The Taming of Winston Churchill

The Roaring Lion, Winston Churchill
The Roaring Lion, Winston Churchill

by Ray Setterfield

December 30, 1941Winston Churchill made a memorable and emotional speech to the Canadian Parliament on this day, thanking Canada for its support in the Second World War. He assured his listeners that Britain would never surrender to "Hitler and his Nazi gang" saying, "they have asked for total war. Let us make sure they get it".

He then delivered the famous passage telling how, after the fall of France, some generals there had predicted that "in three weeks England would have her neck wrung like a chicken". Churchill's response: "Some chicken! Some neck!”

No picture of the wartime Prime Minister displayed his attributes of defiance, courage, stubbornness and determination more than the iconic one taken just after he had made that speech. But the now famous picture does not, in fact, show the face of a man scowling at adversity. It shows the face of a man who has just lost his cigar.

Churchill had not wanted his picture taken. Tired and eager to be on his way, he told Yousef Karsh, the official parliamentary photographer: “You have two minutes. And that’s it, two minutes.”

In his book, Faces Of Our Time, Karsh recalls:

"Churchill’s cigar was ever present. I held out an ashtray, but he would not dispose of it. I went back to my camera and made sure that everything was all right technically. I waited; he continued to chomp vigorously at his cigar. I waited. Then I stepped toward him and, without premeditation, but ever so respectfully, I said, 'Forgive me, sir,' and plucked the cigar out of his mouth."

"By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me. It was at that instant that I took the photograph. The silence was deafening. Then Mr Churchill, smiling benignly, walked toward me, shook my hand and said, ‘You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.'”

Karsh called his picture The Roaring Lion.

Published: April 24, 2016

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