Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Churchill Tour

By Charles Backus, Edward R. Campbell '39 Press Director 

Charles Backus in London
I recently had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent the Press at all of the major Churchill sites in England. This special tour was arranged by Celia Sandys (pronounced "sands"), Winston Churchill's granddaughter and author of two books Texas A&M Press reissued in Fall 2013: From Winston with Love and Kisses: The Young Churchill and Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive.

Last October, to coincide with the release of these two publications, we were enabled to invite Ms. Sandys to Texas through the good offices of Davis Ford and other members of the Press Advancement Board. She lectured in College Station first at the Bush Library's Annenberg Center and then at Rudder Auditorium for the "Community of Scholars" lecture series, as well as at UT's LBJ School and the Austin Country Club. Strong audience interest resulted in brisk sales throughout her stay in Texas.

Honorary Press Advancement Board member and former First Lady Barbara Bush,  commenting on Sandys'  presentation, described her as "charming, a great speaker, and she painted a picture of a grandfather and  granddaughter that I will long remember." 

Having had a wonderful time in Texas, Celia designed our visit to England as a reciprocal tour. Our group of eleven congenial individuals included Davis and Gwen Ford; Advancement Board member Lynn Box and husband Richard, former chairman of the Texas A&M Board of Regents; Press author Janet Pollard; and former US Senator Joseph Tydings, from Maryland.
Celia Sandys (second from right) pictured in the Chartwell book and gift shop with (from left to right) past Press Advancement Board chairman Davis Ford, Chartwell retail manager Nicola Watson, and Charles Backus.
The tour generated a great deal of camaraderie and good will for Texas A&M University among those whom we met. In addition, with Celia's personal involvement, we were able to assure that the two titles by her that are now published with the Texas A&M imprint, and perhaps other books from our list, will be stocked and sold in most of the Churchill sites in England.

Our journey began with a lovely dinner prepared and served by our host and her daughter in her London home on the banks of the Thames.  A special guest that evening was Jane Portal (Lady Williams of Elvel), the last of Churchill's private secretaries and the mother of the current Archbishop of Canterbury.  

Churchill War Rooms
We took in birds-eye views from The Shard (the tallest building in Western Europe) and enjoyed a guided visit through St. Paul's (an iconic symbol of English resolve that Churchill was determined to protect throughout World War II). We were also given a personalized tour of The War Rooms in central London, the stark underground headquarters from where Churchill and his staff saw England through the Battle of Britain and mapped out strategies and alliances that ultimately won the war.

Winston Churchill's gravesite 
at St. Martin's Church in Bladon
We journeyed to Chartwell, the picturesque country estate and personal residence of Winston Churchill's family, located in Kent, about an hour south of London, where Celia arranged personalentr√©e to some areas not usually open to visitors. That afternoon we traveled northwest to Woodstock, in Oxfordshire, and visited St. Martin's Church in Bladon, the gravesite of Churchill and many close family relatives. Its simplicity presents a striking contrast to Blenheim Palace, the magnificent ancestral estate of the Duke of Marlborough, barely a mile away, where Churchill was born.

Bleinheim Palace
That evening we dined with Celia and her good friend, actor Robert Hardy, known in the US for his roles as Siegfried Farnon in the PBS series "All Creatures Great and Small" and as Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter series, but perhaps better known in England for portraying Winston Churchill in movies and on television.    
En route back to London, we stopped off at Harrow, the "public school" where Churchill received much of his early education and from where many of the poignant letters of a lonely child that appear in From Winston with Love and Kisses were written. 

For our final night in London, we were the guests of Lord Gordon Wasserman in the private dining room of the House of Lords.  We were treated to an extensive tour of Parliament and Westminster Hall, parts of which date to the 11th century. This storied complex, the location of so many of Churchill's triumphs and failures, was the perfect finale to our memorable tour.
House of Lords Chamber

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