Leading Churchill Myths: Chartwell

Chartwell “Manor”

In the latest issue of Finest Hour, STEFAN BUCKZACKI examines a common misconception about Chartwell. 

A trap that people often fall into is to refer to Winston Churchill’s beloved country estate in Kent as “Chartwell Manor.” Even Mary Soames in her wonderful memoir A Daughter’s Tale made this error. It is true the house was informally, but only ever informally, called Chartwell Manor around the time Mary was born and her father bought the estate in 1922—simply because it was a big and imposing residence. But it was not then and never had been a manor house, and it is quite incorrect and careless to use this as its proper name. Churchill himself never appears to have referred to his house as a manor and simply used “Chartwell” on his stationary. Most of all the National Trust, as the present owner, does not use the term manor because it is legally wrong.

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Churchill: Turing Made the Single Biggest Contribution to Allied Victory

Winston Churchill said that Alan Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.

by Jonathan Schilling

Alan TuringAlan TuringAlan Turing (1912-1954) was a brilliant mathematician and a founder of computer science. He was one of the codebreakers who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II and who played a major role in breaking the cipher systems used on the German Enigma machine thereby generating the Ultra intelligence that proved a key factor in many Allied successes during the war. From at least the mid-1980s on, the claim has been made in various news articles, websites, and a few books that Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory against Germany.

Churchill was introduced to Turing during a visit to Bletchley Park in September 1941 and the following month Turing and three other cryptographers wrote directly to Churchill asking for more administrative resources, a request which the Prime Minister immediately granted. Undoubtedly Churchill believed Ultra intelligence was of vital importance during the war. However, no documentation has ever been found in which Churchill specifically praises Turing, and the claim does not supply a date or a context in which this statement was supposed to have been made. Certainly Churchill made no such declaration in public during his lifetime since the existence of Ultra remained fully under wraps until nearly a decade after his death.

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Churchill sent troops against striking Welsh coal miners

Leading Churchill Myths

by Randolph S. Churchill

From Finest Hour 140, Autumn 2008. Excerpted by kind permission from Winston S. Churchill, vol. 2 Young Statesman 1901-1911. London: Heinemann, 1977, 374-78.

In 1911, a strike began in the coal mines at Rhondda in early November of the same year. It arose out of a dispute concerning wage differentials in the working of hard and soft seams. Many men were involved, estimates varying between 25,000 and 30,000, and many different pits were affected. Read More >

Coventry: What Really Happened

by Martin Gilbert

Finest Hour 141, Winter 2008-09

Although Finest Hour has covered this subject before we asked Sir Martin for his own rendition based on his most recent research.

On the night of 14 November 1940, three hundred German bombers dropped 500 tons of explosives, 33,000 incendiary bombs and dozens of parachute mines on the industrial city of Coventry. During the raid, 507 civilians were killed and 420 seriously injured.[1]

A play at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, One Night In November, repeated the frequently made claim that Winston Churchill knew of the attack several days in advance, but that he held back the information to protect the most important secret of the war: the breaking of the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park. In the words of the press publicity: “… the play examines the idea that Winston Churchill had advance warning of the attack. Was Coventry sacrificed for the greater good? Or to provoke America into the war?”[2]

The truth about the bombing of Coventry is very different. On 12 November 1940, Enigma decrypts made it clear that a major German bombing raid was imminent. Its code name, Moonlight Sonata, had been read in the decrypts. But the decrypts gave no clue as to the destination of the German bombers.

The Air Intelligence report that Churchill received on 12 November gave, on the basis of the latest intelligence, five possible targets: Central London, Greater London, the Thames Valley, or the Kent or Essex coasts.[3]

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Myth: Churchill Let Coventry Burn

We have two authoritative articles to explore this topic. Please follow this links below for further reading. 
Churchill-in-ConventryChurchill visits Coventry Cathedral 28 September 1941
Coventry: What Really Happened, by Sir Martin Gilbert. Published in Finest Hour 141, Winter 2008-09.

Churchill Let Coventry Burn, by Peter McIver. Published in Finest Hour 114, Spring 2002. Read More >

Churchill quoted radical poet Claude McKay

McKay (1880-1948) was born and raised in Jamaica. He emigrated to the United States in 1912 to attend college. He became active in radical politics and wrote “If We Must Die” in reaction to race riots that swept America during the 1919 “Red Scare.” The poem was first published that same year in the July issue of The Liberator, a left-wing magazine edited in New York by Max Eastman.

In an article published in the September 2003 issue of Notes & Queries, Lee M. Jenkins traced the history of the claim that Churchill quoted McKay’s poem during the Second World War. According to Jenkins, the story started after the war with such black writers as Melvin B. Tolson, Kamau Brathwhite and Arna Bontemps. Variously, Churchill is supposed to have cited the poem in speeches made in the House of Commons or to the United States Congress, or both. This urban legend focused on the supposed irony of a famous white leader quoting a black poet.

In fact, there is no evidence that Churchill cited the poem in any speech. No reference can be found in Hansard (Parliamentary Debates) or the Congressional Record. Nor could the quote be verified by the Churchill Archives Centre or The Churchill Centre. The author Gore Vidal opined that it is very unlikely Churchill, assuming he knew the poet’s identity, would have quoted the lines before a Congress controlled largely by Southern racists.

Probably, the confusion stems from the fact that the poem “If We Must Die” certainly sounds like the sort of things Churchill did say during World War II. It is even possible that Churchill was familiar with the words, since in 1919 McKay left the U.S. for London, where he worked for Sylvia Pankhurst’s radical newspaper, The Worker’s Dreadnought, and Churchill was well known for reading papers across the political spectrum.

Still, in the absence of any documented evidence, the story must be regarded as a myth.

Churchill Starved Occupied Europe by Withholding Food Shipments

Roosevelt advocated humanitarian aid to unoccupied countries like Vichy France, and Churchill went along with this. But in 1943, when Roosevelt suggested aid to occupied Norway, Churchill said “conditions in Belgium are worse than in Norway and in our judgement it would not be right to make a concession to Norway and not to Belgium.”

Churchill’s policy (as advised by his military chiefs) was clearly aimed at the common enemy, as he wrote in 1943: “To abandon the principle that the enemy is responsible for the territories he has conquered will lead very quickly to our having the whole lot on our backs, a burden far beyond our strength.”

Mischief-makers have implied that Churchill wished to starve the Belgians into revolt. But until evidence is shown, we cannot accept this.

Churchill’s daughter once said, “My father would have done anything to win the war, and I’m sure he had to do some very rough things—but they did not unman him.” An overt starvation campaign does not, however, appear to be one of these things. —RML

A message (drafted by Sumner Welles) from Roosevelt to Churchill dated 31 December 1940 makes no mention of Belgium, but proposes, “for humanitarian and also political reasons,” sending “limited quantities of milk and vitamin concentrates for children” through the Red Cross to unoccupied [my emphasis] France and to Spain. FDR drew a distinction between occupied and unoccupied territory. He seemed primarily concerned with Spain. The carrot, not the stick, was advocated by the State Department for Franco’s Spain. 

This was a positive response to Churchill’s message of 23 November 1940, suggesting that the USA “dole out” food to Spain “month by month” so long as Spain stayed out of the war.        

What FDR did, in his message of 31 December, was to add unoccupied France—something he indicated had met with opposition from British blockade authorities on the grounds that the distinction between occupied and unoccupied France would be difficult to establish or enforce. 

Churchill replied on 3 Jan 1941, cautiously agreeing to such humanitarian relief shipments, but asking for strict adherence to the conditions and assurances from Vichy that it would acknowledge “the cooperation of His Majesty’s Government….” WSC ended asking for FDR to provide the same assurances: It was all right, Churchill wrote, to say it was a USA initiative, but “we would like it stated that the relief goods are available only by the good will of His Majesty’s Government.” (Perhaps the first and only time Churchill equated the United States and Vichy!) 

Thereafter it seems that relief to Vichy France gets caught in the politics of Vichy’s neutrality.* But even there I find nothing wherein WSC argues that humanitarian relief should be withheld so as to foment uprising in occupied territory. In 1940-41, my cursory look shows that such aid was discussed only for unoccupied lands.

Three years later, on 15 March 1944, Roosevelt wrote Churchill saying he’d been thinking further about “limited  feeding programs for children and nursing and expectant mothers in the German occupied countries of Europe.” Belgium is specifically mentioned. Roosevelt (in a message drafted by the State Department) made a plea on humanitarian grounds that withholding food “hurt our friends more than our enemies.” On 8 April Churchill rejected this proposal, arguing that it would hurt “impending military operations,” as it required opening channels of transportation into Europe. 

Yet intelligence reports, available to both WSC and FDR, indicate that short rations did not damage enemy morale.  The total embargo/blockade on relief to occupied countries was, by 1944, of no strategic value, and added to the existing humanitarian tragedy. That said, I can find no words or actions by Churchill holding back relief to Belgium to create conditions so horrible that the Belgians would revolt. Not only was Churchill not so jaded, but he also knew that such a revolt (unlikely as it was) would be crushed like an eggshell by Nazi/Gestapo enforcers. 

This claim is remindful of the “Auschwitz argument,” that liberation would be quicker and more effective than dealing with the immediate situation—not much help to Jews in the camp, or starving mothers in Belgium; it is the old debate: a short-term prophylactic versus a permanent solution.

There is no mention that I can find by Churchill inciting the Belgians to revolt. As I recall, he really didn’t think the Belgians had the stomach for revolt, but that’s a question for others.

To the extent that Franklin Roosevelt comes out looking more humane, it is because he did, in one instance in 1944, support food shipments to Belgium, while Churchill, perhaps following the advice of his military, did not. —WFK


Paul-Henri Spaak, The Continuing Battle: Memoirs of a European 1936-1966 (Boston, 1972), described his first meeting with Roosevelt at the White House in 1941:

I explained to him the food situation in occupied Belgium and exerted all my powers of persuasion to interest him in the fate of my compatriots….When I had ended my plea, he declared coldly, without betraying the slightest sign of human warmth or compassion, that nothing could be done. This unfeeling answer was accompanied by comments which angered me, and this anger was all the harder to contain as I was forced to hide it. He declared that the trials through which Belgium was passing were not so tragic, that Germany had gone through much the same experience after the first World War and had yet produced a generation that was physically fit; the proof of this could be seen in the way the Germans were now fighting.


…We fear very much prolongation of the war and its miseries which would result from breakdown of blockade of Germany, and there are immense difficulties in preventing Germany from profiting directly or indirectly from anything imported into unoccupied France. Dealing with Darlan is dealing with Germany, for he will not be allowed to agree to anything they know about which does not suit their book. Also there is the danger of rationing spreading to occupied France, Belgium, Holland, and Norway. Perhaps however you might be able to devise a scheme under which supervision would limit leakage and might also give you a number of agents in favourable positions in unoccupied France and in French Africa. It would be easier for you to talk to Vichy, with whom you are in regular diplomatic relations, than for us to negotiate via Madrid or by making speeches on broadcast. Besides this, Darlan has old scores to pay out against us in the dire action we were forced to take against his ships.**


About two months ago [U.S. Secretary of State Cordell] Hull asked for an assurance, which we gladly gave, that the British Government was in agreement with the United States Government that the blockade of enemy territory should be vigorously maintained. This is our policy, as agreed with your Government. The single exception is Greece, where alone of all Allied countries the enemy allowed wholesale starvation conditions to develop. We have resisted extremely strong pressure from the Belgian Government and others to depart from it. To abandon the principle that the enemy is responsible for the territories he has conquered will lead very quickly to our having the whole lot on our backs, a burden far beyond our strength.

Conditions in Belgium are worse than in Norway and in our judgement it would not be right to make a concession to Norway and not to Belgium. It would be impossible, too, to dispute the claims of other Allied governments who would certainly press violently for equal privileges.

In our view the plan you propose might therefore have the eventual effect of reversing our whole joint food blockade policy, and this, I am sure you will agree, we should not contemplate.

As you are no doubt aware, we have already agreed with your authorities upon a secret scheme, which while distinct from ordinary relief, will help our Norwegian friends without dangerous repercussions. This scheme, which has been welcomed by the Norwegian Government, provides for the despatch in the Gothenburg [Göteborg] traffic of limited quantities of supplies disguised as Swedish imports, to be distributed in Norway through secret channels. If it is put into operation it will bring material aid to our friends, although it is of course vital that none but the Norwegian officials directly concerned should know of it.

We are also anxious to proceed with plans for the evacuation of Norwegian, Belgian, and other children to Sweden and Switzerland respectively, where they could be maintained by extra imports through the blockade.


* Admiral Francois Darlan, Vichy French Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated in 1941 that he might use the French fleet to prevent further British interference with the importation of food and other supplies to occupied France.

** On 3 July 1940, the Royal Navy had destroyed three French battleships and a destroyer at Mers-el-Kebir, near Oran, and had seized a number of lesser warships in Britain. Five days later the British had attacked and damaged the battleship Richelieu at Dakar.

Lord Randolph Churchill: Maladies Et Mort

by John H. Mather, M.D.

It is impossible to say at this late date what killed Sir Winston Churchill’s father.  But it is no longer possible to say that he died of syphilis.

The decade of the 1880s “saw the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of the brilliant Lord Randolph Churchill.”1 An intense personality of shining wit and piercing sarcasm propelled him to great political heights, but before he reached the pinnacle, his career was instantaneously extinguished when he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then the spark of life itself was snuffed out. His death at age 45, reportedly from syphilis, cast a pall over his early fame. Now that pall may be lifted. Lord Randolph Churchill’s main symptoms are much more consistent with a less titillating but far more logical diagnosis.

Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill, younger son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, was born 13 February 1849. Like other young men of his time, he joined in the merry life of the Marlborough House set, where the tone was set by his friend the Prince of Wales.2 In 1874 at age 25, he married Jennie, the beautiful second daughter of Leonard and Clara Jerome of New York. He was elected a Member of Parliament for Woodstock and embarked upon a tumultuous political career.

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Churchill’s Speech Impediment Was Stuttering

by John Mather, M.D.

The Baltimore Sun Sunday November 17,2002, raises the issue as to whether Churchill was a stutterer or simply had a lisp.  The American Stuttering Foundation claims that he was a stutterer and continues to use him as their “pin-up boy” in its advertisements in medical journals, claiming that this is documented in several books.

Fiona Reynoldson’s book Winston Churchill, which seeks to capture the imagination and attention of younger readers comments that, “Churchill came home on leave in 1897 and went to see a doctor in London about his lisp.  He pronounced “s” as “sh”.  Nothing was found to be wrong, but the lisp never went away.  Despite this, he made his first political speech during his leave and later became a great orator in the House of Commons.”

So what is the correct diagnosis: “stuttering” or a “lisp”?

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Was Churchill a Poor Student?

From Finest Hour 98, Riddles, Mysteries, Enigmas

Q: I was mortified today when unable authoritatively to rebut a coworker’s repetition of the “Churchill was a dunce at school” canard (with the usual emphasis on Latin and Greek). –Andrew Isaac

A: See Jim Golland’s Not Winston, Just William? (Harrow: Herga Press 1988), a revisionist account of Churchill’s Harrow Schooldays — revisionist in that it proved that he was not the dunce he and others said he was. Golland noted that anyone who could recite 400 lines of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, and write a future history of an attack on Russia which presaged what actually happened in later years, could not be stupid. Read More >

Pearl Harbor Attack

by Ron Helgemo

Did Churchill know of the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor-but do nothing so as to draw the United States into the war?”Opium for the People”

Mr. Helgemo, whose career includes a spell at the CIA, was president of the Washington Society for Churchill. His article first appeared in Finest Hour 101, Winter 1998-99.

Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: A Television Documentary aired on the History Channel (USA)

On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the History Channel, whose programs vary between solid history and opium for the people, ran a BBC-produced documentary claiming that President Roosevelt knew all about the surprise attack and allowed it to happen to get the United States into the war. The program, as Arthur Balfour might have said, contained much that is trite and much that it true, but what was true was trite, and what was not trite was not true.

That “Betrayal at Pearl Harbor” should not be taken seriously is manifestly evident. Examples of why it shouldn’t begin with its interview of Robert Ogg, which approaches dishonesty. The producers fail to inform the audience that Mr. Ogg is the infamous “Seaman Z” immortalized by John Toland, an early conspiracy theorist who wrote that Pearl Harbor was plotted by Franklin Roosevelt.

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Lord Moran’s book is based on his diaries

By John H. Mather MD CIP FACPE

Lord Moran (Dr. Charles McMoran Wilson, pronounced to rhyme with “sporran”) was Winston Churchill’s primary physician from 1940 until his patients death in 1965.[1] The following year he simultaneously published his memoirs in the UK and USA.[2] The response was immediate and highly critical. Churchill’s family and his immediate political entourage were outraged.

Moran’s medical colleagues considered the revealing of any information on his illustrious patient a breach of medical ethics.[3] Several of Churchill’s confidants during World War II and his second premiership were incensed by Moran’s book and considered it “an inexcusable breach of confidence.”[4] Six authors challenged Moran on several counts, including his assessments of Churchill’s performance, political acumen and personal relationships, especially his disparaging remarks about the indefatigable General Hastings “Pug” Ismay. This “inner circle” felt their riposte was necessary because Moran did not confine himself to “technical medical details” and that the doctor “has also given his assessment of Churchill’s qualities as a statesman and leader of his country in war and peace. We cannot accept this assessment as it stands: we believe that in some respects it is incorrect and in others incomplete and on both accounts misleading.”[5]

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Churchill’s American Heritage

By Winston S. Churchill

While recently assembling my grandfather’s writings on America into a single volume entitled The Great Republic (reviewed in this issue. Ed.), I used it as the opportunity to research further my family’s American forebears.

Winston Churchill was half American by birth – a fact of which he was deeply proud. In his first address to a joint session of the United States Congress, on 26 December 1941, he teased the assembled Senators and Representatives with the mischievous suggestion, “If my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way ’round, I might have got here on my own!” Read More >

Churchill Had Iroquois Ancestors

by Elizabeth Snell

Long before the age of political correctness, some Churchills delighted in extolling the legend of their Native American blood, believed to have been introduced through Jennie Jerome’s maternal grandmother, Clarissa Willcox. Despite the much-mooted Indian features of some of Clarissa’s descendants, there is no genealogical evidence to support Indian ancestry in the Jerome lineage.

In Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, Vol. 1, Ralph G. Martin wrote that Randolph S. Churchill in his biography of his father noted that the mother of Jennie’s grandmother Clarissa was one Anna Baker whose “mother’s maiden name is not recorded in the genealogies” and “is believed to have been an Iriquois [sic] Indian.” Although Randolph did write something like this it is ironic that any Churchills or Churchillians give credence to Jennie, which was withdrawn in Britain over its false allegation that Sir Winston’s brother Jack was not Lord Randolph’s son. In any case, the fact is that we now know not only Anna Baker’s mother’s name but something of her background – thanks to an unearthed 1951 typescript on the descendants of the Baker family.

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Churchill Knew about the Holocaust

Yes, Churchill knew about the Holocaust; and contrary to popular belief, he tried to do something about it.

A Letter to the New York Times Magazine by Dr. Cyril Mazansky

Published in Finest Hour 93, Winter 1996-97

IN the December 22nd New York Times Magazine, William vanden Heuvel published an article, “The Holocaust Was No Secret,” subtitled: “Churchill knew, we all knew, and we couldn’t do anything about it—except win the war.”

Quoting a forthcoming book, The Myth of Rescue, by William D. Rubenstein, which he claims is “the most significant new contribution to the history of the Holocaust,” van-den Heuvel asserted that “no one plan or proposal made anywhere in the democracies by either Jews or non-Jewish champions of the Jews after the Nazi conquest of Europe could have rescued one single Jew who perished in the Holocaust.”

Dr. Mazansky’s letter to the Times Magazine refers to “Churchill and the Holocaust,” a speech by Sir Martin Gilbert at the 1993 Churchill Conference, ICS Proceedings 1992-1993.

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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.

At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.