Elder Brother of the Trinity

9 August 1941.  Churchill in the uniform of an Elder Brother of Trinity House aboard USS Augusta with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When asked by a senior official of the French government in a hurried meeting in June of 1941 what uniform he was wearing, Churchill explained to the amazement of this man that he was wearing the uniform of the Elder Brother of the Trinity. Churchill insisted on speaking in French but his skills in that language were not on par with his skills using the English language which often caused confusion. His actual words describing his uniform were: “Frère Aîné de la Trinité” which translates as “Elder Brother of the Trinity.”

Another view of Churchill in the uniform of an Elder Brother of Trinity House taken aboard HMS Prince of Wales during the Atlantic Conference.

Churchill often wore the uniform of an Elder Brother of Trinity House, an organization chartered by the British Crown in 1514 to oversea harbour pilots and aids to navigation. He was made an Honorary Elder Brother upon being appointed to the cabinet position of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1913.


Trinity House in London. Chartered in 1514 by Henry VIII, the organization has had multifarious functions related to navigation and pilotage over the centuries.

The official website of Trinity House describes the organization thus:

“Today, it maintains In their capacity as Master Mariners, the duties of the Elder Brethren began with the examination and regulation of Pilotage (initially restricted to the River Thames area), and have grown to take on other powers and responsibilities, including the siting and erecting of various aids to navigation (such as lighthouses, buoys, beacons and light-vessels), attendance at Admiralty Court to advise on maritime disputes and affairs, and of course to govern the multi-faceted Corporation of Trinity House, including the administration of the Corporation’s charitable function – the financing and upkeep of the UK’s largest-endowed maritime charity.”



Source: Churchill by Roy Jenkins


Another view of Churchill in his uniform as an Elder Brother of Trinity House while sitting next to President Roosevelt during the Atlantic Conference. As an aside, if you look closely at FDR’s feet you will see the steel braces he had to strap onto his legs to stand. With these braces holding him up, and with one or two of his military aides or children providing support, he pretended to walk.

This photograph was taken during the Sunday service with equal numbers of Royal Navy and US Navy personnel on 12 August 1941 held aboard HMS Prince of Wales. 

(Left to right, behind FDR and Churchill, are Admiral Ernest King, USN, then Commander-in-Chief US Fleet, US Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshal, General Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Admiral “Betty” Stark, USN Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral of the Fleet  Sir Dudley Pound, First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy (the professional head of the Royal Navy with the First Lord of the Admiralty, a member of Parliament, having the ultimate authority. This was reorganized in decades after the war. (photo USNA)


Admiral Dudley Pound Wouldn’t Take His Own Advice



iwn pound and SC

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound and the Prime Minister on the deck of the SS Queen Mary. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)


Early in his tenure as First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Dudley Pound wrote to a close friend in the navy and said, “why have Commanders-in-Chiefs and do their work for them? If they are not capable of doing it they must make way for someone who can.” 1

Unique amongst the respective British service commands, the Admiralty had command, organizational and administrative responsibilities of a standard service ministry but also had operational control over the fleets.

Unfortunately, Dudley Pound didn’t take his own advice during the war since he often went over the heads of his C-in-Cs and gave orders to formations under their command.

During the disastrous campaign in Norway beginning in early April 1940, Pound went over the head of both the senior Royal Navy officer on the scene (Admiral Jock Whitworth) as well over the head Whitworth’s C.O., the Commander in Chief, Home Fleet. Pound even sent orders to individual ships. This caused immense confusion as you might imagine.

While many of the orders sent to RN ships fighting in the Norwegian campaign by Dudley Pound were thought to have originated with then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, many other times during the war Pound needed no prodding from Churchill to interfere in fleet dispositions during action with the enemy.

This could cause serious problems and occasionally disaster such as the infamous scattering order issue to convoy PQ17.

As an aside, the Chief of Naval Operations in the US, has no operational authority over US naval ships. He, or she, is responsible for everything concerning the navy but he doesn’t exercise command over fleets or ships. This has always been the case in the modern history of the US Navy.

In World War Two, Franklin Roosevelt picked Admiral Ernest King out of  a dead-end post which Admirals took a few years before retirement and made him Chief of Naval Operations. However, this gave King little power over the dispositions of the actual naval ships themselves since those were in fleets or other units under the authority of Commander in Chief US Fleet. This title had the unfortunate acronym of CINCUS.

After a spell, this did not suit Roosevelt who wanted one person in charge so he elevated King to the position of Commander in Chief US Fleet while allowing him to also keep the office of Chief of Naval Operations. This gave King immense authority over the entire US Navy. (And he sometimes went over the heads of his commanders such as Nimitz, not to change any of their fleet dispositions but to fire some of their subordinates).

Upon assuming the position of Commander in Chief, US Fleet, Admiral King immediately changed the acronym to COMINCH. King is the only man ever to have held the position of Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief US Fleet simultaneously.

1 Roskill, Stephen “The War at Sea”




Women Perform “Men’s Work” Because of Labor Demands of World War Two






Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Florence Drouin and Mrs. Elizabeth Esty, pond women, use regular logging pikes to bring the logs into place on the slip. (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).

Many social movements including equality of women, equal rights for African-Americans, Hispanics, even gay people, were given new impetus because of dislocations in traditional society caused by the Second World War.

Many young people, especially males, whose parents or grandparents had never left their home county, ended up in foreign countries or huge industrial cities mixed in with Americans from all over. This widened the vistas of tens of millions.

Turkey Point USDA June 1943

Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Florence Drouin, using a regular logging pike, pushing up onto the slip logs which the pond men have just towed in. (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).

As we would say now, people were “empowered” because of the simple reason that they were needed. Almost 12 million males served in the armed forces of the US during the Second World War along with 400,000 women. To replace these millions of young men and find enough workers to run farms and factories, millions of women began to hold jobs which in the past had been described as “men’s work.”


June 1943. Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Norman Webber, front, and Ruth De Roche taking the finished boards from the conveyor and piling them according to size in the “pit”. (Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the  Library of Congress).

By doing jobs previously held only by white men, heretofore marginalized groups proved they could do much of the same work. After the war, although life went “back to normal”  it actually didn’t. Powerful social movements had been reinvigorated.

Pit-women relaxing after lunch, New Hampshire, June 1943

June 1943. “Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Ruth DeRoche and Norma Webber, 18-year-old ‘pit-women,’ relaxing after lunch.”  (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).

(I think these women could have drunk some of my frat brothers under the table).


Turkey Pond, near Concord, New Hampshire. Women workers employed by a U.S. Department of Agriculture timber salvage sawmill. Mrs. Elizabeth Esty and Florence Drouin, “pond women,” pulling up logs towed in by the men.  (June 1943. Photo by John Collier, US Office of War Information, courtesy of the Library of Congress).




A Prayer Before Firing

Battleship HMS Prince of Wales



HMS Prince of Wales 

Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941

HMS Prince of Wales off Argentia, Newfoundland, after bringing Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Photographed from USS Augusta (CA-31).

Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN(Retired), 1969.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.


HMS Prince of Wales on sea trials shortly before her engagement with the Bismarck.

(Official US Navy photo)

Before going into action against the Bismarck, the officers and crew of HMS Prince of Wales were as emotionally wound up tight as cat gut on a tennis racket. Most of the crew were young, “Hostilities Only” ratings as opposed to regular, long service Royal Navy sailors. This would be their first time in action.

Realizing this several minutes before the Prince of Wales engaged the Bismarck in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, Captain John Leach, RN, sent for the ship’s chaplain. Upon his breathless arrival on the open bridge, the Captain told the Padre that they were going into action and he wanted him to read a specific prayer over the public address system or tannoy. And the prayer the Captain wanted  was “Sir Jacob Astley’s Prayer Before (the battle of) Edgehill.

The chaplain dashed to his cabin where he had the exact words of this prayer which would have been familiar to most of the crew. Upon returning to the bridge, the Padre took up the microphone and prayed:

“O Lord, Thou knowest how busy we must be today, if we forget Thee, do not Thou forget us; for Christ’s sake. Amen.”

Seconds later the main batteries fired. Amen.



One of the most iconic photographs of World War Two shows American and British officers and men at a church service on the quarterdeck of HMS Prince of Wales.


Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941

Church service on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, during the conference. Seated in the center are President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Standing behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King, USN (between Roosevelt and Churchill); General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army; General Sir John Dill, British Army; Admiral Harold R. Stark, USN; and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, RN.
USS Arkansas (BB-33) is in the center distance.

Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN(Retired), 1969.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Sources: US National Archives, US Navy History and Heritage Command and an outstanding biography of John Leach, Captain of the Prince of Wales: “In the Highest Traditions of the Royal Navy–the Life of Captain John Leach, MVO, DSO by Matthew B. Wills. If you have an interest in the brief life of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales then you will enjoy this book. Captain Leach commanded the POW for the entire time the ship was in commission. He perished when HMS Prince of Wales was sunk off Singapore on 10 December 1941 by Japanese aircraft.

Commander-in-Chief Franklin Roosevelt in Alaska




Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Quonset hut mess hall in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.

August 3, 1944
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 48-22:3868(497).


Franklin D. Roosevelt fishing at Kodiak Island, Alaska.
August 7, 1944
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 48-22:3868(498).

Intercourse for England

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Roald Dahl as a dashing RAF Fighter Pilot in World War Two


Best known today for his children’s books such as “James and the Giant Peach”, author Roald Dahl was a gallant Royal Air Force fighter pilot at the beginning of World War Two. Among his many feats was simply surviving the air battle between a handful of British fighters against hundreds of Nazi aircraft in the Battle for Greece. Dahl and a small group of RAF pilots took off many times a day from grass airfields to try and give cover to withdrawing British and Greek forces.



Severely wounded because of a series of air crashes, Dahl began to experience crippling headaches after his constant air combat over Greece. After a thorough physical examination, it was clear to Dahl himself and to the RAF Medical Board that he could not ever fly on active operations again.

He subsequently was shuffled off to the British Embassy in Washington where, almost by happenstance, he became one of the most outstanding of the British secret agents spying on the United States. Working for the mysterious William Stephenson (aka the Man Called Intrepid), head of British Security Coordination, Dahl infiltrated to the highest levels of the US Government.



Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s beloved retreat, Val-Kill cottage, now a National Historic Site.

 (photo courtesy of US National Park Service)


He became friends with Mrs. Roosevelt, who often invited him to, Val-Kill, her small cottage on FDR’s Hyde Park estate. This was the only home Mrs. Roosevelt ever personally owned and it was her refuge from the world. Dahl became a regular fixture on weekends at Val-Kill. As time went on he clearly ascended the “guest ladder”  until he was one rung below the people who were members of Roosevelt’s personal entourage.

He got on well with FDR and during leisurely hours at Hyde Park often chatted with the President many a time about this and that. Dahl was a good listener (a key requirement for a spy I should think)  and repeated his conversations with Roosevelt almost word for word in the detailed reports he sent to Stephenson at British Security Coordination. Most, if not all of Roald Dahl’s reports on his weekends with the President and Mrs Roosevelt went directly to Churchill. Perhaps these reports helped Churchill “play” Roosevelt.

In the high stakes game of leading the Allied alliance, it is never very clear who was “playing” whom. Churchill, the great statesman and master of the House of Commons, was dealing with the wiliest man ever to hold the office of President of the United States. (“I never let my left hand know what my right hand is doing,” President Roosevelt once said). FDR was well aware that Dahl was a British spy and Dahl was well aware that Roosevelt knew this.

So FDR used Dahl as a back channel to Churchill often by simply musing about life and issues with Dahl, knowing that Churchill would pick out the salient point from a long monologue.

Of his many talents, the “gorgeous” Roald Dahl was one of the great “swordsmen” of wartime Washington, DC. He loved attractive women and attractive women loved him. He wanted to have sex with them and they wanted to have sex with him and they did–by the dozens.

One of the women he slept with was Clare Boothe Luce, then a Congresswoman, who he pumped for information. Although 13 years older than Dahl, Clare was always eager to go at it. She was involved in an issue of great import to the British, having to do with post war commercial air routes.

After romancing her for a bit, Dahl grew weary of her demands. Nonetheless, he was instructed to stay close to her and keep sleeping with her. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea. To his roommate he said. “I am all fucked out. That goddam woman has absolutely screwed me me from one end of the room to another for three goddam nights.”

Dahl asked the British Ambassador, the incredibly prudish and stiff necked Lord Halifax, for permission to stop romancing Mrs. Luce. Halifax asked Dahl if had seen the movie Henry VIII starring Charles Laughton. Dahl said he had.

Halifax said, “…remember the scene with Henry going into the bedroom with Anne of Cleves, and he turns and says, ‘the things I’ve done for England.’ Well, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

So Dahl continued to appease Mrs. Luce until apparently she grew bored.

The source for this is a wonderful book titled, “The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington” by Jennet Conant. In addition to be a damn good writer, Ms. Conant is a pro when it comes to narrative non-fiction, this being her third book. She did meticulous research and I am amazed at the things people told her.

If you are ever looking for a “good book” to read, I respectfully suggest you give this one your attention. You won’t be disappointed.

For more on Dahl’s robust social life in Washington, you can read this article from the London Daily Mail. The link is here: