Wit and Wisdom

Finest Hour 104, Autumn 1999

Page 11


SEMPER PARATUS

An old friend of my family, a former judge and chief executive officer of a large forestry company, told me about Winston Churchill’s visit to Vancouver during his lecture tour in 1929. The Law Society of British Columbia had invited him to address them at a dinner in the Grouse Mountain Chalet Restaurant. My friend was entrusted with making all the arrangements.

Our liquor laws at that time (and for long afterwards) were very primitive and restrictive. To get permission for alcoholic drinks at a function, one had to fight a lot of red tape and pay fees to the Provincial government ministry, the Liquor Control Board, and the municipality. Apparently one of these had turned down the application.

On the afternoon of the dinner my friend received a phone call from Randolph Churchill who was accompanying his father: “Mr. _____, my father has heard that there are to be no drinks at the dinner tonight.” “I’m afraid that is so,” my friend replied, hearing very audible rumblings in the background. “Well,” said Randolph, “my father says if there are no drinks he won’t come.”

At this point my friend, a rather short-tempered man, who had gone to a lot of trouble over the dinner, blew his top: “You tell your father that if he doesn’t come I will blacken his name right across Canada!” And he slammed down the telephone.

When my friend arrived at the Chalet he saw Churchill, some fifty yards away, working at his easel. On spotting my friend, WSC called out, slapping a bulge in his jacket pocket, “It’s all right—I’ve brought my own!” Thus Winston Churchill did show up for the dinner—suitably chastened, but not without personal resources… -DLJ

“HOW HIGH WOULD IT COME?”

Despite his reputation, no one ever saw Churchill the worse for drink. “My father taught me to have the utmost contempt for people who get drunk,” he said once. But Churchill fanned that reputation, taking great pride in his alcoholic capacity. (“I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me,” he would often say.) Winston Churchill in his recent book tour of America recalled how his father Randolph was entrusted by his grandfather with laying in a good goodly supply of “medicine” housed in a variety of large glass containers for their entry into Prohibition America.

This and the Vancouver story above remind me of a famous tableau with Churchill and his friend Professor Lindemann, which they must have enacted on many occasions, so often has it been reliably described to me in different venues. Glancing about the room they were in, Churchill would demand in a loud voice: “Prof! Pray calculate the volume of Champagne, whiskey and other spirits I have consumed in my entire life and tell us how high it would reach if poured into this room.”

Frederick Lindemann would take out his slide rule and calculate (or pretend to calculate) the necessary figures. Finally he would frown and say, “I’m sorry, Winston, it would reach only to our ankles” (or “knees” if it were a particularly small room). Churchill would sigh and say, “How much to do…how little time remains.” -RML

UNITED STATES OF EUROPE

Debate over whether Britain should forsake the pound for the euro and further integrate into the European Community sent several people, holding divers views of these questions, to us for Churchill’s words on the subject. Many knew part of the following quote but not all of it. Thinking it must have been post-WW2, we could not immediately find it. Small wonder! It appeared in Churchill’s “The United States of Europe,” published in The Saturday Evening Post in America and John Bull in England on 15 February 1930. On 29 May 1938, just before Munich put an end to such happy musings, it was republished in The News of the World as, “Why Not ‘The United States of Europe’?” It appears in book form only in The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, Volume II “Churchill and Politics,” London: Library of Imperial History 1976, pp. 176-86. If readers wish, we could reprint the entire article.

“We [Britain] are bound to further every honest and practical step which the nations of Europe may make to reduce the barriers which divide them and to nourish their common interests and their common welfare. We rejoice at every diminution of the internal tariffs and the martial armaments of Europe. We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonalty. But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed. And should European statesmen address us in the words which were used of old, ‘Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or the captain of the host?’, we should reply, with the Shunammite woman: ‘I dwell among mine own people.'”

THAT “HUN” QUOTE

Last issue in this space we discussed Churchill’s quip (which he quoted from an unidentified source), “The Hun is always at your throat or at your feet.” We said that the quotation, uttered in a 1943 speech, did not appear where the citation indicated, in a speech in Britain on 14 May 1943 (as stated in Kay Halle’s Irrepressible Churchill). No wonder: Churchill was in America at the time. G. Davis of Stockton, California put us on to the correct source: Churchill’s speech to the United States Congress on 19 May 1943. You’ll find it in Onwards to Victory, Cassell edition, page 100. But we still don’t know where it originated.

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