Jun 2003 Journal

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'Churchill in Whitehall'

James Taylor, the senior researcher for the internationally acclaimed Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, fascinated members of AJR's Luncheon Club with anecdotes on the late Sir Winston Churchill, an exhibition about whose life is to be opened in Whitehall next year. As the exhibition's Head of Research, James Taylor has the key task of doing justice to the man many regard as the saviour of Britain, if not free Europe and the Western democracies, and certainly as the hero of Jewish refugees who escaped to Britain from Nazi-dominated Europe.

The new exhibition, surprisingly the country's first for the wartime prime minister outside his home at Chartwell, will be a much-enlarged extension of the present Cabinet War Rooms, a labyrinth which runs underneath the Treasury, parts of which served as Churchill's fortified bunker, office, cabinet room, bedroom, map room and centre of operations.

Although Churchill did not favour the bunker's "troglodyte existence", and its unpleasant atmosphere, the War Rooms were used from May 1940, especially following the bombing of 10 Downing Street on 15 October 1940 and during the
V-bomb raids from June 1944 to the war's end in May 1945. One well-directed bomb, according to James, would have destroyed it all but, reportedly, the Germans never discovered its existence. The rooms were abandoned and left undisturbed until 1983.

As a wartime leader, Churchill was to inspire people to believe in themselves, a quality surely lacking in his rival for the premiership, Lord Halifax. Having been born two months premature in 1874 (in the ancestral Blenheim Palace), Churchill was not a young man when he became PM in May 1940, but his personal military bravado, journalistic exploits and long experience of the major offices of state (all except foreign secretary), which commenced as father of the welfare state in 1908, eventually spanned a 63-year political career,

Churchill, who counted many Jews among his friends, was "incredibly philosemetic", according to James, taking the view of a Victorian and valuing people for their abilities. In 1904 Churchill opposed the legislation restricting immigration into Britain. He represented a North Manchester constituency with a large Jewish population, and was pro-Zionist, supporting the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine and those who wished to go from Britain to build it. He also grasped the threat of National Socialism at an early stage. Sympathetic to the bombing of Auschwitz as PM, he asked the RAF to consider its feasibility, but could not prevent this request from being buried by the military and civil servants, who regarded even such a minor diversion as the use of resources to save the lives of Continental Jewry as detracting from the war effort.

Paradoxically, James Taylor was possibly the only one in the room who was not a contemporary of Churchill; equally, who did not feel that they owed their very lives to the great man.
Ronald Channing

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