Willkie in England

The Pittsburgh Press (January 26, 1941)

‘Opposition’ leader to get opportunity to see everything
By Ned Russell, United Press staff writer

London, Jan. 25 –
Great Britain prepared tonight to give Wendell Willkie, who is expected tomorrow, a thorough tutoring in war.

The self-styled “leader of the loyal opposition” in the United States will see and hear everything Britain has to show or tell in accordance with his expressed desire to “see for myself” what goes on in a country fighting for its life.

He will visit bomb shelters and palaces, the ruins of London City and the headquarters of Britain’s government and Royal Air Force fields, and look at the misty coast of France across the Straits of Dover.

He will chat with King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, RAF pilots and men in the street, members of the government and stevedores.

During his stay in Britain, Mr. Willkie will be treated with all the deference accorded here to the leader of the opposition, a figure of great importance in British politics.

King George and Mr. Churchill will see Mr. Willkie as soon as possible after his arrival, it was believed, and will tell him their version of Britain’s position in the war and her need for American help.

After getting settled in a suite in the Dorchester Hotel on the edge of Hyde Park, Mr. Willkie is expected to begin an intensive study of British production and manpower, naval methods and problems, air war in general and learn the increasingly important questions of supplies and ships.

Mr. Willkie has expressed the desire to talk with civilians to learn how they are standing up under Luftwaffe attacks and the U-boat menace. He is expected to spend a night in a public bomb shelter.

The Pittsburgh Press (January 27, 1941)

By Drydon Taves, United Press staff writer

Willkie in Eng

London, Jan, 27 –
Wendell L. Willkie revealed today that he plans to study British airplane production with a view of coordinating it with United States production.

It was his first detailed statement of the specific considerations which brought him to Britain for a “personal inspection” of Britain’s war effort, and served to revive reports that he might accept a post in President Roosevelt’s official family have to do with defense production. Britain’s pressing need is airplanes: she depends heavily on American production.

He told more than 300 British and foreign correspondents at a press conference at the Ministry of Information:

I want to see where your shortages and strengths are and study your methods and see how they can best be combined with American methods.

After the conference, he had a long talk with Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, then met Prime Minister Winston Churchill for luncheon. He handed the Prime Minister the personal letter of greeting which President Roosevelt has entrusted to him. Written in longhand, the President addressed the Prime Minister as “A Certain Naval Person.”

Mr. Churchill received him at his official residence, No. 10 Downing Street.

After his talk with Mr. Eden, he was taken in a government Rolls Royce to the “city” financial district – partly destroyed by a German fire raid Dec. 29. He walked through the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral, passed police barriers, and picked his way through the rubble of the Guildhall banqueting hall. Shown the burned remains of its historic relics and books, he exclaimed:

My God, what a terrible mess they made here. Gee, it’s awful.

Walks among ruins

Accompanied by John Cowles, one of two American friends who accompanied him here, and Herschel Johnson, Charge d’Affaires of the American Embassy, he persuaded the police to let him walk among ruined buildings whose walls are tottering.

To an air raid precautions worker, he said:

You must have had a terrible night when all the firebombs were cropping.

The man replied:

We can take it. We are giving it back. Hitler can’t beat us this way.

Mr. Willkie then returned to Downing Street for his luncheon date with Mr. Churchill.

At his press conference, he said he planned to go to Éire to talk with Prime Minister Éamon de Valera if he could. Britain urgently needs naval bases in Éire, such as those she returned to Éire before the war. There have been reports in the United States that the American government has aided British efforts to persuade Éire to let her have them.

With Churchill two hours

Mr. Willkie conferred with Mr. Churchill for two hours and then left the Prime Minister’s home smiling and waving farewell. He went by auto to the Labor Ministry where he conferred with Labor Minister Ernest Bevin. They discussed production problems, particularly manpower.

To stay two weeks

Mr. Willkie said he planned to stay in Britain for to weeks. He refused to comment on American or international politics.

I am here strictly as a private citizen to get all the information I can. You know the people decided in November that I should not have anything to do with the government.

He told the newspapermen he wanted to talk to everyone from officials to the man in the street, that he wanted to talk to the heads of other governments such as Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and King Haakon of Norway which are established in London because their countries are in the hands of Germany.

He said:

I want to find out what they are thinking about the conditions of today and after your victory, so I can tell the people of the United States.

Mr. Willkie was introduced to the correspondents by Sir Walter Monckton on behalf of Alfred Duff Cooper, Minister of Information, as a “good friend of Britain.”

He had no plans to meet Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s personal emissary in Britain.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hopkins, although in America, I knew who he was.

Also he had no plans to visit continental countries.

Reiterating his pleasure at being in England, he said:

This reminds me of an American political meeting, with all the lights and people. I am enormously impressed that we can have a press conference in a country under attack. Ask all the questions you want. It really shows democracy at work.

Uneventful flight

Mr. Willkie spent the night in a suite at the Dorchester Hotel which was formerly occupied by Lord Halifax, the new Ambassador to the United States, and Lady Halifax. He dined in the suite last night with members of the American Embassy staff and his friends Landon K. Thorne and Mr. Cowles who accompanied him here from America.

He and his friends arrived at a west coast town in an American-made plane manned by an all-Dutch crew yesterday afternoon after an uneventful flight from Lisbon where they had been deposited by a Pan-American clipper plane. Another plane flew then here. He had conferred with Herschel V. Johnson, Charge d’Affaires of the American Embassy, for a half an hour after his arrival.

There was no air raid alarm last night and Mr. Willkie had a good night’s sleep. He was in fine fettle for the press, his first business of the day.

A British correspondent asked him if the United States would enter the war.

Mr. Willkie replied:

I can’t speak on that. I have no connection with the government in any way. The American people decided that.

To tour provinces

Explaining his reluctance to discuss American politics, he said:

I am now in another country and though I opposed the President in the last campaign, he is my President and the head of my government and I shall not engage in any political controversies which he and I are entitled to have within the shores of the United States.

He hoped to remain in London for the next three of four days and then tour the provinces.

He said, adding that he hoped also to visit army, navy and air units:

I want to go to Manchester and see all the industrial centers – those towns that are particularly devastated – and as many other places as possible.

After the blackout in London last night, Mr. Willkie “strolled out into the void a little. It was like walking through a cemetery.”

In response to a question, Mr. Willkie said he did not plan to make any formal report to the President or to the Republican Party.

But I shall certainly make some speeches, and I hope they read them.

When he arrived at the Ministry, he was greeted by several hundred government employees. The Ministry’s Home Guard stood at rigid attention while he reviewed them with Mr. Monckton. Just before the press conference, he saw Duff Cooper to renew an acquaintance begun when Duff Cooper was in the United States last year.

First night is quiet

Carrying a trench helmet which a well-wisher had given him before he flew the Atlantic, the former Republican presidential nominee reached London late yesterday just as the nightly blackout was wrapping this besieged metropolis in a protective clock.

But there was no crash of bombs to greet Mr. Willkie as there were when Mr. Hopkins arrived in London recently. London was undergoing its seventh straight bomb-less night.

On the airplane flight from Lisbon, Mr. Willkie appeared “nervous” as the plane approached the British Isles, his companions said. He paced the floor of the plane and talked with the others of his party.

At Lisbon, he had purchased a map and spent a great part of the flight charting the course of the air journey, sometimes with the aid of the Dutch chief pilot of the American-built DC-3 passenger plane which landed him at an English west coast town. A Royal Air Force plane flew him to the capital.

Unheralded in hotel

Unheralded, he stepped out of a car at 5:15 p.m. and strode rapidly through the main lobby. Although it was crowded, not a head turned, not a remark was passed. No one recognized the big man in the conventional blue suit and dark overcoat, a soft gray felt thrust down over his eyes.

Without pausing to sign the register or observe the usual formalities, Mr. Willkie went straight to an elevator and was whisked up to his suite while reporters and photographers fumed in a back anteroom.

But within half an hour, he had changed to a clean shirt and loose-fitting blue suit and was ready for a brief press conference. He wore a tie with the word “WILLKIE” embroidered diagonally across it.

A gift from someone back home.


Reading Eagle (January 30, 1941)


London, Jan. 30 (UP) –
Wendell L. Willkie laughed off repeated air raid alarms in the London area today and strode down quaint Shepherd Market – London’s Greenwich Village – and had a gay time in a saloon buying beers for soldiers while German planes droned high overhead.

Willkie played darts with a construction laborer, drew his own beer and joked with a pretty barmaid as German planes resumed repeated forays against the British Isles.

He was unrecognized when he entered a pub and ordered a pint of beer. But soon he made himself known with the offer:

Have on me, boys.

A group of soldiers en route to home leave immediately gathered around the visiting American.

Glasses filled with foaming suds bought by Willkie were raised with cries of “Best wishes to you, sir.”

Willkie responded:

To you, lads!

On invitation of the proprietor, Willkie went behind the bar and drew himself a glass.

He laughed:

This is where we get one on the house.

The proprietor Harry Phillips said:

You did very well, sir. How much do you want per week?

He joked and laughed with pretty, black-haired Mrs. Pat Johnson, the barmaid, whose husband is a soldier.

Willkie said:

That put me right off the map, pulling that husband stuff on me.

Albert Phillips, a laborer, defeated Willkie at a game of darts without trouble.

Willkie remarked:

This guy is too good.

Phillips said:

Blimey, I’m going all international, I never played with an American before.

The pub keeper then produced a bottle of champagne, vintage of 1929.

I was going to keep this for Armistice Day but you are as good as an Armistice Day for us. We’ll open this bottle together.

Willkie and the pub keeper exchanged toasts and Willkie left in an automobile for Claridges for luncheon with Sir John Simon.

He said as he left the pub:

Oh boy, that was fine.

Willkie said that he now planned to leave London on February 6.

He was characterized in newspapers today as “a tough guy who almost wept” during his first contact with air-raid shelter crowds.

Willkie told newspapermen:

I have not decided when to go back home. It will probably be next Thursday, I have certain things to do back in the States.

The government, however, gave Willkie a food ration card good through the week ending February 9.

Inspects ruins

This afternoon Willkie climbed through the ruins of the ancient temple, heard tales of bombing experiences and chatted with grimy demolition workers and firemen.

At the time, the raiders were droning in the clouds, the boom of guns could be heard and shells burst in a cloudy sky over the capital.

Sir John Simon, Lord Chancellor, who accompanied Willkie, told him the history of such wrecked buildings as the inner temple law library, the inner temple church, middle temple hall and dining hall and the inner temple treasurer’s room, where Willkiw drank a glass of brandy and said:

To the restoration of your temple.

Willkie did not wear a steel helmet as he walked calmly among the ruins. His face was grim. His clothing was dust covered.

A grinning demolition worker called to him:

You don’t need your tin hat here, sir.

Willkie smiled and waved.

With a gas mask swinging from his shoulder and a white tin helmet that he borrowed from an air raid warden sitting on top of his head, Willkie spent almost three hours yesterday evening touring four shelters during an air raid alarm. He saw thousands of homeless and impoverished men, women, children and babies, some of them in the only habitat they had known since the aerial blitzkrieg started. He shook hands with hundreds of them, asked them what they thought of the war and was made distraught by some of their responses.

Willkie said later:

It really gripped me. It was a terrible emotional experience. Several times I honestly felt that I could hardly keep from crying.

His sympathetic comment further endeared him to Britons and his picture, wearing the little tin hat, was back on the front pages of most newspapers today.


Reading Eagle (February 2, 1941)

The World This Week


Wendell Willkie bounded into the arms of the British public with all the careless grace of his campaign era. Britain’s press praised him as:

….a lively observer of men and things who should be able to take back to America, where his influence is very great, and accurate and impartial picture of Britain at war.

Willkie talked to almost every prominent official in England, as well as officials of refugee governments there. He talked to Tommies and Bobbies. To use his own words, “everyone that would talk to me.” He is curtailing his visit to return home next week.


Reading Eagle (February 2, 1941)

Spends night at home of Churchills
London, Feb. 1 (UP) –
Wendell L. Willkie was the guest tonight of Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he prepared for a quick tour of Britain’s provinces that will wind up his personal inspection trip.

Willkie was the overnight guest of the Churchills. Tomorrow he starts a quick round of some of the provincial centers hardest hit by German “Coventrizing” raids.

The tour will be brief, since Willkie announced this morning that he will leave Britain at midweek to return to the United States, where he will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the administration’s lease-lend bill to aid Britain.

He said he had changed his departure plans late last night after receiving a cable from Secretary of State Cordell Hull, requesting on behalf of Sen. Walter George (D-GA), chairman of the Senate committee, that he testify.

Willkie said that he would be “delighted” to tell the committee everything possible about his findings. He indicated he was “not interested” in criticism of his trip to Britain and his stand on behalf of aid to Britain which has been voiced in Midwest Republican circles. He declined to comment.

Willkie had a rare experience today. He drew a rebuke for “not hustling.” Britons have been amazed at Willkie’s whirlwind pace, but not the conductress of a bus he boarded today.

Willkie paused on the bus platform to look for the change box in which to drop his fare. He didn’t know that in London you give your fare to the conductor after you take your seat.

Conductress Theresa Bowers thought Willkie was just another dawdling passenger and she snapped:

Now, then, sir, either get on or get off, will yer?

Willkie laughed and scurried to a seat. He chatted gaily with the bus passengers, including a 75-year-old woman, who said she was bombed out of her home last week.

The woman said:

This war is just a job we have to do and we’ll do it. I think some of us old people are getting a little tired, but we won’t give up.

As soon as the passengers learned who Willkie was, they excitedly paid extra fares to stay aboard. He climbed to the top deck of the bus to question passengers there.

I find I can learn so much more from spontaneous replies than from prepared replies. Everywhere I go, I find the same fine spirit and confidence in the future.

When he left the bus, Willkie went to a cigarette store. He didn’t have enough money to pay for three packs of cigarettes and tendered a dollar bill.

The proprietor asked:

What’s this?

Willkie said:

That’s an American dollar bill.

The proprietor said:

I don’t know anything about that. You’ll have to pay me in our money.

Willkie took a 45-minute stroll through Lambeth Walk during the afternoon. A crowd of 500 cockneys followed him singing “Doing the Lambeth Walk.”

He shook hands with scores of men, women and children, and signed autographs. He also drank a cup of tea from a mobile canteen.

At one point, Willkie hopped on a bicycle and pedaled down the street as crowds of people chased along, shouting:

He’s a bully boy!

The crowds grew so large that a police detail tried to disperse them. Willkie waved the police aside.

He shouted:

We don’t need the cops. Everything’s dandy.

The crowd whooped and cheered, shouting:

Hip hip hooray for Willkie!

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Reading Eagle (February 3, 1941)

Quick recovery from bombs impress him
Liverpool, England, Feb. 3 (UP) –
Wendell L. Willkie dorve to Manchester today on the last leg of his whirlwind inspection of factories in the heavily-bombed Midlands.

He will confer with industrialists today and leave for London tonight. He is to have an audience with King George and Queen Elizabeth sometime Tuesday, and leave for the United States on Wednesday to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on President Roosevelt’s British-aid bill.

Willkie looked at two of the most bomb-battered cities yesterday. He drove through miles of ruined streets in Coventry and Birmingham, waving his soft felt hat to the thousands of cheering Britishers.

He spoke to industrial officials privately, and from them obtained reports of casualties and damage.

Willkie drove to the Midlands from “somewhere in England,” where he had been entertained by Prime Minister and Mrs. Winston Churchill. He was greeted by Mayor John Albert Moseley, at Coventry, and at Birmingham by Lord Mayor Col. Wilfred Martineau. Both wore the gold chains and top hats, the traditional hallmarks of office.

Willkie was amazed at the rapid recovery in industry after the heavy bombings of just a few weeks ago. He said his conference with industrial officials covered all aspects of production, including output, transport problems, delays due to bombings and labor problems.

Enthusiastic crowds rushed him in spite of police precautions. People pounded him on the back, shouting:

Atta boy, Mr. Willkie. We’re glad to see you. American help can save us. Tell them about us when you get home.

In Coventry, Willkie told the town council that the courage of Coventry’s people had inspired America to believe in Britain’s ability to withstand any German blow.

In a brief speech at Birmingham, he said:

This is the first city in spirit, the second in size in England.

At Liverpool, Willkie toured the dock area, where he was cheered by grimy dockworkers, who shouted:

Mora aid from America.
Good old Willkie.
Tell them how the docks are carrying on.
Let’s have the stuff.

Willie inspected the uncompleted Liverpool Cathedral and said:

I always melt under stained glass.

He was particularly impressed by the smallness of bomb casualties.

This proves that this type of warfare is not accomplishing the desired ends of killing off the population or shaking its resolution. These tactics are increasing the people’s resolution.

Willkie said the damage to Liverpool was not as heavy as he had anticipated. Accompanied by Lord Derby, he also toured the bombed areas of Manchester and Salford.

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Reading Eagle (February 4, 1941)

Lunches with Irish chief after sudden plane trip to Dublin

Starts homeward trip tonight with hop to Portugal
London, Feb. 4 (UP) –
Wendell L. Willkie paid a flying visit to Éire today to confer with Prime Minister Éamon de Valera as he brought his inspection of Great Britain’s war effort near an end.

Willkie had lunch with de Valera in Dublin and reported that in the course of “a very long talk” he discussed the European situation and international conditions and – presumably – Éire’s neutrality.

He flew to Dublin from Manchester, had lunch with de Valera and by late afternoon was back in Britain. He landed in Liverpool on the return trip from Dublin and continued immediately to London by plane.

Willkie was to leave Britain tonight for Lisbon on the first stage of his return journey to the United States where he will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on President Roosevelt’s lease-lend bill to aid Britain.

Confer in office

De Valera received Willkie in his office in the government buildings soon after Willkie’s arrival at Dublin Airport at 11:40 a.m. (5:40 a.m. EST) from Manchester.

After lunching with de Valera, Willkie left Dublin for the return trip to England at 2:30 p.m.

Willkie said:

I had a very long talk with de Valera, both before and during lunch about the position in Europe and the international situation in general.

He declined to reveal specific details of his talk.

Naturally, I am not going into general details as to what we talked about. I am here as a private citizen representing nobody. I am just gathering what information I can. I don’t want to tell my conclusions.

Sees worthwhile results

Willkie said he did not discuss Éire’s position in event the United States should enter the war. He was asked if he felt his trip to see de Valera had been worthwhile and said:


Willkie chartered a commercial plane for the trip. His departure from Manchester had been unexpected. Before leaving, he said:

I want it understood that I shall not attempt to influence de Valera in any way. I merely want to ask questions and talk to him across a desk so I can have a full and complete picture of the war situation. There is an awful lot I feel he can tell me that would be of great interest in the United States.

Bases under discussion

The British expected Willkie’s discussion with de Valera would center on Irish ports and air bases, which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill has said were vital to proper protection of British overseas trade routes.

Willkie had thoroughly familiarized himself with the British view. Albert V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty, had explained to him the importance which Great Britain attached to Irish bases which would extend the convoy range of British warships and coastal command airplanes by 300 miles.

Willkie had said, before going to Dublin, he would discuss with de Valera Éire’s position in light of the experiences of Holland and Belgium, fellow neutrals, and sound out his attitude on American aid to Britain.

He indicated his discussion would cover de Valera’s attitude toward the possibility that American warships might some time enter convoy service, as well as the possibility of American relief for Irish civilians.

Willkie was expected also to seek information on Irish attitude toward recent German bombings of London and the sinking of Irish ships.

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Reading Eagle (February 8, 1941)


Miami, Fla., Feb. 8 (UP) –
The Dixie Clipper, carrying Wendell L. Willkie on a 3,120-mile dash – the longest non-stop flight ever made by a commercial plane – landed at Port of Spain, Trinidad, at 9:51 a.m. (EST) today, Pan American Airways announced.

The flight was made in 21 hours, 32 minutes. The plane hopped from Bolama, West Africa, for the South Atlantic crossing at 12:19 p.m. (EST) yesterday. It will fly from Port of Spain to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then direct to New York, where it is expected sometime Sunday.

Reading Eagle (February 9, 1941)


San Juan, Puerto Rico, Feb. 8 (AP) –
Wendell L. Willkie, returning to the United States from England, arrived here late today by Pan-American clipper from Port of Spain, Trinidad.

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