Ron Cohen on Churchill, the Jews and the State of Israel

June 16, 2016

Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafi Barak was conscious of the friendship that Sir Winston Churchill had shown to Jewish community and the role that he had played in the creation of the State of Israel. Because he wished to know more of the details associated with that long relationship, he invited Ron Cohen, the president of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa, to speak about the subject at Kinneret, the Residence of the Israeli Ambassador in Ottawa.

Cohen began by pointing out that Churchill’s wartime speeches had been an inspiration to Anne Frank, who had been born almost exactly 87 years before, and her family, who listened to them clandestinely in their secret annex. In March 1944, just five months before her family’s betrayal, she wrote in her famous diary that “It gets so boring, and it’s quite a job not to become a dull old stick oneself. … I must mention one shining exception — a speech by our beloved Winston Churchill is quite perfect.”

He told of Churchill’s early political days in Manchester, where he made the acquaintance of many important members of the Jewish community, and of his opposition to the Aliens Bill and ultimate support for the critical Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, which committed England to the creation of a national home for the Jewish people.

That support continued during his tenure as Secretary of State for the Colonies, with special responsibility for the two mandates in Mesopotamia and Palestine. His commanding address in the House on July 4, 1922 saved the Balfour Declaration. His constant warnings about Hitler through the 1930s and the Second World War itself solidified his attitude toward the Jews and the merciless atrocities of the Holocaust.

Churchill’s support for Israel had been unwavering.  He constantly referred to himself as “a Zionist from the days of the Balfour Declaration” and, in a letter to Weizmann just after his 1951 General Election victory, Churchill referred to himself in the following words: "“an old Zionist like me".”

Hal Klepak on Churchill in Cuba

November 26, 2015


Hal Klepak, Latin American expert, Professor Emeritus at RMC, security analyst, author of Raúl Castro and Cuba: A Military History, among other works, married his military background, his Cuban residency, Spanish fluency, and love of Churchill together in his ground-breaking book Churchill Comes of Age: Cuba 1895.

With all that has been written about Churchill, it is remarkable that Churchill Comes of Age is actually the first study of Churchill’s first, and formative, trip as a journalist in the Spanish-American War. Much attention has, of course, been focussed on Churchill in the Boer War (1900), and even his prior experiences in the Sudan (1898) and the North-West Indian Frontier (now Pakistan) (1897) but not many appreciate that his Cuban adventure antedates all of those, and it has, until Dr. Klepak’s work, been essentially unknown, even in the great biographies of the Great Man.

Hal Klepak regaled Churchillians in May at the Churchill Conference at Blenheim Palace (before the book was even available to the audience). He did the same for Ottawa Churchillians in November 26, 2015 at Earnscliffe, the Residence of the British High Commissioner. It is no exaggeration to say that Hal enthralled his Ottawa audience with hitherto unknown stories of that first trip to Cuba. Hal even corrected the long-believed date of Churchill’s undergoing hostile bullets shot in his direction.

Glen Hartle, who accompanied Hal Klepak around Cuba and took beautiful photographs of the places Churchill visited in 1895, many of which remain intact, as they were 120 years before, was present with a number of his photographs.

Sir Winston Churchill's Great-grandson Visits Ottawa

June 8, 2015

Churchill Society Patron Randolph Churchill, great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill and principal spokesperson for the Churchill Family, visited Ottawa on June 8, 2015. It was his first visit to the Canadian capital, which Sir Winston had visited six times between 1900 and 1954. It was, however, a fruitful visit.

After a lunch in the Parliamentary Restaurant, Randolph Churchill watched Question Period as a guest in the Speaker's Gallery. At the end of the customary QP bickering back and forth, the Speaker noted the Presence of Randolph Churchill in the Gallery with the following words:

I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of Mr. Randolph Churchill, great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill and principal spokesperson for the Churchill family.
The year 2015 marks a number of important anniversaries within the legacy of Sir Winston Churchill. It is now 75 years since he first assumed office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It has been 70 years since the end of the Second World War and 50 years since this great man passed.

The House suddenly joined in unanimous enthusiastic applause and a remarkable and emotional standing ovation. A great tribute to Randolph and Sir Winston.

That evening, the Speaker of the House hosted (with the SWCSO) a colloquium in the Centre Block, which featured Randolph, who spoke on "Sir Winston Churchill's Enduring Legacy". Following Randolph Churchill, Minister Pierre Poilievre, M.P., P.C. (Nepean-Carleton) (Conservative), Malcolm Allen, M.P. (Welland) (NDP), and Scott Simms, M.P. (Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor) (Liberal) spoke. The consensus was a definite Two-Thumbs-Up. Entertaining and enlightening.

John F. Kennedy: Two Days in June

January 28, 2015

Well-known author and longtime columnist Andrew Cohen spoke about his new book, Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History, to a joint event sponsored by the Churchill Society and the Harvard University Club of Ottawa on January 28th, 2015, at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club. Of that book, David Shribman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has written: "He may have served for a thousand days but it was two days that made John F. Kennedy's presidency. No one before Andrew Cohen has recognized that, and because of his signal achievement in Two Days in June, no one will be able to write about -- no one will be able to think about -- John Kennedy ever again in quite the same way."

Andrew Cohen, who, like President Kennedy, is an alumnus of Choate Academy in Wallingford, Connecticut, has contributed much to newspapers and magazines on the subject of the President over the years. This book reflects his interest and expertise and as Kennedy author Sally Bedell Smith has written, Cohen's work is "astute and constitutes an entirely original perspective. His research has been prodigious. Even Kennedy devotees and experts will find new tidbits throughout, judiciously placed in the author'’s seamless and riveting narrative, which is beautifully written and weaves together the consequential and the quotidian, with verve and authority."

The connection between President Kennedy and Harvard was obvious, as Kennedy was a graduate of that University (Class of 1940) and a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard before and during his entire presidency. As to Winston Churchill, it was President Kennedy who made Churchill the very first Honorary Citizen of the United States, just two months, almost to the day, before the two speeches about which Andrew Cohen has written. In his remarks, the President said (in part): "[Sir Winston Churchill] is the most honored and honorable man to walk the stage of human history in the time in which we live. ... The record of his triumphant passage will inspire free hearts for all time. By adding his name to our rolls, we mean to honor him – but his acceptance honors us far more."

The joint SWCSO-Harvard Club event was a great success.

Barry Singer on Churchill Style

November 17, 2014

Barry Singer, the proprietor (since 1983) of the only non-virtual bookshop in the world devoted to the works of Winston Churchill, CHARTWELL BOOKSELLERS, in New York City, spoke to the Society on Churchill Style, the title of his highly informative 2012 book at Earnscliffe, the Residence of the British High Commissioners to Canada since 1930, thanks to the generosity of H.E. Howard Drake, and Mrs. Gillian Darke. It is actually the sub-title that tells us what and how its author tackled his subject, namely, “The Art of Being Winston Churchill”. In his address, Barry Singer recounted the saga of Churchill’s life away from politics: his pastimes, his friendships, his cars, his cigars, his books (the ones he read, not wrote), his fashion, his homes, his dining, his imbibing, and so on. In all, sides of Churchill that are light, charming, different, (occasionally) extravagant, and largely unknown.

Singer captivated the audience with his original take on a side of Churchill that people know so little about.


Becoming Winston Churchill

October 16, 2014

Michael McMenamin, the author of the critically acclaimed biography  (published first in 2007 and then in a revised edition in 2009) spoke to the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa on October 16th. He captivated the audience with the story of the 1895 meeting in Paris of the then recently-widowed Lady Randolph Churchill and Bourke Cockran, the Irish-born, French-educated, American politician, who had also lost his wife a few months earlier.

The friendship that was kindled on that occasion lasted for the rest of their lives, although they each subsequently married other spouses. Cockran was at Jennie's side when she died in 1921, and he himself died less than two years after that, in February 1923.

Lady Randolph asked Cockran if he would meet young Winston when he travelled through New York in November 1895 en route to Cuba. He readily agreed. And it was from Cockran that Churchill learned much of the Irish-American's brilliant oratorical skills and public policy positions. That mentorship endured over almost 30 years, and McMenamin cited fascinating bits and pieces from the lengthy correspondence between the two politicians during his address.

Churchill himself told the story of much that he had learned from Cockran half a century later when he met American Democratic presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson in 1954.

The SWCSO audience was delighted by McMenamin's presentation.

A Superb Event on Churchill and Tanks

June 19, 2014

Churchill is often credited with the invention of the tank.  Although then (in 1914) First Lord of the Admiralty, he well understood the need for such a militarized vehicle.  As he wrote to Colonel Ollivant, the Director of Air Division in the Royal Naval Administration Division, on 23 September 1914,

The conclusion was forced naturally and obviously upon me, and no doubt upon others, that if the armoured car on which so much money and labour had been spent, could not move round the enemy'’s trenches and operate against an open flank of his army, some method should be devised which would enable it to traverse and pass over the trenches themselves.

SWCSO members had a most unusual opportunity to hear more about the relationship of the inventive Churchill with the "landship" on June 19, 2014.  Members and guests at the event hosted by General Dynamics Canada at their facilities in Bells Corners, learned from SWCSO member Ian Smillie about the primitive-looking, then 4 mph vehicle, the need for such a device (trenches, barbed wire, machine guns and mud), the reason for the attribution of the name "tank", its evolution by the British (its creating nation), the French and the Germans, and one of the first-ever tank battles (Cambrai, 1917), supplemented by rare movie footage of the first British, French and German tanks, photographs of the day, maps and other material illustrations.

Following Ian'’s presentation, SWCSO Board member Colin Smith, with his 30+ year expertise in modern tank weaponry, brought the attendees up-to-date on the modern tank in its various modern national configurations, with pictures, and, better still, with an actual M1A1 Abrams tank on the GDC campus.  It is in fact the only active United States Main Battle Tank situated outside of the United States (not in current military deployment).  Attendees were able to climb onto it and peer into the interior, and to have every question about its operation answered by Colin.

The event was conceived, driven and executed by SWCSO members Colin Smith and Ian Smillie, and hosted by General Dynamics Canada.  Simply stated, it was a huge success.

Celia Sandys Visits Ottawa

November 28-29, 2013

On November 28, 2013, the Hon. Celia Sandys, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, and author of five books about her grandfather, came to Ottawa for the first time. In her delightful Chasing Churchill: The Travels of Winston Churchill, Ottawa was not present as Celia had not been able to visit Canada’'s capital (Churchill was here on six of his nine visits to Canada over more than half a century). Celia certainly filled that gap. On the 29th, she went onto the Floor of the House, from which Churchill delivered his “"Some chicken ! Some neck !”" speech on December 30, 1941, and, like her grandfather, followed that with a visit to the Speaker’'s Chambers, in which the famous cigar-less, iconic Karsh photograph of Churchill was taken. She also did interviews with the Ottawa Citizen and on the CBC (available on this website). The highlight for SWCSO members was her address that evening at Earnscliffe on her personal memories of her grandfather. The event was nothing short of triumphant. Celia mixed delightful, intimate memories with history, anecdotes, warmth and good humour in her painting of a private side of her grandfather, on the evening just one day short of the 139th anniversary of his birth.

Lynne Olson Speaks to the SWCSO

May 9, 2013
Lynne Olson, acclaimed author of Troublesome Young Men (the tale of the young Parliamentarian rebels who struggled to convince their colleagues that Churchill was needed) and Citizens of London (the story of Americans Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman and Gil Winant in wartime London), came to Ottawa to speak to the SWCSO about her newest book, Those Angry Days. In that personalized history, she dissected the pre-Pearl Harbor interventionist vs. non-interventionist conflict in the United States. The protagonists were the two most popular Americans of the day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and aviator Charles Lindbergh. The tale she wove captivated the audience at the Residence of the American Ambassador and Mrs. Jacobson.

Library of Parliament Exhibition of Some Chicken! Some Neck! Speech Pages

March 26, 2013
Six of the 22 pages of the actual text used by Churchill to deliver his "Some chicken! Some neck!" speech in the Canadian House of Commons on December 30, 1941 were displayed in the Library of Parliament in the Spring of 2012. (While relatively unobtrusive, the pages of that speaking text can be seen in Churchill's left-hand suit jacket pocket in the iconic Karsh portrait of the Prime Minister taken following his address to Parliament.) The opening of the Exhibition was hosted by the Hon. Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House of Commons, on March 26, and Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre (at Churchill College, Cambridge University) was on hand to introduce the display. The British High Commissioner Andrew Pocock and Mrs. Julie Pocock, Members of Parliament, and members of the Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa were present for the occasion.

The Gathering Storm

On Friday, February 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm, SWCSO members and guests were invited to a screening of THE GATHERING STORM (2002) starring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave. An intimate look inside the marriage of Winston and Clementine Churchill during a particularly troubled, though little-known moment in their lives (96 minutes).
It was held at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club and, despite the snowstorm, was well attended and a great success.

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Stanford Professor Speaks to the SWCSO

May 2, 2012
Professor David M. Kennedy, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History for his 1999 magnum opus Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, spoke to the SWCSO at the Residence of the American Ambassador, His Excellency David Jacobson and Mrs. Julie Jacobson. The subject of his enlightening, perceptive and entertaining address was the relationship between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill during the Second World War.

Inaugural Evening

November 30, 2011
The Sir Winston Churchill Society of Ottawa held its inaugural meeting under the auspices of the British High Commissioner to Canada, His Excellency Dr. Andrew Pocock CMG, on November 30th at Earnscliffe (the home of Canada's first Prime Minister and the Residence of British High Commissioners to Canada since 1930).

Not surprisingly, the event was oversubscribed. That said, the High Commissioner and his wife, Mrs. Julie Poccock, threw themselves into ensuring that the event would be a huge success, in every respect. The reception was elegant, energetic and enthusiastic. The choice of canapés served (including a Churchillian favourite, oysters on the half-shell, shucked to order) perfectly accented by Churchill’s favourite Pol Roger champagne, was appropriate and delicious. The High Commissioner's toast to the new Churchill Society was witty and heartfelt. Well-known columnist, author and Carleton University professor Andrew Cohen gave a marvelous toast to the memory of Sir Winston. Allen Packwood, the Director of the Churchill Archives Centre (at Churchill College, Cambridge University) gave a riveting address entitled “Why Bring Churchill Back to Canada”. Our speaker was thanked by Don Newman, one of the most highly-respected political journalists in Canada.

One of the advantages of Ottawa as the home of the new Society is the presence of Canada's diplomatic and political elite in the nation's capital. Indeed, the event was graced by the presence of H.E. the Ambassador of the United States, David Jacobson, Senators Michael Duffy and Linda Frum, as well as Anne Golden, the Head of the Conference Board of Canada, Lee Pollock, the Executive Director of the Churchill Centre in Chicago, and other dignitaries.