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...but it doesn't. None of the viewpoints or opinions expressed on this blog reflect the views and opinions of the United States government, the Peace Corps or anybody else besides me!

Monday, August 31, 2009

"The Churchills Already Did It"

Once upon a time, a very good writer wrote a very good biography of Winston Churchill called "The Last Lion". As I was reading it, I discovered to my delight a passage relating to Vanuatu. I include it here not because it has any specific bearing on what I'm going to be doing, but merely because it is very well written and adds a tantalizing taste of atmosphere to what otherwise might just be a couple of white blobs in the middle of a lot of blue on the map.

In March of 1938, as Hitler was preparing his Anschluss against Austria and Europe was preparing for the self-immolation that would soon follow, Clementine Churchill went on vacation by herself. One of her destinations was the South Pacific.

"At about this time, Clementine left civilization, put away the needlework, turned away from her family photographs, and forgot her straightlaced upbringing. The Rosura was headed for the most exotic islands in the world: Borneo, the Moluccas...the New Hebrides [now Vanuatu]. 'This is the genuine article!' she wrote in a euphoric burst, 'uncharted [sic] seas, unexplored territory, stark naked savages.'"....(we'll forgive her the "savages" remark, remembering she was born in 1885...."Clementine was in the presence of danger. That included physical danger; at one point she became separated from the rest of the party, lost in an almost impenetrable patch of dense tropical jungle; she was soaked in a sudden rainstorm, terrified of the lizards and snakes around her, her screams unheard until the yacht's second officer came crashing through the undergrowth to rescue her. She wrote: 'I almost kissed him.'" (pg. 262-263)

As Manchester notes, Clemmie was in a kissing mood. Understandable for a woman who was married to a man that, despite the dazzling genius and overwhelming brilliance he showed in other areas, possessed a libido that was deader than the British Empire. And so, Clemmie fell in love:

"The setting conspired against her. Cruising through tropical seas, past lush, nameless islands heavy with the scent of exotic flowers, she felt transported." (pg. 263)

Anyway, long story short, she met a younger man, a wealthy art dealer, and fell briefly in love. She soon returned to Winston and we should all be grateful she did: without her support, he might not have been able to almost single-handedly save western civilization.

But, all in all, in sounds like she had the experience of a lifetime down there.

A few years after Clemmie wrapped up her vacation, my Papa--grandpa on mom's side--joined the Navy and took a very different tour of the South Pacific. He served on a Haskell class amphibious transport, the USS Magoffin PA-199, pictured here. The Magoffin was involved in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Papa didn't fall in love with any wealthy art dealers or get drunk on the scent of exotic flowers, but--in between getting shot at by the Emperor's finest--he did get drunk on island beer, which he reports is quite strong. He and his Navy buddies took shore leave on Vanuatu, as it was still a British-French colony in those days, and nearby New Caledonia. He told me a story about walking outside the city one time with a group of friends. It was immediately obvious once they left "civilization", as the roads became rougher and the jungle closed in. One time, he and his buds got hassled by a barefoot, French-speaking cop on a olde timey 1940s motorcycle.

1 comment:

  1. I love William Manchester. One of my favorite writers! Apparently he didn't live to finish, let alone publish, what should have been the third and last volume in the three-volume biography of Winston Churchill. So sad! Still, the first two volumes are magic, due both to subject and to its treatment... Nice touch, neph!