With the passing of Sir Winston Churchill [January 1965], several human interest stories of a minor character come to mind. They concern his journey in August 1941 to meet with President Roosevelt at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. This meeting, as we all know, resulted in the momentous Atlantic Charter. I was privileged to serve on his staff whilst embarked in the battleship Prince of Wales for the trans-Atlantic crossing to and from Placentia Bay.
Taken on the quarterdeck of the Prince of Wales, shows Sir Winston taking a constitutional with Harry Hopkins during a lull in the bad weather which plagued the crossing. Also shown are Admiral Sir Dudley Pound (Chief of Naval Staff) General Sir John Dill (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) and Air Vice-Marshal Freeman (Vice-Chief of the Air Staff)
Out Run the U-Boats
Due to excessive vibration caused by the high speeds being maintained as a safeguard against submarine attack, Sir Winston had had himself moved from his stateroom below decks to a small sea cabin normally known as the Admirals’ Sea Cabin, located on the lower bridge.
One evening about 48 hours out from Scapa Flow, Mr. Churchill came onto the compass platform (the control area from where a ship is conned) and stood quietly gazing out ahead, puffing away at one of those ever-present cigars. I had long had an idea in my head that I would attempt to ‘latch on’ to one of his cigar butts as a souvenir but almost everyone else had the same idea. Consequently he was watched like a hawk by most of the ships company.
Eye on the Prize
On this occasion, I kept an eye on this particular weed he was enjoying, hoping that nothing would interrupt my intentions to grab it when he got through with it. I guess I must have got a little carried away with the idea, because when he placed the half-smoked cigar in the ash tray and turned to speak to his aide. I grabbed it quickly and faded to the back of the bridge.
Pitfall of Popularity
“Winnie” turned from his conversation and reached for his cigar, which wasn’t there anymore, and turned and gave me a questioning look. I thought my number was up, but he didn’t say a word. Instead, he just passed his arm behind him in the direction where his private detective was standing. The police officer (a Scotland Yard Inspector) reached into his breast pocket (he had a whole battery of cigars in there), selected a new one and passed it across to Mr. Churchill, who lit up again, quite unconcerned. I suppose this sort of thing had happened to him before.