LITTLE MEMORIES OF BIG PEOPLE.
VI. THE RT. HON. WINSTON S. CHURCHILL.
By MAX MONTESOLE.
TN the. year of our Lord nineteen hundred ?*? and seventeen, after my aeroplane, to which I was not so much attached emotion allv as physically, and I had kissed the
sweet soil of France just once too often and to vehemently . . . which goes to prove the danger of over-indulgence in passion ate osculatory practices . . . there followed several months of very pleasant leisure for me, until I returned one day from the Caxton Hall, Westminster, having been ordered before a kind of Court of Star Chamber of Medical Officers, most of whom looked 'extremely overdressed . and self conscious in khaki. These imperturbable pundits pencilled on my papers 'P.U .P.O.' (Permanently Unfit for Pilot or Observer), and two benign old country practioners, made up as Robot Majors, commiserated with me. I assumed the regulation 'curse- my-luck-but-Fate-has-so-ordained-it' expres sion, whilst inwardly my heart was singing as it had not sung for years. I am not of the stuff of which heroes are made . ; I could never be martially brave by design ... by accident or by force of circumstance, perhaps yes, but on purpose, with malice aforethought, oh dear no . . never. Quite candidly and unashamedly, I was very frightened of War, except when on leave. On leave ... ah!! Then, in my special super-posh Flying Corps uniform, at the Savoy or the Carlton, I would have brought down Von Richthoven, Iminelmann and Boelke with a pea-shooter, and, as token of my devotion, laid their valorously-won decorations in the lap of the lovely, gaga eyed, also 'on-leave' lady by my side . ._. what keys' to a woman's heart are a uni form and brave talk of war! 'Wherein 1 spake of most disastrous chances ... of hair-breadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly breach!' And that was the only side of the War I really enjoyed . . . the trappings and the trimmings thereof . . . Mess madness . . . the short leave dashes to Paris, Rouen, and occasion ally the forbidden joy-ride to where some of your pals were resting. I remember one such time, after I bad spent a most friendly week-end with the Coldstreamers who were in rest near Salty, carrying a dead man's cheque for three thousand francs about with me for months ... in the days of the real franc, too, when, as the French say, 'le franc valait vingt sous' . . but some how I never had the heart to cash it. But real bullets and yn'nvUed, too-hurriedly announced 5.9's, made no appeal to me of any kind. 1 love reading about the glories of war in Poetry, but 1 hate them in prac tice.' It seems to me now as though I went through the war until 'the middle of 1917 in two states . . . (A) of ecstatic alcoholic indifference to danger or death, and (B) in a shuddering, shivering frenzy of undefeatable fear. The edict of the Star Chamber auto matically banished me to Farnborough or Oxford, but I made up my mind most re* solutely that 1 wasn't going to limp about those awful aviaries for broken-winged bird-men for long. Actually, the duration of my stay at Farnborough was determined for nie. 1 had gone to a cricket match in prelerence to attending a lecture by a spotty young medico with very bad_ ade noids, on venereal disease . . I was inter ested in neither lecturer nor lecture. It happened to be the only occasion on which the roll was called at a lecture, ' and of course 1 was reported absent. Not being particularly matey with my Commanding Officer, an H-less N.C.O. of the Bombastes Furioso vintage, who had probably quite deservedly been made a Major, but who looked with suspicion on any brother officer who aspirated at all regularly, I was eent down to (not 'from' . . much virtue in a preposition ! Oxford. Oxford dif fered from Farnborough in one respect. At Farnborough one did approximately an hour's work (God save the word!) from reveilleato lights out . . at Oxford one did nothing' at all. Having no wish to become a cabbage, and a well-pickled one at that, I deter mined to do something about it. The first thing was to obtain a spot of leave, which was readily granted . . . our CO. was only too pleased to get rid of some of his lame duck^s for a while! In London I sought out one of the most amusing companions of my life, one Hugo Rumbold, at that time an officer in the Grenadier Guards and one of the Last of the Dandies. He know every body in Europe. His uncle, Sir Horace Rumbold, was the very much loved British Ambassador at Vienna for many years. Poor Hujio ... he died in the Middle West of America quite recently ... I believe in Missouri . . of all incongruous burial grounds for this brilliant flaneur! / Whilst we were drinking our- lunch at White's and later at the Bachelors,' I explained what I wanted him to do for me. I wanted to get transferred or sec onded to the Camouflage Corps, where 1 felt I could be useful and in which I was genuinely interested. 'Hugo,' _ I said, 'introduce me to someone who will ?arrange this for me before my bloated corpse is found floating m the Isis.' He replied, . with his carefully introduced stammer, 'W . . why of course . . W . . Winston's the man.' And Winston was the man! I saw him only for about two minutes at that first interview. I carried away with me a mixed impression of power, arrogance, humour and humanity. In repose, he suggested a cross between a wingless cherub and an out-fiize Puck. I thought what a good actor he would have made, could he have conquered that slight impediment in his speech. -I had met him before for a moment, with Beerbohm Tree (he was a keen 'first-nighter' in those days), but of course he didn't remember me, and of course I didn't remind him of the meeting . . . one of the greatest pos sible mistakes one. can make, from a worldly viewpoint, .is to try and recall yourself to someone who has forgotten you . . subconsciously, it lowers you in his estimation ... it is an inferiority ad mission. Women, of course, never forget any of the men they have met, no matter how little they may have thought of him . . . that is one of their primordials. Winston Churchill was not alone when I saw him that morning ... in fact, I wondered whether any one official of any one branch of munitions did not come in during those two minutes. He answered questions and' save orders like a machine sun whose belt is never likely to jam. Presently he fired one of his bullets my way. 'You know something about the theatre, don't you?' it exploded. I said I'd always been egoistic enough to believe that I did. 'Good . . . that's all right then . . . take this note to Colonel ? — at .the Air Ministry ('Bolo' House . . . you remember it, my quirks!?) . . . he'll see about it for you.' Colonel ? saw about it for me. That which would have taken me 'until the next war to have accomplished by making application .through routine channels, was achieved by quite irregular procedure in four days! I well remember how magenta with rage and Anglo-Indian food my CO. at Oxford was . . . you' see. he was a Regular soldier, and liked affairs to fol low their regular course. From magenta ho passed to puce and purple, until I wondered ?whether he were trying to emu late that ambitious chameleon who sat on a square of tartan and burst! Puce and purple he was not only because of the disgraceful, underhand methods I bad employed in order to achieve my purpose, but equally so because he had just de cided to make me Organising Sports' and Entertainments' Officer for his Command, damme! Mr. Churchill's remarks about the theatre and its co-relation with camouflage always reminds me of the late Sir Gerald du Manner's (then Mr. Du Maurier) ar rival at one of the Guards' Cadet Schools, the Colonel of which establishment wan another fruity old aristocrat who had fought when cannon-balls were globular, and could have been taken by any wicket keeper accustomed to fast bowling, or re turned by Bradman with the loss of but on« run . . . who had figured' in epin charges with flashine sabre and gymkhnna proved lance against Glistening black bod ies armed with assegai and knob-kerrip . . . for the honour and clory of Grpnt Britain, bv end. sir! Du Maurier (en pas sant. one of the most talented actors ir England, and the son of George du Maurier, author of evergreen 'Trilby.' was introduced to this Colonpl by hv adjutant. 'Ah . . hm . . . brrr-. ba-rrr.' said the Colonel, by way of open inpr tho conversation. Then, to his adjn tant: 'What did you say wae Mr. dn Manner's profession?' ? 'He's an actor, sir.' 'An actor, eh? Ah ... brrrr . . . then post him to C company . . . there's a juggler in that company. Mr. du Maurier. so you'll feel at home there, what? Ah . . . brrrrm . . . gprsb . . . hmm!' Tt was some months before T saw Win ston Churchill again. Camonflase as a defensive branch of arms had bepnn to nssnmp quitp serious proportions. At thp Cnrnnnfl.nee School in Kensinjrton Gardens, which the Government had appropriated for up. really important, work was beinjr done, but we knew we could do much bie bsr thines given jrreatPr tpehnieal facili ties. Also we knew that the war would be over if we waited for the proper authorities to move in the' matter. This
;ime it ' was 1 who adopted' Hugo Rum bold's slogan ... ''I know what we'll do.' I said, 'we'll see Winston!' (I feel sure he'll forgive my familiarity.) And we did see him. We kidnapped him one da;-, and bore him off to Kensington Gardens when he should have been lunching 6ome where. I can still see his shining top per, emphatically resplendent against the dun-coloured khaki about it, and the equally emphatic face beneath it. ever with its suggestion of cherub-cum-Puck. He was tremendously interested in what we were doing. He didn't give one the im pression of asking questions . . . rather he probed, like a surgeon, and in a very short time seemed to know as much about Camouflage as we did. ' ' And in 'a few weeks not only were we a definite unit, but had everything neces sary both for experimental work and for the instructional side of the establish ment. A very clear-thinking, no-humbug Sapper Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Rhodes, D.S.O., (many years ago A.D.C. to Lord Strickland out here) was appointed as our Commanding Officer, and we soon began to feel that we were be coming one of the necessary little spokes in the Moloch wheel of war. ? I found myself lecturing to 250 officers . . . from Generals to pip-squeaks . . . and 500 N.C.O.'s per week, in addition to which we were turning out a hundred gunner officers a month with a very fair know ledge _ of battery camouflage. That was the difference, during the war, between getting a man like Winston Churchill (to Britain's loss, there are so few like him that you_ could count them online fingers of a maimed hand) to press a button, and hey presto, all the doors were opened, and of entangling yourself until you were eventually suffocated in the red-tape spun by the scarlet-faced, somnolent spiders who, until terribly late in the war, were responsible for the destiny and almost the destruction of the British Empire . . . bedizened bigots bv heredity, training, and inclination. As typical of the way Winston Chur chill Worked, I remember his saying to two or three of us one day, apparently apropos of nothing . . . 'Could you camou flage a large air-station?' I replied that we could camouflage a large country, given sufficient men and material! 'Good,' he said, and changed the subject. About a week later I was sent to Felixstowe, on the East Coast of England, where we had a very important naval air-station, to camouflage it. It was about as difficult a proposition as one could imagine. Like all our defences and our coastal batteries, aerodromes, ammunition-dumps, etc., it had been built apparently with but one objective . . . the offering of as visible and unmistakable a target for enemy air-craft or long-range gun as possible. However an intelligent chief petty officer and twenty ratines were detailod to carry out
my instructions, and we managed to do a decent job of work. So much so, in fact, that some months later, the O.C. Felix stowe air-station requested authority to have my beautiful camouflage removed, as it was seriously impeding flying opera tions! He also wrote to me personally, but in a manner not at all according to King's regulations. 'Heaven have mercy on your (coloured) soul when next we meet,' he wrote, 'your (blank) camou flage has caused more casualties than the (double blank) Hun . . . last week two visiting pilots landed on your (red) camou flage-field on the roof of the hangars, and smashed their (same red) buses to bits!' I wrote to him suggesting he should put up a notice-board on the roof. 'Tres- passers will be prosecuted,' but his reply to my advice cannot be even suggested in print. Winston Churchill thought it was the finest testimonial the Camouflage School could have received! _ I had always had a most glowing admira tion for Churchill as a figure, and at this period I had the opportunity of observ ing him at close range as a man. In spite of his friendly face, he is not a man, I should judge, to be of too, let me say, outwardly kindly a disposition. Being pos sessed of one of the finest brains in Europe, notwithstanding * its somewhat assured impetuousness, lie is much too intolerant of mediocrity to be conven tionally kindly. He is, it is true, terri fyinjjly well-equipped with all the tech nique of wit ... I say 'technique' be cause I shall always believe that most of his seemingly impromptu witticisms, lik« those of i '?-? all recognised wits, have been carefully prepared beforehand for just such a moment! He clothes his clever little gnomes in such niceties of style, in 6uch rich apparel of language, as to make it incredible to believe that they were ever dressed by a ready-to-wear tailor! He is very fond of words . . . especially English words . . . and loves arranging them amusingly in phrase or sentence ... as witness . . . 'the hon. member is, I am afraid, guilty of a terminological inexactitude . . . 'How much more graceful than calling the hon. member a d — liar! But wit is the clever, mischievous, and often irritating son of the family of which humour is his jolly brother. Wit is not kindly. Wit has a barb to its shaft, 'and often poisoned at that ... it is liable to leave wounds 'which may fester. It is true that Churchill's bubbling geniality often dissolves most of the poison, but even perfectly clean barbed spears are apt to make enemies! To choose at random, Rabelais, Charles Lamb, Oliror Goldsmith, Dickens and Samuel Lover had humour . . . (how many of the present generation, I wonder, have read Handy Andy?) Rochefoucauld Sheridan, Whistler and Oscar Wilde had wit . . . Shakespeare and Robert Burns had both. As the milestones which mark our years roll by, I am inclined to think that we keep in our hearts a warmer, more cosy ingle-nook for the humorists than for the wits' of this world . . . per haps because it takes a few years to re alise that wit is but a fashion, humour the very stuff of life, without which we should still be naked as our troglodyte forebears. Lamentably enough. Australians and New Zealanders are chiefly interested in' Winston Churchill, because of most sor rowful memories . . . because so many of them consider that the bloody blot of the Dardanelles still stains hi6 escutcheoo This is not true. 1 would not dare assert this of my own lay opinion. On this point, the consensus of expert analysis, both naval and military, is most emphatic today. It is agreed that there wae inspiration in his initial plan ot campaign, had he been intelligently and whole-heartedly supported. Had he been whole-heartedly supported. Had he ordered a cessation of the naval attack, and our ships to sail back home when Lord Kitchener, who had promised him the support of the 29th Division for the land attack, deliberately postponed its transport to Ec.vpt until it was foo late he would have escaped all censure 'But.' as he says himself. '1 did not do it and henceforth was to become responsible for an operation the vital control of waicb had passed to other hands.' Gallipoli ... as glorious in its sacrifice for .our Empire as was Mous or AVaterloo . . . and as far-reachinsr in its effects It broke the heart of the Turkish Army, and brought Italy into the War in che nick of time. Gallipoli ... is it not something that in the blond and sun-sodden shores of that poignant Peninsular . . . out of the deal brave hearts of your fathers, brothers anH sons, thprp are flowers . . Immortelles . . . which shall bloom when you and 1 arc Ions forjiot. in praise of Anstrala«iii'. chivalry? Is not that something? The decision, of course, as to whether the crowing of these clorious. tragic flowers for the bloody altar of War is worth while, must ever remain with the peoples of the world, who supply the seed,'