We had an 8:45 departure this crisp Monday morning from the hotel. First stop The Palace of Westminster or more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament.

I have been to London many times before, and there’s much to see but I’ve never been to visit the inside of the Houses of Parliament prior to this trip. Our guides were able to secure a tour for us thanks to the courtesy of The Hon Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston.

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Endel Street, London

Time for a ‘Full English’ breakfast

I had an excellent night’s sleep last night after being out at a drinks party at a friend’s flat over in Marylebone until 1:30 AM.

What jet lag?

I’m sitting here at a small sidewalk café just off Covent Garden after having had an excellent little full-English breakfast at The Old Express in this tucked-away little market just off Park Lane in Mayfair; The Shepherds Market. I thought this time of year was supposed to be before the tourist season begins but the streets are packed with shoppers and assorted sightseers. It’s astounding how many languages that one hears while strolling about in the City.

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Heathrow Airport

Catching the Heathrow Express to Paddington

I caught the Heathrow Express and if you haven’t ever done this it’s the new train that goes directly to Paddington Station. It gets you from Heathrow to the City in 15 minutes. All the cabbies are of course quite upset about it, but such is progress.

Last year when I was in London I actually got a stern lecture by a cabbie, because the doorman at the hotel asked where we were going and I said, “Heathrow.”

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Somewhere Above the Pole

Compliments to the Staff

The flight was excellent. We arrived on the flight to Heathrow a few minutes early and I actually had very nice service from two flight attendants, both of them English.

Well, actually from one flight attendant.

The nice one was quite sweet and sincere and the other had been flying with United since the Magna Carta was signed. I gave them both the little appreciation comment cards that United sends out every so often. I gave the card to the first one because she was indeed very sweet and to the second one because I thought she really needed something to cheer her up. She seemed in dire need of it actually. I had a nice meal, several glasses of wine and a sleeping pill.

There was a very delightful lady with whom I shared the row. She is a nurse from West Virginia and living in Honolulu. She and I were both reading but had a very enjoyable conversation over dinner. She was just newly engaged and is travelling to Scotland with a girlfriend for a week touring around with no plans at all—just a list of B&B’s around the country. Sounds refreshingly fun.

I woke up an hour before landing with breakfast of fruit and pastry. I’m sure it’s difficult to bake at 30,000 feet. Seriously, do things rise at this altitude? I’d recommend sticking with the fresh fruit.

We arrived about mid-day as fresh as new.

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Red Carpet Club, Los Angeles International 

Ahh—a nice crisp, cold glass of Chardonnay. Well, cheap Chardonnay, but anyway it’s cold. I’m still sitting here in the Red Carpet Club and as I posted earlier it’s rather busy here. All I could hear were middle-aged white guys chatting on their cell phones about.. well I didn’t really care what, actually. So, I thought that I would try out all my little gadgets while I’m in here. I’m already on the Internet thanks to a little wireless company called Boingo.

I pulled out my new little ear-bud headphones and loaded up Windows Media Player and now all I hear is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17. It’s blaring away and a truly amazing piece. Divine really. It’s like sitting here in the midst of commotion and chaos and feeling like I’m in a dream. I can still see their mouths moving, but all I hear is Mozart! Anyone finding this as amusing as I am?

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Los Angeles International Airport

I arrived here at LAX a short time ago. Check-in was a breeze. I think it took all of about ten minutes to use the kiosk, get my boarding pass and get through security. I didn’t actually realize that you could use the kiosks for international flights, but you just select your flight, enter your first, middle, and last name, then passport number and off you go.

The staff seemed a little overwhelmed though. They have to come by to take your bags and so they can put the tags on; obviously, they don’t need as many hands on deck as the old days, but the still seemed a bit overworked and tad frantic. Pleasant enough experience.

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Los Angeles

Departure -1 and Counting

Tomorrow I shall depart for England and I hope to be able to convincingly and effectively convey the journey in photos and these diary entries. I do hope that it will be as enjoyable for one to read as it will be for me to experience and to write along the way.

It will of course be my perspective, and as Churchill once said:

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

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Los Angeles

Departure -2 and Counting

In two days I shall become a foreigner.

I’m in the final stages of confirming reservations and sorting out what to pack for the adventure upon which I am about to set out. I checked the weather in London—it’s to be a bit of rain intermixed with a bit of sunshine here and there over the course of the next week. It shall be perfect. I need to make sure to remember to pack my traveling umbrella though…

As Sir Winston said in the House of Commons in 1945:

‘It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at the time.’

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Los Angeles

Another one of the other more fascinating responses that I got to my letter of introduction was from a friend here in Los Angeles whose grandfather’s best friend was Sir William Samuel Stephenson CC MC DFC (January 23, 1897 – January 31, 1989).

He was a fascinating character. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say:

“A Canadian who fought in W.W.I with the Canadian Army Engineers, then transferred to the British Royal Flying Corps in 1917, after learning to fly while he was recovering from being gassed in 1916. Stephenson flew the British Sopwith Camel fighter biplane and scored twelve victories before he was shot down and captured by the Germans on July 28, 1918.”

The entry goes on to say that in the lead up to Second World War, he became a wealthy industrialist and

“As early as April 1936 Stephenson was voluntarily providing confidential information to the British, passing on detailed information to British opposition MP Winston Churchill about how Hitler’s Nazi government was building up its armed forces and hiding military expenditures of eight hundred million pounds sterling. This was a clear violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and showed the growing Nazi threat to European and international security; Churchill used Stephenson’s information in Parliament to warn against the appeasement polices of the government of Neville Chamberlain.”

After the Second World War began Winston Churchill sent Stephenson to the United States on 21 June 1940 to covertly establish and run the British Security Coordination (BSC) in New York City, more than a year prior to the US entering the war.

The BSC office headquartered in room 3603 in Rockefeller Center became an umbrella organisation that by the end of the war represented the British intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 (SIS or Secret Intelligence Service), SOE (Special Operations Executive) and PWE (Political Warfare Executive) throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean.

In his role as the senior representative of British intelligence in the western hemisphere Stephenson was one of the few people in the hemisphere authorised to view raw Ultra transcripts from the British Bletchley Park code-breaking of German Enigma ciphers.

He was trusted by Churchill to decide what Ultra information to pass along to various branches of the US and Canadian governments.”

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Los Angeles

It’s now one week from departure. D -7 and counting!

Last weekend I emailed a short letter of introduction, discussing my upcoming trip, to a number of contacts in my address book which included friend’s, family, and colleagues. I also emailed it to the ChurchillChat group on Google, thinking that there may be a few interested parties to be found there. I don’t send many emails in an exceedingly wide distribution like this but I thought this was one occasion that demanded such an action.

The responses I have received have been quite fascinating. Until one makes an announcement such as this one doesn’t realise how wide a net it may cast…

One of the first responses was from a friend who is retired lawyer in Washington who took an interesting historical holiday recently. He is the Executive VP of a group called the Napoleonic Alliance. He wrote:

“… 50 of us made a pilgrimage to Paris on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s coronation on December 2, 2004. The concert held at La Madeleine, the classical church facing the Place de la Concord whose interior is absolutely majestic. In black-tie, we filed in to a drum roll rendered by Grenadiers de la Garde Imperiale in their tall bearskins, a salute as one of the patrons of the affair, and we were seated in a prime location. Le tout Paris was there including the descendants of the Imperial family. I was introduced to a tall dignified affable fellow who did not have a coveted ticket, and I was about to donate my own (being already in) when he smiled politely and stated he didn’t need one. He was Nicolas Davout, duc d’Auerstadt and prince d’Eckmuhl, a descendant of one of Napoleon’s most illustrious marshals. After the concert, we repaired to a late dinner at Le Grand Vefour, a restaurant in period decor preferred by Napoleon and Josephine…”

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