On this day in history : 19th July 1941 – Winston Churchill adopts the ‘V for Victory’ hand sign – after referring to the Victory campaign, which had spread through Europe, with approval in a speech….
On January the 14th 1941 Victor de Lavelaye, former Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-language broadcasts on the BBC (1940-44) suggested that Belgians adopt a ‘V’ for ‘Victoire’ – in an attempt to raise morale during World War 2…. In a BBC broadcast de Lavelaye claimed “the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, would understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly waiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure”…. Within weeks chalked ‘V’ signs were appearing on walls across Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands….
The BBC started a ‘V for Victory’ campaign….with assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie taking on the persona of ‘Colonel Britton’…. Ritchie suggested the BBC should use an audio ‘V’ – using the dot-dot-dot-dash Morse Code for the letter ‘V’…. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has the same rhythm – so this was used by the BBC as a call-sign for its foreign language broadcasts to occupied Europe for the rest of the War….
Churchill – and other allied leaders too – adopted the ‘V’ sign hand signal…. Sometimes Churchill gestured with a cigar between his fingers…. In the beginning he used the sign with his palm facing towards him – and his Aides had to explain to him what this version meant! So, later he used it with his palm facing out…. However, one can’t help thinking that perhaps it was his misuse that made it so popular….
On this day in history : 3rd January 1911 – The Siege of Sidney Street takes place….a gun battle is waged on the streets of London as two Latvian anarchists hold out in an East End tenement for several hours – against over 200 armed police and a detachment of soldiers….
The drama had begun to unfold three weeks previously, on the 16th of December 1910. A gang of Latvian revolutionaries had attempted to rob a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch. The gang, calling itself ‘Leesma’, meaning ‘flame’, consisted of approximately thirteen people, including two women….their purpose was to commit robberies to raise money to help fund fellow activists in Latvia and Russia, who supported Lenin and the Bolshevik Movement….
The gang had rented rooms in a building annexing the back of the jeweller’s shop….the plan was to break through the common wall between the two adjoining properties. They chose to carry out their planned robbery on a Friday night….but being a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood – and Friday being the Jewish Sabbath – it was a particularly quiet time. Alerted by the noise the gang were making whilst attempting the robbery local residents called the police….
Eight unarmed police officers arrived, three sergeants and five Constables….the gang opened fire on them. Three policemen were killed and two were injured – the gang then made their escape…. One Latvian was injured – having been shot accidentally by another member of the gang. He was carried away by his friends but later died from his injuries – and was found dead in his lodgings the following morning….
The police immediately mounted a search and by the end of December had most of the gang in custody…. They then received a tip-off that two members, Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow, were hiding at 100 Sidney Street, which is located at the heart of Stepney. A room at the address was being rented by Betsy Gershan, the girlfriend of Sokolow. Being the East End of London the area was very overpopulated and the property itself overcrowded….fourteen people were registered at the address, two families with young children….
At midday on the 2nd of January two horse-drawn vehicles arrived in Sidney Street; concealed inside were armed policemen – and the building was placed under observation….
During the early hours of the 3rd of January a long snaking line of over 200 policemen made their way to 100 Sidney Street. Some were armed – but their weapons, such as revolvers, shotguns and tube guns, were old and antiquated. The men had not been briefed as to the nature of the task at hand – but they knew it was dangerous, as married men had been excluded from the operation….
On this day in history : 15th November 1899 – Winston Churchill, whilst working as a war reporter for the Morning Post, is captured in South Africa by the Boers…. He escapes a few weeks later….
25-year-old Churchill had arrived in Cape Town on the 30th of October 1899…. A couple of weeks later the armoured train he was travelling on, accompanying a scouting expedition into Boer-occupied territory, was ambushed and partially derailed….
Churchill was captured – (it is rumoured by Boer Louis Botha – later to become Prime Minister of South Africa) – and although a civilian he was sent to a prisoner of war camp for British officers, in a converted school in Pretoria…. Churchill was considered a good catch and a significant bargaining tool for the Boers….
Four weeks later, on the 12th of December 1899, Churchill made his dramatic escape by managing to climb over a wall…. He had with him £75 and some chocolate…. He managed to get onboard a coal train and by hiding among the coal sacks got out of the area…. However, once he left the train he found himself walking for miles and miles without a clue of where he was heading…. Eventually hunger and thirst got the better of him and he banged on the door of a house he was passing to ask for food…. As luck would have it he chose the home of one of the only Englishmen in the neighbourhood, John Howard, the manager of a local colliery…. Howard agreed to help Churchill and hid him in the mine and then with the aid of another Englishman, Mr. Dewsnap, Churchill was smuggled on to a wool train….
The train took him to Portuguese occupied East Africa – from here he made his way back to Durban…. By now there was a £25 reward on his head – ‘dead or alive’….
Churchill returned to the battle front and took part in the Battle of Spion Kop and the relief of Ladysmith…. Towards the end of the war he and his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, returned to Pretoria to demand the surrender of the guards at the prisoner of war camp where he had been held….and the release of the British officers being held there….
On this day in history : 10th May 1940 – Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain – after losing a confidence vote in the House of Commons….
In 1938 Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler, handing over the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany…. In doing so Chamberlain claimed it would bring “peace in our time”…. However, in September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and in return Chamberlain declared war on Germany….
Under the direction of Chamberlain Britain proved ineffective at stopping Hitler – and when British forces were unable to prevent the German occupation of Norway in April 1940, with the loss of some 4,000 British troops, Chamberlain was to face the withdrawal of support from many members of his own Conservative party…. On the 10th of May Germany invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – and Chamberlain completely lost the confidence of the House of Commons….
Initially Lord Halifax was offered the position of Prime Minister but was to decline…. So, with his track record of military leadership Winston Churchill was appointed Prime Minister…. Labour leader Clement Attlee had made it clear his party would not work with a coalition under Chamberlain – but Churchill was to form a successful coalition and quickly won the hearts and support of the nation…. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” ~ Winston Churchill in his first speech as Prime Minister….
Chamberlain served briefly under Churchill in the War Cabinet as Lord President of the Council, until retiring through ill-health in October 1940…. He died the following month of cancer….
On this day in history : 1st April 1885 – The birth of Clementine Hozier – one day to become the wife of Winston Churchill, who said she had made – “My life and any work I have done possible”….
Clementine was legally the daughter of British army officer Sir Henry Hozier and his wife Lady Blanche Hozier…. However, Lady Blanche was well-known for her infidelities and so there has always been much uncertainty as to who Clementine’s actual father was, or indeed those of her sisters….
But these things often work both ways…. In 1891 Blanche’s husband caught her with one of her lovers and he sued for divorce…. But she managed to turn the tables on him by proving his own infidelities…. The warring couple separated but never divorced….
Blanche always claimed that Clementine’s father was Captain William George “Bay” Middleton, a notable British horseman and equerry to the 5th Earl Spencer, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland…. They had an 18 month long affair – however, he was reputedly sterile…. It could possibly in fact be that all of her children were fathered by her sister’s husband, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford 1st Baron Redesdale – and who was grandfather to the Mitford sisters, who were famously in the public eye during the 1920s and 30s….
Clementine was deeply affected by the break up of her parents’ marriage – and this was intensified by the loss in March 1900 of her beloved eldest sister, Kitty, to typhoid…. Her mixed-up childhood wasn’t helped by her mother’s constant search to find the perfect love life….
Clementine was educated firstly at home, then in Edinburgh before attending Berkhamsted School and finally finishing at the Sorbonne in Paris…. When she was 18 she came to the attention of Sir Sidney Peel, nearly 15 years her senior and besotted with her…. They became secretly engaged…. Twice!
It was in 1904, when she was 19, that Clementine met her future husband, Winston Churchill, for the first time – whilst attending a ball at the home of the Earl and Countess of Crewe…. They were to meet again in 1908 at a dinner party held by Lady St.Helier…. After that they met again socially on several occasions over the following months – and exchanged correspondence…. On the 11th of August 1908, at a party held at Blenheim Palace, he proposed to her in the romantic setting of the summer house known as ‘The Temple of Diana’….
Clementine and Winston were married on the 12th of September 1908 at St. Margaret’s, Westminster…. They honeymooned in Venice and at Veveri Castle, Moravia….and then made their home in Eccleston Square, London…. They went on to have five children:- Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold (who died at the age of 2) and Mary….
Theirs was a strong marriage- although they had their ‘moments’…. Clementine had no fear of her husband – as strong a character as he was – she would stand up to him, challenging his views both on personal and political matters…. She adopted more Liberal ideals….but she would never question his views in public….
Sometimes they would have flaming rows and she would display her fiery temper…. However, it was usually Winston who extended the olive branch – as he believed the sun should never set before they had made their peace…. He sometimes referred to Clementine as “She-whose-commands-must-be-obeyed”….
But Clementine was always at her husband’s side, supporting him and helping him…. His Chief of Staff, General ‘Pug’ Ismay said that without her ~ “the history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story”….