Monday, March 5, 2012

"Chasing Churchill" by Celia Sanders (2003)

This little book, penned by Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Celia Sandys, is a wonderfully candid look at one of the most powerful, and quirky, leaders of the 20th century. It is also the story of a changing world, going from aristocracy to a nascent middle class; under the careful tutelage of both Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt; as the two battle in unison for victory over the Nazi's during World War Two.

All of the stories which you have heard about Churchill are true. He liked to dictate his letters in a flowered dressing gown, often finding it hard to keep a stenographer for very long. At the beginning of the Second World War he is assigned a young woman who managed to "stay the course", and when she was unavailable Sir Winston sometimes used his daughter Mary, who was serving in the British Armed Forces at the time.

From his earliest years traveling as a correspondent in the Boer Wars, and later as a soldier and statesman, there is not much missing from this surprisingly brief, 260 page book. His famous car accident in New York, in which he was struck by an automobile, while looking the wrong way before crossing the street, is recounted here in a more accurate way than I had previously read. And Ms. Sandys' accounts of being a passenger aboard Aristotle Onassis’s' yacht in the late 1950's and early '60's, are a rare look into the world of the rich and powerful people who control the commodities, and the cartels, which rule our lives.

The World War Two years are of great interest. At the age of 66 in 1940, Sir Winston logged more than 112,000 nautical miles, in addition to an almost equal number of air miles in the prosecution of the war. He was very much present at the front, even having to be recalled at the demand of the King when he attempted to land at Normandy on the first day of D-Day in June 1944.

His wit and wisdom are on full display, as in the time he returned to Canada after 50 years, and was asked if Niagara Falls looked any different to him after so many years; his reply was a succinct "Well, the principle seems to be the same. The water keeps falling over."

From his many foibles, to his passion for painting, Ms. Sandys' has done a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of Winston Churchill, as well as the indomitable strength of the British people, in facing the ravages of the Great Depression and the Second World War. It is hard to imagine that success without his presence and direction.

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