The wartime leader dearly loved the Telegraph – in 2015, the newspaper will honour his memory, says Warren Dockter.
It is a terrible tragedy that Fate has seen fit to deny Lady Soames, who was, until recently, the last surviving child of Sir Winston Churchill, her rightful presence at the forthcoming anniversary commemorations in his memory. Indeed, the passing of Mary, the youngest of Churchill’s five children, aged 91, last May, now serves as a reminder of the importance of keeping alive the memory of her father.
The 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death this month offers Britain and the world a chance to celebrate, remember and reflect on the legacy of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century. There will be several events to commemorate the former prime minister’s many achievements. In fact, they have already begun. The starting gun was fired with the publication of The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Boris Johnson’s candid portrait of the wartime leader, which I helped to research in my capacity as a Churchill scholar.
Boris’s book is accompanied by an exciting and dynamic Churchill app which Touch Press, an award-winning British software developer, has just released. Entitled Think Like Churchill, the app works like an interactive graphic novel. The user is invited to test their decision-making abilities against Churchill’s own crucial decisions made at five key moments in his life; the player’s choices are then analysed and evaluated. Narrated by Boris Johnson, the app is highly educational and historically accurate because it was written in conjunction with the Churchill Archives Centre and provides exclusive access to more than 70 original documents including secret intelligence, personal letters, telegraphs and unique photography.
But the official year of commemoration commences on January 30, the anniversary of Churchill’s state funeral, when the Houses of Parliament will host a wreath-laying ceremony. Jeremy Paxman will front a new BBC documentary examining what Churchill means to Britain today. Also this month, the Science Museum in London will host ‘Churchill’s Scientists’ an exhibition which highlights Churchill’s fascination with science and the effects this had on Britain’s war effort, from the invention of radar to Britain’s top secret research behind the first atomic bomb. Jonathan Smith has just penned a new novel, KBO: The Churchill Secret which dramatises Churchill’s recovery from a stroke in 1953 and is being adapted into a major ITV drama. The 32nd annual International Churchill Conference will take place next May at Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s birthplace and ancestral home. Travel companies will offer themed breaks (from Martin Randall Travel’s “In Churchill’s Footsteps” to “Commemorating Churchill: Power Houses of the Home Counties” by Just Go Holidays.)
These events are being coordinated by “Churchill 2015”, an alliance of Churchill-related institutions from around the world which will lead educational and cultural activities focused on commemorating his achievements. “Churchill 2015” promises to highlight Churchill’s vibrant existing legacy and their planned events in North America, Europe and Australia will make the Churchill commemorations truly global.
It is but a taste of the technologically advanced tributes. The deluge of new books on Churchill, academic and popular alike, that will flood our bookstores during 2015 – my own on Churchill and the Islamic World included – have been aided by the digitisation of Churchill’s numerous papers. It is estimated that, in his lifetime, he consigned between 8 and 10 million words to paper, in the course of writing speeches, more than 40 books and countless numbers newspaper and magazine articles. In fact, Churchill received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his numerous published works, some which are well known like his memoirs of the Second World War and others less so, like his only novel, Savrola.
The Churchill papers held in the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge are already fully digitised, as the Churchill Archive (churchillarchive.com), but available to search only by subscribers. In this form, Churchill’s works have reached scholars, enthusiasts and university students in ways never before dreamed possible. “The digitisation of the papers has transformed the study of Churchill,” says Professor Richard Toye, who teaches modern history at Exeter University and uses the archive for his module on Churchill and the British Empire. “This remarkable resource is available for use by students at the touch of button. There are undoubtedly many treasures within the collection, the true significance of which still remains to be discovered.”
But soon, access to Churchill’s papers won’t be limited to universities. This month sees the launch of ChurchillCentral.com, a ground-breaking portal to the world of Churchill. will become the definitive web resource for information about the life and legacy of Sir Winston Churchill. It will act as a hub that will allow Churchill-related organisations to collaborate by contributing and sharing content and will host access to Churchill for Schools – a groundbreaking free educational product that curates the Churchill archive for schools and which has been privately endowed. Other features of include an online treasure hunt to help increase users’ knowledge and understanding of this great leader, quizzes, quotes and a calendar listing current exhibitions, lectures and events.
The digital ability to sift through Churchill’s work has revolutionised my own research on Churchill. Unearthing gems in the Churchill papers used to be infinitely more difficult. When I began my PhD in 2008, examining a seemingly unending heap of microfilm spools on archaic view finders was the soul-destroying order of the day. These tedious sessions often lasted all day, rarely produced any worthwhile material, and were complemented with a fairly difficult commute. Now, thanks to the digitisation of the papers, it’s as almost as easy as googling specific documents, issues, and dates to find amazing historical artefacts. Without this online archive, imagine how difficult it would be to discover that in July 1943, Churchill was given a stuffed duck-billed platypus called “Splash” by the Australian Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs, Herbert Evatt or that on February 20 1951 Churchill received a letter from a Mr Green from Surrey who wrote to Churchill explaining that his love of horse-racing was causing “covetousness throughout the nation” and that he should immediately give it up because it contravened God’s will.
There are, of course, other archives which also feature Churchill quite heavily, including the Telegraph’s own historical archive, which I have been privileged enough to access. In the Telegraph’s archive, the paper’s long lasting friendship with Churchill truly comes alive. Devoted readers may know that the Telegraph’s proprietor, Lord Camrose, was a close personal friend of Churchill’s and even organised a scheme to buy Churchill’s estate, Chartwell in Kent, after the War when Churchill’s debts nearly caused him to put it on the market. Some readers might even remember that in November 1950 Churchill wrote to the editor of the Telegraph to correct the horse racing Column, “From the Course”, which had printed that Churchill’s favourite horse, Colonist II, was a gelding, when in fact, it was a colt. However, Churchill’s relationship with the Telegraph goes back much further than this.
The relationship began when Churchill was a junior officer and war correspondent on the Indian frontier in 1897. His dispatches for the Telegraph formed the basis for Churchill’s first book, The Malakand Field Force. Churchill continued to write for the Telegraph, on and off, for the rest of his life, especially during the 1930s from his political wilderness.
Though he was a freelance journalist, he deeply cared about the Telegraph, and there are several interesting examples of him writing in to voice his opinions. For instance, in February 1930, the Telegraph changed its print style and layout to some consternation among the readership. Churchill happily wrote in to support the changes. “In its new form, the Daily Telegraph is a most convenient paper to handle and I hope it may long continue to flourish in its faithful support of the Conservative cause.”
And so the paper did flourish, so that on its 100th anniversary, in 1955, Churchill wrote in again, this time with a birthday greeting. “As the oldest living member of the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post staff, I am glad to send my warmest greetings and congratulations to the paper on reaching its century.
“It is 58 years since I was a Daily Telegraph Correspondent, in the days of the first Lord Burnham during the Malakand Campaign. In those enlightened times, a combination of military and journalistic functions were possible. Over 55 years ago, through my friendship with Oliver Borthwick, I became a Morning Post Correspondent in South Africa; and only recently my old and revered friend, the late Lord Camrose, serialised for six years in the paper my Memoirs of the Second World War.
“I therefore take an almost filial interest in the fortune of what is by any standards a great national newspaper; which plays for its side and plays fair. It is now venerable in years but young in method and spirit. Experience and enterprise are the combination capable of ensuring the continued advance which it is my heartfelt wish it may be destined to enjoy.”
This year The Telegraph will return these compliments by working with Churchill 2015 to bring unique and exciting content to readers.
This would have pleased his last surviving child, the late Lady Soames. When I briefly met her a couple of years ago, I congratulated her on the strength of her writing. She replied that in 1938, her father said that “words are the only things that last forever”.
It is perhaps the most fitting tribute for the anniversary of Churchill’s death that his words will live on, finding new audiences and inspiring new generations.
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