Whitehall, London: 1918. This original autograph letter from Winston S. Churchill was written the month after Armistice ended the First World War and ten days before Churchill became Secretary of State for War and Air. The letter is written entirely in Churchill’s hand on all four 8 x 5 inch (20.3 x 12.7 cm) panels of an 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) folded sheet of Churchill’s embossed Minister of Munitions stationery and is accompanied by the original, franked envelope, which is marked “Private”, addressed and also signed by Churchill.
The letter is dated “30.XII.18” and reads “My dear Garvin, | Accept I beg you my | deepest sympathy in the | new & terrible loss you | have sustained. It is almost | the irony of fate that you | should be overwhelmed by | private sorrow at a time | when the victory of our | cause – for which you labored | so faithfully – has been so | wonderfully achieved. I fear | that Mrs. Garvin’s death | was accelerated by the | grief she bore with | extraordinary fortitude – at | the sacrifice of yr gallant | soldier son. Alas you | have indeed suffered in | this fearful convulsion | of the world. I know how | frail are the words | even of sincere friendship | to distract the mind from | the cause of hopeless de- | privation & loneliness; | but I wd not help adding | these few words of | sympathy to those of | yr. many friends. | I can never forget | yr unfailing kindnesses | to me in my days | of prosperity & the | smiles of encouragement | & welcome wh I always | received from yr wife | when I visited yr house. | She impressed me | much by her great | courage under affliction. | Never for one moment | did she seem to betray | her intense pain in | daily life. It is something | that she lived to see | the full result of all | the effort & the loss. | But for you I fear | the sorrow will be all the | more hard to bear | now that the need of | struggle is so much | abated. | With every feeling of | sympathy & friendship | Believe me | Yours always | Winston S. C”. Condition of the letter is excellent, clean and unfaded. The original, hand-addressed and signed envelope is slit and lightly soiled.
James Louis Garvin (1868-1947) was an influential and accomplished British journalist and author best known for his three and a half decades as Editor of The Observer (1908-1942). While Churchill was at the Admiralty (1911-1915), Garvin supported a robust naval construction program and likewise supported Britain’s participation in the war. The First World War cost Garvin dearly – claiming both his only son and his wife. In 1916, “So far as can be ascertained, Ged [Roland Gerard Garvin] died shortly after 12.30am on 23 July, caught by machine-gun fire while leading his company against the strongly fortified German positions north of Bazentin-le-Petit. His body was never found.” (The Guardian)
Of Ged Garvin’s death, on 15 September 1916 Churchill wrote to Sir Archibald Sinclair “Poor Garvin comes to see me sometimes to talk about his boy… My heart is vy full of all these things… I have much pain & mortification at my impotence…” In 1918, a different killer of the First World War, influenza, claimed Garvin’s wife, Christina Ellen Wilson, occasioning this strikingly poignant and earnest letter from Churchill. Despite his losses, Garvin, like his friend Churchill, recognized that the Treaty of Versailles was recklessly punitive and castigated the treaty as leaving the Germans "no real hope except in revenge".
During Churchill’s “wilderness years” of the 1930s, like Churchill Garvin supported rearmament, but unlike Churchill also supported appeasement in order to buy time. When the Second World War came, it would demand one further sacrifice of Garvin, whose stalwart support of Churchill’s premiership caused a rift with The Observer’s father & son owners, Waldorf and David Astor. Garvin’s 1942 editorial supporting Churchill’s consolidation of power as both Minister of Defence and Prime Minister caused the owners to demand Garvin’s resignation. Item #005015