Summer 1949 (Age 74)

“En garde, français!”

Churchill continued working on the third volume of his war memoirs, spending much time in Italy on holiday with Clementine and his entourage, described on this occasion by Walter Graebner. No matter how far he went, whether by rail or air, Churchill took with him all the equipment for an office, other than tables and chairs. Nothing was left to chance: he wanted an office functioning within an hour or two after his arrival. Crates and black dispatch boxes were filled with typewriters, paper clips, pencils, ink, paper, paste, scissors, pins, envelopes, sealing-wax, seals and string. The management of this vital part of the holiday operation was entrusted to two secretaries from the London staff, one of whom was available whenever Churchill called between 8AM and 2PM.

There were always about a dozen people in the Churchill entourage. Two were Scotland Yard detectives, who worked twelve-hour shifts each so that Churchill was never left unguarded. Since they were the same team assigned to him in England they felt quite at ease in the party, and on painting and picnic excursions they pitched in and helped like everyone else. Also present was a valet, who not only dressed Churchill and looked after his other needs in the bedroom, but squeezed the tube when his master wanted more paint, saw that a fresh cigar was never more than a few feet away, and did hundreds of other little things which added to his comfort.

Immediately prior to departing on holiday, Churchill addressed a Conservative rally in Wolverhampton in which he harkened back to his 1924 theme of excessive taxation:

“…our Socialist spendthrifts and muddlers have dissipated every oversea asset they could lay their hands on, and in addition have exacted and extracted from our people a higher rate of taxation than was required in the very height of the war, from which we victoriously emerged. It will be incredible to those who come afterwards that so much should have been cast away in so short a time, so many sacrifices demanded, so many restrictions and regulations imposed and obeyed, and that at the end we should be where we are now.”

Churchill concluded this passage by borrowing and adapting to present circumstances one of his most famous lines: “Never before in the history of human government has such great havoc been wrought by such small men.” He also repeated the attacks on Socialism he had made twenty-five years earlier, promising that the Conservatives would “…return to a system which provides incentives for effort, enterprise, self-denial, initiative, and good housekeeping. We cannot uphold the principle that the rewards of society must be equal for those who try and for those who shirk, for those who succeed and for those who fail….

“Within a year–perhaps much sooner–the British nation will have had to make one of the most momentous choices in its history. The choice is between two ways of life: between individual liberty and State domination; between concentration of ownership in the hands of the State and the extension of ownership over the widest number of individuals; between the dead hand of monopoly and the stimulus of competition; between a policy of increasing restraint and a policy of liberating energy and ingenuity; between a policy of levelling down and a policy of opportunity for all to rise upwards from a basic standard.”

In August, Churchill attended the first meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where he delivered a speech in French and, according to Harold Macmillan, “with a better accent than usual.” Robert Rhodes Jones reports that Churchill’s opening words, “Take heed! I am going to speak in French,” were received by the crowd “with thunderous cheers and applause.” In the speech, Churchill attempted to harmonize European nationalism with an overriding European unity:

“We are reunited here, in this new Assembly, not as representatives of our several countries or various political parties, but as Europeans forging ahead, hand in hand, and if necessary elbow to elbow, to restore the former glories of Europe and to permit this illustrious continent to take its place once more, in a world organization, as an independent member sufficient unto itself.

“That primary and sacred loyalty that one owes to one’s own country is not difficult to reconcile with this larger feeling of European fellowship. On the contrary, we will establish that all legitimate interests are in harmony and that each one of us will best serve the real interests and security of his country if we enlarge at the same time both our sentiment of citizenship and of common sovereignty–if we include in this sentiment the entire continent of States and of nations who have the same way of life.”

After Strasbourg, Churchill continued his holiday, staying with Lord Beaverbrook at his villa near Monte Carlo. While there, he suffered a slight stroke which was not reported publicly at the time. (See “Churchill’s Dagger, FH 87.) By the end of August, Churchill had recovered sufficiently to return to England, where he attended the races at Epsom to see his new racehorse, Colonist II.

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