By Curtis Shelburne
At the end of June 1940, Winston Churchill, one of my favorite historical figures, had not been prime minister more than a few weeks. Quite alone among world leaders at this point, he was bearing the terrible burden of struggling to keep the free world out of Hitler’s grasp. Knowing the pressure he was under, his wife Clementine (Jon Meacham writes in his fine book Franklin and Winston) nevertheless felt compelled to pen to him the following letter:
“I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.
“One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic and overbearing manner. It seems your private secretaries have agreed to behave like schoolboys and ‘take what’s coming to them’ and then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders. Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed (reckoned) to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming.
“I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you — I said this and was told ‘No doubt, it’s the strain.’
“My darling Winston — I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; and you are not so kind as you used to be.
“It is for you to give the orders and if they are bungled — except for the king the archbishop of Canterbury and the speaker, you can sack anyone and everyone. Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote: ‘On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme’ (One can only reign over souls with calmness). I cannot bear that those who serve the country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you.
“Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility and rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality — (rebellion in War time being out of the question!)
“Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful Clemmie.
“I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now.”
Meacham writes, “No reply exists, but Churchill may have taken his wife’s words to heart, for, as (his daughter) Mary Soames wrote, most of the men around him then … became lifelong Churchillians.”
Most of us are at times oppressed by stress and an almost unmerciful “busy-ness,” some of which we create ourselves and some not. We react by barking, biting and snapping often. But I doubt many of us have as much reason to be stressed as did Winston Churchill on whose shoulders lay the future of the free world.
Aside perhaps, I’m afraid, from our check registers, very little will likely paint a truer picture of the genuine quality of our faith as Christians than the civility and kindness we portray in our day to day interactions with those around us. I’m afraid Clementine Churchill has me pegged along with her husband.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at