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The Churchill Conference

2nd October 2020

"Who's in charge of the clattering train" is a poem which Churchill knew well enough to quote from. He grabbed the wheel and took charge when the moment came.

We learnt about the poem by Edwin Milliken at this year's Churchill Conference on Friday 23th and Saturday 24th October 2020. It was hosted by Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre at Churchill College Cambridge. The conference was virtual though Packwood himself stood in a college conference room while all the guests appeared from their study or front room. William Hague, John Major and Jonathan Dimbleby spoke. There was a special emphasis on the women in Churchill’s life and we heard from Lady Jane Williams one of his many amanuenses who took down from dictation Churchill’s History of the Second World War from Volume IV onwards. She told us he would work from his bedroom all morning – presumably at number 10 – and was "always dictating," pacing the floor till two in the morning and even in the car en route to Parliament and Chartwell on a Friday evening. On that journey he would break off dictating at the junction at Crystal Palace, lean out and buy a copy of the Evening Standard newspaper from a vendor who got half his cigar as a tip. Lady Jane also said he "wept more beautifully than anyone she had known" and recalled a trip to Heathrown airport when his placid cheeks ran with tears in advance of meeting the new young Queen on her return from Kenya where she had heard of the death of her father. She spoke of his love of animals and of the goldfish, black swans and his black poodle Rufus.

Part of the second day of the conference was spent, virtually, at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, site of the church of ST Mary Aldermanbury whose ruins had been removed there after the war and re-erected. The college's connection with Churchill's "iron curtain" speech was celebrated, We later heard from Catherine Katz, author of Daughters of Yalta about the young women who each accompanied their father to the Yalta Conference in 1945 when the three leaders met - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. These were Sarah Churchill, Anna Roosevelt and Catherine Herriman, daughter of Abel Herriman the US ambassador to the Soviet Union. The author, Ms Katz, told us of Sarah Churchill's life as an actress and appearance in the 1951 Fred Astaire film Royal Wedding, her helping Winston with his bricklaying at Chartwell, and her enrolment in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

Katz spoke of Anna Roosevelt's knowledge of her father's fatal illness in the last year of the war and of Catherine Herriman's celebration of her 24th birthday on the night of the bombing of Pearl Harbour which finally brought the USA into the war. Katz had been a student at Churchill College and her professor David Reynolds also spoke. He had his own book to publicise - Operation Unthinkable about a deal for post-war Poland imposed by force and not negotiation. Reynolds also told us of Churchill's concern that Westminster College was a presbyterian foundation and therefore dry of alcohol. The Fulton speech was actually titled Sinews of Peace and covered also the "special relationship" as a bond which should secure world peace.

We look forward very much to the next Churchill Conference.