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15 October 2014
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In the Thick of it with Churchillicon for Recommended story

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Patrick Kinna, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt
Location of story: 
London and Washington, USA
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
15 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Rachel Conway from Brighton and has been added to the website on behalf of Patrick Kinna with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I was a clerk to the Duke of Windsor in Paris in the late 1930s. As the start of World War Two approached we came back to England. Once I was back in London I received a telephone call from the Prime Minister’s office to say that Churchill needed a male assistant to accompany him on a trip to meet President Roosevelt. I agreed and accompanied the Prime Minister on the HMS Prince of Wales to meet the President’s ship somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. We sailed from a dock in Scotland and spent about ten days at sea. It was the very beginning of the war and I had been given a letter for safe keeping by the King to give to the President. I don’t know what was in the letter but I imagine it was a letter of goodwill.

Not long after the trip I was asked to go to No. 10 and was offered the position of permanent assistant to Churchill. He was particularly impressed because I was a high speed typist! It took me a few days to decide but I accepted and lived and worked in the Cabinet War Rooms opposite St James Park from early in 1940 to 1945.

I had my own private bedroom in the ‘bunker’. It was a concrete room with no windows, and painted with white emulsion. It was very ordinary and I didn’t have many personal affects. We were very well protected and could not hear the usual sounds of war; the air raid sirens, planes flying over or the bombs dropping. We were so immersed in the war it was difficult to connect with anything outside of it - we really were in the thick of it! Sometimes, however, we did manage to go into London in the evening or to St James Park during the day. My parents and four brothers and three sisters stayed in London during the war and I would try and visit them once a week.

There was a very good atmosphere in the bunker and everyone who worked there was very keen to give their best. I worked in an office with three or four other staff and we would start work early and go to bed late. It was a wonderful feeling when the war was over but we were so busy in the bunker we had no time to celebrate, there were so many comings and goings and things to tidy up.

As I was the only male assistant I would accompany Churchill on trips abroad because it was more appropriate. Churchill was very pleasant to me, but you could tell instantly by his expression whether he was in a good mood or not.

One Christmas I travelled with Churchill to stay in the White House with President Roosevelt. I had my own room. As usual Churchill would get up early and start work. One morning I was in bed and there was a knock at my door, it was the valet to tell me that Churchill needed me to take down some dictation. I got dressed and went to his room. Churchill was in the bath and began dictating, he would submerge himself under the water every now and again and come up and carry on with the dictation. He was very absorbed in his work that morning and would not keep still for the valet to help dress him; he kept walking around the room speaking aloud. There was a “rat a tat tat” on the door and Churchill swung the door open to President Roosevelt! Churchill simply said that he had "nothing to hide from Mr President!”

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