March 21, 2009

Winston Churchill's confidential assistant dies at 95

The Telegraph's wonderful obituary of Patrick Kinna

Kinna was recommended to Churchill by staff surrounding the Duke of Windsor, whose confidential clerk he had been while the Duke was serving as a member of the British military mission in Paris. From 1940 to 1945 his tiny, trim figure rarely left the Prime Minister's side, pencil and shorthand pad ever at the ready.

At Christmas 1941, while Churchill was staying at the White House, Kinna was summoned to take dictation by the prime minister, who was soaking in his bathtub, planning the speech he would make to Congress on Boxing Day. Finding the muse, Churchill stomped in and out of the tub, evading the ministrations of a valet with a bath-towel.

As the prime minister paced the room "completely starkers", Kinna recalled, there was a knock on the door and Churchill went to open it. It was Roosevelt in his wheelchair. Mortified at finding his guest with nothing on, the president prepared to make his excuses, but was prevented by Churchill. "Oh no, no, Mr President," he said. "As you can see, I have nothing to hide from you."

Some accounts suggest that Churchill was initially charmed by Joseph Stalin, but that was not Kinna's impression. After their first encounter in Moscow, Kinna recalled Churchill storming back into the office they had been given at the Kremlin, saying he wanted to dictate a telegram to Whitehall. "I have just had a most terrible meeting with this terrible man Stalin... evil and dreadful," he began. "May I remind you, Prime Minister," interrupted the British ambassador, "that all these rooms have been wired and Stalin will hear every word you said."

Posted by Jill Fallon at March 21, 2009 7:08 PM | Permalink