Do you want a bit of cheer — and a bit of sadness? Go and read the Telegraph‘s obituary of Patrick Kinna. Kinna was Winston Churchill’s confidential assistant during World War II — and after it, Ernest Bevin’s. He was in the room for the famous encounter between Churchill and Roosevelt, when Churchill leapt naked out of his bath to start pacing the room and dictating a speech. When Winston heard a knock at the door, he ran to open it, only to find Roosevelt in his wheelchair. Embarrassed, FDR began to retreat, but Churchill pulled himself up to full height, smiled, and said “Oh no, no, Mr President. As you can see, I have nothing to hide from you.”
He was also in the room after a less amusing occasion: Churchill’s first meeting with Stalin in August 1942. It was not a happy encounter: Stalin wanted a second front, and Churchill had gone to Moscow to explain that was impossible. Stalin’s response was predictable, and Churchill returned to his room in a fury. Entering the room, he roared “I have just had a most terrible meeting with this terrible man Stalin… evil and dreadful.” Churchill had to be restrained by the British Ambassador, who reminded him that the room was undoubtedly bugged and that Stalin would hear everything they said.
Kinna remembered Churchill, contrary to some prejudiced sources, as basically a “very kind” man. But when in full flow, he was irresistible, and then nothing mattered but his work. His twin hatreds were whistling and secretaries who asked him to repeat dictation: he had too much to say to have time to say any of it twice. But he and Kinna — who was the fastest typist in England — got on famously. At the end of the war, Churchill recommended him for an MBE, writing that he was “a man of exceptional diligence, firmness of character and fidelity.”
But then, so was Churchill. What a wonderful thing it would have been to have had the chance to be as close to him as Kinna was. And what a sad thing it is that one of the last men who had that chance is gone. Set the “greatest generation” nostalgia aside, if you will, but they were giants.