Words Not Needed

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“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

I almost wonder if the picture suffices.  There’s virtually nothing that Churchill did or touched, or wrote about that isn’t worthy of studying or reading for its own merit. Yes, I am an unabashed Churchillphile.  Franklin Roosevelt scores high on the Those-Whom-I-Admire meter too, but I find Churchill a more substantial personage.  He did and accomplished more, over a greater period of time than any of his contemporaries.

In that vein, I was fortunate enough to be in Winston Spencer heaven by being in London for a week.  No, I did not go to his gravesite, the seat he occupied in Parliament, or even to the home at Chartwell.  My fascination isn’t that maudlin. We did however go to one of the most fascinating historical sites I’ve ever been to: The Churchill Centre & Museum at the Churchill War Rooms.

The Churchill or Cabinet War Rooms are a warren of living quarters, communication centers and meeting rooms underneath HM (His or Her Majesty’s) Treasury Building that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz (the bombing of London.)  The War Rooms are where the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet met during the course of the war.  Work began on them in 1938 and they were first utilized beginning in 1940.  They were vacated and locked-up at war’s end on August 16, 1945 – in a way like some of our steel mills were – without really being emptied out.  In 1948 Parliament took steps to ensure their preservation and they were opened to the public in 1984.  The British take their WWII secrets very seriously.  In 2005 the IWM (Imperial War Museums, the authority responsible for the site) added the Churchill Museum to the complex, the only major museum display dedicated to Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.

My fascination with Churchill stems from his character and personal experiences, and his almost unmatched ability to convey them.  Here was a man who wholly embraced the notions of the (Victorian) day about empire and personal courage, and recognized early on that he had no “marketable skills” save for writing.  Perhaps Churchill’s most important attributes though – the ones truly admirable in my eyes – were his personal integrity and his resoluteness in the face of failure and derision. At significant points in his life, especially in later middle-age, he was both fairly and unfairly ridiculed, rejected and disparaged for sins real and assigned – the Dardanelles fiasco of WWI being the most notable.  For almost 10 years Churchill was one of the lone voices in London warning that Hitler and the Nazis (Narzis in his vernacular) posed a real threat to Europe and the world.  More than most, Churchill was prescient, and obnoxious.

What struck my wife and I during our trip was the affection in which he is still held, and the significance of his role as the wartime leader.  We were surprised at the mentions we heard that still referred to the Blitz, the Queen Mother (wife of George VI – mother of Queen Elizabeth,) and Churchill himself.

- Richard

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2 responses to “Words Not Needed

  1. Ian

    I’m currently reading my father’s original edition copy of Churchill’s “The Second World War”, and can totally understand your case of Churchillphila. His resolve, tenacity, and integrity totally shine through in those memoirs of Britain’s “finest hour”. Not that I would agree with all of his policies and ideas, but it sure would be refreshing to see a politician of his high standards and work-ethics again!

  2. ” Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say…..”

    That does remind me of the St Crispian’s Day speech in Henry V. Here’s Branagh’s version:Eve of Saint Crispin’s Day

    The story behind the photo: Churchill came into the room with his traditional cigar. The photographer, Karsh, thought that would be a distraction, and took it from Churchill’s hand. Churchill was not happy about that, and Karsh got an iconic photo.

    I read his “History of the Second World War” – 6 vols, and started his History of the English Speaking People” – not nearly as long – only 4 vols.

    He signed his letters to FDR “Former Naval Person”. I don’t remember what the salutation was.

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