After now having finished 1800+ pages of Last Lion over the last few weeks (Alone, then Defender of the Realm), last night, with a glass of brandy in hand to honor his memory, I reached Winston's death shortly after his 90th birthday and the end of the defender book. I love to read. Given retirement and the weather over the last couple weeks, it feels a bit like I lost an old friend today.
His birthday was on Nov 30th and he celebrated 90 as he liked to with family and friends, roast beef, oysters, Pol Roger champagne, brandy and cigars late into the early morning hours. Over a decade prior he had commented to Jock Colville on another January 24th that "today is the 24th of January, that is the day my father died. It is the day that I shall die too." On the night of the 9th of January he refused to take either brandy or a cigar -- very rare. He had a stroke and went into a coma that night. He passed on the 24th. I believe the image above is of the crowd outside on his 90th and him giving them the V for victory.
I don't think there is any question that he was the greatest man of the 20th century. Without him, we may well be all speaking German today and being forced to revere Hitler as that man. Next to Winston, FDR, Stalin, Truman and Eisenhower are just "other statesmen".
He was great because he was always Winston. Here he is calling socialism want it was and is:
"I hope you have all mastered the official Socialist jargon which our masters, as they call themselves, wish us to learn," he said in 1950. "You must not use the word 'poor'; they are described as the 'lower income group.' When it comes to a question of freezing a workman's wages the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaks of 'arresting increases in personal income'....Homes are in future to be called 'accommodation units.' I don't know how we are to sing our old song 'Home Sweet Home.' 'Accommodation Unit, Sweet Accommodation Unit, there's no place like our Accommodation Unit.'"The level of tyranny and millions of subjugated and dead at the hands of Stalin and the USSR could likely have been significantly reduced if not nearly avoided had FDR been willing to listen to Churchill and had not had the idea that "he could talk to Stalin". Here is a little glimpse of comparison between Churchill and FDR:
... Roosevelt "always enjoyed other people's discomfort." Harriman recalled. "It never bothered him much when other people were unhappy."
Churchill did not rise to the bait until Stalin proposed to shoot at least 50K German officers after the surrender in order to ensure Germany's docility well into the future. "I would rather," Churchill replied, "be taken out to the garden here and now and be shot myself rather than sully my own and my countries honor by such infamy." Roosevelt then chimed in with a compromise; he suggested that only 49K officers be shot".There are a number of places that one realizes that FDR often gave weasels a bad name -- siding with Stalin and reducing his number by a thousand allows you to understand the REAL FDR vs the "Fireside Chat" fake.
In reading the book, one is shocked by how much FDR and others in his cabinet sidled up to Stalin and the USSR while taking a decidedly anti British Empire stance. For some strange reason, FDR had massive concern for what he saw as "injustice" to people in India, but was completely sanguine about many millions of Poles, Slavs and Germans being butchered, raped starved, and eventually imprisoned or virtually imprisoned as the machine of the Red Army blugeoned it's way west.
Or perhaps FDR just didn't like Britain and what he saw as her "interests". When there was a huge famine in Bengal and the demolished Brits had no ships, but 350K tons of wheat in Australia, FDR dithered for a month when he had the ships, then sent "regrets". At least a million more Bengalis died in the next twelve months. The book makes it very clear that American politics were what FDR cared about -- whatever it took for him to win elections was what he was committed to -- not matter what the cost in lives or the risk of loss to Hitler.
Churchill's life is a drama that exceeds any that could be imagined -- made more dramatic by being real. He heroically fought the monster Hitler, and won without becoming evil himself. And then his people turned him out of leadership because they wanted the "free stuff" promised by socialism less than 2 months after VE day. How is that for gratitude?
But he persevered, the socialists were a disaster as he had predicted, and he returned to the Prime Minister position in '51, laying it down in '55. His last 10 years were spent writing, painting and sailing the world on Aristotle Onassis' yacht.
His son Randolph was a source of disappointment, it was said that he inherited all of his fathers bad characteristics and none of the good. -- as Winston once said with a tear in his eye "I love my son, but I don't like him". Randolph died in '68 at the age of 57. His first wife, Pamela bore a son Winston who was a joy to old Winston. Pamela, eventually Pamela Harriman was is a study in herself -- it was once remarked that she was the worlds foremost expert on rich mens bedroom ceilings.
His daughter Sarah had success as an actress, struggled with alcohol her whole life and died at age 67, apparently having relapsed to alcohol.
His wife Clementine remained his love to the end and outlived him by over a decade.
I wish he had been a Christian -- I like to believe that God had a long talk with him from January 9 to the 24th and convinced him that he had one critical error in life. Inside Westminster there is supposed to be a fairly large block on the floor that says "Remember Winston Churchill" -- I certainly will, and I intend to see that marker in about a month!