December 26, 2005
Churchill's Momentous Visit
-- Imagine how tiresome it would be to have, at Christmas, a houseguest
of whom your spouse disapproves and who you have met only twice
before, the first time 23 years ago (annoyingly, your guest does
not remember the meeting), the second time four months ago, for
a few hours, out of town, on business. Imagine that the houseguest
invites himself to your home, stays almost three weeks and one
morning early on during his stay he summons your butler (you don't
have one? pity) and issues the following ukase:
Fields, we had a lovely dinner last night but I have a few orders
for you. We want to leave here as friends, right? So I need
you to listen. One, I don't like talking outside my quarters;
two, I hate whistling in the corridors; and three, I must have
a tumbler of sherry in my room before breakfast, a couple of
glasses of scotch and soda before lunch and French champagne
and 90-year old brandy before I go to sleep at night.''
this Guest from Hell declares that for breakfast he requires hot
``eggs, bacon or ham and toast'' and ``two kinds of cold meats
with English mustard and two kinds of fruit plus a tumbler of
sherry.'' You would be forgiven for asking your guest if he had
been born in a palace.
He who so
firmly addressed President Franklin Roosevelt's butler Alonzo
Fields 64 Christmases ago was, in fact, born in Blenheim Palace,
England's gift to the first Duke of Marlborough. And if no whistling
and lots of sherry and whisky would help the duke's great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson,
Winston Churchill, function, stop whistling and pour liberally.
There is a war to win.
of this December 1941 visit is told by two Canadians, David Bercuson
and Holger Herwig, in an entertaining book with an idiotic subtitle,
``One Christmas in Washington: The Secret Meeting Between Roosevelt
and Churchill that Changed the World.'' Secret meeting?
It was about as secret as a circus, featuring a press conference
with FDR and a speech to a joint session of Congress in which
Churchill said: ``I cannot help reflecting that if my father had
been American and my mother British, instead of the other way
round, I might have got here on my own.'' But the meeting did
change the world by constructing the machinery of cooperation
that led to the defeat of the Axis.
it now seems, 1941. The city of Washington had 15,000 outdoor
privies. German U-boats sank 432 ships in the Atlantic. In August
FDR could deceive everyone, including the Secret Service, for
a really secret meeting with Churchill -- their only previous
meeting had been at a London dinner in 1918 -- at Placentia Bay,
Newfoundland. In the days after Pearl Harbor, some of the antiaircraft
guns on the White House were wooden fakes -- real ones were scarce.
On his voyage, sometimes through 40-foot waves, to his Christmas
visit with FDR, Churchill watched American movies, including ``Santa
Fe Trail,'' starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ronald
Churchill in Washington in a black limousine the Treasury Department
had confiscated from a tax evader named Al Capone. Churchill met
here with Adm. Ernest King, commander in chief of the U.S. fleet,
who had served in the Spanish-American War, and with Gen. Henry
``Hap'' Arnold, the head of the Army Air Forces, who in 1911 received
flight training in Dayton, Ohio, from the Wright brothers.
have been the most important event of Churchill's almost three
weeks in America was not known until his doctor published his
memoirs in 1966: Churchill suffered a heart attack while straining
to open a stuck window in his White House bedroom. Had it been
fatal, that could have changed the world.
Roosevelt disapproved of Churchill the imperialist, but on Christmas
Day 1941 she, he and the president attended Washington's Foundry
Methodist Church, the second iteration of a church founded by
Henry Foxall, who in 1812 vowed that he would build a church as
a thanksgiving offering if the British did not destroy his cannon
foundry when they took Washington and burned the White House.
Day was the birthday of Gen. Sir John Dill, chief of the Imperial
General Staff, so a cake was found and adorned with a set of American
and British flags which, Dill discovered when he removed them,
were made in Japan. This occasioned laughter, at a time when that,
like much else, was scarce.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group