THE WIT OF WINSTON CHURCHILL #6
From a book compiled by Dominique Enright (published in 2001)
NATIONS ACCORDING TO CHURCHILL
'The English never draw a line without blurring it.'
'Frightfulness is not a remedy known to the British
pharmacopoeia.' This comment was provoked by the infamous
Amritsar massacre, where General Dyer did employ frightfulness,
in ordering his men to fire into an unarmed crowd packed into a
large walled enclosure.
On one occasion when he was Prime Minister, Churchill had a brief
meeting with his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland at a time
when both countries were facing serious problems. When Churchill
remarked to the Irish PM that, in his view, the situation in the
United Kingdom was serious but not hopeless, the Irish Prime
Minister replied - according to Churchill - that the situation in
his country was hopeless but not serious.
'There are few virtues that the Poles do not possess - and there
are few errors they have ever avoided,' he said to the House in
'Here we have a state whose subjects are so happy that they have
to be forbidden to quit its bounds under the direst penalties;
whose diplomatists and agents sent on foreign missions have often
to leave their wives and children at home to ensure their
eventual return,' Churchill said of Russia in 1919.
And in 1942: 'Everybody has always underrated the Russians. They
keep their own secrets alike from foe and friends.'
It is said that at the Yalta conference in 1945, Roosevelt having
made a fulsome tribute to the Soviet leader, Churchill was
persuaded by an aide to follow suit (objecting the while: 'But
they do not want peace'). Getting to his feet, he proposed a
toast to 'Premier Stalin, whose conduct of foreign policy
manifests a desire for peace.' Then, in a whispered aside out of
the interpreter's hearing: 'A piece of Poland, a piece of
Czechoslovakia, a piece of Romania...'
'In Russia a man is called reactionary if he objects to having
his property stolen and his wife and children murdered.'
During a Canadian press interview following a tour of the United
States in the 1930s, Churchill was asked if he had any complaints
about America: 'Toilet paper too thin, newspapers too fat.'
'The Almighty in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to create
Frenchmen in the image of Englishmen,' Churchill informed the
House of Commons in 1942.
After the First World War, Churchill was in France to give a
speech - which he began to do in French. The French, however,
found it too difficult to follow his pronunciation so called upon
an interpreter to translate. When the interpreter had delivered a
magnificently flowery-sounding speech, the audience burst into
applause. WSC was temporarily discomfited - whose speech was it,
anyway? - but recovered his aplomb rapidly and turned to the
translator to declare, in French: 'Until I heard your splendid
version, Monsieur, I did not realize what a magnificent, indeed
epoch-making, speech I had made. Allow me to embrace you,
This he did, kissing the interpreter firmly on both cheeks, to
'Si vous m'obstaclerez, je vous liquiderai,' Churchill delivered
fiercely to a startled de Gaulle during negotiations at
Casablanca. His attitude towards speaking foreign languages was
Complaining, in 1940, of the lack of unity in the French
government and the precious time this was wasting, he baffled a
French guest by announcing, 'Nous allons perdre l'omnibus.' He
may well have been echoing Chamberlain's unhappy remark on 7
April that year that Hitler had 'missed the bus'. Two days later
Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, thus inaugurating the Nazi
conquest of a large part of Continental Europe.
'For good or for ill the French people have been effective
masters in their own house, and have built as they chose upon the
ruins of the old regime. Their difficulty is to like what they
have done,' Churchill wrote in 1936.
'It becomes still more difficult to reconcile Japanese action
with prudence or even sanity. What kind of people do they think
we are?' Churchill asked rhetorically in a speech to the US
Congress in December 1941, some two to three weeks after the
Japanese 'declaration of war', i.e. the attack on the US Pacific
Fleet in Pearl Harbor.
And the following January he alluded in the House of Commons to
'The Japanese, whose game is what I may call to make hell while
the sun shines . . .'
It is said that in 1943 Churchill sent Anthony Eden on a mission
to bring Turkey into the war. In due course he received a
telegram from Eden: 'Progress slow. What more can I tell Turkey?'
At which Churchill commented: 'Tell them Christmas is coming!'
'India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than
To be continued