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Gronow’s Reminiscences

John Raymond offers the picturesque records of an amiable spendthrift who lived through the greater part of one of the most eventful centuries of English history.

January 1944, was a trying month for Alfred Duff Cooper, later Lord Norwich. As British Representative to the French Committee of Liberation, he found himself the unwilling peace-keeper between two highly incompatible men of destiny. Mr. Churchill, travelling under the assumed name of Colonel Warden in his private York, had arrived in Marrakesh. Clad in his siren suit, a huge Californian hat and a silk dressing-gown embroidered with gold dragons, he was now convalescing.

Already “much annoyed at having lost the Skipton by-election to a Commonwealth candidate,” he was daily expecting an unwelcome visit from his outraged ally, General de Gaulle. Meanwhile, there were Churchillian diversions. Seven picnics, within a fortnight, thought Duff Cooper, was strenuous going:

They had chosen a pleasant place.... There were large supplies of food and drink—two servants to wait as well as the staff, and a host of American military police standing round to protect. He sat there for more than an hour after lunch, reading the memoirs of Captain Gronow.

The fifth volume of Sir Winston’s War Memoirs does not record the impressions he derived from the Captain’s Reminiscences and Recollections. They must, one imagines, have afforded him a certain interest, if not solace. The hard days of campaigning in the Peninsula, the dark hours at Waterloo, the changes in manners and social accoutrements, all this would naturally interest the patriot and historian; the knowledge of French character that Gronow everywhere displays, the continual besting of the French at the hands of the British—particularly at the hands of Wellington—must have heartened a statesman so shortly to be confronted by the Cross of Lorraine in person.

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