GENERAL ARTICLES

Churchill's Day

BEVERLEY BAXTER’S LONDON LETTER

May 1 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

Churchill's Day

BEVERLEY BAXTER’S LONDON LETTER

May 1 1943

Churchill's Day

GENERAL ARTICLES

BEVERLEY BAXTER’S LONDON LETTER

EMERSON in one of his essays wrote: “You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both." Thomas Jefferson carried the idea a step further when he wrote: “I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.”

Winston Churchill is a living contradiction to them both. To Churchill there is no joy without power, nor could he propose or envisage happiness without it. In my time over here I have seen six Prime Ministers at close range. To Lloyd George power was the very elixir of life. To Bonar Law it was a death sentence which he accepted without demur. He cared nothing for the pomp and pageantry of it all but he felt the sombre joy of the Puritan in the knowledge that he could serve his generation.

Ramsay MacDonald loved power with a sort of Caledonian sentimentality. Baldwin is said to have been ambitious but I doubt it. He is the only Prime Minister I have known who retired voluntarily while sound in wind and limb.

Neville Chamberlain never dreamed of supreme power but when it came he lived his life to the full. He was attacked, derided, obstructed but he fought with giant events and lived great hours. True it sent him to an early grave.

So we come to Churchill. What kind of life does he lead, what kind of life can he lead? It has been said that the three loneliest men in the world are a Pope, a premier and a general in the field. The man who holds supreme power must cut himself off from friends and human contacts. Yet there is never a ack of cardinals, politicians or brigadiers ready to assume the mantle of the highest office.

The truth is that the poets and philosophers are wrong. Power is to a man what romance is to a woman. Its acquisition does not bring ease or content but strong men do not find their happiness in these things.

If you agree with all this, or if you disagree, let us spend a day with Winston Churchill at No. 10 Downing Street. When the day is over it is for you to say whether we should thank the fates

that our feet have been put in quieter paths.

Eight o’clock a.m. The Prime Minister rings his bell and his servant appears with a pot of tea and the newspapers, followed ten minutes later by a breakfast tray. Churchill studies the newspapers carefully. He never sees the editors and rarely makes contact with the proprietors. But as a man with much journalistic experience he knows the whole hierarchy of Fleet Street and can quickly sense what they are thinking. The only newspaper he reads in the morning outside the big London papers is that enigma of journalism, The Manchester Guardian, which has a comparatively small circulation but extraordinary influence.

Breakfast over, Mr. Churchill, still in bed, lights his first cigar of the day. Any anti-tobacco societies which hope to gather encouragement from Winston Churchill will have to look elsewhere. It is reported that when he was last in the Middle East Montgomery said to him: “I never smoke or drink and I am a hundred per cent fit.” To which Churchill is supposed to have replied: “Well, I

smoke and I drink and am two hundred per cent fit.”

Admittedly Churchill was taken ill shortly after his return to London, which may weigh the scales in Montgomery’s favor. On the other hand I think it was the British climate taking its revenge on the Prime Minister for exchanging England’s sodden skies for the voluptuous sunshine of Africa.

While Churchill is smoking his cigar and finishing his breakfast and the newspapers his staff at No. 10 are all ready to launch a second, third, or fourth front against him. Let us have a look at the people who carry out the routine of No. 10.

There is Major-General Ismay, Personal Military Adviser, sharp-witted, caustic, brief. There is the famous “Professor,” formerly Lindemann, now Lord Cherwell. He is a scientist and supplies the alchemy of technical advice to the Prime Minister.

His Chief Private Secretary is Desmond Morton from the Foreign Office, a youngish man of quite extraordinary ability and a manner which to some people is just short of being offensive. His unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretary is Lieut.-Col. Harvie Watt, M.P., who has a friendly maternalism about him which creates warmth where Desmond Morton engenders frost.

There are a woman private secretary, three personal typists and a typing pool of seven or eight girls.

At about nine a.m. the secretaries invade Churchill’s bedroom with what are known as “The Boxes.” These include the overnight dispatches of the Foreign Office, messages from the Dominions, reports from the Admiralty, War Office, Air Force and a few dozen other things.

The secretaries have sorted and condensed as much as possible but Churchill keeps a keen eye on it all to see that nothing is glossed over. By the side of his bed are various labels such as: “For action

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this day," “For further consideration," etc.

At nine-thirty he sees the Chief Whip of the Government (Captain James Stuart, M.P.) and then the Leader of the House (Anthony Eden).

From them he gets what is known as the low down. What is Shinwell up to? How strong is that body of Young Tories forming themselves behind Hinchinbrooke? Is the Socialist Party as divided as it seems? How are you going to meet the Liberal amendment?

The Prime Minister is all-powerful. He can send Navies and Armies into action and mobilize the entire population but he knows that he can only hold office by permission of Parliament. There is a silly impression that Parliament consists of a leader and a lot of “Yes” men.

Even when he goes abroad on his flying journeys his political Private Secretary has to send him full reports each day of what is going on in the House.

Always the Bow Tie

IT IS now ten o’clock. Churchill has a bath and dresses. It is always the same costume, a dark jacket with striped trousers and a bow tie. I have never seen him without a bow tie. In his younger days

BACK the ATTACK

BUY VICTORY BONDS

he was a man of many strange hats but he has never gone in for any variety in suits or shirts or ties.

He has one uniform, that of an Honorary Group Captain in the Air Force. When he visits the Navy he wears a sort of reefer jacket and a nautical cap which makes him look like the captain of a tug. He also has a “siren” suit, a sort of overall for air raids. He is very fond of this costume and frequently dines in it. Otherwise his wardrobe is of no interest to the Well-Dressed Man.

I would like to be able to record that Mr. Churchill finds time every morning to take exercise. Chamberlain did. So did Lloyd George. Churchill takes no exercise of any sort, inside his house or out.

“The Churchills always die young,” he once said, “so why should I bore myself prematurely to death with exercise?”

It is now time to look in at the House of Commons which opens with an hour of questions. Those for the Prime Minister are put fairly well down in the list which allows him some latitude as to time of arrival. If there is a crisis on, he leaves the Deputy-Premier, Mr. Attlee, to answer for him but he prefers to do the job himself if he can.

These questions appear on the Order Paper and are called by the Speaker. The M.P. who has put the question down then says: “Number 19, Sir, to the Prime Minister.” Churchill then reads his reply. Then the game of wits begins. The M.P. stands up and says: “Arising out of the Rt. Hon. Gentleman’s reply, is he aware that so and so . . .”

The Prime Minister, however, is usually waiting for this. His woman secretary has studied every implication of the original question. “His supplementaries,” she says to her chief, “will either take this turn or that." Even if she proves wrong Churchill will have grasped enough about it to be tactically ready.

At noon the Cabinet meets at Downing Street or sometimes at the House of Commons. When Churchill speaks in the House, however, the Cabinet is postponed till the afternoon. After his speech Churchill usually strolls into the smokingroom, lights a cigar and reads a newspaper for a few moments. Most Prime Ministers try to make informal contact with the private members in this fashion but it does not work out particularly well. The gulf is too great . . . and remember that the three loneliest men in the world are a Pope, a premier, and a general in the field.

It is luncheon time. There is nearly always a distinguished guest like General Smuts or Averil Harriman from abroad. If not he will have the Air Chief Marshal and Lady Portal or Sir Archibald Sinclair (a great favorite) and his wife.

It is a short meal and is usually finished at one-thirty p.m. Puffing a cigar the Prime Minister goes to the Cabinet room where he does most of his work. The pace quickens and he drives everyone with terrific vitality and not always complete amiability. He is a man of moods and does not deny it. Neither do any of his associates.

There is a conference perhaps with the Anti-Submarine Committee. The vital figures are made known to him. He sends for the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the exact facts about Tunisia are revealed. He is the one man who knows the stark truth about everything. Conference follows conference, decision follows decision. Nor can he take those decisions without pity and sorrow gnawing at his heart. Lloyd George was able to keep the personal side of war at a distanca Churchill cannot. He hears the roar of the planes, he sees the troops in action and the flower of youth cut down as with a scythe.

He raises a finger and a vast convoy puts to sea. He says “Yes” and six cruisers steal out into the night. In the midst of it all, 116 members vote against the Catering Bill and there is a Parliamentary crisis • on his hands.

But here he does a strange thing. At three o’clock he goes back to bed and except for emergency is not disturbed until five. Quite frankly this siesta does not rouse enthusiasm among his colleagues and subordin-

ates for reasons which you will understand.

At five o’clock he emerges like a bear who has had a long winter sleep and is full of vitality. I do not imply that he has a sore head. On the contrary he is vastly refreshed.

Toil And Trouble

BY THIS time things have happened in the world. Already many events have taken a different appearance than when he first looked at them at eight a.m. M. Maisky may have some private information to impart. There is perhaps a confidential message from Harold MacMillan, M.P., our resident Minister in North Africa, about the breach between Giraud and De Gaulle or the delicate adjustment of placing the victorious General Alexander under the able but inexperienced General Eisenhower.

Trouble, trouble, toil and trouble j . . . The sledge hammer never stops I for a moment.

Ernest Bevin asks for an immediate interview. The burly Minister of Labor intends to call up every man and woman available, for national service. It needs Churchill’s “Yes.” The Chief Whip reports that the Labor Party is going to rebel against the Government on the Beveridge Report. The Ambassador of this country or that suggests that a speech from the Prime Minister would do away with certain misgivings . . . Forty-five clergymen want to see the Prime Minister to protest against the Sunday opening of cinemas . . . Stafford Cripps is becoming restive again . . . What is Beaverbrook up to? . . . The situation is ugly in Tunisia and Alexander proposes to attack . . . Here are the week’s shipping losses . . . Here are the week’s building figures . . .

It is time to go and see the King, a visit that takes place once a week.

A. V. Alexander is complaining that he has not enough airplanes for his anti-U-Boat campaign. “Bob” Hudson sends a memorandum as Minister of Agriculture that he cannot produce the food we need if farm laborers are conscripted for the services or the factories . . . Bevin says he must find 300,000 more workers . . . General De Gaulle

would like to see the Prime Minister immediately . . . the Belgian Prime Minister would like to see the Prime Minister as soon as possible . . . j Anthony Eden, this time as Foreign ! j Secretary, has some vital information ! ¡ about the Vatican . . .

Poor Churchill ! He never goes to a S theatre or a cinema, he very rarely dines out, never plays a game of bridge or golf, never even gets a i moment to put brush to canvas. His j engagement book looks like a case of J spotted fever.

But dinner comes. He wants a guest with a vigorous mind. As if to throw off the fatigue of the day’s routine he wishes to pit wit against j wit, philosophy against philosophy, arrogance against arrogance.

His faithful and charming wife plays her part as hostess and companion. She knows when to be patient with her turbulent husband, when to agree with him and—wonder

of wonders—when to disagree. The world owes much to Mrs. Churchill just as it does to Mrs. Roosevelt. Perhaps if there had been a Mrs. Hitler there would have been no war.

After Midnight Discussion

THE evening wears on and midnight strikes. The Prime Minister listens to the news and studies the reports of enemy propaganda. He makes constant memos for the next day. But alas, he is not ready for bed. With the routine cleared away his massive brain is eager for discussion on the grand scale. Now he wants to talk of the imponderables, of the tides in the affairs of men, of the conflict between the known and the unknown.

The generals and admirals, being mortals, are tired. The ministers are weary to the point of exhaustion. But the telephone rings and it is the Prime Minister. “If it is not inconvenient,” he says, “I would like to have a chat with you.” It is never inconvenient with a Prime Minister.

Harry Hopkins, the confidant of President Roosevelt, was talking to a few of us one day at the House of Commons. “Look here,” he said, “isn’t there something in the British Constitution about the Prime Minister having to go to bed at a reason-

able hour? I’m staying with Mr. Churchill and quite frankly I’m out on my feet. You see, I’m just one of those ordinary fellows who’s never learned to get on without sleep.”

These late sessions are a real hardship to the victims. Perhaps the ordeal is worth while. It may be that in the grisly hours of the early morning great ideas are born. But it might be argued that in the ! fatigue of the next day great ideas may be stillborn.

There, however, is a description of the Prime Minister’s day. Surveying those crowded hours one finds that no time has been allotted for the preparation of the eighty minute speeches in Parliament in which every sentence must be studied. Then there are those sudden visits to Coventry, or the Fleet, and the i preparations for another 3,000-mile flight to see President Roosevelt or the longer journey to Premier Stalin.

Day after day, week after week, month after month. Who would pay such a price to hold supreme power? The answer is—any man with politics in his blood, genius in his brain, and courage in his heart.

Churchill has rewritten Emerson. His version is: “You shall have joy and you shall have power, said God; but you cannot have one without the other.”