In late summer, Sir Winston and Lady Churchill flew to Venice to join Aristotle Onassis’ yacht Christina, for their second cruise, this time around the Greek islands. Before. embarking on Christina, they toured Venice’s Grand Canal, to the delight of large crowds.
A favorite fellow-guest on the tour was Dame Margot Fonteyn, the celebrated ballerina. A main occasion was a meeting with President Tito of Yugoslavia. Special events were an automobile tour of Crete, a dinner party given by the Crete laberal leader, and visits to the ruins of King Minos’ palace at Knossos and the ruins at Corinth. The cruise ended at Athens, where the Churchills flew home to London.
After celebrating their 52nd Wedding Anniversary’at Chartwell they went to France to spend a month at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. Visitors to the Churchill suite included Charles de Gaulle, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco and Somerset Maugham. Sometimes Sir Winston went out to visit Lord Beaverbrook’s villa, or the gaming tables at the Casino.
Following their return to London, Sir Winston suffered a fall at Hyde Park Gate that resulted in his admission to St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. Despite the fact that he had broken a small bone high up in his neck he was up and walking again in three weeks, but he was unable to attend the wedding of Edwina Sandys, his granddaughter.
In April Charles de Gaulle, now President of France, returned to Britain for the first time since the war. His first visit was to the home of Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill and de Gaulle had had a love-hate relationship since de Gaulle had landed on Britain’s shores in 1940. Their mutual pugnacious temperaments and the national interests of their countries caused considerable acrimony. Churchill’s famous statement about the Cross of Lorraine being the greatest cross he had to bear during the war was balanced by de Gaulle’s reference to him as “le monstre de Downing Street.”
Wartime rivalries and antipathies were now put aside Sir Winston greeted his guest in French, “Vous estes le bienvenue chez moi. Jusqu’a la fin de ma vie vous serez le bienvenu.” (You are welcome. Until the end of my days you will be welcome in my home.)
De Gaulle was accorded the honor of addressing both Houses of Parliament. As the bandsmen broke into the “Marseillaise,” the eyes of the General and Sir Winston met and both welled up with tears. But the tears changed to laughter when de Gaulle exclaimed: “If it came about in those days of June 1944 that I found myself by no means always in agreement with my illustrious friend, on particular points, it is perhaps because success, henceforth assured, led us into some degree of intransigence . . . But see how time undertakes to bring out in relief what matters and to wipe out what counts for little.”
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Some of Sir Winston’s favorite vacations were spent aboard Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, Christina. On this occasion they cruised the Caribbean. The plan was to meet Onassis at Gibraltar, but as they approached the rock they encountered gale-force winds which caused the pilot to overshoot the runway twice. Roy Howells, Sir Winston’s valet, describes the frightened state of the passengers, “but the calmest man on board was Sir Winston, who quietly puffed away at his seven-inch-long cigar, gazing out of the window as if nothing were wrong.” Churchill’s physician, Lord Moran, ascribes other causes to WSC’s placid behavior: “The blanching of his brain has wiped out his fears.” Moran’s account relates the story of an octogenarian with only sporadic touches – and those were usually unhappy – of reality.
Yet according to Howells, Churchill was so active exploring even the most inaccessible parts of the yacht and the small ports in the Caribbean that it was a constant challenge for a well-trained crew to facilitate those wishes.
Onassis was determined to be a perfect host for his idol and guest and even learned Churchill’s favorite card game, bezique, in order to play with him. Great crowds welcomed them at every port. Often the flotillas of private boats endangered the passage of Christina in the harbors.
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