‘Winston…was complaining of a slight headache’

I never cease to get a sense of excitement from opening newly-accessioned files for the first time. Occasionally, documents released to The National Archives will fundamentally change our view of history, but more often, they add colour and fill in the blanks to events and personalities with which we’re already familiar.

Today’s release of almost 500 files from the Foreign Office’s Permanent Under-Secretary’s Department (PUSD) is a good case in point.  Among the papers, is an extraordinarily entertaining account of ‘Operation Bracelet’, Winston Churchill’s August 1942 mission to Moscow and first face-to-face meeting with Stalin.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta Conference in February 1945

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 (catalogue ref: INF 14/447)

The meeting came at a crucial point in the war and Churchill was there to inform Stalin of Allied plans for the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) as well as delivering the bad news that there would be no ‘second front’ in Europe. Accompanying Churchill on the trip was Sir Alec Cadogan, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, who later relayed his take on events in a letter to Viscount Halifax (FO 1093/247).

Churchill had apparently been ‘delighted’ with his first meeting with Stalin, but at the second, Stalin confronted them with an ‘aide-mémoire’ which was, according to Cadogan, ‘as sticky and unhelpful as could be’.

 ‘This threw rather a cloud on the party, which was not dispelled by the banquet the following night. Nothing can be imagined more awful than a Kremlin banquet, but it has to be endured. Unfortunately, Winston didn’t suffer it gladly. However, next morning, he was determined to fire his last bolt, and asked for a private talk, alone, with Stalin.’

The scene was set for final meeting between the two wartime leaders. At around 01:00, Cadogan was summoned to Stalin’s private rooms in the Kremlin. He described the scene that greeted him on arrival:

‘There I found Winston and Stalin, and Molotov who has joined them, sitting with a heavily-laden board between them: food of all kinds crowned by a sucking pig, and innumerable bottles. What Stalin made me drink seemed pretty savage: Winston, who by that time was complaining of a slight headache, seemed wisely to be confining himself to a comparatively innocuous effervescent Caucasian red wine. Everyone seemed to be as merry as a marriage bell’.

The evening eventually broke up some time after 03:00, leaving Cadogan just enough time to get back to his hotel, pack his bags, and leave for the aerodrome at 04.15.

Despite his slightly irreverent tone, Cadogan knew that the talks had had important results:

‘I think the two great men really made contact and got on terms, Certainly, Winston was impressed and I think that feeling was reciprocated…. Anyhow, conditions have been established in which messages exchanged between the two will mean twice as much, or more, than they did before’.

The meeting left Churchill in a good position to act as broker in the Grand Alliance with the USA and USSR that ultimately decided the fate of the war.

But Churchill was not the only person to experience high jinks in the court of the ‘Red Tsar’. Later that year, information reached ‘C’, the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Stewart Menzies, from a ‘trustworthy channel’ concerning the US politician Wendell Willkie’s tour of Russia (FO 1093/238)

‘Willkie…made a great impression on Stalin, and the reverse is certainly the case…Willkie showed great interest in the new Russian sub-machine gun…At Willkie’s request Stalin sent somebody to bring in a specimen, and within five minutes, one was brought in. Barnes was very nervous, because by this time everybody was in a high state of intoxication. He gives full marks to Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr who gracefully took the gun out of Voroshilov’s hands and span the drum to make certain it was quite empty before handing it to Willkie. A banal and drunken incident followed when Cowles placed an apple on top of his head, Willkie aimed the gun and pressed the trigger, and Cowles jiggled the apple of his head. At this everyone laughed, and Stalin said: ‘You know you ought to be careful carrying a machine gun in the Kremlin’. Willkie replied: ‘Why should I care? It isn’t my apple’. Stalin laughed so much, he almost rolled off his chair’.

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  1. Frances from A Rebel Hand says:

    This is archive gold – both informative and amusing. And the body language in the photo is telling.

  2. David Matthew says:


    Many thanks.

    There are some interesting files, especially on SOE (including its “liquidation”, especially as the file from Sir Edward Bridges (when he was in the Treasury) were destroyed (see T 273) and ‘intelligence papers found in Sir Edward Bridges’ room’ (Bridges was the Cabinet Secretary at the time) it is unclear what this actualy refers to and the interest in the American journalist Kuh, as well as Klaus Fuchs. Another interesting file is about the employment of Romanians in the UK which may be relevant to the decision to employ Vera Rosenberg/Atkins in SOE, even those she was not British (and technically an enemy alien) until 1943 and was subject to movement restrictions and SOE not telling MI6. It is rather depressing why it has taken so long for these files to be released, especially the files on Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson and will (hopefully) lead to the release of the records about D-Day which are still with-held after almost 70 years.

    1. David Matthew says:


      I should make it clear on my above comment as Bridges did not destroy the files on SOE’s future but after he died when the records were archived they were destroyed, see the ‘disposal’ file for T 273/Bridges’ papers.

  3. Tommy Norton says:

    Thanks Frances and David, I hope you enjoy reading the new files.
    David, you make a good point about the connection with the Treasury. All of the Cabinet Secretaries in this period were ex-Treasury men and primarily concerned with government funding – including of intelligence – and it’s probable that some of the papers discovered in the CAB 301 series were brought by them to the Cabinet Office from the Treasury.

  4. David Matthew says:


    Thanks, as far as Edward Bridges was concerned he was more of an administrator (and a very good one at that) than an economist which is why a lot of the financial work at the Treasury was done by Sir Bernard Gilbert, Robert Hall and Otto Clarke. I would be most surprised if the records were removed from Treasury, I am sure Bridges would never had done this or even considered it.

  5. Eiichi Motono says:

    As a Japanese, I want to know what Winston talked with Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek about my country, especially how they planned to deal with my country after they occupied.

  6. David Matthew says:


    The Bridges file (CAB 301/10) was sent to the Cabinet Office after Bridges’ retirement in 1956 and makes excellent reading, especially the intelligence situation (Double Agents, Fifth Columns, Aliens control and the like just after the D-day operations). Bridges, as you probably know, started in the Treasury during the First World War when he was injured on duty and didn’t release him back to his regiment (the Oxford and Buckinghamshire regiment, despite three requests!) until almost the end of the War. He then served in the Cabinet Office after Hankey’s retirement in about 1938 and stayed there until he re-joined the Treasury in 1945 and stayed for 11 years to just after the Suez Crisis.


  7. Emy says:

    Interesting article.

    The “sucking pig [sic]” caught my eye after a rather short debate on the Guardian Style Guide, which points out that sucking is actually more accurate than “Suckling pig”. I did a (very) quick Google Ngram search on Sucking vs. Suckling, and it seems other than one obvious record of “Suckling pig” in 1590, it doesn’t appear as a phrase until the 20th Century. Sucking is in evidence from the 18th century, and in far greater quantities. Not even thinking of analysis though since I’m not a linguist, but the [sic] stood out to me since it can be validly argued that Cadogan was perfectly accurate in using the phrase.

    [1] https://twitter.com/guardianstyle/status/339750740312612864
    [2] http://books.google.com/ngrams – “sucking pig” / “suckling pig”

  8. Tommy Norton says:

    Emy, thank you very much for your comment and for looking into this in further detail. When I came across the phrase ‘sucking pig’ it jarred with me and I just assumed it was a typo but I’m happy to admit I was wrong and Cadogan’s use was pefectly valid! I will remove the [sic] as soon as I can. Thanks again

  9. Margaret King says:

    I want to download this material which is free until June 22, 2013. I can’t remember how to do this. Please help since this information is invaluable for my research. I am referring to the documents from WWII from MI5,

  10. Tommy Norton says:

    Hi Margaret. Around 25 of the documents from this release have been digitised and our available online. The particular file referred to above is available here: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=C13430670
    In terms of the other digitised files from this release, they can be accessed by searching for ‘FO 1093’ or ‘CAB 301’ through our online collections page: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Home/OnlineCollections

  11. […] this meeting was a key point that made the Nazis lose the war. But it wasn’t till May 2013 that the National Archives revealed what actually went down when the two leaders […]

  12. […] Two years before Yalta, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met for a late-night wartime meeting. Their mission? Drink lots of wine, according to new records released by the British National Archives. […]

  13. […] there’s an even better side to that story, as Sir Alec Codogan, who had accompanied them to the meeting, found Churchill and Stalin later on, […]

  14. Tim Barnes says:

    Is this the meeting that resulted in half of Europe being closed off behind the Iron curtain….oh I laughed and laughed…my Polish friend didn’t laugh at all…strange.

  15. Milt Morris says:

    FDR likely talked Britain & France into declaring war on Germany, promising the 2 nations that America would soon join them in the War. After declaring war on Germany for invading Poland, neither Britain nor France lifted a finger to aid Poland either during the War or after. Moreover, both Britain & France completely ignored the fact that the Soviets invaded Poland at the same time & occupied an even greater portion of Poland than Germany did.

    Moreover, FDR badly misjudged Americans resolve to not get involved in yet another European war. Therefore, it took FDR longer than anticipated for him to maneuver America into that War through the backdoor. Both Britain & France suffered greatly as a consequence of FDR’s inability to quickly deliver on his promise.

    Near the end of the War, Churchill woke up to the fact that the Soviets were a far more pernicious & treacherous enemy than the Germans ever were.


    For detailed instances of how both FDR & Stalin abused Churchill, please read “Roosevelt & Stalin,” by Robert Nisbet.

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