Book Review. Churchill’s History of World War Two, The Queen’s gift to Trump

Trump in Oval Office, next to bust of Churchill

            ‘’Yesterday, [Monday June 3rd 2019], the President and First Lady were presented special gifts by Queen Elizabeth II during their visit to Buckingham Palace, Natalie Musumeci reports for the New York Post. President Trump received “an abridged first edition of Winston Churchill’s book on World War II.” As listed from West Wing Reads from the White House.

            I could not let that go without objecting to using an abridged version of this history of World War Two.  That is like mixing the batter for a special birth day cake and then offering as an impatient desert only a lick of the spoon.  Get into the batter, and better still, go for the baked cake and frosting.  My goodness, the history won Churchill the 1953 Nobel Prize for  Literature. How did it come to be?

            Winston Leornard Spencer Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from about May 1940 to the summer of 1945, after the Victory of Europe, and collapse of the Nazi control of Europe.  And again in the 1950s. Before he was twice Prime Minister, he was in the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty,  sort of akin to Secretary of the Navy, a position Churchill had also held in the Great war, circa 1914 to 1916. Churchill was the son of Lord Churchill, a cousin of the Duke Spencer. You may remember the Spencer name with  the late Lady Diana Spencer, sometime wife of Charles the Prince of Wales, parents of Prince William Windsor, presently third in line for the English Throne.   Churchill’s older brother was heir to the Churchill titles, leaving Winston the keys to vacation at the estate, but with no money tied to a nationally known family name.  Winston was born at Blenheim castle.

            One of Churchill’s famous ancestors was John Churchill, a General for the English in the French wars with Louis the Fourteenth circa early 1700s, styled the War of the Spanish Succession, under the Royals William  of Orange and Mary Stewart, and Queen Anne Stewart. John Churchill’s titles included Lord Churchill of Eyemouth in Scotland, The Right Honourable Lord Churchill of Sandridge and Eyemouth in England,  then Earl of Marlborough, and in 1702 His Grace the Duke of Marlborough and Marquess of Blandford.  John Churchill had a big win at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, for which John received title in the Holy Roman Empire of His Serene Highness The Prince of Mindelheim, Count of Nellenburg and Prince. His Dukedom was expanded with the Unification from not merely Duke in England but Duke in Great Britain from 1707. John Churchill was fabulously wealthy, and with his portion of the spoils of victory, built Blenheim castle, anticipating his descendant a century and a half later.  Marlboro cigarettes played on this lustrous name,  albeit with a different spelling.  During the 1930s world Great depression, Winston authored a two volume biography on the Duke of Marlborough, of which President FDR took notice to read and appreciate.

            Born in the middle of the Victorian age, Winston was trained at Sandhurst, the short name for the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Berkshire, England. Winston was a cavalry officer.  This career  was in keeping with the traditions that the eldest son inherited everything in the estate, the younger sons would go into the clergy or military, and daughters were hope to be married to husbands of esteem.    In the 1890s Cadet Winston was sent to Afghanistan, a portion of the Indian department for the British Empire.  The cavalry officer was expected to provide his own horses, i.e. Pay for his own horses out of whatever pay and benefits he received and Cadet Winston kept 8 or 10 ponies in stock for use as needed.   The pay would not cover a stable of horses. After but a few years, Winston returned to England, and, wanting to see if he could make a living between wars, Winston wrote the Malakand Field Force, a semi biographical history of   the Afghan and Indian military he observed.  It was a hit.  In a biography written 3 decades later,  My Early Life, Winston seemed surprised, that he dashed it off, and would have been satisfied with just getting it published. But Malakand’s success showed Winston had the gift, ability to write well enough to go commercial.  As Winston weaved his career in the military, and thru politics, and out of politics, he wrote to pay the rent,  and support his political hobby, so to speak.

            Winston’s biographies described an event which Winston termed the last cavalry charge of the British empire. To practice the use of sword on the back of a  horse, the soldiers developed Polo, training the horses to stop and turn,  go fast and slow, and ability to swing low with the mallet on either side.  The mallet would become the sword.   Winston injured his arm, and was unable to use the sword, so when a cavalry charged was ordered, Winston armed himself with a Pistol, and rode into battle. He also noted being shot at, and remarked the exhilaration of dodging a bullet. They fired and missed.  Polo was to the cavalry what the Olympics were for the soldier to practice running the Marathon, throw the javelin like a spear, pole vault over a wall, shot put a rock over the heads of the enemy,  run hurdles like fences,  and so  forth.

            Another event for Winston was being hired as a Journalist, foreign correspondent, was reported in My Early Life. Winston went to South Africa about 1899 as a Civilian war correspondent, during the Boer War.  The Boer’s were descendants of Dutch immigrants from the 17th century, and the English were a little later expanding north from Cape Town, eventually clashing in a war. That little war was known as the first use of concentration camps by which the English moved the Boer civilian non combat population, women, children and old men into camps away from their homes and farms.   Winston reported on a train wreck, the siege of LadySmith, and then was captured when the battalion  he covered was overrun.  He was taken as a Prisoner of War with hundreds more, but the Boer’s did not know Winston was son of a Member of the  British House of Lords.  The prisoner of war camp had been hastily thrown up with barbed wire, guards and little else. Winston told some of his fellow prisoners to attempt to escape, and do it that night.  That very night Winston put a chocolate candy bar in his pocket, and walked out the gate, and headed to the sound of the railyards, hopped the nearest train out of town and was off.  The risk was to leave the train before it stopped at its destination in a train yard, with soldiers and security watching for strangers.  The train was heading deeper into the Boer controlled territory, with unknowable stops.  No ready bathrooms, no map. The weather was bearable. After traveling all night, Winston hopped off, but stayed away from the roads, in case his absence was discovered and telegrams had been sent in all directions for his recapture.  Starving and thirst Winston finally decided to chance contacting a farm house, hoping they had not been alerted.  As it happened the alert had been sent, but that house was an English sympathizer. The farmer told Winston, the farmer was the only farm for miles which was safe. The farmer hid Winston in a hole for vegetables for several days then moved him to a train full of cotton bales, with a small space for Winston to lay until the train arrived on the Indian Ocean, many hundreds of  miles to the Portuguese East Africa.  Portugal was a neutral in the war. Winston arrived, crawled away from the Cotton bales, and went to the English Consulate for safety.  Winston was a British  national hero. Indeed the Boers had put out the BOLO, Be On The Lookout, printing wanted posters, and a Twenty Five Pound Reward for capture dead or alive.  One inflator reported that is the equivalent of about Twenty Nine hundred pounds in 2017 money, or about $3700.  The notoriety helped Churchill sell books and establish name recognition for a political career.

            Winston stood for election and made it into Parliament, and as a war hero, nationally known journalist, famous author, was rapidly advanced, to the cabinet by the time of the Great War.

            Churchill will be the author of dozens of books, some researched such as the Biography of Marborough, but most from first hand observation.

            One irony of life, is that after the Victory in Europe,  Churchill having presided over the War Cabinet, and providing the material for many movies, such as Darkest Hour (2017),  Churchill (2017), Into the Storm (2008), Young Winston (1972),  The Gathering Storm (2002),  The Finest Hours (1964),   World War Two When Lions Roared (1994),  Winston Churchill Walking With Destiny (2010),  Churchill and the Generals (1981),  Churchill’s First World War (2013),  Dunkirk (2017), the English people fired him.  The Brits did him a favor, turning out his party,  because he used the eight years to write his History, and then returned as Prime Minister.

Churchill in Top Hat and Bow Tie

            Churchill is even now casting an eye on American Politics. According to the Huffpost, Ambassador  Averill Harriman gave a Bust of Churchill to the White House while LBJ was  President.     That  Bust  was out of public sight.   About 2001,  the British Ambassdor gave another bust  of Churchill to President George Bush, which was placed  visibly in the Oval office. That is  until the Obama administration moved  the Oval office Churchill bust,  which was returned to the U.K.  Its whereabouts or its absence was noted by the Lord Mayor of London, yet another Johnson who called the White House out, publicly in the media. The White House and Obama attempted to explain it away, with the Washington Post rewriting the history of the Bust.   Had it been returned to the Brits?  Yes. Was it the match for a firestorm? Yes.  When Trump was elected the Churchill bust was recovered from the British and returned to the Oval Office in the White House.   According to this 2017 history by Barry Singer, a Washington Book dealer, he Singer, suggested in 2009, the British present a signed first edition of the Official Churchill biography  by Sir Martin Gilbert to Obama and it was so.  Randolph Churchill, the son, wrote and edited the biography in  six volumes with 13 companion volumes.  And so the tradition was established of donating first edition Churchills or his busts to the White House.    No De Gaulle, no Stalin, no Pope, no Buddha.

            Churchill was on the world stage, at the top looking down, or  on the bottom, or near bottom looking up.  For decades.  He was a professional writer.  Details of his History will be in further reviews. But on a personal note, Churchill had the habit of dating things with a  romanette month between the year and day.  The romanette are Roman numerals for the month, in the lower case.  With those romanette months, the shorthand dating does not confuse between  month and day.  Quick and sure. 

            In summary, Winston ranks with the best of the Best authors, Best historians, Best journalists, Best warriors and Best leaders.   Churchill’s books are available on AbeBooks and book stores. 

Actor Gary Oldman’s Churchill in Darkest Hour movie poster


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U.S. Navy Commanders ball cap on a Mulberry beached in Normandie France, September 23, 2014, 70thanniversary of liberation of Paris. Churchill pushed for the Mulberry floating ports.