How two Scots saved civilisation in 1940

 I had this story from John MacCormick. There was an air raid and the electricity stopped a lift in the North British Hotel in Glasgow’s George Square. In it was Avril Hariman, sent by the American President to see if Britain would fight or surrender. With him in the stuck lift was Tom Johnston the Secretary of State for Scotland. They looked at each other and shrugged. They recognised each other for what they were, presbyterian Scots, one native, the other one step removed. 

Avril Harriman had never given any indication to Winston Churchill or anyone else what he would say to President Roosevelt when he returned, but in the silence of the lift he quoted from the book of Ruth to Tom Johnston,         

Whither thou goest, I will go.

And where thou lodgest I will lodge:

Thy people shall be my people,

And thy God my God. 

He went back to America and they let us have twelve crapped out old destroyers. With them we held the Battle of the Atlantic.

Tell your children this story.


But see how my inaccuracy has been corrected by a comment.   Harry Hopkins….not Avril Harriman and in the presence of Winston Churchill.

No Responses to “How two Scots saved civilisation in 1940”

  1. h stuart Says:

    Gade to see you back long live Ian Hamilton

    I am sorry i have to make this ssecond comment ,but the people of Belfast paid.
    Easter tuesday april 15 th 1941 100,000 homless 900 dead ,the south united with the north easter eggs for the children
    And a nine year old boy askes his Mother What did we do to make them so mad,they promised us easter eggs

  2. ian hamilton Says:

    Ask A Pole how much their kids paid.

    It was an Irish President in April 1945 who took a taxi to the German Consulate to offer his condolences on the death of their Chancellor. He had shot himself. His name was Adolf Hitler.

    I love the Republic of Ireland. I love the Six Counties.

    All of us have our bad times as well as our good times. I lived in 1940. Even if our civilation lives for a thousand years men will still say this was their finest hour.

    I was a schoolboy then. I lived my finest hour

  3. Ken MacColl Says:

    I am delighted that you have decided to reopen your blog.Two highly significant books have been recently republished by Hugh Andrew at Birlinn.

    First an update on Ian’s own book about the Taking of the Stone of Destiny back in these dark days of 1950. I was an eleven year old living in Kinlochleven but I was aware of the excitement and buzz that the episode created locally and nationally. The book precedes the film that is to be premiered in Scotland in Oban on 10th October.

    Second the republication of John MacCormack’s The Flag in the Wind -an account of the founding and adventures of the formation of the Scottish National Party. Long out of print this new paperback edition has an introductory chapter by John MacCormack’s son Neil, himself a distinguished scholar, academic and lifelong nationalist and a foreword by the ubiquitous Ian Hamilton QC for whom “King” John was mentor and inspiration.

    Both books are well worth the modest investment and thanks to Birlinn for showing the way.

    In 1941 I was a two year old in a cellar in Weston super Mare while our family home was razed above us by the fallout from a German bombing raid over the nearby Bristol Aircraft factory. As a result we returned north to the land of my birth. Even Herman Goering must be given some credit for depriving me of the chance of meeting Lord Archer

  4. Charles E. Mac Kay Says:

    The comment concerning Harriman is historically incorrect. It was said by by Harry Hopkins at the North British Hotel at dinner with Winston and Tom Johnston, you can read it in the White House Papers of Harry Hopkins. Hopkins had Scottish relatives and had a sound knowledge of the scriptures. If Winston saved his country it was Hopkins who saved the world because he was the architect of Lend Lease.
    The hotel has been renamed but it still has the Hopkins room - quite right

  5. ian hamilton Says:

    I am very grateful for this correction and have acknowledged it in gremio of the article.

    I am a great admirer of Churchill but I wonder what knowledge he had of the book of Ruth.

    Tom Johnston would recognise the quotation immediately. It is so lovely that I have difficulty in saying it aloud in public without my voice breaking in tears.


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  7. James Matthews Says:

    Actually 50 clapped out destroyers (not twelve) in return for bases in British (not Scottish) overseas territories. As always, a hard-headed American deal. And who is this “we” who won the battle of the atlantic?Given your post-war loyaties, Scotland by itself I have to assume. If only you had told us at the time we could have left you to it. Thirty-thousand Londoners need not have died in the blitz and the subsequent V1 & V2 attacks.

    You are probably right that a break up of the Union is now inevitable. The fact that someone of your intelligence and generation is proud of having helped to bring it about just demonstrates how wobbly a moral compass can be.

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