Look, before I begin the tale of Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill, I am going to tell you a personal story that you are not allowed to interrupt. I come from a family of fairly rabid anglophiles. We are not actually British, we are Canadian, but Mom worked in London, and somehow this has lead to many moments where we ask God to save the Queen. More than I think would typically be experienced by a Canadian family living in the United States.
My favorite childhood story was called “Clarence” (no, apparently it was called Sold For A Farthing) and it was about a little brown sparrow that survived the London Blitz during World War II and he was very brave and then one day he just curled up in his owner’s hand and died. I also read books normal kids enjoy, like Arthurian mythology. These tales of mighty knights end by saying that King Arthur is in Avalon, resting, and waiting to return when Britain needs him most.
Incidentally, I am tearing up just remembering these stories from my childhood.
Since I had the capacity to put two and two together as a kid, I asked why King Arthur didn’t return during World War II. The fact that he had not suggested that absolutely terrible, apocalyptic conditions were in store for Britain, and all the sparrows in the land, probably in the near future. I was looking forward to Arthur’s return, hopefully on a cool horse, but was also very worried about an imminent apocalypse.
And my mother turned to me with tears in her eyes – as though World War II had happened yesterday and we had been there, crouching in a grocery with Margaret Thatcher – and told me that King Arthur had returned in the form of Winston Churchill.
And I was pretty bummed because I really expected him to look more like a Disney prince.
You know, a lot of Winston Churchill’s attributes are not exactly in keeping with Arthurian mythology.
He was . . . God, Winston Churchill was just so cool. You see that as an adult. He was hard drinking, and chain smoking, and did not take no for an answer. Take this, one of his greatest speeches:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their Finest Hour.’
There’s also this lighter story about him, from H.A. Grunwald’s Churchill: A Life Triumphant, which says:
Toward the end of World War II, before the July 1945 election that he would lose, The Times (London) prepared an editorial suggesting that Churchill campaign as a non-partisan world leader and retire gracefully soon afterward. The editor kindly informed Churchill that he was going to make these two points.
“Mr. Editor,” Churchill replied to the first point, “I fight for my corner.”
And, to the second: “Mr. Editor, I leave when the pub closes.”
Where did all of that chutzpah come from? I would like to say from his mom, Jennie, who was born in Brooklyn.