Londoners are Talking About…

Walter Winchell

Spartanburg Herald-Journal/November 1, 1940

Eric Sevareid, crack young correspondent and commentator for the Columbia Broadcasting System, returned to the United States via Clipper last Sunday. He was in France when it fell and since then in London, where life is a commodity to be exchanged for nothing less than freedom, and death is something preferable to surrender. Mr. Sevareid will return to London after a brief breathing spell in N..Y. He made these notes on the Clipper.

Ambassador Joe Kennedy’s indigestion, which has not benefitted from a steady diet of eggs and pills, a lack of sleep and the unending bombings. He has grown pessimistic about the world situation and doesn’t want to go back to London . . . Roosevelt’s chances in the election . . . .The boners Halifax continues to make in his speeches. Whenever he speaks of England’s allies he invariably forgets to include the valiant Poles who have continued the struggle and he never fails to include the phrase “Christian civilization” which is a slap for India—where Halifax was once viceroy!

Churchill. He is far and away the most lucid mind and voice in Britain. Historians are convinced he will live in history as the greatest British orator. Pitt not forgotten. Churchill, for your information, is privately convinced that America ought to come into the war at once. He is tired of having to sell the U.S. on every new event and idea. Those are the prime minister’s own beliefs, but there is no denying that the impact of American intervention would be terrific in France, where (despite the stuff you hear from Vichy) nine out of 10 pray for British victory.

The identity of the successor to Joe Kennedy’s ambassadorship. The Court of St. James might accept Willim C. Bullitt, though they still fail to understand why he remained in Paris and left Tony Biddle the frantic task of bolstering the Reynaud cabinet in Bordeaux.

The great job Quent Reynolds is doing. He’s as popular on every dirty little English trawler as he is in the Stork Club. CBS’s Ed Murrow and his astonishing piece of uncensored ad libbing into a rooftop mike while the bombs were falling about him. Too, he’s become famous for his ability to turn in a good reporting job while giving away nothing of value to Goering . . . Those terrible whistlers the Germans let loose. Some say you’ll never get hit by one you can hear coming down. But Murrow and I listened to one at dinner one night that staggered the pillars and teetered the chandeliers of the hotel. He went on eating while I sat there jittering. “That was blocks away,” Ed said, “probably up at Oxford Circus.” Oxford Circus, my eye! The damned thing had hacked away a huge chunk of the hotel’s fourth floor.

The way American correspondents worry over the next U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. Kennedy never refused to see any reporter on any subject, and they can count on the same treatment from Biddle. It’s a mite tougher to pry a story from Bullitt.

The funny things people do when the big ones start to come down. If I’m in bed, I roll over. If I’m standing, I lie down—and vice versa. I’m more scared in a strange building even though it’s ten times stronger than my own. I feel naked and alone on the street without my hat, but to be caught in the bathtub by a raid is the most fearful thing that could possibly happen . . . The “luckiest guys” (and the bravest) in London—the firemen. Not that anyone begrudges them their bravery, but we all envy them because they have something to do during a raid. They simply don’t have time to be scared. One night an incendiary landed on my roof and the AF—auxiliary fireman—in my building held the nozzle of his little stirrup pump while I desperately pulled and pushed the plunger. The Nazis drop thousands of these 18-inch incendiaries in a night, but they’re so much pie if spotted in time. This one was out in 15 minutes, and then I realized that for a quarter of an hour I hadn’t wasted a thought on bombers and their dreadful possibilities. In a bombing raid an active imagination is much more of a handicap than a wooden leg.

The American correspondents and their amazing esprit de corps. No phony heroics, no trivial struggle for meaningless “scoops,: and best of all, lots of intestinal fortitude. Ray Daniel and his NY Times cohorts moved their office into the basement of the Savoy Hotel some time ago. The Herald Trib boys are there now, too, pounding their typewriters under criss-crossed steel girders two stories underground. When things get dull Vic Oliver comes in to do a bit of entertaining and Bob Post orates on his favorite subject—the British Navy. Scotty Restin and Frank Kelly, who live in this basement to eliminate the 5-minute tram ride to and from work, sit and reminisce about home and family. But Larry Rue, old calloused Chicago Tribune hand, is probably not there. He likes to sit on the ROOF during a raid, caress a scotch and soda and hurl profanity at the night riders.

The split second timing that saved old Bob Casey’s life twice in one evening. He and a friend stopped their cab one night to argue for 10 minutes in order to determine who should be driven home first. They reached a decision and started for the friend’s hotel, arriving there just in time to see the inn erupt into the street. They collected their nerves at the nearest pub and set out for Bob’s quarters. Same thing. A bomb got there less than a minute before them.

The stuff that appears in American newspapers. Just as soon as one of the boys’ stories lands in print over here, an English correspondent cables it back to England, where it is featured in the British papers. It’s a form of pressure—you’d better not get pessimistic unless you want some fighting Englishman to punch you right on the schnoz.

The horrible night in Cologne, as reported by a captured German pilot. A British bomb hit a nest of oil tanks in that town and the stuff ran through the streets like burning lava, setting houses and every other object along the way into a furious blaze.

The future. They don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like, but they do know this. As long as there is an enemy striking at England, there will be Englishmen fighting on and on—and on.

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