Worcestershire: 1965. Hardcover. Winston Churchill's close friend and indispensable wartime Chief of Staff, "Pug" Ismay, wrote this letter seeking a copy of Churchill's first book less than a month after Churchill's death and in the final year of Ismay's own life. The letter is on Ismay’s letterhead bearing his printed address and telephone number. The typed date is “17th. February 1965.” The typed text reads “Could you be an angel and lend me your copy of “The Story of the Malakand Field Force” as I badly need a quotation for an article that I am writing. If you will send it by registered post I will return it by the same means within three days. Love to you both,” The letter bears Ismay’s autograph salutation, “My dear Mike”, valediction, “Y[ours] – Ever” and is signed with his famous nickname, “Pug”. The recipient, typed at the foot of the letter, was “M. Holden-White. Esq.” of “10, Lowndes Street, Lowndes Square. S.W.1.”
Of General Lord Hastings Lionel “Pug” Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay (1887-1965), Churchill said: “We became hand in glove and much more…” (Churchill, The Gathering Storm) When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, he also assumed appointment as Minister of Defence. Ismay served Churchill as Chief of Staff in that capacity, and in other roles, including Deputy Secretary to the War Cabinet, for Churchill’s entire wartime premiership. “Shrewd, resilient, accessible, emollient in diplomacy but of an unbreachable integrity”, Ismay “…commanded the prime minister's absolute trust. He was the essential link with the chiefs of staff... Difficult allies respected him as much as did difficult colleagues.” (ODNB) Ismay was promoted Lieutenant-General in 1942 and General in 1944, and made Baron in 1947.
When Churchill’s second premiership began in October 1951, Ismay was first appointed Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and, swiftly thereafter, Secretary-General of NATO, a post he held until his retirement in 1957. In late 1960, Ismay published his own Memoirs, which include a prefatory Tribute from Churchill “to the signal services which Lord Ismay has rendered to our country, and to the free world, in peace and war.”
It is poignant that Ismay sought Churchill’s first published book so soon after the death of his friend and so near to his own. Like Churchill, Ismay was educated at Sandhurst and saw early service as a cavalry officer in India. Although, unlike Churchill, Ismay did not leave soldiering for politics, even his early career was deeply shaped by his future Prime Minister and patron. In his Memoirs, Ismay wrote that “As a young officer in India in 1910, Mr. Winston Churchill, whom I had never met, and, as it then seemed, was unlikely ever to meet, exercised a decisive influence on my future.”
Despite shock that “anyone who had started so brilliantly should have thrown it all up and gone into Parliament” Ismay was critically inspired by Churchill’s intrepid early accomplishments. Ismay felt “on the whole, I could not do better than try to emulate the example of his early years.” Of course, the earliest of these early years are chronicled in Churchill’s first published book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, which recounts Churchill's experiences while attached to Sir Bindon Blood's punitive expedition on the Northwest Frontier of India in 1897. The edition of the text most readily available in February 1965 was Frontiers and Wars.
Published in 1962, this is a single volume abridgement of Churchill's first four war books, including The Story of the Malakand Field Force. This is not a compellingly well-preserved first printing copy of Frontiers and Wars, showing sunning, soiling, and wear. But it is the copy in which Lord Ismay’s letter was found and it seems quite plausible that this was the very copy lent in response to his request. Hence we offer them together and encourage the future owner to keep them thus.
Reference (for the volume accompanying the letter): Cohen A274.1.a, Woods/ICS A142/1(a.1), Langworth p.340. Item #004180