Finest Hour 165


Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

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Martin is a generous colleague. I first went to his home in London in 1992, after he sent me a warm letter about my manuscript for The Orders, Decorations and Medals of Sir Winston Churchill (1990, 2004). He then encouraged me to try something bigger (which became Winston Churchill Soldier in 2005) and made a gift to me of a copy of his Atlas of the First World War. He didn’t simply inscribe and present it; he tipped in a photocopy of Field Marshal Montgomery’s handwritten introduction. Martin not only read the manuscripts for both of my books and offered to do the maps for the soldier book, but also wrote a kind foreword to it.

My favorite anecdote during his review of the Soldier manuscript was when he called to advise that I had misspelled Gibraltar as “Gibralter.” In doing so he introduced me to a new term, “schoolboy howler.” A year later he sent me a newspaper clipping, a headline about Gibraltar.  He circled and highlighted the word and wrote on the page, “There’s GibraltAr for you!”
Hon Douglas S. Russell, Iowa City, Iowa
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The Map-Maker – Genesis of Sir Martin’s Extraordinary Cartography

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

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Having corresponded and exchanged books with Sir Martin for some time, we finally met him and Lady Gilbert in May 2005. For years we had been engaging with audiences on historic battlefields, and it was clear to us that Martin was a master of that art. We lunched with the Gilberts after that meeting, and soon became close friends.

We found common currency in Martin’s use of maps to describe battles. The drawing and subsequent use of a map adds greatly to the understanding both of authors and readers; but our own maps paled in comparison to the scope and detail of Martin’s. His enthusiasm for cartography is evident from his acclaimed atlases of American, British, Jewish and Russian history; British Charities (self-published); the Arab-Israeli conflicts; Jerusalem; the Holocaust; and the two World Wars. His maps reflect an imaginative, analytical mind and wide range of knowledge.

Who else, in a book about D-Day, would map the route Eisenhower drove the day before the landings, or show where the Japanese located their “Comfort Women” brothels in their occupied territories?  While creating maps for The Somme (2006) and Atlas of the First World War (2008), he spent a day with us, going through each of his over 200 sketches. We had drawn maps of the two World Wars and thought we knew something about them, but for hours we felt like infants before the master. Martin’s cartography led us into areas of history that we had never before explored.
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Life, Love and Liberty

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

Page 12


Martin Gilbert Has Devoted Two-thirds of His Life to Winston Churchill

It was the Labour politician and author Anthony Crosland, I once read, who harboured a certain disdain for the literary achievements of his colleague Roy Jenkins, because Mr. Jenkins was a biographer. Biography, Crosland thought, was not real man’s work: writing about chaps did not present the same creative challenges as seizing upon a theme and pursuing it.

Yet even the likes of Crosland should scarce forbear to cheer the extraordinary performance of Martin Gilbert. In 1988 he celebrated the publication of the eighth and final volume of the monumental biography of Winston Churchill that he inherited on the death of Randolph Churchill in 1968. The last volume alone was a book that you would be ill-advised to allow to fall upon your tame tortoise—four inches thick, 1348 pages long, detailing Churchill’s every public and private act between 1945 and his death in 1965. Those eight volumes, with their battalion ultimately of twenty-three companion volumes and documents, has to rank as the largest work of British biography.

Gilbert, who is now 78 (in 2014), has been living with Winston Churchill for two-thirds of his own life, since the day that he began as Randolph’s researcher, in 1962. His deep affection for his subject has remained undimmed. “I never felt that he was going to spring an unpleasant surprise on me,” says Gilbert. “I might find that he was adopting views with which I disagreed. But I always knew that there would be nothing to cause me to think: ‘How shocking, how appalling.’
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Great Contemporaries – Martin Gilbert by his Friends – The Road Not Travelled and the Power of History

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

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Sir Martin Gilbert was a pupil at Highgate School from 1945 to 1955, an enjoyable interlude for him. It came between the war years when he was sent away to Canada, and the period when perhaps he was less happy also, doing military service in the cold climate of my home country, Scotland. Highgate gave him confidence and a love of learning, a keenness and an enthusiasm for history. That was owed to great teachers who taught him the power of history, not only to influence but also to affect the continuing progress and advancement of nations and continents.

Israel is a country that for centuries never had a land to call its own. In 1948 thanks in part to Churchill and most of all to the courage and the sacrifice of its people, the Israeli state was created. And now we hope it will have a lasting peace with the Palestinian people.

The many diplomats gathered here today underline the impact Martin has had across the international, political, academic and intellectual community. Gladstone was the last prime minister to visit this school, and in the mid-19th century. It was said that after you met Gladstone you went away thinking he was the wisest person in the world; but after you met his great rival Disraeli you went away thinking you were the wisest person in the world. I would like you to think, as you leave having met Martin Gilbert, that you are the wisest people for being here today.
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Great Contemporaries – Martin Gilbert by his Friends – Sir Winston’s Boswell

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

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After Boswell’s massive Life of Samuel Johnson comes Martin Gilbert’s epic history of Churchill. -These are two giants of British life whose every action and opinion was laid out minutely for posterity by two biographers, themselves of literary genius.

Martin Gilbert’s output has been prolific. It is difficult to understand how he could have produced so much high-quality history in a single lifetime. The industry of this remarkable man never ceases to impress. He also retains the affection of many friends, of whom I am proud to be one.

I met Martin over a quarter century ago and, in the intervening years, we shared many a drink and meal both during and beyond my time in politics. His arrival for a meeting always heralded an occasion for gossip, historical and contemporary politics—mixed with much laughter. They were memorable meetings, during which he dispensed much wisdom—and nothing ever leaked!

Martin was always very generous in providing quotes and material for speeches, and this led to him joining me on a visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine in 1995. Throughout the visit, Martin was a constant source of historical notes and anecdotes for every place we visited and everyone we met. He sat in on meetings—notably with Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Later, his detailed report of the visit missed nothing—and highlighted opportunities, dangers, anomalies and ironies that were hugely valuable to policy making. He would have made a remarkable civil servant.
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Great Contemporaries – Martin Gilbert by his Friends – “Rose-Lipt Maidens, Lightfoot Lads”

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

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An issue in honor of Sir Martin Gilbert hasn’t been published for twenty-five years. So when Allen Packwood suggested one, the fit was perfect. This is my last issue of Finest Hour. There is no better way to complete my work of forty years than with these tributes from some of Martin’s many admirers. I am grateful to them all for highlighting an extraordinary career in words full of love, respect, humor, and above all of the character and humanity of a great man.

“Stop that!” Seated beside him at his first appearance before the Churchill Society—the second Churchill Tour on 17 September 1985—I had caught Martin Gilbert riffling through a briefcase which was crammed with sheets of yellow foolscap, tossing some out as the minutes ticked by before his lecture, “Churchill’s London: Spinning Top of Memories” ( It was the first time I was to hear a Gilbert speech, and here he was, culling it already!  

“This is my ‘Speech Form,’” he explained, referring to the term Winston Churchill used for speech notes. Unlike Churchill, whose typed notes included every word, the lines picked out like verses of the Psalms, Martin’s sheets each contained only a few handwritten words. When he began, he would pull one out, glance at the line, toss it aside and ad-lib flawlessly for five or ten minutes. Then he’d pull out another and the process was repeated. Before he started, he would self-edit himself by omitting sheets he thought might run too long.
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Around & About

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

Page 07

On June 17th, Speaker of the U.S. House of representatives John Boehner misquoted Churchill as he praised resigning Majority leader Eric Cantor: “Winston Churchill once famously said: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.’ As one who suffered a tough defeat myself in 1998, I can tell you there’s plenty of wisdom in that statement.”  Boehner said that—Churchill didn’t.

There is wisdom in what Churchill really said: “you must put your head into the lion’s mouth if the performance is to be a success.” (London to Ladysmith, 1900).  “Success always demands a greater effort.” (13 December 1940 to Australian Premier Robert Menzies). “No one can guarantee success…but only deserve it.” (Their Finest Hour, 1949)


Margot Asquith dismissed Winston Churchill as “a dangerous maniac….Winston’s vanity is septic. He would die of blood poisoning if it were not for a great deal of red blood which circulates freely through his heart and stomach.” A backhanded compliment? Margot went on to label WSC “so poor in character and judgment, so insolent and childish, I hardly ever think of him as a danger.”
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Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

Page 06


The whole of the middle east is intimately related…. There are always feuds and animosities. There are always scores to be settled and fanatical thirsts to be slaked. Any appearance of the lack of willpower…. Blows like a draught of air on the full, fierce embers.”

Funeral Coach Saved Again

SHILDON, UK, SEPTEMBER 15TH— The 1931 railway car that carried Sir Winston’s coffin to Bladon after his State Funeral in 1965, property of the Swanage Railway Trust, has arrived at “Locomotion,” the National Railway Museum, to be cosmetically restored and exhibited during the 50th anniversary of the funeral.

Southern Railways baggage car number 2464 has an interesting history. Long before it carried Churchill, it was used to transport the body of Edith Cavell, the World War I nurse and spy executed by the Germans, to her final resting place; Churchill highly respected Cavell’s service to her country.
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Wit and Wisdom

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

Page 05

Wooing Maidens

Edwina Sandys asked us when her grandfather said something like, “I wooed Roosevelt more ardently than a young man woos a maiden.”

Sir Martin Gilbert writes, in the official biography, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 8, Never Despair 1946-1965 (Hillsdale College Press, 2013), 416: “After dinner Churchill talked of the visit he and Colville had made to the Rhine in March 1945….Speaking of the AngloAmerican disputes over the question of a Second Front in the Cotentin in 1942, Winston said, ‘No lover ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of President Roosevelt.’”

Prof. Warren Kimball reminds us that after Pearl Harbor, Churchill commented that he no longer would speak to America in terms of courtship. Replying to a colleague who had urged a cautious approach to the newly belligerent U.S. he quipped: “Oh! That is the way we talked to her while we were wooing her; now that she is in the harem, we talk to her quite differently!” Alanbrooke’s diaries record this comment on 9 December 1941. See Arthur Bryant, ed., The Turn of the Tide 1939-1943 (New York: Doubleday, 1957), 231.
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Despatch Box

Finest Hour 165, Autumn 2014

Page 04


Whether or not Churchill believed in God and Christianity, he certainly had high hopes. In Painting as a Pastime he declared that when he got to heaven he meant to spend a considerable part of his first million years in painting. In another context, he mused that in heaven the Lord would have to form a government, “And He will certainly call upon me.” (John Colville in “Churchill and the Italian Campaign” by Ward Chamberlin Jr., Proceedings of the International Churchill Societies 1990-1991, 116).

I found the World War I articles fascinating. It was skimmed in my last weeks of school. My great uncle, whom I knew well, fought in France. But, my favorite in this issue is Jock VI, Lord Warden of the Cinque Mouseholes! Great issue. Enjoyed it. Wish the KC conference on WWI had not been cancelled.

I enjoyed the images of the Harrow Rifle Corps, especially the photos of the “Square,” which was already obsolete at the time. It was intended to repel a cavalry charge. The medieval Scottish schiltron formation was designed for this purpose. The basic tactic was probably known to Julius Caesar, and the Duke of Wellington used it against Ney’s cavalry at Waterloo. I’ve found numerous examples in the intervening years.
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