RN greeted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on his arrival at Washington’s National Airport in June 1954. The PM might have been thinking “This is a very impressive young man.” Or, as we now know, he might have been thinking: “Grapefruit doesn’t mix that well with whisky soda.” The photograph was taken by George Skadding for LIFE magazine.
Today’s Telegraph reports that, when the 80 year old British Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived in Washington for an official visit in June 1954, he was well and fully breakfasted. Richard Westwood-Brookes, a steward aboard the BOAC flight, kept the printed breakfast menu on which the PM had written his choices and (where his choice wasn’t offered) his requirements. The menu, along with other memorabilia from and about the trip, will be auctioned next month by Mullock’s of Shropshire.
The breakfast menu from the BOAC flight to Washington, with Winston Churchill’s handwritten annotations. It will be auctioned in England on 23 April and is expected to realize £1500 — about $2,138. Churchill famously told George VI that “When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”
A man who knew his mind and his tastes and was used to getting what he wanted, he commanded that the repast arrive on two trays.
1st Tray. Poached egg, Toast, Jam, Butter, Coffee and milk, Jug of cold milk, Cold Chicken or Meat.
2nd Tray. Grapefruit, Sugar Bowl, Glass orange squash (ice), Whisky soda.
At the bottom he added: “Wash hands, cigar.
The auctioneers describe the menu as one of the most remarkable pieces of Churchill memorabilia they have seen. And Mr. Westwood-Brookes said: “It shows what a hearty breakfast he ate and it was all washed down with a whisky, after which he smoked a cigar. It is the type of indulgence we’ve come to associate with Churchill and it’s reassuring to know he ate so well in his 80th year. There are some smudges and ink stains but it is a wonderful piece of history.”
RN led the welcoming party that greeted the great man. He kept a diary of this visit —and of his meetings with one of his real heroes— that is reprinted in full in RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (pp.155-159). Here are some excerpts:
I met Churchill and [Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony] Eden at the airport this morning. As he came down the steps of the airplane, he took each step alone by himself although he was very hesitant in his steps when he arrived at the bottom…..
I was supposed to make a speech of introduction which I had spent an hour or so last night preparing even though it was only to be a minute and a half long. However, when Churchill saw the microphones he walked immediately over to them and took out a sheet of paper from which he read his own speech to the people who were at the airport.
We then got into the open car and rode into town.
Nixonphiles will savor the irony of RN using the Churchillian style of extensive preparation for an “extemporaneous” speech — and then being upstaged by its creator. Could this incident perhaps explain the dream RN reported eighteen years later in a another diary (and which has become the basis of a virtual cottage industry among his psychobiographers)? In the fall of 1972, RN noted: “I had a rather curious dream of speaking in some sort of a rally and going on a bit too long and Rockefeller standing up in the middle and taking over the microphone on an applause line…..It is a subconscious reaction. It is interesting.”
That night, the Eisenhowers gave a formal dinner for about thirty people.
Pat sat at Churchill’s right during the dinner and she said it was a very enjoyable evening from all standpoints. Mrs. Eisenhower watched over him as his food was being served and when he tried to cut a piece of the meat in half before putting it on his plate she told him the knives weren’t sharp and that they had all been received as part of the White House set — this was part of the gold set that had been bought in Paris. Pat remarked how Mamie took things over just as if she were handling any youngster who happened to be visiting or any close friend.
Foster Dulles had his usual highball rather than the wines during dinner. Pat asked Churchill whether or not he would prefer that. He said no, that he usually had his first drink of whiskey at 8.30 in the morning and that in the evening he enjoyed a glass of champagne. I noted that Churchill was much sharper in the morning and he seemed to thrive on the fact that he was participating in these conferences. As a matter of fact, at the dinner he was just as quick as any person and he had —I learned later— not taken a nap in the afternoon but had played cards after the conference had been completed.
After dinner the President invited a small group to stay.
After we had finished dinner, we went in for cigars and after the President sat with Churchill for a little while he asked me to come over and sit by him and said, “This is one of the young men I have been telling you about and I want you to get acquainted with him.” I asked Churchill about his writing his memoirs. He pointed out that he had started them in 1946 and that he did it all by dictation. I asked him if he used a machine and he said no; that the Americans had given him one of the best machines but he preferred a pretty girl to talk to rather than a machine…..
On the last evening of the visit, the PM gave a stag dinner at the British Embassy. RN sat next to him and recorded their conversation in some detail. Here is another excerpt in which the deft diarist captures two memorable quotes:
I asked him how the three-day conference had affected him. He said that except for a few blackouts –and I assume he meant by that periods when he took a nap— that he had felt better during this conference than he had for some time. He said, “I always seem to get inspiration and renewed vitality by contact with this great novel land of yours which sticks up out of the Atlantic.”
During the course of the evening the conversation turned to General Lee and I asked his appraisal of Lee. He said that he thought he was one of the greatest men in American history and one of the greatest generals at any time. He said that somebody ought to “catch up in a tapestry or a painting the memorable scene of Lee riding back across the Potomac after he had turned down the command of the Union Armies in order to stay with the Southern side.” He also said that one of the other great moments in the Civil War was at Appomattox when Lee pointed out to Grant that the officers owned their horses as personal property and asked that they be allowed to retain them. Grand said to have them take all of their horses — the enlisted men and the officers as well. “They will need them to plow their fields.” Churchill said, “In the squalor of life and war, what a magnificent act.”
Winston Churchill was also the subject of a chapter in RN’s 1982 book Leaders.
Sir Winston Churchill is among Ivan Schwartz’s life-size statues in the World Leaders Gallery at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda. He is grouped with General De Gaulle, another leader RN particularly admired (and who he also profiled in Leaders). In the background is Golda Meir who is grouped with an out-of-sight Anwar Sadat.