Reviewed by Brian Green
It must have been in 1944 that I noticed, in the window of a shop in Grove Vale, a silver metal badge bearing a portrait of a cigar-smoking Winston Churchill, set within a large V for Victory sign. The price was sixpence, the amount of my weekly pocket money, and I bought it and pinned it onto my lapel. Twenty-one years later, I stood in the crowds lining the streets of London as his State Funeral procession passed by.
This fascination with WSC was recently rekindled by the latest book of Dulwich author, James MacManus, ‘Sleep in Peace Tonight’. Although it is a work of fiction it draws most of its story from documented accounts of that desperate period when Britain was facing alone the might of Nazi Germany. It was at a time when Winston Churchill used all his powers to try to persuade the United States into an alliance against the Axis powers.
The book’s real-life hero is Harry Hopkins, President Franklin Roosevelt’s trusted aide who worked outside the political framework of Washington and who had been his right hand man in creating work schemes to make the New Deal a success in the 1930’s. The fictional love-interest between Hopkins and his driver/liason officer, a British security plant, adds a human touch to the true story of Churchill’s friendship with Hopkins and through him to reach out to the reluctant Roosevelt.
James MacManus’ book grippingly guides us through the events of 1941, the horror of the Blitz which had continued for months, the losses of merchant ships from UBoat attacks in the North Atlantic, the reverses in North Africa and the alarming preparations for the anticipated German invasion of Britain expected that summer. We are made party to difficulties facing Roosevelt who was beset by opposition against entering another European war from a hostile Congress, a disinterested nation and powerful isolationists led by all-American hero Charles Lindbergh.
Churchill’s first success, his foot in the door, was the passing of Lend-Lease, the US Act which provided defence material of any kind, armaments, ships, food without cash payment. Within two years the amount of material supplied to Britain through Lend Lease was eleven thousand million dollars worth,
MacManus then guides us through Churchill’s efforts to arrange a face to face summit with the President and in this Harry Hopkins has an ally in the CBS correspondent, Ed Murrow. Fact is mixed with fiction when they meet at the Black Cat Club, a private club in London where the door key is thrown out of the window in a sock and the patrons let themselves in, and where blackmarket whisky flows and where over-sexed and over- here Americans like Averell Harriman the entrepreneur who headed the Lend Lease programme and John Gilbert Winant the US ambassador are patrons.
Leonora, Hopkins’ fictional love-interest, desperate to be where the action is, applies and is accepted by SOE once the Churchill/Roosevelt summit had taken place. She does not have a nice war.
Sleep in Peace Tonight by James MacManus is published by Duckworth Overlook h/b £16.99 (also available as an e-book) is on sale at Village Books, Dulwich Village