Escape from Robben Island

We recently had the good fortune to acquire a worn but complete and fully intact ex-library set of the 1900 first edition, second printing of Winston Churchill’s The River War. This is Churchill’s second published work, the lengthiest from his time as an itinerant cavalry officer and war correspondent during the waning days of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Perhaps – understandably – this does not elicit a collector’s “Wow!” Second printing. Worn. And ex-library? But before you turn up your nose, maybe you should ask which library. This particular set was acquired within months of publication by the Robben Island Public Library, on 9 July 1900.

Tiny, 2 square mile (just over 5 square kilometers) Robben Island, off of South Africa’s western cape, began use as a place of imprisonment or exile in the mid-1600s, but gained worldwide fame as the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment. During the second half of the twentieth century, Robben Island was used by the South African government as a prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals. It ceased to be used as a prison in the mid-1990s, concurrent with the fall of Apartheid and during the inaugural presidency of Nelson Mandela under a multi-racial South African democracy. South Africa declared the Island a National Monument in 1996 and the island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Provenance of this set is unequivocal, the oval stamps of “Robben Island Public Library”, most featuring the stamped “9 JUL 00” date of accession and one, on each title page, inked by hand “D.1./00.” Dated accession stamps are found on the Volume I half title, frontispiece recto and verso, title page, first Contents page, first page of text, p.166 portrait, and each of the maps. Dated accession stamps are found on the Volume II initial blank recto, half title, frontispiece recto and verso, title page, all maps, p.270 portrait, and p.301.

There is one further bit of provenance within the set. Each lower front pastedown features the tiny, gilt-printed sticker of “T. Maskew Miller, | Bookseller, Publisher and Stationer | Cape Town & Bulawayo”. Miller (1863-1930) established his eponymous business in Cape Town in 1893, initially importing books and stationery, later expanding into publishing. His Bulawayo branch was established in 1897. It seems virtually certain that Miller originally supplied these books to Robben Island’s Library.

There are no external library marks, no card pockets or chronicle of use, and no deaccession markings. This is consonant with the fact that the library was surely a modest affair. According to the Robben Island Museum, the Robben Island Library dates from the early 1890s, during which time the island was being used to quarantine lepers and “a library was opened in a ward formerly used for the chronic sick.” The Museum states that the small population of Robben Island still supported a library in the 1920s.

Of course, any speculation regarding whether this set was ever read by Mandela is so unsubstantiated as to be fanciful. But we do know that Mandela was a voracious reader and can certainly speculate that this “tale of blood and war” and colonial subjugation of Africa would have fallen within the scope of his literary appetite. Moreover, we know that Churchill was an affecting presence during Mandela’s time at Robbin Island (1964-1982). Mandela recounted, in the late 1960s, having passages of Churchill’s wartime speeches recited to him and his fellow prisoners by an Anglican priest and, in the late 1970s, watching a documentary about the WWI sinking of Prince of Wales. Of the film, Mandela recalled: “What moved me most was a brief image of Winston Churchill weeping… The image stayed in my memory a long time, and demonstrated to me that there are times when a leader can show sorrow in public, and that it will not diminish him in the eyes of his people.” (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom)

It requires no speculation to note the fascinating timing of this set. In October 1899, the second Boer War erupted between the descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa and the British. Churchill, an itinerant, adventure-seeking young cavalry officer and war correspondent, swiftly found himself in South Africa with the 21st Lancers and an assignment as press correspondent to the Morning Post. Not long thereafter, on 15 November 1899 – only 8 months before the “JUL 1900” accession date of this set – Churchill was captured during a Boer ambush of an armored train. His daring and dramatic escape less than a month later made him a celebrity and helped launch his political career.

Following his escape, “For the next six months, he encountered fire, took part in the bloody and unsuccessful battle of Spion Kop in January 1900 and, as the war turned in Britain’s favour, was present at the relief of Ladysmith and the occupation of Pretoria.” (ICS) The very month this set of books was stamped in the Robben Island Library – July 1900 – Churchill arrived back home in England from South Africa. Churchill spent the summer campaigning hard in Oldham, where he won his first seat in Parliament on 1 October 1900 in the so-called “khaki election” on the strength of his status as a hero of the war.

While their paths were incomparably disparate in most respects, it can be said of both Mandela and Churchill that their paths to the leadership of their respective nations passed through South African prisons.

Though Churchill’s escape proved swift and salutary, this particular artifact of Churchill-as-author served a longer sentence. We are fortunate that these books improbably survived their term on Robben Island to find us now, oceans and continents and a century and a quarter removed from their first home.


“The P.M. also has them typed in this curious way – like Psalms…”

If you are an antiquarian bookseller, then no physical object is just an object. Each item we handle, however mundane it may physically appear, encapsulates, represents, preserves, or conveys something greater than just the sum of its physical attributes.

Take, for example, four old typed sheets, pasted on some blue notepaper. These humble sheets are a proverbial front row seat to one of the most gifted orators in recorded history and a physical artifact of the Second World War. They are also a connection not only to Winston Churchill in the early days of his wartime premiership, but also to a man who closely, long, and loyally served and observed Churchill.

The Object

These sheets are the final paragraphs of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill’s 8 October 1940 speech to the British House of Commons, typed and hand-emended on four pages in Churchill’s distinctive ‘psalm form’, along with a manuscript note from Churchill’s Private Secretary, John Rupert “Jock” Colville, explaining the origin and use of these pages.

Four typed sheets are pasted on to the recto and verso of blue-ruled notepaper. In his own hand, filling the first six lines of an additional sheet of blue-ruled note paper, Colville provides both explanation and provenance: “The end of the P.M.’s speech in the House on Oct 8th. | These pages are flimsy copies of the actual text from which he | spoke and are those from which I checked and followed | the speech as it was delivered. | The P.M. also has them typed in this curious way – like | the Psalms, as Lord Halifax says!

The “Tuesday, October 8th” entry in Colville’s diary, published many years later, refers to these very notes: “I followed the speech from a flimsy of the P.M.’s notes, which are typed in a way which Halifax says is like the printing of the psalms.” (The Fringes of Power, Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955, p.258)

Of course, Churchill’s speech has been reprinted many times in many volumes and can readily be read off not only myriad printed pages, but also off of any screen after a moment’s quick search of the internet. But you experience something entirely different when reading Churchill’s words thus, looking over Colville’s spectral shoulder, holding the same pages he held, and mouthing the words as you imagine listening to them as they were actually delivered by Churchill in the House of Commons on 8 October 1940.

Colville’s confirmation that Halifax coined the term for the layout of Churchill’s speeches (allegedly because it reminded the pious Halifax of lines from the Book of Psalms) is a delicious bit of irony. Halifax had been Neville Chamberlain’s Foreign Secretary and an architect of the failed policy to appease Hitler. It was Halifax’s unwillingness to succeed Chamberlain that cleared the way for Churchill to become Prime Minister; Halifax instead became Churchill’s ambassador to America. Halifax’s “psalm” observation is no accident of liturgical linguistics; the church-going, fox-hunting, politically adept aristocrat was given the nickname “The Holy Fox” by none other than Churchill.

Churchill’s speeches were not only typed out in ‘psalm form’ but then “hole-punched with a tool Churchill called ‘Klop,’ named for the noise it made…” so that they could be “fastened with a… short piece of yarn with metal bars at each end, which allowed him to flop from sheet to sheet…” (Langworth, The Churchill Project)

The four sheets are hole-punched at the upper left. Consonant with Colville’s note that these pages “are those from which I checked and followed the speech as it was delivered”, there are two minor emendations.

Colville’s explanatory note shows loss and scarring along the right edge and a paperclip stain to the upper left. The typed speech sheets remain as originally glued to the note paper, with some attendant original wrinkling. They are marked in pencil at the upper right “E” and “F” respectively.

The Moment

On 8 October 1940, Britain and her Prime Minister were suffering the dire consequences of appeasement. The four pages of Churchill’s speech, comprising the final, two-paragraph peroration, encapsulate the state of Britain in October 1940, beleaguered, alone, and enduring the sustained air assault by Hitler’s Luftwaffe that would become known to history as the Battle of Britain.

The day Colville held these notes while he listened to his boss deliver the words in the House of Commons, he arrived for work at No. 10 Downing Street and “found everybody crouching in the shelter because bombs had fallen in the Horse Guards Parade and on the War Office.” There was no forgetting that London was under attack, even at comparative ease in the waning hours of the day. Colville recorded that in the evening, after the speech, Churchill “was in great form – as always after a speech has been successfully achieved – and amused [Anthony] Eden and me very much by his conversation with Nelson, the black cat, whom he chided for being afraid of the guns and unworthy of the name he bore. ‘Try and remember,’ he said to Nelson reprovingly, ‘what those boys in the R.A.F. are doing.” A year later, Colville would be one of “those boys in the R.A.F.” but that night he spent like the rest of his fellow Londoners, beneath the bombs, recording of his sleep “The air in the shelter went wrong in the middle of the night and I almost stifled.”

Churchill’ speech was long. He spoke of homes destroyed in the Blitz, and of personally visiting the destruction, showing his gift for encapsulating and projecting British resilience: “I have never been treated with so much kindness as by the people who have suffered most. One would think one had brought some great benefit to them, instead of the blood and tears, the toil and sweat which is all I have ever promised.” Churchill resisted calls for in-kind reprisals on Germany, insisting that only military targets should be attacked. Churchill also spoke of U.S. aid to Britain and addressed press criticism of Britain’s recent Dakar expedition.

He also spoke of Spain, which is where the four pages of Colville’s copy of Churchill’s speech notes begin. In his closing, Churchill strikes a characteristic tone – boldly defiant, lyrically inspiring, and soberly realistic all at once.

“Because we feel easier in ourselves
        and see our way more clearly
          through our difficulties and dangers
              than we did some months ago;

        because foreign countries,
                     friends or and foes,

          recognise the giant,
                               resilient strength

            of Britan and the Br. Empire,

do not let us dull for one moment
      the sense of the awful hazard
                 in which we stand.

Do not let us lose the conviction
       tt it is only by supreme and
             superb exertions,
                     unwearying, indomitable

       tt we shall save our souls alive.

No-one can predict or even imagine
      how this terrible war against
             German and Nazi aggression
                   will run its course,

      or how far it will spread,

        or how long it will last.

Long dark months of trial and tribulation
         lie before us.

Not only great dangers,

      but many more misfortunes,

              many shortcomings,

                        many mistakes,

                                    many disappointments

      will surely be our lot.

Death and sorrow will be the companions
        of our journey,
            hardship our garment;

        constancy and valour are our
                   only shield.

We must be united;

            we must be undaunted;

                         we must be inflexible.

Our qualities and our deeds
      must burn and glow
               through the gloom of Europe

      till they become the veritable beacon
               of its salvation.”

Colville himself noted that this peroration “was eloquently spoken and enthusiastically received.”

Jock Colville

The Second World War was only a month old when, on 3 October 1939, a brilliant 24-year-old civil servant in the Foreign Office was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Seven months later, when wartime leadership famously passed to Winston Churchill, Sir John Rupert Colville (1915-1987) began working for Churchill. Colville would remain “almost constantly at Winston’s side” for the majority of Churchill’s two premierships (May 1940-July 1945 and October 1951-April 1955).

Colville’s 10 Downing Street service to Churchill was interrupted only by Colville’s active service as an RAF pilot between October 1941 and December 1943. Apart from Colville’s official contributions to history, we are obliged to him for his defiance; although it was forbidden under wartime regulations, Colville kept meticulous diaries that he locked nightly into his 10 Downing Street desk. Significant excerpts from this diary were eventually published in 1985, self-deprecatingly titled The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955. Colville’s diaries continue, even now, to illuminate Churchill’s wartime leadership. Most recently, New York Times bestselling author Eric Larson relied heavily on Colville’s diaries in writing The Splendid and the Vile (2020), his novelized take on the first year of Churchill’s wartime Premiership.

Of course, Colville did more than observe and record. On 8 October 1940, after following the speech from these very notes, “John Peck and I corrected the official report and altered the text in many places to improve the style and the grammar; for the P.M.’s speeches are essentially oratorical masterpieces and in speaking he inserts much that sounds well and reads badly.”

Colville’s compulsive will to write, his position at the epicenter of action, Churchill’s deep confidence in him, and his keen and discerning intellect render Colville’s diaries a significant contribution to the known history of Churchill and his time. In the interwar years, Colville served as Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II (while she was still Princess Elizabeth) and married one of her ladies-in-waiting. Colville raised funds for the establishment of Churchill College, Cambridge (where his diaries now reside), and was eventually a trustee of both Winston’s and Lady Churchill’s estates.

Colville was knighted in 1974, having previously been awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1955, and the Companion of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in 1949. 


Vivienne & Winston

Florence Vivienne Entwistle, nee Mellish (1889-1982) first photographed Winston S. Churchill sometime between late December 1949 and early February 1950. Her journey to both photography and the Churchill family was intriguingly oblique.

She had trained and performed as a singer. Upon marriage to the artist Ernest Entwistle, she took up a successful career as a miniaturist. Her photographic career did not begin until 1934, when, midway through her forties, she began assisting her husband and son, Antony Beauchamp, with photography. When Antony set up his own studio, she did the same, adopting the name “Vivienne”, photographing an array of public personalities, including five successive prime ministers.

Vivienne’s relationship with the Churchills had a rocky start. On 18 October 1949, the Churchills’ daughter, Sarah, married Antony. Winston and Clementine “learned of the marriage… from the newspapers” and were “greatly upset… particularly Clementine, who took it very hard indeed.” Nonetheless, on 19 December 1949 Winston and Clementine visited Antony’s mother, Vivienne, in her studio and on 20 December Clementine wrote to Sarah “We have made friends with Antony’s father and mother and we had an agreeable luncheon together.” (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, p.496)

It was then, or very soon thereafter, that Vivienne made her best-known image of Winston Churchill. It may have been captured when Churchill first visited Vivienne’s studio in December 1949. Given that it was used in a campaign publication for the February 1950 General Election (see Cohen A247.2), it was taken no later than early 1950. We can also be certain that it was captured in Vivienne’s studio; Vivienne was known for requiring her subjects to come to her. Indeed, Vivienne’s autobiography is titled They Came to My Studio (1956) and this very image of Winston graces the dust jacket. Vivienne recalls (p.16) that this iconic and often reproduced image was the last of their photo session, the product of Churchill agreeing to give her “only one more minute” after he had already risen to go.

The relationship with the Churchills became familial. Vivienne “is possibly the only photographer to have had the privilege of photographing the entire Churchill family.” Vivienne eventually made exceptions to her in-studio rule for the Churchills. The National Portrait Gallery holds 214 of Vivienne’s portraits, including her most famous one of Winston (NPG x45168) and fourteen others of Winston, Clementine, and their grandchildren, the majority of which were taken at the Churchills’ country home, Chartwell.

We have the good fortune to currently offer three signed Vivienne portraits of the Churchills, all of which have a story to tell beyond just the general improbability of having been captured by the mother of the man who maritally absconded with their daughter.

Our first offering is a pair – one of Winston and one of Clementine – each signed, respectively by Winston and Clementine. Significantly, Winston’s print is not only signed, but dated in his hand “1950”.

The date is significant; widely used during his second and final premiership (1951-1955), this portrait is often mistakenly dated to 1951, even by the National Portrait Gallery. A date of “1950” in Churchill’s own hand rather decisively settles the issue. Of the image of Clementine (p.28), Vivienne recalls “I was proud when Lady Churchill came to me, because she so rarely consents to go to a studio. I believe she came – as she does so many things – for her husband’s sake.”

Our second offering is another Vivienne studio print of Churchill, but this one signed by both Churchill and Vivienne, and accompanied by a 17 November 1953 presentation letter signed by Churchill’s personal private secretary. This double-signed studio print was a gift to a collector upon the occasion of Churchill being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Notably, the fact that Churchill would receive the award had been announced only a month prior, on 13 October 1953, and the award ceremony did not take place until 10 December 1953. So this collector was demonstrably eager and swift in both requesting and receiving this signed photograph.

But, in our opinion, the accompanying presentation letter from Jane Portal suggests the more compelling story – one that renders the minor scandal of Sarah and Antony’s marriage quite tame by comparison.

Jane Williams nee Portal, Lady Williams of Elvel (1929-2023) “was the niece of both Air Chief Marshal Charles ‘Peter’ Portal and of ‘Rab’ Butler, who served as president of the board of education in Churchill’s wartime coalition government and as chancellor of the exchequer when Churchill returned to power in 1951.” (Stelzer, Working With Winston, p.222) “It was “Uncle Rab” who told his niece in December 1949 that Churchill was looking to hire a new secretary and suggested that she apply.” (Freeman, ICS, 16 July 2023) Portal worked for Churchill from December 1949, when he was still Leader of the Opposition, until April 1955, when he resigned his second and final premiership.

Why Portal left turns out to be quite the story, which took years to be told. Churchill had asked Portal to continue working for him, but Portal left Churchill’s service anyway. Ostensibly, she left to elope with Gavin Welby, from whom she was later divorced. “In 1975, Portal married Charles Williams, Baron Williams of Elvel. Her long life “extended just far enough to enable her to watch her son Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury, crown King Charles III in Westminster Abbey”. (Freeman, ICS, 16 July 2023) But in later years it was discovered – and disclosed by Lady Williams – that her son, the Archbishop, was the issue of an affair immediately preceding her first marriage with another Churchill staffer, Montague Browne. Browne remained in Churchill’s service almost continuously until Churchill’s death in 1965.

All of which is to say that this is why we love doing what we do. Sure, a little bit because these portraits of Winston and Clementine provide indirect testimony to the intriguingly dramatic, sometimes scandalous, and occasionally even salacious web of relationships appended to the long public life of Winston Churchill. But, more broadly and much more significantly, because of how physical artifacts can viscerally connect us to lives long ago spent in an ever-receding past.

A decade before Vivienne captured her portrait of Winston, in November 1940 the newly minted wartime Prime Minister told the House of Commons: “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.” Each object we handle, if we are able to discover and tell its story, steadies and brightens the lamp.


“…don’t believe that I’ll be a famous man.” A letter from T. E. Lawrence on the cusp of his becoming indelibly “of Arabia”

In late 1919, T. E. Lawrence was still fifteen-and-a-half years away from his untimely death. That summer, Lawrence had taken the first steps to realizing his pre-WWI ambition to set up a private press with an Oxford Friend by purchasing a property on the edge of Epping Forest. Only months before, he had begun the famously long and tortuous process of writing his account of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He was only beginning to realize that the rest of his life would not be the retired and retiring printer of books, but would instead be defined by his First World War role in Arabia.

The context is important for the letter Lawrence wrote on 21 November 1919 to an admirer who apparently requested his autograph. The admirer was reportedly a Boy Scout who also solicited autographs from Victoria cross winners, eventually amassing a significant collection.

Lawrence’s letter is noteworthy for a number of reasons. For being signed with his surname “Lawrence” rather than the “Shaw” surname he would soon assume and use for the rest of his life. For capturing Lawrence on the cusp of the fame he would spend the rest of his famously short life struggling to reconcile and reject. And for explicitly mentioning the man who was making a fortune by making Lawrence uncomfortably famous even as this letter was being written.

Lawrence was no stickler for stationery, and would write on almost anything; we once discovered an unpublished letter from him written on the back of an RAF “Application for Mechanical Transport”! Characteristic of Lawrence, this letter is on an unadorned, undistinguished sheet of wove paper measuring 7 x 4.5 inches (17.8 x 11.4 cm), which shows evidence of having been trimmed along the left edge (notionally before Lawrence penned his missive). In eleven lines in Lawrence’s hand in black ink on one side of the sheet, he wrote:

21. XI. 19 | Yes, old son, here’s my signature, | but don’t believe that I’ll be a | famous man. It’s just an | American cinematograph artist | who found out that I was a | novelty in a Fehalai [sic] war, and | is making a lot of money out | of it. | T E Lawrence | P.S. I wish I was making something too!”

T. E. Lawrence’s (1888-1935) remarkable odyssey as instigator, organizer, hero, and tragic figure of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War transformed him from an eccentric junior intelligence officer into “Lawrence of Arabia.” But that would not have happened without “an American cinematograph artist”.

By late 1919, then 31-year-old Lawrence had experienced the failure of the Paris Peace Conference to achieve the security and sovereignty he had sought for Prince Feisal and his Arab compatriots. “Lawrence was affected deeply by his sudden political isolation and the failure to win a better settlement for Feisal… By the autumn… the strain had taken its toll… By a supreme irony, while Lawrence was trying to come to terms with the failure in Paris, London audiences were being treated to a romanticized version of his wartime career…” (Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia, pp.621-2)

This was the result of the relentless – and relentlessly effective – promotional efforts of Lowell Thomas (1892-1981). In 1917, when the United States entered the First World War, Lowell Thomas and his cameraman Harry Chase (1883-1935) were sent to Europe to find stories that would build American public support for the war. The Western Front understandably failed to inspire, so Thomas embarked for Palestine, drawn by Allenby’s campaign to wrest Jerusalem from the Ottomans.

Jerusalem had been under Muslim control since the crusaders were ejected in 1187. “For Britain the fall of Jerusalem was a notable propaganda coup…” (ODNB) Likewise, Allenby was a coup for Thomas, who would have a hand in Allenby’s subsequent portrayal “as a modern-day Richard Lionheart”. (Punch, 19 Dec 1917) Already preloaded with literary and religious associations, Palestine and the holy city of Jerusalem, along with its liberators, was the story Thomas was seeking. But there was a bigger prize than Allenby and Jerusalem, where, in early 1918, Lowell Thomas also met T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935), who consented to let Thomas capture him in photographs and on film.

This proved fateful. While Allenby became a Field Marshal, his officer, T. E. Lawrence, surpassed all military rank, propelled into legend.

Returning to America, Thomas began giving popular lectures on the war in Palestine, replete with dramatic film and images he and Chase had captured. Thomas was invited to take his lecture and film extravaganza to Britain and, in August 1919 – just a few months before Lawrence wrote this letter – began a tremendously successful run at Covent Garden. Thomas thereafter also toured England. Gradually, the show that had begun as “With Allenby in Palestine” evolved to “and Lawrence in Arabia” or “And Colonel Lawrence in Arabia”. Eventually Lawrence achieved top billing and became simply “of Arabia”. He has remained thus for more than a century.

Lawrence’s feelings about the resulting fame were famously complicated. Even this short letter is revealing. Lawrence’s personal courage and commitment to the cause of the Arab Revolt are beyond dispute. And yet in this letter he belittles both himself and his Arab comrades-in-arms, saying “I was a novelty in a Fehalai war…” Lawrence’s misspelling does not conceal the sentiment; fellah (plural fellaha) is a peasant in Arabic-speaking countries – hardly a fulsome portrayal. Lawrence also twice mentions money – both that Thomas “…is making a lot of money…” and his wish that he, Lawrence, “…was making something too!” In a contemporary letter, Lawrence wrote of Thomas’s promotions “They are… making life very difficult for me, as I have neither the money nor the wish to maintain my constant character as the mountebank he makes me.” (Wilson, p.625)

Lawrence’s biographer said of him that, in 1919, “One consequence of this sudden fame was that Lawrence began to receive large numbers of unsolicited letters… Understandably he wanted none of this, and he replied to few of the letters.” (Wilson, p.626) Fortunately, Lawrence did reply to some, as evidenced by this letter; we cannot know what prompted Lawrence in this specific case, but we do not need to know in order to appreciate both that he did, and that his reply has survived.

Lowell Thomas’s glamorous and romantic image of Lawrence permanently alloyed with the man and his accomplishments. In the years after he wrote this letter, Lawrence would work with Winston Churchill to achieve a settlement that kept faith with the Arabs for whom he had fought. Lawrence would write, destroy, rewrite, suppress, and endlessly fret his written account of the Arab Revolt. Lawrence would even change his surname to “Shaw” and enlist in the RAF in an attempt to distance himself from the indelible celebrity thrust upon him by “an American cinematograph artist”. Nonetheless, he would become and remain “Lawrence of Arabia”. This letter is an artifact of the earliest days of that indelible, inexorable fame.

Click HERE to browse our entire inventory of material by and about T. E. Lawrence.


“Burn Everything” – a trove of material hoarded by Winston Churchill’s Chief Clerk during the Second World War

We write today about a compellingly expansive, eclectic, and interesting collection of material that provides a window on the world of, and adjacent to, Winston Churchill. Only one of our customers will own this archive, so we write about it to share it with everyone else.

Among the many items in this archive is a 29 September 1941 photograph of then-Prime Minister Churchill and his Private Office Second World War staff on the 10 Downing Street garden steps. The image conveys just what a small and intimate group it was. There are only nine figures in the image, including Churchill. At the back right is Charles Barker, who served Churchill’s entire wartime premiership as Chief Clerk, from 1940-1945.

This archive consists of material accumulated and saved by Barker. At the heart of the archive is a magnificent presentation copy of Churchill’s history of the First World War, a wartime edition presented to Barker as a gift for Christmas, 1942, featuring not only Churchill’s dated inscription, but also a typed and dated 10 Downing Street presentation slip. This item is but one of more than 70 individual items in the archive, ranging from books to correspondence and envelopes to photographs, to various mementos, including noteworthy invitations, tickets, and passes. All of these items are interesting. Many are treasures in their own right. Collectively they form a significant, singular, and compelling archive of Winston Churchill and his wartime leadership compiled by a member of his staff who served Churchill closely at 10 Downing Street throughout the Second World War.


This archive came from the collection of British army veteran and noted Churchillian Major Alan Taylor-Smith (1928-2019) of Westerham, Kent, proximate to Churchill’s beloved country home, Chartwell. Not merely a collector, Smith also had his own research and notes on the recipient, as well as how this material was acquired, which are included with the archive.

Charles Barker

Barker, ultimately a 37-year career British civil servant, worked directly for Churchill for the entirety of Churchill’s wartime premiership, from May 1940 to July 1945. During the War, Barker “kept both the papers and the private secretaries in order… cheered up the doleful and was cynically destructive of pomposity. Life at 10 Downing Street would have been less efficient and less enjoyable without him.” (Colville, Winston Churchill and His Inner Circle, p.80)

In his book, The Fringes of Power, Barker’s Private Office colleague John ‘Jock’ Colville described Barker as “efficient and entertaining” and “popular with the Private Secretaries.” Apparently “an expert at old silver”, Barker would impress members of the War Cabinet by valuating their treasures. He also had a fondness for locks, and fancied himself an amateur locksmith. As related by Major Taylor-Smith, one of the first duties assigned to Barker by Churchill was to retrieve King George VI’s despatch box each morning and deliver it to Churchill at his bedside at 7AM. Barker reportedly amused Churchill when he showed him how the King’s despatch box could be opened without a key by simply removing the hidden screws. Barker had “two intelligent men, Pat Kinna and Donald MacKay, working under him and jointly they kept the office in apple-pie order.”

Treasures and locks are a conspicuous theme for this archive. But instead of silver and keys, there are wax seals pressed onto envelopes that read urgent, personal, and secret. There are official wartime photographs; there are staff passes that allow the holder to enter the rooms where wartime decisions were made and the theater in which the war was fought. Together, these artifacts encapsulate a significant period of service to crown and country from the perspective of a vital member of Churchill’s retinue at a singular moment in history.

Present in the archive is a typed letter detailing the breadth and depth of Barker’s service, written by Sir Eric B. Bowyer, “Dear Barker, | your retirement on the 31st October [1956] ends a | long and varied career of more than 37 years in | the Civil Service, during which period you have | served the former Ministry of Pensions, | H.M. Treasury, Control Commission for Germany | and since 1948 in this department [ministry of pensions and national insurance]. During your | service of over five years from 1940 with the | Treasury, you were attached to the staff of the | Prime Minister and it is pleasing to recall that | during that service you were awarded the M.B.E.” Barker was awarded his M.B.E. in the 1946 New Year Honours, of course on Churchill’s recommendation; the December 1945 notification from “Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood” is among the items in this archive.

In his notes accompanying this archive, Major Alan Taylor-Smith reported that Charles Barker resided at 4, Larches Avenue, East Sheen, in south-west London. This is the address to which many letters to Baker in this archive are addressed. Barker attended East Sheen Grammar School and there he was eventually buried in Grave Plot 307 of the East Sheen Cemetery.

Burn Everything

Among the first duties Churchill assigned his new Chief Clerk in May 1940 was to regularly empty all the War Rooms and 10 Downing Street waste baskets then burn everything that might be deemed secret. This was not a janitorial duty, but a matter of national security. Information leaks were a constant fear, and the compartmentalization and containment was an essential practice. The entire D-day invasion, for example, was almost cancelled when twelve copies of the top-secret invasion plans blew out the window of the War Office of London and fluttered down onto the crowded street below. Historian David Howarth writes of that nail-biting event in his biography, “Staff officers pounded down the stairs, found eleven copies, and spent the next two hours in an agonized search for the twelfth. It had been picked up by a passer-by, who gave it to the sentry on the Horse Guards Parade on the opposite side of Whitehall. Who was this person? Would he be likely to gossip? Nobody ever knew.” To wit: gathering and burning documents was a vital and trusted task – far more mundane than James Bond variety secrecy, but deadly essential nonetheless.

So indispensable were Churchill’s wartime Private Office staff that in the event of an invasion there were detailed plans specifying that “Churchill, his family and his Private Office staff would be living at Spetchley House, near Worcester…” The evacuation plan was named ‘Black Move’ and “…this plan envisaged him [Churchill] and his party travelling to Worcestershire in six cars, along a carefully prearranged route, with Colville and Barker taking the current Cabinet papers in their cars, with a three-ton lorry to follow with the remaining Cabinet and other secret papers.” (Gilbert, Finest Hour, p.601).

History thanks Barker’s Private Office colleague, Jock Colville, for not quite following instructions; although it was forbidden under wartime regulations, Colville kept meticulous diaries which he locked nightly into his 10 Downing Street desk. Significant excerpts were eventually published decades later, making a noteworthy contribution to the known history of Churchill’s wartime administration.

Charles Barker may have been less overtly defiant, but – luckily for us – exercised his license to arson with some discretion and restraint. This archive indicates that Barker saved many items of interest that didn’t strictly require disposal for purposes of secrecy.

According to Major Taylor-Smith’s notes, “Charles decided to keep everything from the Cabinet waste paper baskets that was not Secret but interesting. He took it home to East Sheen and put into a leather suit case…” Taylor-Smith reports “I bought this filled suitcase in an auction in Battle, East Sussex after Barker died. Grace Hamblin, Winston’s Literary Secretary 1932-1945 and Clementine’s Companion 1945 to 1966 and first Curator of Chartwell and I sorted everything in the case…”

Certainly, not all of the treasures contained in that suitcase reside in this archive, but more than 70 individual items do.

Archive Contents

An inscribed presentation copy of The World Crisis

This copy of the first Second World War issue of Churchill’s acclaimed history of the First World War is inscribed entirely in Churchill’s hand in five lines on the front free endpaper recto: “To | Charles Barker | from | Winston Churchill | Christmas 1942”. Tipped onto to facing front pastedown is a presentation note on 10 Downing Street stationery with the typed message: “With the Prime Minister’s | best wishes for Christmas and the | New Year | December 1942.”

This first abridged and revised edition – The World Crisis 1911-1918 – was published by Thornton Butterworth just as Churchill was beginning his “wilderness years” decade. Churchill spent nearly the entirety of the 1930s out of power and out of favor, frequently at odds with both his Government and prevailing public sentiment. But in 1940 Churchill became wartime Prime Minister. And also in 1940, Thornton Butterworth went under and a different publisher, Macmillan, acquired the rights to several of Churchill’s books. This inscribed presentation copy is the 1941 first printing of the wartime Macmillan edition.

Barker’s six-volume, first edition set of The Second World War

This full, six-volume, British first edition set features manuscript facsimile compliments slips, a printed compliments card, and Charles Barker’s name. Five volumes are the first printing of the first edition; Volume IV is the second printing of the first edition. Laid into Volume I (formerly tipped on but now loose) is a compliments slip printed on Churchill’s Hyde Park Gate stationery with a facsimile autograph message in Churchill’s hand: “With all good wishes | Winston S. Churchill”. “Charles Barker’s Copy” is written in pencil on the Volume I half title. Tipped onto the Volume II pastedown is a plain compliments slip with a facsimile autograph message in Churchill’s hand: “With all good wishes | from | Winston S. Churchill”. “Charles Barker’s Copy” is written in pencil on the blank recto preceding the half title. Tipped onto the Volume III half title is a publisher’s presentation card printed “With the Compliments | of | the Author” and “Charles Barker’s Copy” is written in pencil on the blank recto preceding the half title. A simpler “Charles Barker” is written in pencil on the Volume IV blank recto preceding the half title. Tipped onto the Volume VI front free endpaper verso is a plain compliments slip with a facsimile autograph message in Churchill’s hand: “With all good wishes | from | Winston S. Churchill”.

Personal correspondence

There are 16 letters addressed to Barker spanning 1945 to 1968. 10 of these letters retain their original envelopes. The majority of the correspondence is from fellow Private Office staff. 7 letters are on 10 Downing Street stationery, 2 are on Buckingham Palace stationery, 1 on Foreign Office stationery, 1 on House of Commons stationery, and 1 on Colonial Office stationery

6 letters are from Jock Colville. Sir John ‘Jock’ Rupert Colville, CB, CVO (1915-1987) served Churchill’s two premierships, interrupted only by his active service as an RAF pilot between October 1941 and December 1943. In the years between Churchill’s premierships, Colville served as Private Secretary to Queen Elizabeth II (while she was still Princess Elizabeth). His letters to Barker are full of delicious quips and glimpses. In a 13 July 1947 letter on Foreign Office stationery, Colville reports on his impending departure for a new post as private secretary to Princess Elizabeth: “The foreign scene is dismal in these days and one’s soul shrivels before the negative, endlessly uncreative and relentless obstructed policy which our gallant Allies oblige us to pursue. It will be a relief to devote one’s energies to other tasks… From all accounts my quote Mistress unquote is a young lady of great vivacity and charm combined with a most precocious sense of responsibility.” In a 4 November 1947 letter on Buckingham Palace stationery Colville reports “I showed your letter of the 30th October to The Princess Elizabeth who was delighted that her speech at Clydeside should have had such an admirable affect [sic] in Germany.”  In a 7 November 1951, newly returned with Churchill to 10 Downing Street, Colville writes “The old Man is full of vigour but more benign than ever.”

A 4 November 1952 letter from Anthony Bevir on 10 Downing Street stationery refers to an cryptic commitment to celebrate with “two dozen oysters a head” when an “Archbishopric falls vacant in my time.” Sir Anthony Bevir, KCVO, CBE (1895-1977) served as private secretary to both Churchill and Attlee (1940-1955).

A letter from Brendan Bracken on House of Commons stationery intriguingly offers Barker a job prospect. Brendan Bracken, 1st Viscount Bracken, PC (1901-1958) was a journalist, Member of Parliament, and wartime Parliamentary Private Secretary and Minister of Information to Winston Churchill. Bracken was created Viscount in 1952. On 17 November 1947 he wrote to Barker commending to him a job writing a feature in The Telegraph in the employ of Lord Camrose.

2 letters are from John Martin. Sir John Martin, KCMG, CB, CVO (1904-1991) served as a private secretary to Churchill throughout the Second World War and was knighted in 1952. He wrote to Barker on 2 January 1952 “…the recent happenings at No 10 take me back to battles long ago. I sometimes feel it a little tantalizing to be out of it this time…”

2 letters are from Sheila Minto, both on 10 Downing Street stationery and full of 10 Downing Street doings and scuttlebutt. Her handwriting is challenging to parse, but the content is tantalizing. Sheila Minto, LVO, MBE (1908-1994), nicknamed ‘The Queen Bee’, served as a chief administrator of Number 10 Downing Street through eight prime ministers.


There are 12 additional envelopes without correspondence. These are testimony to how seriously Barker took his charge from Churchill. Clearly Barker observed the edict of secrecy and either secured or destroyed the letters, but – whether because of the contents they held, their severable appeal, or both – he kept the envelopes.

Two of the envelopes are hand-addressed to Churchill, one marked both “Urgent” and “Personal and secret”, the other merely “Personal and secret”, both featuring Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s wax insignia seal securing the flap. Another hand-addressed envelope, from The Princess Alexandra of Greece, features her insignia seal in silver wax securing the flap. A large, franked, string-secured manilla envelope conveyed a photograph hand-addressed directly to Churchill. A 10 May 1944 “VIA TRANS-ATLANTIC AIRMAIL” envelope addressed to Jock Colville from “Empire Information” in Canada was opened and resealed with a notably official sticker printed “OPENED BY | EXAMINER 4092”. Other envelopes are addressed either to Barker’s Private Office colleagues – namely Jock Colville and John Peck – or to Barker himself.


There are a total of 25 Photographs in the archive. Of these, 15 are wartime photographs, 14 feature Churchill, 10 are original press or military photographs with original captions and/or wet stamps, and 6 feature Barker. Size of the photographs ranges from 11.75 x 8.5 inches (29.8 x 21.6 cm) to 2.5 x 2.5 inches (6.4 x 6.4 cm, a set of 5 photographs still in their original Kodak folder with Barker’s name written thereon by the developer).

At least 9 of the photographs are of Churchill or his wife, Clementine, with other world leaders (including U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chinese President Chiang Kai-Shek, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Eleanor Roosevelt, and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden) at wartime conferences with world leaders, including the 1944 Quebec Conference and 1945 Crimea (Yalta) Conference. Among the images are also dozens of seniorAllied military and civilian figures.


There are 12 items we categorize loosely as mementos.

Barker saved his two original, personal, numbered passes to the 1944 Quebec Conference attended by Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Mackenzie King. One of these two passes, impressively printed in red and black and signed by both Barker and the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is Barker’s “Quebec Conference GENERAL PASS COVERING ALL CONFERENCE PREMISES”. There are also copies of Barker’s numbered “ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE PERMIT” specifying that it was valid “7 JUL 1945 until 7 OCT 45” for AEF OP AREA including GERMANY”.

An intriguing, elaborate, deliciously ironic wartime holiday card from “France Libre” (The political entity headed by Charles de Gaulle that, during the War, claimed to be the legitimate government of France). The card is printed on the front with a tricolor France Libre device, bound in tri-color string, and within features a photograph of a rather silly looking French seaman blowing a bunting-festooned horn and wearing a France Libre device. The card’s interior is printed “Meilleurs voeux pour Noel la Nouvelle Annee” and hand-emended with the valediction “Bien Favoise”. Certainly Barker and his colleagues must have truly appreciated the “Free French” contribution to the war effort – a conspicuously fancy holiday card. There is also the irony that Churchill had been forced in 1940 to order the sinking of the French fleet by the British Navy at Mers-El-Kebir, owing to the fact that said French fleet chose to bravely resist their ally, Britain, rather than the Nazis who had invaded and occupied their country.

Still another elaborate holiday card is from the “British Embassy Dakar”. There are other Africa mementos – a 1958 invoice and receipt for “Barker & party” from “Andy’s Look-Out Hotel” in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa and a printed advertisement card of “Sheppards Hotel” in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo), Zimbabwe.

We note a curious typed list including English artists, architects, and dates, terminating in some notes on how and when silver items were hallmarked per the London Assay Office. We speculate that this relates to Barker’s noted expertise in old silver.

Last but not least, punctuating both the archive and Barker’s long association with Churchill, are Barker’s documents from Churchill’s 30 January 1965 state funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Barker’s personal invitation to the funeral is framed and accompanied by Barker’s St. Paul’s seating ticket, as well as two booklets provided to funeral attendees – The Order of Service for the Funeral of The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill and the Ceremonial to be Observed at the Funeral. 

The final item in the binder is Major Alan Taylor-Smith’s notes on Charles Barker and the provenance of this archive, printed on four A4 sheets.

It has been a delight to spend some time with the artifacts in this archive, appreciating the glimpses the voices, perspectives, and moments they encapsulate, and communicating some of what we found with you.


Remembering Patrick Powers

A few months ago, just before Christmas, I lost a friend and the Churchill world lost an erudite scholar.

Patrick Powers spent more than half a century teaching at various Catholic colleges in New England. He leaves a wife and sons, relatives and friends and colleagues, but, perhaps most of all, students. So many students, whom he engaged and provoked, challenged and inspired.

Among Patrick’s admirers, there are many more capable of writing traditional obituaries, which have already been composed and read. What I wish to say here about Patrick, I say as a friend.

I learned of Patrick’s bleak and imminent prognosis not many days after he did, on 13 December. I was planning to visit him in January and pestering him for approval of dates. Annoyingly, he was not answering. After a few days of my prodding, he responded, uncharacteristically via text, and shared his terrible news. He may be the only person I know who could tell me both that he just learned he is dying and that he is “Grateful for everything” in the same message.

We argued, Patrick and I. Constantly. With vigor, pointedly, and with the edge-of-insult directness that two intellects who love to argue and truly regard one anther can apply without worrying about offense. I loved him for it. It was our habit to announce at the beginning of a phone call whether we were constrained for time, since we both knew that phone calls would otherwise last and wend far beyond whatever pretext prompted them.

When I learned he was dying, it hit me that I had argued with my friend for the last time. I confess to a terrible selfishness; this, more than anything, truly left me feeling bereft. Later that day, I wrote to Patrick’s wife some of what I share in this post. It took me some hours to find words. This made me laugh out loud, because I knew that Patrick would have relished my being at an uncharacteristic loss for words.

Regarding faith, I like to think I had a sense of what Patrick believed. And he knew what I did not believe. If we could speak again, I would tell him that he now has the opportunity to settle the question for us. I would ask him if he might do me the courtesy of letting me know what he has found and how he finds it. He would likely tell me to find faith and stop simply looking for answers.

Here’s what I know – and what I hope he knows/knew (as the metaphysical case may be). I expect Patrick is unable to tally the number of minds he has touched and kindled, prodded and provoked. This is a worthy legacy. This, and the ripple effects, are a quietly sublime and worthy immortality, irrespective of any other.

It is no accident that the night before he died, Patrick was grading the work of his students. And, of course, in his final days, he was still refining his thoughts on exhaustively interpreting Churchill’s Savrola. We should all hope that his efforts – at last review, a prologue and epilogue that threaten to exceed the actual text – see publication.

I told Patrick’s wife, Mary Ann, that this infidel won’t insult Patrick by pretending to pray for him. But I did wish him as peaceful, swift, and merciful a journey as the difficult circumstances permitted. And this he had. I am grateful for that, as for many other things.

If we were able to joyfully, vehemently argue today, as we did so many times, I might just concede Patrick – just this one time – the last word. I might even prayerfully steeple my hands, as I once did as a boy in Catholic school, bow ever so slightly, and incline my head to him with a deferential-yet-definitely-also-sardonic smile. I’d also concede that he summed up matters between us well enough; I’m “grateful for everything” too.

Then, if he was really fishing for hagiography and praise, I’d hit his Catholic sensibilities with some Yiddish and call him a Mensch. For so he was.

Godspeed, Patrick.

A Unique Artifact of the Final Meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Yalta in February 1945

Some rarefied and significant material finds our shelves here at Churchill Book Collector, but seldom something both truly singular and so absolutely compelling.

We have just finished researching and preparing to offer a Second World War album. We call it an “album” but the nature and substantive diversity of the contents really render it more of an archive. But “album” we’ll call it for simplicity’s sake, and respecting the fact that it is contained between two covers.

Between the covers are found meticulously captioned photographs and mementos of an R.A.F. officer’s work flying VIPs during the 1945 Yalta (or, if you prefer, Crimea) Conference, a number of “Secret” documents related to transport to and from the Conference, correspondence and currency signed by dozens of senior military figures and pilots, and, last but certainly not least, the dated inscription of Winston S. Churchill and signed correspondence from Churchill’s private secretary confirming that Churchill personally received, examined, and inscribed this album, and conveying Churchill’s appreciation to the album’s compiler.

Yes, that’s a long sentence, but it still utterly fails to fully encapsulate the treasure trove of material herein.

The fact that the album contains material from and about the Yalta Conference – the final meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin – is of course noteworthy. But what truly sets this album apart is its unique perspective.

The Album, Its Charm, Its Contents

This album was painstakingly compiled, decorated, and annotated by Royal Air Force Group Captain Walter J. Pickard, “the first to arrive and the last to leave the Yalta Conference. Pickard titled his album “The Story of 150 Staging Post and the Airlift to the Yalta Conference February 1945”.

Pickard spent January and February commanding a base in Russia and organizing the air side of the conferences. All British and Americans had to go to him to be dispatched. His album documents the staging, preparation, and flights which conveyed Winston Churchill, as well as other British and American delegates, to the Yalta Conference in 1945, earning Pickard the accolades of his commanders, the appreciation of his Prime Minister, and the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.).

The album is 100 numbered pages in length, bound in leather-covered boards with a large, hand-labeled title “Saki” affixed diagonally on the front cover. Clearly, the album served its purpose; it was looked at, handled not only by Churchill, but presumably by others over the decades. The boards show wear to extremities and the leather-covered spine is gone. The boards and contents nonetheless remain tenuously connected, the mull and overall binding structure quite fragile but still holding. The binding has done its job of preserving the treasure trove within; the contents are generally clean, only lightly toned with scattered stains and occasional creasing, and appear complete, as originally compiled.

The contents of the album include the following:

  • A September 9, 1947 typed letter signed by Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary addressed to Pickard acknowledging that Pickard sent the album to Churchill, expressing Churchill’s thanks, and confirming that Churchill inscribed the album, which was returned with the letter.
  • Winston Churchill’s inscription in three lines inked on the album’s front free endpaper recto: “Inscribed by | Winston S. Churchill | 1947”. Below and to the right of Churchill’s signature is that of Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick William Bowhill, who signed as “C in C. Transport Command.”
  • Pickard’s title page executed in elaborate, multi-hued calligraphy: “The Story of 150 Staging Post and the Airlift to the Yalta Conference February 1945.”
  • A hand-annotated, color map of Crimea.
  • Personnel list of those under the command of Group Captain W. J. Pickard.
  • 10 typed pages, marked “SECRET”, comprising Pickard’s detailed “REPORT ON OPERATION ‘ARGONAUT’”, dated “26th February, 1945” and signed by Pickard.
  • Five letters of appreciation from senior military commanders, including letters signed by U.S. Brigadier General James S. Stowell and General Lord Hastings Lionel “Pug” Ismay.
  • “TOP SECRET CYPHER MESSAGE” of “24th JANUARY” from “150 STAGING POST” to “TRANSPORT COMMAND” that, according to Pickard’s elaborate calligraphy annotation, “nearly stopped the Conference”.
  • 50 photographs from the conference, 13 of them featuring Churchill, Roosevelt, or both, the balance featuring a mix of senior figures, including British Foreign Secretary Eden, U.S. Ambassador Harriman, U.S. Army U.S. Fleet Admiral King, Chief of Staff Marshall, Soviet Foreign Secretary Molotov, U.S. Secretary of State Stettinius, British Field Marshal “Jumbo” Wilson, as well as Pickard himself, various senior military and diplomatic figures, and support personnel.
  • Seven currency notes, including Soviet, American, and Greek, five of them signed by  a bevy of people, including pilots.
  • A “TOP SECRET – MOST URGENT” typed “1st February 1945” letter signed by Air Commodore Whitney Straight to Group Captain Pickard conveying the “Flight Plan” and “Passenger Lists”, as well as the fighter escort of P-38s and other details, for the transport of VIPs to the Yalta Conference.
  • The “Friday, February 16th, 1945” farewell dinner menu, signed on the blank verso by the members of Pickard’s command.
  • Pickard’s original Yalta Conference passes – both British Delegation and Soviet.
  • An original, colored, full-length, dated and signed 1945 caricature drawing of “Group Captain Pickard” in uniform, accompanied by a clipping from The Evening News about Pickard and his role at Yalta.
  • A contemporary Observer clipping that specifically refers to this, Pickard’s “remarkable autograph book…”
  • A “24th January” 1945 typed and hand-annotated “TOP SECRET CYPHER MESSAGE” from Pickard regarding critical communication and transport difficulties preceding the Conference.

“Saki” in bold green and red on the album’s front cover refers to the Crimean airbase, built by the Soviets in the 1930s, that served as the landing point for the aircraft bearing Churchill and Roosevelt to the Conference. The base has remained in operation since, most recently by Russia following the the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Beginning with the title page, the album has the look and feel of both military precision and treasured story book. Annotations and embellishments are both meticulous and multi-hued. Finely ruled colored pencil borders surround nearly every document and photograph. Section titles feature colorful, manifestly careful calligraphy. Myriad captions are typed, affixed, and then bordered in perfectly linear colored pencil. Every item seems quite specifically and intentionally placed in the album. Annotations show both diligence and almost boyish enthusiasm. The net effect of all the colorful flare and military exactitude leaves no doubt that the compiler was a pilot. The album is the adult manifestation of a seasoned commander and pilot recording his actual experience of every lad’s dream to fly, to dare, and to overcome.

Pickard organized his album into five titled sections: Operation Argonaut, detailing the official report of Pickard’s successful mission; Appreciations, containing typed signed letters congratulating Pickard on his mission; This Signal Nearly Stopped the Conference, showcasing a top secret message from Pickard expressing concern over the signal equipment functionality and the highly dangerous flying conditions between Saki and Yalta, the latter of which almost caused Pickard to crash on his first attempt; Some Actual Kodak Impressions, photographs of the staging post in Saki, members of Pickard’s squadron, and of Churchill and Roosevelt. Pickard loosely organized the remaining content by theme, such as two pages of signed short snorters, top secret cypher messages, Pickard’s original British and Soviet Yalta passes, and newspaper clippings about Pickard.

The Yalta Conference

In early February 1945, British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin met at the Yalta conference in Crimea. The meeting turned out to be their last; 1945 witnessed the final months of the war in Europe, of FDR’s life, and of Churchill’s wartime premiership.

The Yalta Conference, also known as The Crimea Conference, was held at the Livadia Palace near Yalta in the Crimea from 4-11 February 1945. This conference proved a geopolitically defining event of the 20th Century, fundamentally shaping the postwar world and drawing the battle lines of the long Cold War to come. A conventional perspective is that Roosevelt – terminally ill and trusting – viewed massive concessions to Stalin as a hopeful path to lasting peace. By contrast, Churchill deeply distrusted Stalin’s character and motivations, but had little power to resist the tide of Roosevelt’s rash concessions and groundless optimism.

Several images in this album seem to visually assert this interpretation; they feature a sickly and thin FDR, draped in a black cape and seated in an open car, including one in which Churchill stands beside FDR as the latter speaks, both men’s heads turned toward one another, but with the serious countenance of each man facing down into the space between them.

Perhaps better informing this simplified characterization of Yalta, “The central, ever-present fact lying behind everything was that Stalin had an army of more than six million men in eastern Europe, including by then in every region of Poland. The Western Allies thought they needed Russia to declare war against Japan once the German war was over, as they could not be certain that the atomic bomb – which for obvious reasons was not mentioned – actually worked.”

Another constraining imperative was that “Churchill and Roosevelt wanted the Russians to engage meaningfully in the United Nations”. In sum, “There was idealism at Yalta as well as Realpolitik, but there was also lethal decision-making” and, for better and worse, the “Big Three… remade the world in eight days”. There continue to be many ways to regard the competing imperatives and unsavory compromises of Yalta. One might choose to draw inferences from the fact that, “on the 11th Churchill suddenly decided, while giving no reason, that he wanted to leave… immediately, despite being scheduled to leave the next day. He gave his secretarial and household staff only one hour to pack everything up and be off”. (Roberts, Walking With Destiny, pp.859-863)

“They Are Trying To Shoot Us Down”

In order for there to be a conference, the participants first had to get there. Hence his album, Group Captain Pickard, and the Wing Commanders, Squadron Leaders, and Flight Lieutenants under his command. Air transport to the Conference was both a major logistical undertaking and deadly serious business.

Documents in Pickard’s album testify that, under his command, Operation “Argonaut” was tasked with providing “Staging Post facilities at Saki in the Crimea, for aircraft conveying British and American delegates for the three power conference at Yalta”. This effort involved 252 aircraft of at least nine different types – 120 of the aircraft British and 132 American. Additionally, fighter escorts were provided “to accompany the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary’s aircraft between Malta/Saki and Saki/Athens.” Obstacles chronicled included severe weather and heavy snowfall, mechanical challenges that saw engine repairs to both Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s aircraft, and communications.

Apparently, there was also the risk of friendly fire. Included in Pickard’s album are the “Flight Regulations for Allied aircraft to Saki aerodrome” supplied by the Soviet Command. Beside this document, in his album Pickard chronicled an “Incident!!” and outlined section 4 of the Regulations in red: “All aircraft infringing these regulations or flying without clearance, or flying off course or outside the corridors and not observing recognition procedures will be considered hostile aircraft and are liable to be forced down or even destroyed should they not obey the orders of the fighters.” According to the album, Pickard’s and other Allied aircraft came close to being shot down by Russian fighters. ‘“HARPHAM [Wing Commander T. A. S. Harpham], they are trying to shoot us down” cried the Group Captain.’” Prior to arrival at Saki airbase, Pickard and his command were not apprised of “prohibited areas” and his aircraft were engaged by Russian fighters. As Pickard notes in his album, “the warning came afterwards!”

In the words of a 25 February 1945 Air Ministry letter in this album marked “SECRET”, “The establishment of this Staging Post under what were clearly very difficult conditions in a place where, in spite of the goodwill of the Russians, facilities were limited and the climate severe, the satisfactory handling of the difficult administrative problems which are always met when operating in Russia, and the reception and dispatch without mishap of a very large number of aircraft both British and American constitute a feat of which your Command may justly feel proud, and which reflect the greatest credit on Group Captain Pickard and those serving under him at Saki.”

Group Captain Walter J. Pickard

Forty years old at the time of his Saki Command, Walter J. Pickard (b. 1905) was married and had an eight-year-old son. Pickard was “tall, fair, with a quiet persistence of character and a keen sense of humour.” He had first joined the R.A.F. in 1925 and served for five years. In 1930, Pickard began working for the “’Ye Mecca’” company, “whose cafes provide the City [of London] with no inconsiderable part of its refreshment needs.” Pickard rose to become an assistant managing director before the Second World War began. On the outbreak of the Second World War, Pickard became a flying instructor at the first R.A.F. school in Canada. Thereafter, he returned to head the Lyneham, Wiltshire, R.A.F. Transport Command Station, where he served until being tasked with the most important of his war tasks – organizing air transport to and from the Yalta Conference, including enhancing and commanding the staging post in Saki on the Crimea peninsula, through which were conveyed British and American leaders, delegates, and staff to the Yalta conference. For this service, Pickard received numerous accolades – many recorded in this album and including the gratitude of his Prime Minister – and was awarded an OBE, becoming an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Like so many others, after the war, “he [returned] to the business life which he led before the war.”

It Runs in the Family

Walter Pickard’s sister was Lady Hardwicke (Helena Pickard, 1900-1959), the wife of Sir Cedric Hardwicke, both of them stage and screen actors. But the strongest thread in Pickard’s family was flight.  Walter Pickard’s brother, celebrated bomber pilot Percy Charles “Pick” Pickard (1915-1944), was the first R.A.F. officer to be awarded the DSO three times during the war. He was known for his role in the 1941 R.A.F. documentary film Target for To-night, as the pilot of the bomber “F is for Freddie”. He was less fortunate in his off-screen fame; Percy Pickard was the commander of Operation Jericho, intended to liberate French Resistance fighters held in Amiens prison, located in occupied France – an operation which claimed his life.

After his film appearance made him a public figure in England, Percy focused on real, off-screen heroics; he flew paratroopers to the Bruneval Raid and commanded the squadron that flew SOE agents in and out of occupied France. His luck ran out on 18 February 1944, while he was leading a group of de Havilland Mosquito bombers on a raid of the Amiens prison to destroy the walls, freeing the prisoners inside, some of whom were reportedly scheduled for execution the next day.

It was a notably daring raid, planned for midday when the guards were taking their lunch. The pilots had the unwieldy task of blowing holes through the prison walls, leaving an escape route. The mission was conspicuously risky for both the pilots and prisoners. The pilots flew so low that their bomber wings skimmed the treetops lining the road to the prison.

Operation Jericho was ultimately successful, measured by its intentions to free those held captive by means of penetrating the prison walls. A number of prisoners were killed by the bombing, but hundreds escaped. Moreover, Resistance members who escaped were able to expose a large number of Gestapo agents and informers. Unfortunately for Pickard, his Mosquito was engaged by a German Focke-Wolf 190 fighter and his aircraft’s tail was shot off. Both he and his navigator, Alan Boadley, died in the ensuing crash. The two had flown more than 100 sorties together over four and a half years. The raid was sufficiently secret that Percy Pickard was not formally announced as killed in action until September 1944, only months before his brother, Walter, would take command at Saki.

So Many Signatures

Amid the wealth of correspondence, documents, mementos, images, and ephemera in this album, it is easy to overlook that it is positively riddled with signatures.

Of course, the standout signature in the album is that of Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965), perhaps the preeminent statesman of his age, whose political career lasted two-thirds of a century, saw him occupy Cabinet office during each of the first six decades of the twentieth century and serve twice as Prime Minister of Great Britain (1940-1945 and 1951-1955), and who became synonymous with Britain’s celebrated perseverance during the Second World War.

On the same page as Churchill’s dated inscription, below and to the right, is the signature of Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick William Bowhill (1880-1960), whose last R.A.F. assignment was Commander-in-Chief Air Transport Command

Identified autograph signatures on correspondence include those of:

Nina Edith “Jo” Sturdee, later Countess of Onslow (1922-2006), “one of the most significant of Churchill’s personal secretaries… served Churchill during the war years of 1942 to 1945, after which she became his main personal secretary from 1945 to 1953.”

The Album’s compiler, Group Captain Walter J. Pickard, in his role Commanding No. 150 Staging Post, R.A.F. Transport Command

U.S. Army Brigadier General James S. Stowell (1900-1978), then Commanding General North African Division, Air Transport Command, later a Major-General in the U.S. Air Force

General Lord Hastings Lionel “Pug” Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay (1887-1965), wartime Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, professional head of the army, and Churchill’s foremost wartime military advisor.

Air Marshal Sir Francis Joseph Fressanges (1902-1975), then serving as Air Officer commanding 47 Group, and who would eventually rise to Assistant Chief of the Air Staff.

Air Commodore Whitney Willard Straight (1912-1979), who would later become Managing Director and CEO of British Overseas Airways Corporation and Deputy Chairman of Rolls-Royce.

Identified signatures on the verso of the 16 February 1945 Farewell Dinner menu for Pickard’s staff include:

Wing Commander R. F. Bulstrode, Flight Lieutenant W. C. Painter, Squadron Leader D. Shehan, Flying Officer W. C. Over, Squadron Leader A. Leitch, Flying Officer H. G. Melors, S. Baxter, Flying Officer W. Rose, Flight Lieutenant A. R. Matheson, and Squadron Leader E. W. Minto.

A short word on Short Snorters. There are five signed banknotes in the album – “Short Snorters” in the parlance of the time. A Short Snorter was a banknote signed by people with whom you were flying. The tradition was allegedly started by Alaska bush pilots. However it may have begun, it certainly spread widely through military and commercial aviation, becoming particularly prevalent in military circles during the Second World War. “Snort” is derived from the slang for a stiff drink and “Short” is less than a full glass. During the Second World War, Short Snorters became a record of those with whom you’d served and also a drinking game and status symbol. If you could not produce your short snorter on request, you owed a drink. Eventually the signatures sought by pilots on Short Snorters became those of V.I.P.s, not just fellow flyers and colleagues.

This album includes five Short Snorters, on Roubles (1, 5, and 10 denominations), a “5 Piastre note”, and a U.S. Dollar (Series 1935 A), together featuring dozens of signatures, many of which we cannot readily decipher or identify, as well as various annotations, dates, and inscriptions. Among these dozens of names, a number are identifiable as United States Army Air Force personnel with ranks as high as Colonel. Many appear to be R.A.F. officers of various ranks. Intriguingly, there are also a scattering of female names – a “Millicent”, a “Joan”, and a “May” among them. There are also several 1945 dates, and a few place names (“Athens” repeated among them). Intriguingly, at the head of a number of signatures on two of the bills (The “5 Piastre note” and the U.S. Dollar) is the same inscription and apparent claim by one signer, a Col. Dick Phenig U.S.A.A.F. The inscription on both notes reads: “Short Snorter | original [indecipherable] 8-45 | started 1927 | Dick Phenig”. This claim that “Colonel Dick Phenig U.S.A.T.C (in peace-time Vice-President of United Air Lines)” is “the originator of the Short Snorter Club” is stated in one of Pickard’s typed captions.

Still More to Discover…

We have had the privilege of spending quite some time examining this artifact and sussing some of its history, doubtless there is more to discover. We look forward to placing it with a new owner who will continue to explore and preserve the story preserved in this album.


Churchill Book Collector

Albums & Archives!

Albums and archives? No, we don’t mean vinyl records and stodgy old buildings full of dusty whatnot.

Here’s what we mean. “Album” is fairly straightforward – a group of photographic prints collected in the form of a book. “Archive” is a broader term – and typically a more variegated collection of material. The Society of American Archivists says that “the word archives… refers to the permanently valuable records – such as letters, reports, accounts, minute books, draft and final manuscripts, and photographs – of people, businesses, and government… They are the documentary evidence of past events… the facts we use to interpret and understand history.” Put more simply, an archive is a coherent collection of varied material that offers us a window on the person, place, or time it frames.

Why the explanation of terms? Because we have managed to gather a large and diverse treasure trove of albums and archives related to Sir Winston S. Churchill.

Albums and archives are compelling. They are often unique in content and presentation. They offer us perspective and insight different than the edited, printed, and polished history of books. And they can also be tantalizingly intriguing to figure out; they often come to us shorn of the context and raison d’etre explaining when and why they were created and what they are trying to show us.

The material we have accumulated is truly diverse in time and content. Our collection of albums and archives spans Churchill’s engagement in the Boer War as a young cavalry officer and war correspondent to the State Funeral honoring the end of his life. This span is difficult to overstate, extending from colonial conflicts fought on horseback at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign well into the age of nuclear weapons and human exploration of space.

In our hoard of albums and archives there are, of course, photograph collections – taken and collected by journalists, soldiers and sailors, staff, and various spectators. There are also fascinating collections of non-photograph material.

There are archives of members of Churchill’s staff, including his Chief Clerk at 10 Downing Street during the Second World War. There is a remarkable memento album of one of the military pilots at the Yalta Conference.

There is an incredible set of 24 large, hard-backed promotional posters from the original publication of The Second World War, still preserved in the gigantic wooden crate in which they were shipped by the publisher, Life Magazine. There are images and items that may exist nowhere else and would otherwise be lost to history. And, of course, within some of these albums and archives are found the inscriptions and signatures of Churchill.

The unexpected challenge we’ve faced is how best to present this material to you.

This time of year typically finds us putting the finishing touches on a print catalogue. Our catalogues are the result of diligent, disciplined, and even positively covetous accumulation; we pick a theme, amass material – sometimes for several years – and then pour it all into an annual catalogue.

This year, something different. Because, like Churchill, this collection of material is larger than life. And we are having some trouble squeezing all these albums and archives we’ve been hoarding between the covers of a catalogue!

So, instead, we will begin releasing this material in early November in small groups of half a dozen or fewer items at a time.

As always, those on our contact list will receive first notification of when we list these items, and first opportunity to own them. Stay tuned!


THE Queen

As an American, I’m keenly aware I am American only because a bunch of fractious, chafing British colonists chose to rebel against monarchical British rule – a bloody, protracted struggle that took two wars spanning four decades to resolve. Thereafter, it took another two centuries for Great Britain and the United States to settle into what we now call the “Special Relationship”.

And yet.

Yesterday, the text I received repeatedly from my fellow Americans was: “The Queen is dead.” THE Queen. Here in my mature democratic republic (well, OK, sometimes mature), the British monarch merited a singular article. “The”, implying a personal, cultural, and political presence that transcended social, institutional, and, frankly, even logical barriers.

Much ink will spill in memory of Queen Elizabeth II. Anything I have to say will pale in both eloquence and significance. So I’m going to let Winston Churchill speak for me.

The 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II saw 15 British Prime Ministers. Her first was Winston S. Churchill. Perhaps the coincidence of the beginning of her long reign in the twilight of his own long moment on the world stage was unexpected, but the fact that Elizabeth would prove exceptional was anything but unexpected.

While shooting with Elizabeth’s father, King George V, in September 1928, Churchill remarked in a letter to his wife that the King’s granddaughter, Elizabeth – then two and a half – was, “a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.” (Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill, p. 328) Of course he could not guess that the young princess, then third in line for the throne, would become his Queen and he her first Prime Minister. But Churchill continued to see early signs of promise in Elizabeth. During Churchill’s wartime premiership “In January 1944 he had proposed that when she became eighteen that April she should be given the title Elizabeth, Princess of Wales.”  

When Elizabeth became Queen in February 1952, Churchill was less than four months into his second and final premiership. On the day of the Coronation Churchill gave a speech introducing the Royal Broadcast, “Here, at the summit of our world-wide community, is the lady who we respect because she is our Queen and whom we love because she is herself.” This was not mere dutiful hyperbole. “Churchill established an early and excellent rapport with the new monarch, with whom, as all his entourage immediately spotted, he became besotted.” (Roberts, Walking With Destiny, p.929-930)

The regard was mutual. It was Queen Elizabeth II who invested Churchill as a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. The night before Churchill resigned his premiership, on 4 April 1955, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip paid Churchill an unprecedented honor, dining with him at 10 Downing Street. Churchill’s after-dinner speech that evening was his last as Prime Minister. (Gilbert, VIII, p.1120) The notes from which he spoke read now as both commencement and valediction. “Your Royal Highness… I was a Cavalry Subaltern in the Reign of Your Majesty’s Great-great-Grandmother, Queen Victoria…. Madam, I should like to express the deep and lively sense of gratitude which we and all your peoples feel to you… for all the help and inspiration we receive in our daily lives… Never have we needed it more than in the anxious and darkling age through wh we are passing and which we hope to help the world to pass. Never have the august duties wh fall upon the British Monarchy been discharged with more devotion than in the brilliant opening of Your Majesty’s reign. We thank God… and vow ourselves anew to the sacred causes and wise and kindly way of life of wh Your Majesty is the young, gleaming champion.

This Elizabeth, in whom so early Churchill recognized remarkable qualities, became “The Queen” to whom Churchill spoke these words more than 67 years ago. Her long life and reign will be celebrated, her loss mourned, and her like seems unlikely to be seen again.

“I wanna be like you” – what the apes miss when aping Churchill

When I hear contemporary politicians invoke Churchill, I usually feel like I’m watching King Louie, the Orangutan who wants to be a man, sing “I wanna be like you” in the 1967 Disney version of The Jungle Book.

“You!” sings King Louie,

“I wanna be like you

I wanna talk like you

Walk like you, too”

Yeah. Not so much.

IF you happen to draw a comparison between King Louis and another loud, big-headed, oddly orange, wanna-be-king with impulse control issues and destructive inclinations, well, that’s up to you. I refer you to another Disney movie. Cinderella. If the shoe fits… But I digress.

“I’m tired of monkeyin’ around!”

Sure, there’s a lot of ways in which most of those who self-flatteringly invoke Churchill fall short. Intelligence. Eloquence, Historical perspective. Foresight. Principle. Conviction. Courage. General capability. But, to me, none of these are the biggest shortcomings of the chorus of King Louie/wannabe Churchills. In my book, here’s the most important and most regrettable thing the Louies typically lack – a presumption of shared purpose and the primacy of decency.

Churchill could be fiercely partisan and relentless in pursuit of a policy or cause. And he was a true combatant by nature, whether on the battlefield, at the rostrum, on the backbenches, in Cabinet, leading a Government, or leading the Opposition. But Churchill did not confuse mere opponents with actual enemies. He regarded sincerity of convictions that he did not share. He was able to pursue cooperation in greater cause over petty conflict and momentary aggrandization. He was able to disagree without demonizing.

And, critically, he was not the only one.  We were reminded of this recently by “Manny” Shinwell. Or, more accurately, by – of course – a book inscribed to him.

The book in question (found HERE) is Great Contemporaries, Churchill’s famous collection of character sketches, first published in 1937. At the time Churchill had been out of power and out of favor, frequently at odds with both his own party leadership and prevailing public sentiment.

But, in April 1943, Churchill was wartime Prime Minister. This finely bound presentation copy is a wartime reprint inscribed to “one of Churchill’s most persistent Labour Party critics.” Inked in blue in five lines in blue on the blank recto preceding the half title, the inscription reads “To | Emanuel Shinwell | from | Winston S. Churchill | 1943 April.

A barbed gift?

In April 1943, the British were on the cusp of their first decisive Second World War victory over Hitler’s Germany, and by mid-May would declare “One Continent Redeemed” when Axis forces were expelled from North Africa. In the House of Commons, Emanuel Shinwell, the Member for Seaham Harbour, was apparently feeling less than celebratory, leaning into his role as a leading Parliamentary critic of Churchill’s Government.

Let’s not sugar-coat it. Churchill and Shinwell disagreed strongly, frequently, and were often unstinting in their criticism. A review of the House of Commons records for April 1943 – the month Churchill inscribed this book for Shinwell – indicates that in that month alone Shinwell personally questioned Churchill directly in the House regarding U-Boat losses, wartime suspension of elections, and compensation for ministers. That same month, Shinwell also questioned various ministers of Churchill’s Government regarding post-war planning, property rented by the Royal Air Force, Armed forces, civilian, and old age pensions, operations in Burma, and pay for Army chaplains. And that was just April. (Hansard)

We cannot know precisely what precipitated the gift of this inscribed volume, but it does seem plausible that Churchill may have presented this particular title – Great Contemporaries – with a sense of barbed irony to one of his most vigorous and persistent backbench critics. Another irony is that Churchill might have eventually chosen to include Shinwell’s own profile in this book.

Two pugnacious personalities

First elected to Parliament in 1922, Emanuel Shinwell, Baron Shinwell (1884-1986) was – not unlike Churchill himself – “a major personality over sixty years” and “always a pugnacious member of parliament” as a vocal and influential member of the Labour Party. (ODNB)

In 1935, two years before Great Contemporaries was first published, Shinwell had turned on and defeated former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Not unlike Churchill, Shinwell would spend his long career at turns vexing and serving – sometimes both at once – the leadership of his own party. Like Churchill, he was guided by a strong sense of what was right, and what was not, and of greater priorities than politics or political party.

Pugnacity was literal as well as electoral for Shinwell, who in 1938 actually struck a Conservative member of Parliament – a former naval boxing champion. During the Second World War, “Shinwell was a vigorous, though always patriotic, critic of Winston Churchill’s coalition government.” (ODNB) Hence it is plausible to sense some cheek and irony in Churchill inscribing Great Contemporaries to Shinwell in 1943, even as Shinwell was regularly assailing Churchill and his Government in the House of Commons.

Kinship even in fierce opposition

But however fierce and occasionally sharp their political battles, in the placement of country before party Shinwell and Churchill shared a kinship. During the Normandy invasion in early June 1944, Shinwell wrote a note to Churchill: “I should like you to know that at this time, when the thoughts of all of us are turned on grave events, I and others, whose views do not always accord with Government policy, are with you and your colleagues to a man.” (Letter of 8 June 1944, quoted in Gilbert, Vol. VII, p.800)

As for Shinwell’s criticism, Churchill had ample opportunity to return the favor. Churchill’s government fell to Labour in the General Election of July 1945. Shinwell served in Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s Government, eventually becoming Secretary of State for War in October 1947 and Minister of Defence in February 1950. Shinwell thereby fell squarely in Churchill’s own crosshairs, given Churchill’s extensive experience as wartime leader, architect of the Second World War, and stints as First Lord of the Admiralty (in two different world wars), Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, and Minister of Defence (ultimately thrice).

You can kick me in the Shin(well) and I’ll still respect you…

Shinwell left office after Churchill’s Conservatives regained a majority in late October 1951, returning Churchill to the premiership. On 6 December 1951, Churchill asked the indulgence of the House in order to speak in praise of Shinwell: “We have our party battles and bitterness… but I have always felt and have always testified.. to the Right Honourable Gentleman’s sterling patriotism and to the fact that his heart is in the right place where the life and strength of our country are concerned… I am so glad to be able to say tonight… that the spirit which has animated the Right Honourable Gentleman in the main discharge of his great duties was one which has, in peace as well as in war, added to the strength and security of our country.”

David Hunt, Churchill’s Private Secretary who had accompanied the Prime Minister to the Commons, recalled that “The House was stirred” and in the car on the way back to Number 10 Churchill reflected on his comments. … there’s a lot of good in Shinwell and I’m glad I took the chance of saying something about him.” Churchill’s fellow Conservatives were not so glad – “For the next week and more, letters of complaint continued to arrive… Churchill was robustly impenitent, and the more that people protested the more certain he felt that he had spoken well.” (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, pp.667-8)

The two men continued to disagree with frequency and vigor throughout Churchill’s second and final premiership. But in July of 1964, the day after Churchill went to the House of Commons for the last time, Shinwell was among a small group of House leaders and elders who called on Churchill at his Hyde Park Gate home to present him with a Resolution of the House of Commons conveying “unbounded admiration and gratitude for his services to Parliament, to the nation and to the world…” (Gilbert, Vol. VIII, p.1354-4)

Shinwell’s own career was far from over, and justly recognized in his own twilight. By the time of his hundredth birthday, which was celebrated in the House of Lords in 1984, Shinwell was “a legendary figure.” Perhaps even, had Churchill had opportunity to retrospectively revise and expand his book, a “Great Contemporary”.

“What I desire is man’s red fire”

Alas, greatness is elusive, and certainly cannot be conferred by appropriation and false equivalence.

“I wanna be a man…

What I desire is man’s red fire

To make my dream come true…

Give me the power of man’s red flower

So I can be like you.”

So sings The Jungle Book’s King Louie (voiced by the incomparable Louis Prima). To make himself more of a “man”, and to enforce his dominion over his unruly kingdom of monkeys, this primate populist wants fire. Poor Louie does not understand that power without purpose and some sense of propriety will not make a man of an ape.

Neither does aping Churchill’s stature without regarding his character.

It is, and has always been, a proverbial jungle out there. There’s nothing new about politics being a rough and tumble affair. There’s nothing special – now or in the past – about vigorous disagreement, scheming and maneuvering, and even saying profoundly unflattering things about politicians in a different camp than your own. Likewise, there is nothing new about self-aggrandizing unworthies trying to elevate themselves by association with their betters.

No one appointed me keeper of Churchill’s reputation. I am not empowered to adjudicate invocation of Churchill’s life and legacy. But there is something cartoonishly clumsy and not the least bit entertaining about watching vaunting pretenders try to rally the rabble to them by invoking Churchill. It would seem more fitting – and better serve the public good that so animated both Manny Shinwell and Winston Churchill – if Churchill were invoked less for flagrant self-justification and more for courageous conciliation and cooperation.