The works of historian William Manchester included two enormously popular biographies of Winston Churchill: “The Last Lion”, Volumes I and II. They were published in the 1980s and chronicled Churchill’s life up until World War II. Manchester spent a number of years doing the research for the next installment, but his health began to fail. Before he died in 2004 he asked his friend, journalist Paul Reid, to complete the task. Now, nearly two decades later, this third and final volume has been published. It details Churchill’s pivotal role during World War II and his post-government years. Join Diane for a conversation with biographer Paul Reid about the life of Winston Churchill.
- Paul Reid award-winning journalist.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965″ by Paul Reid. Copyright 2012 by Paul Reid. Reprinted here by permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. At long last for fans of William Manchester's biographies of Winston Churchill, there is a third and final volume. It covers the period from World War II until Churchill's death in 1965. But William Manchester wrote only a small part of the book before he died in 2004. He asked his friend, Paul Reid, to finish it for him. The book is titled "The Last Lion: Winston Churchill: Defender of the Realm."
MS. DIANE REHMBiographer Paul Reid joins me in the studio to talk about the story of writing this extraordinary book. Do join us 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, Paul. It's good to have you here.
MR. PAUL REIDGood morning, Diane. Happy to be here.
REHMPaul, this project came to you, took over your life in ways that you probably never could have imagined. Tell us how it began.
REIDI think it would have to begin with my first meeting Bill Manchester in 1998. I went up to Middletown, Connecticut with five of his old Marine buddies. His wife had died, he had had two strokes, and I went up to do a feature story. I knew one of the old Marines, Mack Douglas. He was a Baptist preacher in West Palm Beach, and I accompanied them up and they went up there to buck up Bill, to, you know, try to boost his feelings.
REIDAnd we spent a weekend together, and I was the fly on the wall taking notes, and Bill was very welcoming. One night, I'll never forget this, a young woman knocked on the door at 10:30 at night, a student from Wesley, and she had two copies of his books -- or two of his books, and she wanted to ask him to inscribe them for her father who was a veteran. This is 10:00, 10:30 at night.
REIDHe invited her in, sat her down, signed the books, and then she listened to these old Marines talking about Okinawa until well after midnight.
REIDSo I wrote my story and then another and another. My editor loved the features on veterans that I did.
REHMWere you a veteran yourself?
REIDNo. My father went to the Naval Academy, and I grew up in the late '50s and early '60s with a lot of naval history percolating through the house, and that's where my interest in World War II naval history came about a long time ago. I'm not gonna say how many years, more than 20. So I -- over the next five or so years, I'd visit Bill. My daughter was at U Mass, my son lived with his mother on Long Island, and Middletown was close by, and we became friends and watched Red Sox games together and chatted.
REHMIn the chats that you had with him, did you have a sense that he was struggling with a manuscript, or to create that third volume?
REIDI think the struggle had taken place before I met him. The ten years between 1988 when he began the third volume, and 1998 when he had the strokes. And he wrote a note to his son, I think in 1985 that he was, you know, laid low by writer's block. He had medical...
REHMSerious writer's block.
REIDIt stopped him.
REHMIt stopped him.
REIDNow, he took -- this is remarkable, a vacation from "The Last Lion," to write "A World Lit Only by Fire," in 1990, '91, and it's a brief, light, fun romp through medieval Europe. That was his rest and relaxation.
REHMAnd he thought that that might help him regain that momentum for the third volume.
REIDHe did, but it didn't. And by the time I met him, the strokes actually resulted in some lifestyle changes of, you know, what he ate and drank if you will. You can read between the lines. The strokes put him on a path of swimming at the YMCA and a more healthy lifestyle, but he couldn't write. It was over, and in a sense, the strokes were a blessing. Now he had a medical reason.
REIDYeah. And he accepted it. So in the five years that I knew him, he was not frustrated. I mean, at a certain level he was sad that he couldn't finish it, but, you know, he was content finally. No more demons.
REHMAnd then he talked to you about the possibility of carrying on what he had begun.
REIDWell, over the years, and I learned to drop the subject finally. I'd say, Bill, you might want to consider someone.
REHMWriting with someone?
REIDRight. And he could be very melodramatic, and he had a stentorian voice, and he would say, Paul, it would be like a mother giving away her child to be raised by another. And I'd say, well, Bill, if she doesn't, they're both going to die, and he would say, nice try, Paul. But it was over. He did consider some folks, I guess, and things didn't work out, and I didn't consider that in 1999, if you will, 2000, my business.
REIDI didn't ask him who. I was just, you know, a pal doing an occasional story. My daughter would come down with me from U Mass and they'd talk history. Bill used to call my little son Patrick, who was eight at the time, and I dropped the subject finally of finding someone.
REHMHe had in fact seriously considered a number of people, one in particular, with whom he had telephone conversations, a great deal of correspondence, but then she became utterly frustrated with him.
REIDSee, I wasn't aware of that. He did mention her name once to me, and he mentioned that -- this conversation lasted maybe eight seconds, that he just wasn't happy with what she was writing, and that she was making Londoners during the Blitz out to be victims, and he almost hissed that word. And he said they weren't victims, they were heroes. And that's what he was looking for, the old sort of white hat, black hat, hero, villain.
REIDI -- and that's the extent of what I know about that audition if you will. And there were other names. I didn't ask who they were, and a year or two went by and the subject had been dropped until that October night in 2003.
REIDWhen, as usual, the Red Sox lost to the Yankees. We were watching it at Bill's house. He was on his bed, I was in an arm chair, and at the end of the game he asked -- he did allow himself one or two Jack Daniels on the rocks a couple of times a week. And he had had one during the game, and he shook the glass and he said, could I have one more of these, please? And I went out to the kitchen and came back, and I had a glass of wine, and he said, could you go into my office and bring that suitcase out that's in there.
REIDAnd I said, okay. And I went and -- big heavy suitcase, and I could feel stuff moving around, and he said, please put it on the bed. And he unzipped it, and he turned to me and said, I'd like you to finish the book.
REIDWell, I told someone this yesterday. A few weeks earlier -- I had a friend in West Palm Beach named Marvin Mounts (sp?) , Judge Marvin Mounts. Marvin is the judge that Elmore Leonard based the character on in "Maximum Bob," the hanging judge. Marvin loved William Manchester. And I said, Marvin, write him a letter, or telephone him because he's old and ill and he likes to hear from people.
REIDAnd Marvin said, oh, no. He's William Manchester. I said, Marvin, call him. Well, he wrote him a letter and he introduced himself, and told the Elmore Leonard story. So Bill sent his housekeeper out to get the entire Leonard canon, which was strewn around his bed that night with newspapers and "Maximum Bob," he had almost finished. You know, it was open on his bed to maybe within 10 pages of the end.
REIDAnd for one split second, it wasn't a coherent thought, I thought, oh, he wants me to finish Maximum -- he wants me to read to book to him. And he could see that I -- and he said, no. No. I want you to write the book, and then I understood.
REHMAnd by the book, you knew...
REIDThe third volume. And in the suitcase were a dozen or so of his notes, some source material, and he said, I want you to take this home and write 25 pages, it turned out to be 60, on the Blitz. And I packed up the suitcase. We went up to his office the next day at Wesley in the library. I think he gave me some more information, and I went happily home thinking I can do this.
REHMWhat a monumental task this turned into.
REIDIt -- yes, it did. And it would have been for Bill as where the first two volumes. It took him coming up on five years each, and I think if -- had he been healthy, this would have taken him five or six years, and, you know, for some reason he thought it would take two years. Maybe he didn't want to discourage me. And so the publisher thought, oh, two years, three years, you know, the book will be out in 2007. Well, about two years into it, I said, this is going to take a while.
REHMDid he say, we'll write this together?
REIDHe said -- I'll never forget this. I took notes that night. He said, you write, I'll edit. I have my red pencils sharpened and ready to go.
REHMPaul Reid. He's a journalist and now biographer. The book, "The Last Lion." William Manchester's name is at the top, and Paul Reid, "Winston Churchill: Defender of the Realm."
REHMAnd welcome back. Paul Reid is with me. He is a journalist, he took over the writing of the last volume of a biography of Winston Church from William Manchester. William Manchester had completed the first two volumes. He then became ill, he experienced writer's block to a horrendous dimension and finally met by good fortune, Paul Reid, a journalist from Miami.
REIDWest Palm Beach.
REHMWest Palm Beach, forgive me, and Paul took over the writing from the notes that William Manchester had given to him. Those notes were not terribly helpful.
REIDNo, they, I said in the author's note, "They spoke to Bill Manchester in ways they couldn't speak to me."
REIDWell, he created them, they were his baby so he knew the system. And the system was, if the listeners can imagine, two eight and a half blocks of paper, eight and a half by 11 inch blocks of paper sort of affixed together, 50 pages each. So now you've got in essence 100 page long tablet on which these 50 or 60 tablets Bill would cut and paste, Xerox excerpts from speeches and telegrams and memoirs and diaries and they ran to, what, 5,000 plus pages.
REIDMillions of words and they were organized. They were basically chronological. Clump number 10 is about 1940 so will clump number 11. But not strictly chronological. So if you're looking for what happened at the Battle of Midway it might have some information on clump number 29 and clump number 31, on page 52 of this. And he had handwritten source and topic codes in the margins.
REIDThe topic for his doctor's memoirs was R-E-X or R-X. The topic code for German politics was a swastika. The topic code for de Gaul was a D-E-G. And he had source codes. Harem in his memoirs was H-A-R. Tragically, alas, the source codes disappeared, the key to the source codes. And there were hundreds of sources.
REIDSo I knew what the topics were because I had the topic code key but I didn't the source code key for almost two years. And by the time I finally got it, they found it in the library, I thought I'd have to reinvent the wheel. I'll be looking through these long notes when I'm an old, old, old man, you know.
REIDSo I pretty much reproduced all of the sources Bill Manchester used and I got all of the speeches and all of the diaries and some new information from the Q Archives, cabinet minute meetings or cabinet meeting minutes. And on five dining room tables arranged in a U I just arranged everything and pretty much took each story each week, each scene one at a time and I'd move onto the next week.
REIDWell, some weeks, five or six things are happening. There's an invasion here and a bombing there and an assassination there. So you go out five pages and then you've got to come back to the same week and do another story. But I found I could do it that way.
REHMSo he asked you to do this. How long did he live and how much was he able to provide guidance and that red pencil?
REIDWell, he asked me on October 9th, 2003 and the next three or four months I worked on the 60 page audition. So now, and there wasn't much back and forth during that time, I was on my own. That was my assignment so I guess it would be March. He liked what I had done and Little Brown liked it and his agent of 50 years and best friend, Don Congdon, liked it. And Don had absolute veto power. Didn't matter what Bill thought of it, Don had the veto power.
REIDThat was in March and by then Bill had bad stomach cancer and I spoke to him on April 1st, his birthday, and there was no feedback. There was, the red pencils remain sharpened to this day.
REHMWhat was your audition material?
REIDIt was The Blitz and he sent me home with, again, some memoirs and diaries and, you know, factual source material, population of London and the weight of a German bomber, that sort of thing. And he wanted, again at first, 25 pages but then Don Congdon said, "Give me 60." On the start of The Blitz which began September 7th, in the late afternoon, 1940 and ran for, I think, 81 of the next 82 nights without a break.
REIDAnd I was telling a friend yesterday, 30 years ago I was in London and I was standing down near Westminster Bridge, it was near dusk, and I was just looking up the river, up the Thames embankment and an old Englishmen came up to me and he asked, maybe he asked if I was lost or something, very dapper. And I said, "No, I'm just trying to imagine the German planes coming from what direction."
REIDAnd he pointed down the river and he said, "They came from that direction." He had been a 19 or 20 year old anti-aircraft battery operator in Hyde Park. And he said, "Come." And for four or five hours we walked up the Thames embankment, all the way to the east end and he told the story as only a Londoner could.
REIDAnd he pointed out that on Cleopatra's Needle, the obelisk along the embankment, there were chunks missing from German bombs that casual observer would never know that. And it was the most marvelous five hours. and when Bill asked me to do The Blitz, I have books in front of me and maps, but I had that old man's voice in my head and I thought, I can do this.
REHMAnd you did.
REHMThe writing of the rest of the book, which we should said is about 1,000 pages, took you how long?
REHMAnd during that eight years how did you support yourself?
REIDWell, in the broadest terms, the first couple of years with the advance and savings. We had sold our house in Florida, which was an overheated market and bought a smaller place up in North Carolina and so the first two, three, four or five years through our savings and the advance. And then we started using credit cards, thank goodness. I recommend to all young listeners keep your credit score above 800 because it'll come in handy someday. But there was no question of stopping, I was going to finish it. We had, we did what we had to do to support ourselves to finish the book.
REHMSo the publisher advanced money but clearly it was not sufficient to carry you all the way through. You had to finance your own living expenses and subsistence by use of credit cards, by borrowing everything you could, imagine, just to get through this book.
REIDRight, I mean, the job was going to get done by hook or by crook and the estimate of two or three years at the beginning, you know, to this day, nobody knows where that came from. It was Bill Manchester who tossed that out and the publisher was very good over the years, Little Brown, because I have to believe, in fact I know, in year four or five they're thinking, is this guy going to be able to do this?
REIDAnd I'd send emails saying, "Don't worry." Well, you hear that all the time. And they stuck with me and then Bill Phillips, William Phillips, my editor, had retired from the top spot at Little Brown and he came on broad as my editor. In the first couple of years there wasn't much going back and forth.
REIDBut the last four years we exchanged chunks of the book and he was just absolutely marvelous and, you know, he was firm and sometimes severe in some of his editorial comments but it was all for the good and without Bill Phillips, no book.
REHMPaul, was there ever a point where you thought, you know guys this is more than I can do with both the means and the sources I have, I can't finish it.
REIDNo. I think about that now but if my wife or children to hear that they'd say, no, he never thought that. I thought it would be done and done well and I told Bill Manchester and Little Brown and Don Congdon that I'd never let them down. This was nine years ago now. I said, "I won't let you down, I won't let Churchill down."
REIDWell, you know, lofty words, I mean, I really didn't know what I was talking about then. But that was my goal and I didn't let them down.
REHMIt's interesting, here's a comment from a listener who's listening online, who says, "It was probably the strokes that kept Manchester from finishing this book but I have to wonder if Churchill's relatively sad post-war career raging against the dying of the empire, mediocre to poor performance when back in office and an intellect sufficiently undimmed to understand that this was the case may have made him, that is Manchester, not wish to finish it and sapped his will thereto."
REHM"For British people who live then there was a general sense that Churchill embodied Solin's recommendation to account no man happy until his death, Americans and others, who didn't have to live under his government are generally more kind remembering The Blitz alone."
REIDWell, I, as far as William Manchester, he fought and fought and struggled to write that and again the strokes were a blessing in that he could end the struggle because it wasn't going to happen, strokes or no strokes. He had finished writing and then the strokes came and he accepted, in the following years, that it was over.
REHMPaul Reid, he is with William Manchester, the author of the third and final volume in the biography of Winston Spencer Churchill, subtitle "Defender of the Realm 1940-1965. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, here is how closely some people, who've already this book or reading. This is from Robert in Thomasville, Ga.
REHMHe says, "On page 363 and 364 Paul Reid recounts the sinking of the Bismarck. On page 364 he says, 'Bismarck, its rudder jammed and unable to steer, was doomed.' But Reid omits that the rudder was jammed by a torpedo dropped by a Royal Navy airplane flown from HMS Arch Royal. This is an odd and conspicuous omission and I wonder why Reid choose to do this." He goes on to say, "This is a wonderful book, entertainingly plowing new furrows in old fields."
REIDWell, thank you for that. And I'm scanning the Bismarck page and I'm looking.
REHM364 to 365, no sorry, 363 to 364.
REIDWell, I mean, I mention the torpedoes, gun shells, I mean, the Bismarck was getting hammered and it was in trouble and it sank.
REIDI know these very careful readers are out there and I will do my penance and fix anything that done needs fixing.
REHMHere's an email from Doug, here in Washington D.C. He says, "I'm wondering if Paul could comment on Churchill's transition from being a liberal in his earlier career including significance stints in high government positions to his later becoming a conservative."
REIDWell, before he became a liberal he was a conservative and then in English politics it's called ratting when you switch parties and he "ratted" to the liberal party. And during that decade, early in the 20th century, he was the uncle if Lord George was the father of many social insurance programs and welfare, unemployment insurance, broadly liberal policies, 20 years before Franklin Roosevelt would even dare approach Congress with that sort of thing.
REIDBut then Churchill switched back to the conservatives and as he said, "I not only "ratted," I "re-ratted." But he was a liberal-conservative. He was not a Tories Tory, which is why the Tory, the conservatives, didn't like him. They always mistrusted Winston because he had ratted, now he had re-ratted and he had a liberal streak to him that in engendered distrust among his colleagues.
REHMAnd we'll take a short break here. When we come back I'd really like to hear more about Churchill, the man, a person you call a natural leader with a searing wit and very little patience.
REHMAnd welcome back. Paul Reid is with me and together with William Manchester he has written a third and final volume of Biography of Winston Churchill titled "The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965." Tell us about Churchill the man. You say he was a natural leader with a searing wit and very little patience.
REIDHe was the sum of his contradictions. And, you know, he's often seen or imagined as -- and William Manchester did this too as, you know, the last Victorian. He never carried cash. His train tickets were bought for him. He was of that class of Englishman that -- where the, you know, everything's set up to nurture and take care of them, worked very well. His valet warmed his brandy snifter over a candle. The brandy in the house was Hine, probably bottled in the 19th century.
REIDHe had very bad credit at the local stores. Not that he went shopping. He'd send someone down to bring home a ham and forget to pay. And the Churchills in the neighborhood around Chart Well were, you know, not the best of neighbors as far as the merchants were concerned. He had never ridden the London underground in his life but once when he got on 1926 and got lost. It was like Charlie on the MTA. And his wife had to send -- Clementine had to send out people to find Winston. He was just going, as she told her daughter, round and round and round.
REIDBut I found he was far more than an old Victorian man. I see him as a classical in the Greek and Roman sense, as a descendant of Cicero and Plato and Ptolemy. That's what he was. He wasn't a fuddy-duddy, a centric Victorian. He read Toynbee and he read all the 19th century histories and Gibbon and the Bible. He read the Bible cover to cover to -- for cadence instruction for his speeches and what have you.
REHMBut he was not a religious man.
REIDNo. I -- he was an atheist and he had no respect really for the prelates of the Church of England or the pope or anybody. He didn't begin his days with prayers or end them with prayers.
REHMHe did begin his days with a big of alcohol?
REIDYes. And some of his old colleagues would like to say that he nursed one weak scotch and soda all day long, which is true, but he'd have a bottle of champagne at lunch and another at dinner and three or four brandies after dinner, maybe a Cointreau between meals. It was a remarkable metabolism.
REHMPaul, the volume begins, as I said, in 1940 in May. Set the stage for us. Hitler was, as you write, at the top of his game.
REIDWell, he was. The French didn't want war. They weren't prepared emotionally most importantly. They had a big army, the biggest in Europe in the Maginot line which Hitler simply went around. England had a small army. England's a sea power not a land power. They have an expeditionary force in France and they knew it was coming all winter. And when it came the French, lack of preparedness, lack of spirit was evident. And a month later it was over in France on June 21.
REHMAnd yet Hitler expected the British to actually capitulate and accept his terms for peace.
REIDHe thought they'd be reasonable because otherwise he was going to crush them. The French resented the fact that Churchill said, if you go down we're going on alone. The French wanted the English to go with them and, in fact, asked Churchill for the final fighter planes that England had, a few squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes. And Churchill said, no we're going to need them. They won't do you any good now. You've lost. And he saw that as a betrayal by the French.
REHMYou know, it's extraordinary for -- because for almost a decade you write that Churchill had drummed the warnings to his countrymen and really to the world about Hitler and Germany.
REIDAnd his country -- well, they were all veterans in one way or another of the Great War. The slaughter was so unimaginable in 1914 to '18, any sane person wouldn't want to imagine it happening again. So they didn't use their imagination. They...
REHM...didn't want to hear it.
REID...didn't want to see it, hear it. And for Churchill to be out there it sounded like he was a war monger. He wasn't. He was saying, this is what's going to happen.
REHMBut did he really believe that the Germans would invade England?
REIDNo, and this was one of the things I called Bill Phillips about toward the end of the book when we were at that section. I said, you know there's a perspective here that I have to go with and it's not me putting myself in the story or interpreting other sources. It's Churchill's words coming out of his mouth. That summer of 1940 that--he did the numbers and the German merchant fleet, every barge, every boat, every tanker, every freighter, the Germans would have to use every ship they had to bring a modest force to England.
REIDThey didn't have landing crafts. The Royal Navy would massacre it at sea at night. Churchill told the House this, the House of Commons. And he concluded this would be a one-shot deal for Hitler and would fail and the war would be over so it's not going to happen. Something else is but not an invasion. But he kept the -- he called it the invasion scare, and it might appear cynical now to us, but he kept it up talking about fighting on the beaches and fighting in the streets of London when they come.
REIDAnd all to build up offensive forces for the day when he could go back across the channel himself with modern landing craft and landing ships and keep the Americans in the game even though they weren't in the war, to keep the Americans thinking, well these British, they're not going to quit. But he never thought they were coming and in the famous line about never have so many -- so much so few -- the few speech, that was simply a prelude to the root of the matter where he was going, which was to the bombing campaign he anticipated over Berlin. It was an aside really, a thank you to the fighter pilot but now let's down to business.
REHMAt what point did he first approach FDR? At what point did he say I need you?
REIDThat summer of 1940, even before France fell, they were in communication. But he asked for 50 destroyers. He needed fast escort ships. And it took months for him to finally get them from Roosevelt. He had to trade British territory for them, bases -- naval bases. And when he got them they were rust buckets. And his asides over dinner to some of his colleagues were not favorable. He thought Roosevelt was bleeding them dry to get the empire, if you will, without having to fight for it.
REHMAnd yet it would seem from our own understanding that the relationship between the two men was really very strong.
REIDThat I think is part -- due in part due to Churchill's memoirs where he writes of it as if it were. This is ten years later. America's now the super power. Let bygones be bygones because during the war, oh, they exchanged gifts and it was cordial. And they -- Churchill wore Roosevelt out every time he went to the White House, the hours that he kept. And Harry Hopkins had to be hospitalized every time -- Roosevelt's right-hand man -- every time Churchill visited everyone got ill and tired by the time he left.
REIDSo it appears like a fun relationship thing, watch Donald Duck movies and had dinners and took -- they had a hotdog picnic at Hyde Park. But really Roosevelt's agenda was to win the war in a way that the British Empire and the French -- he didn't like the French at all -- and all of the colonial powers would have nothing. His peace objective was the end of Imperialism which Winston didn't see. He was blind to that. You know, he thought we'll get Singapore back and the Americans will get Guam back and their influence in the Philippines. And the British Empire will go on as before. And that was not Roosevelt's plan.
REHMAll right. Let's go to the phones here to Indianapolis. Good morning, Rich. You're on the air.
RICHGood morning. Thanks so much. There was a comment made by the author I guess about three minutes ago about the never have so many owed so much to so few. And I'd always learned that that was a description of the Battle of Britain, the handful of Spitfires that used radar for very decisive repulsing of the (word?). And I thought it might be interesting to have him clarify that, please.
REIDWell, the Spitfires didn't carry radar. The radar that year was much too big to put into the nose of an airplane.
REIDBut, yes, the radar -- the towers along the British coast, the sending towers and the receiving towers, the radar was the -- you know, the unknown hero there. Without the radar there would've been major problems. And I should've mentioned that. But the comment Churchill made, the thank you was to the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots, about 700 of each who went into the battle and, you know, about 5 or 600 never came out of the battle. And he was -- it was a heartfelt thank you that resonates to this day.
REIDBut his next sentence more or less says, now that we've taken care of that let's get down to business. And it was about taking the offensive bombing campaign to Berlin. And a lot of histories -- and Bill Manchester's draft of this ended with an ellipse. And I thought what came after that? Well, what came after it I thought was very important, that Churchill was thanking the fighter pilots. But his whole strategic vision is what came after that.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling.
RICHThank you so much.
REHMWhy is it so important to understand Churchill's view of the Mediterranean?
REIDThis was another perspective that I had a great time as dawn came. And again this is from Churchill and from his generals and I had to step back and think and finally had something of a eureka moment that, my goodness, growing up in America it was always the Normandy Invasion and the Second Front. And Churchill didn't want to go to Normandy and he talked about beaches running red with blood of dead soldiers and Hitler winning. And that's the way Hollywood and some popular historians have reduced the story to that.
REIDAnd pretty much immediately I realized, well he calls the third volume of his war memoirs the "Hinge of Fate" and it's about the Mediterranean. That was his hinge of fate. And I thought, why. Well, it was the lifeline between India and the rocky oilfields in Cairo and Malta and Gibraltar and London. It was all part of an organism, the torso, if you will. And if that is gone the organism dies. The Cairo and Gibraltar and Malta were as important as the home island.
REHMSo basically he saw the geographical makeup of the world as it was in a different way from those generals who were operating the allied forces.
REIDHe -- I wrote at one point that the Mediterranean, for Mussolini especially of course, and for Churchill from the four center squares of their chessboards. Not for the Americans. The Atlantic, the Pacific, they had two chessboards at one point, but the Mediterranean was the key. And Hitler's admirals understood that but Hitler and his general did not and they never took advantage of the English losses in the Mediterranean. They never closed the deal.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Denise. You're on the air.
DENISEYes, good morning. Thank you so much. I would just like to commend about the really ambiguous attitude concerning Northern Ireland because of course being part of the United Kingdom. There was no construction there but everybody who went as a volunteer, including my uncle whose plane was shot down and he fell without a parachute and survived.
DENISEHowever, there was always the attitude that Winston had some deal with the Irish free states, they were called at that time before it became a Republic. Oh well, then she was the ports and we give you the North -- well, not even Winston could've handed over the North of Ireland because you'd just had great opposition to those who wanted to remain within the United Kingdom.
DENISEAnd, in fact, Northern Ireland was central command for all of the allied forces in Europe. And that is something I've never heard anyone say. I discovered it in a little booklet about the background of Ulysses Grant whose great grandfather came from there. And, in fact, Eisenhower used to ride around in his jeep apparently. Now this is all before my time and all I know is what I've been told, that talking about the bombings and the blitz on London, people in Northern Ireland thought, oh we'll never be bombed because the German planes could never go so far.
DENISEAnd then there was a surprise when there was a residential area (unintelligible) in Belfast. It was beside the waterworks and people thought, oh well, he thought that was part of Harland and Wolff Shipyard and that's why the German planes came to that area.
REHMAll right, Paul?
REIDWell, I don't know exactly what you mean by central command. I mean, Ulsterman fought -- General Sir Alan Brooke was one of 23 Brookes who fought in the First and Second World War. They were, you know, a warrior race, the Brooke family. But Churchill did, right around the time of Pearl Harbor -- the Chamberlain government had given back to the Irish free state those three ports you mentioned. Why they did that with war coming, who -- it was one of their worst mistakes.
REIDAnd Churchill needed them and he was willing to take them from Ireland by force if need be. And he did float the idea of a unified island if the Republic came in on England's side as an ally, de Valera, that, you know, we can talk. Never went anywhere, but he was willing emotionally to let the north go.
REHMPaul Reid with William Manchester. The book is titled "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940 - 1965." So much more to say. I wish we had time. Thank you for being here.
REIDThank you so much. Thank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.