One Amongst Equals | Soul Dipper

  21. What a great tribute to a great man, Val. I did not know much about his life so I found the article very interesting and enlightening. Just yet another case of not giving up! So much of history is filled with story after story of success amid adversity.


  22. Cometh the hour cometh the man!

    Whatever ones opinion of Churchill he was the greatest war leader of modern times. I don’t think anyone else could have done what he did at that time.

    ‘The Gathering Storm’ mentioned by Alice above is a BBC film with Albert Finney playing WSC. It’s absolutely compulsive/compulsory viewing. Brilliant! I’d be very interested to hear your opinion of it when you’ve seen it.


    • I must find it – I can imagine Albert Finney would have been brilliant in the part. Some of my favourite reading for getting an insiders view of Churchill are Sir John Colville’s diaries, which chart his faint hostility to the ousting of Chamberlain, and becoming private secretary to Churchill, and finally his devotion and admiration for what comes across as a rather sweet-natured, generous, fun- filled character…who treated all his staff like his family.


      • It’s a superb piece of TV, of the kind only the BBC are capable of. No one could have played the part as well as Finney, he was quite brilliant. There’s this lovely piece of dialogue between WSC and his valet, David Inches, played by Ronnie Barker:

        Winston Churchill: You’re very rude to me, Inches.
        David Inches: *You’re* very rude to *me*, sir.
        Winston Churchill: Yes but I am a great man!
        [Churchill leaves]
        David Inches: No, you’re not. You’re a stupid ole bugger.

        I think I must find a copy of Colville’s diaries.


  23. Hello Finn.. just catching up… my cookies disappeared again, and makes it hard to reply until I get the local teenager to help!!!
    Am determined to follow up on The Gathering Storm, sounds wonderful… was a bit sorry at the BBC’s imaginative dialogue between WSC and his valet, as everything I’ve read about him seems to suggest that he was totally without vanity, self importance or ‘side’, and I felt that that interchange was not typical of the man ( according to Colville!!!)
    I loved his famous remark when Roosevelt barged into his room in his wheel chair just as WSC was getting out of the bath, and he said to the President, ” As you see, I have nothing to hide!”
    I stumbled on some youtube newsreels of his funeral the other night… the faces of people as they stood in the streets and queued to see his coffin were so touching…I was at home heavily pregnant but my stepmother queued for three hours across Westminster Bridge in the freezing February weather to pay homage..


  24. Valerie,
    I have been saving this and waiting to read it when I could take the time and truly pay attention to what I am reading. This is so good and heartfelt. As you know, I love your writing. I will send this on to my sister who is a devoted Churchillian. Have you seen the HBO movie “Into the Storm” with Brendan Gleeson? It is so good and really does justice to Churchill’s two year’s alone carrying the Western world. I much prefer him to FDR for myriad reasons but some are portrayed in the book “Franklin and Winston” by Jon Meacham, which I highly recommend. I have “The Last Lion” on my shelves and need to jump in.

    I hate that I haven’t been much of a blogging blogger/reader lately but eventually life will slow down again.

    Best to you! Maggie


    • Oh Maggie – how lovely to hear from you… I’ve gathered that life has been running fasr!
      How interesting what you say about the Jon Meacham book – I must get it… I ‘ve always preferred the spontaneity of Churchill to the politician’s calculations of Roosevelt… which has nothing to do with how effective they are, but simply personality…
      warm wishes, Valerie


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