John Sparrow, academic, wit, friend of, among many other prominent Englishmen, A. J. P. Taylor (see Derb’s post below, from yesterday), and Warden of All Souls’ College, Oxford, once told me a story about meeting Churchill during the war.
Sparrow was among a group of soldiers chosen to lunch with the prime minister at a house in the south of England that Churchill was using for a few days-for much of the war, you’ll recall, Churchill remained in motion, traveling from place to place to avoid becoming a target for German agents, or, later in the war, German bombs. When Churchill received Sparrow’s group, he appeared grim. “Gentlemen,” the prime minister said, “I have received information that the Germans may attempt an invasion of our island this very day.” Churchill looked from face to face in silence. Then he smiled. “But come,” the prime minister said, “let us dine.” Throughout his meal with the soldiers, Churchill remained entertaining, garrulous, and utterly composed
Although famously cynical, Sparrow had never quite gotten over the casual courage Churchill displayed that day. “The intelligence Churchill had received was wrong, of course,” Sparrow said, “but I’ve never had any reason to doubt that he believed it at the time.”