Churchill at War
His "Finest Hour"
In Photographs
1940 - 1945

Martin Gilbert
(Imperial War Museum/Norton)
Churchill at War gives us over 200 black-and-white photographs of Winston Churchill. Here we have pictures of brave early war years all the way through to the last, the triumphs of 1945. The feeling is one of a good man going about diligently to boost the spirits of the soldiers, the sailors, those in the home front, those working in the factories, those on the docks and even at the front lines in Africa, Russia, and, later, France and Italy.

Churchill gives off a stoic charm --- a man who was going to be damn sure that people didn't give up, that they knew this was not only a war of leaders and factory-owners, but a war of the people. Here he is on board a battleship in convoy just returned from Russia. There we see him with some dockworkers. Then he puts in an appearance at a munitions factory (obviously with regret at having to put out his ever-present cigar).

We see him laying the first bricks of an anti-aircraft battery. He is shown in the co-pilot's seat of a "flying boat" returning to England. Here he is meeting with Montgomery and Eisenhower and Roosevelt and the man he detested almost as much as he detested Hitler, Josef Stalin.

Then, as quickly, he can be seen eating and drinking with the crew of the 615 fighter squad. A mere six days after the first landings at Normandy, Churchill went ashore to mix with the troops and give speeches of congratulations. In June of 1944, he appears at an anti-aircraft battery in Kent attempting to bring down a V-1 flying bomb, and a day later, he is at Caen, France to view the destruction of a town recently freed from the Germans.

In the days that followed, he returned to the newly liberated France over and over again, at times in places of real danger, with the message: "If you are going to risk your lives, I want to be there too, risk my life as well ... because we are in this together."

Which sets one to thinking: what would it be like if those out of the executive branch of the government (Bush, Cheney, Rove et al) were to risk their lives by going to Iraq to offer convincing proof to the troops that this is not just a war for the financial gain of Halliburton and Lockeed and IBM and Dow --- but, rather, one which involves a caring commander-in-chief. What a novelty it would be to let the average soldier know that their risks are the risks of the Chief Executive, their agonies in the field are his as well. Despite the fact that he evaded service to the country so many years ago, how novel if he were willing to put his life on the line at the present moment.

This scenario, as my Granny would say, probably comes under the heading of Fat Chance.

§     §     §

For some odd reason, the editors of Churchill at War and the IWM chose Master Prolix, Martin Gilbert, to provide the text. Fortunately for the reader, his desultory introductions can be passed over quickly. Perhaps the production supervisor figured if they did a reverse burn on the text (white letters on black) it would make it damn near impossible to read, much less understand. It worked.

By contrast, the pictures are wonderful. Churchill walks like a duck, has general appearance of a black bear, complete with cigar and cane. His overall appearance is one of dignity and deep affection for his beloved country in its glorious fight against a mad and poisonous enemy.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

Images of

John Haynes,
James Knowlson

This Beckett looks like something of a cross between an eagle and a deranged King Lear. That, and his Mohawk haircut years before it became the style, do make for startling photographs, many of which are offered here.

According to Knowlson, Beckett was fun to talk to over a pint of bitter, but woe if you asked him the meaning of Molloy or Waiting for Godot. When one of the actresses in Endgame asked if "she really did die in her bin," he responded, "So it seems, but no one knows." He figured that his job was to write them, not explain them.

He would spend his weekends watching rugby or golf on television. He was a chess fan. He would speak charmingly, for instance, of the interregnum "between the weaknesses of childhood and the senility of age." He was a depressive and at one time took lithium. In his early years, he was under the care of the psychiatrist W. R. Bion.

Beckett hid out in France during WWII and worked with the French Resistance at a time when to do so was a genuine threat to life and limb. At the end of the war he worked with the Red Cross Hospital in Saint-Ló.

He was a student of early film, and knew well the works of Chaplin, Keaton, René Claire, and Eisenstein (at one point he even offered to work with Eisenstein. What a pairing that would have been, no?) Black-and-white served him well: the sense of his plays is not one of color and light but of sharp contrasts of light and dark.

When he directed his own plays, Knowlson tells us that he was obsessed with gesture, which he believes came from "visual images of the Old Masters." He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of and passion for these paintings, able to remember after years certain details, such as a figure of "a boy urinating against a wall" in Ruisdael's "The Halt."

He was not fond of publicity, and didn't like having his picture taken, but Knowlson makes a good case for his forever doing favors for friends --- doling out money, getting jobs, and permitting them freedom to photograph his craggy "Aztec-eagle" face.

Usually, I'm not too fond of biographies of writers. Those who want to spend their time reading books about Faulkner, Hemingway, Proust or Beckett would be better off, in my view, spending time with the author, not the critic. Richard Elmann's book about Joyce or the recent spate of books about Nabokov are excellent examples of volumes that demean rather than define their subjects.

Images of Beckett may be an exception. Knowlson obviously knew and cared for the playwright and chose not to feed off this friendship during his lifetime. Indeed, there is a touching moment when Knowlson says,

    As someone who (to my acute embarrassment) found himself bursting into tears at a dress rehearsal of Footfalls, I find the notion of Beckett as an arid, inhuman formalist extremely difficult to accept.

Beckett was a stunning artist, and more's the pity that Knowlson omits discussion of All That Fall, the astonishing radio play first produced by the BBC under the direction of Donald McWhinnie in 1958. Years after the fact, lines from that one are still popping up in my head, and I suspect it is one of the great radio dramas of all time.

In his attempt to make Beckett more humane, the author tends to ignore the obsessions that drove Beckett and drove him so fatefully. The actors trying to work with him began to join in his lunacy when they were forced to deal with his microdirection. Too, he was convinced that he had "never truly been born" --- a line that appears in All That Fall. God knows what he meant by that.

This is a worthy volume, fascinating, not heavy-handed, and the pictures from Beckett's various plays, not to say his astonishing face, are a trip.

--- L. W. Milam


Phil Scott
(Hylas Publishing)
There's Le Bris Albatross from 1857 looking more like a V-1 rocket with wheels complete with droopy wings and tail. Jean-Marie Le Bris had horse and cart pull him and his contraption at high speed across a meadow. The rope wrapped itself around the cart-driver, lifted him in the air, at which time Le Bris aborted the flight.

Flight #2 aborted itself and broke one of the inventor's legs. The author writes that the reason it was such a drag was because Le Bris "failed to solve the problem of longitudinal equilibrium --- along with lift and drag."

Gianni Caproni built the "Ca.60 Transaero" in 1921. The fuselage was a giant boat, it had eight wings (with an area of 9,000 feet), eight engines, and the whole looks like something cooked up at Disneyland that you might want to go out in. If it were carefully tethered. It weighed in at 55,000 pounds. It flew, Scott tells us, once, from Lake Maggiore.

"After reaching an altitude of 60 feet the flying houseboat took a nosedive and broke up when it hit the water." Where it sank. And, presumably, lives to this day, giving flying lessons to fish.

Flying follies don't only belong to the long ago. Northrop produced the XP-79, which resembles a flying wing with yaws. It had "two Westinghouse 19B turbojets of 1150 lbs. thrust each."

Harry Crosby got to test it over Muroc Dry Lake on September 12, 1945. After fifteen minutes, Crosby and XP-79 went into a tailspin. Neither survived.

There are over a hundred turkeys shown here, including Da Vinci's "Great Bird" (which does look like a turkey) and Howard Hughes famous "Spruce Goose" (which does not look like a goose). The Wright Brothers' 1904 "Flyer" puts in a brief appearance. Scott reveals that it was shown to twelve reporters "who got to watch the machine run down the rail and plop off the end without raising a single inch." It was the 1905 machine, looking just as crazy as all the rest, that finally got off the ground.)

This is fun, and the layout of the book is a dream: huge photographs, all the facts you need. There are some ominous turkeys towards the end, including, gasp, the Convair X-6 which would cruise, said the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion people, by means of a contained nuclear reactor.

Unfortunately, it was to generate 1800 degrees of heat which would bake the crew to toast and get the nearby maintenance people all aglow. In the case of a crash, would irradiate every plant, tree, dog, cow, bush, and human within miles. For some quirky reason, the geese --- or, better, the chickens in the U. S. Air Force planning department canceled the X-6 in 1953, before it could fly and fry us all.

--- Walter Perry, USAF, Ret.
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