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Rubenstein Center Scholarship

A White House Usher Remembers Winston Churchill

After the United States entered World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a frequent guest in the Roosevelt White House. Although the Prime Minister's visits were associated with weighty issues, White House workers remembered Churchill with delight and amusement. "The most colorful visitor ever to appear at the wartime White House was Winston Churchill," J. B. West records in his memoir.1 West was Assistant Chief Usher during the War, and he relates many stories about the Prime Minister. One of these concerns Churchill's well-known fondness for cigars.

Churchill's meetings in the U.S. between December 22, 1941 and January 14, 1942 had a code name, the Arcadia Conference. For security reasons, the Prime Minister's arrival in the White House on December 21 for the Arcadia Conference was kept under wraps. The Secret Service had given instructions that no one was to enter the halls between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. on the 21st, but the staff did not know who was coming. When the pungent odor of tobacco wafted down the corridor, "It didn't take long," says West, "for the cigar smoke to announce Mr. Churchill's presence."2

President Franklin D. Roosevelt seated with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the Rose Garden along with military Chiefs of Staff from both the United States and the United Kingdom in 1943. Those standing left to right include Field Mshl. Sir John Dill, Lt. Gen. Sir Hastings Ismay, Air Mshl. Sir Charles Portal, Gen. Sir Alan Brooke, Adm. Sir Dudley Pound, Adm. William D. Leahy, Gen. George C. Marshall, Adm. Ernest J. King, and Lt. Gen. Joseph T. McNarney. Others present at this meeting but not pictured include Brig. Gen. E. C. Jacob, Brig. Gen. John R. Deane, and presidential advisor Harry L. Hopkins.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum/NARA