Churchill’s Cat Causes Big Problems

I am reading a fascinating book, Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945 by Andrew Roberts. It chronicles and analyzes the relationship between the four key men in the battle against Germany: the two Masters: FDR and Churchill, and their top commanders, General George C. Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff (who also controlled the airforce) and Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

Sir Alan Brooke, as well as other holders of that office in the past, were always referred to as ‘CIGS.’ Brooke and Churchill had a stormy relationship which at times degenerated into shouting matches even in meetings of the War Cabinet, which was the highest authority in the British Empire. But Sir Alan Brooke was not a man to back down and felt he had a duty to stop Churchill’s often harebrained schemes.

Winston Churchill was a great man, I think the greatest man of the 20th Century, if not other centuries. But he was not a nice man. His acid tongue could reduce most anyone to silence or tears. In fact, he was often viciously mean to those around him and took little note of their feelings. They put up with his behavior because they recognized his greatness. Without Churchill, there is no question Great Britain would have settled for a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany after the fall of France. He was the indispensable man and everyone knew it.

Much has been written about the difficult relationship between Brooke and Churchill. It certainly took a man with an iron backbone to stand up to Winston Churchill, especially when he was in high dudgeon and most especially in meetings of the War Cabinet which encompassed all the key men in the entire Kingdom, men who Churchill would have bullied into acquiescence. All except for one, Sir Alan Brooke. Curiously, what is often left unsaid by historians, is that Churchill appointed Brooke to be the CIGS and could have fired him at any time. It is a measure of Churchill’s greatness that he did not and a testament to Sir Alan Brooke’s competence and brilliance and inner steel that he commanded respect from Churchill, not a man who gave respect easily.

Left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery; at Montgomery’s mobile headquarters in Normandy. 12 June 1944

This story, from the memoir of Elizabeth Nel, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary which is cited in Masters and Commanders made me laugh out loud last night when I read it. Smokey is Churchill’s “notoriously ill-behaved fluffy grey Persian cat…” The ‘CIGS’ is Sir Alan Brooke.

Mr. Churchill sat in bed and Smokey sat on the blankets watching him. The PM’s telephone conversation with the CIGS was long and anxious; his thoughts were far away; his toes wiggled under the blankets. I saw Smokey’s tail switch as he watched, and wondered what was going to happen. Suddenly he pounced on the PM’s toes and bit hard. It must have hurt, for Mr. Churchill started, kicked him right into the corner of the room shouting, ‘Get off, you fool’ into the telephone. Then he remembered, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I didn’t mean you,’ and then seeing Smokey looking somewhat dazed in the corner, ‘Poor little thing.’ Confusion was complete and the CIGS hung up hastily and telephoned the private secretary to find out what was happening. It took a long time to get it all sorted out, and Sir Alan Brooke assured that it was not his fault.

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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