Postcard Album Update: Churchill: Study in greatness

Does history create great leaders, or do great leaders shape history? Either way, postcard collectors can indulge their interest in history by pursuing links to one of the 20th century’s foremost leaders and most colorful characters: Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill.

Famous people have long been a favorite topic on postcards, but few have the international appeal of the prime minister who led Britain during the dark days of World War II. He is a worthy subject to collect for that reason alone, but his whole life has levels of interest that suggest roles as unlikely as a modern-day King Arthur or a fictional Indiana Jones.

Churchill’s life was complex from the beginning. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and his American mother, Jennie Jerome, might be accused of child neglect today, shipping him off to boarding school where he was a poor student handicapped with a speech impediment.

As a child of privilege, he became an army officer and served during the Boer War, but he “moonlighted” as a war correspondent to supplement his salary. His mastery of words brought him success as a writer of histories and eventually as a member of Parliament, although his first try in 1899 wasn’t successful.

Churchill’s character makes him fascinating. He was overly fond of alcohol and smelly cigars, and subject to what he called “the black dog,” periods of deep depression that he weathered by painting landscapes. His verbal barbs were as clever as they were cutting.

Lady Astor, a native Virginian who became the first woman in Britain’s parliament, once told him: “Winston, if I were your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.” His response: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

Churchill served as prime minister from 1940 to 1945, when he was passed over for the peace-time job. He came back from 1951 to 1955, finally retiring because of failing health. He died in 1965 after a long marriage to Clementine Hozier. They were the parents of five children, one of whom died young.

The best approach to a collection of Churchill postcards is to begin with his photo portraits and World War II meetings with Roosevelt and Stalin then go on to document his long and varied career with its high and low points. Because he came from a long line of nobles, it’s also possible to find portraits of his ancestors and ancestral homes.

The most important postcards honor Churchill’s leadership during World War II. Sometimes it’s subtle. For instance, postcards of the period sometimes had quotes of his on the back, even though the  picture side wasn’t related. For example, a Scottish scene of Alloway had this on the back:

“We shall continue steadfast in faith and duty till our task is done.”

The Prime Minister

His words were so much in the heart of his people that there was no need to include his name.

It’s particularly fun to find Churchill in unexpected places. One is the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library in Fulton, Missouri. The remains of an English church built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1676 was moved to the campus of Westminster College. It was here that Churchill made his famous “iron curtain” speech.

Collecting postcards related to a famous person is most enjoyable when it becomes a learning experience. Begin with a good biography of Churchill, and there’s no end of what his life teaches.