Jan. 26, 2023

13. Edmund, Churchill and Onassis

13. Edmund, Churchill and Onassis

Edmund Murray was Winston Churchill’s last bodyguard and as such he witnessed situations and events like no other. What happened when Mrs Onassis, Maria Callas and Jackie Kennedy ended up on the yacht Christina at the same time?  What really happened to Churchill’s budgerigar?

This is the second of our Edmund Murray trilogy.  This is the story that keeps giving.  Reading through Edmund Murray’s autobiography - Winston Churchill's Last Bodyguard -  is a pleasure. It’s packed with stories that I would never of heard about otherwise. A real privilege.


Churchill's Bodyguard Find out more about Edmund's extraordinary life in his own words.


Churchill’s Legionnaire  If you wondered why Edmund left his family and a comfortable job at the age of 19 to join the French Foreign Legion, then take a look at his detailed account.  Written by Edmund Murray, edited by Bill Murray.


Last week's episode

[Episode 12] Winston Churchill's Last Bodyguard - Have you ever found a handwritten inscription behind an old bathroom cabinet and not stopped to read it? In that case, you may be kicking yourself by the time you’ve finished listening to the series of events which uncovered the life of one of Winston Churchill’s closest confidants - his last bodyguard.


Next week's episode

[Episode 14] Edmund, Churchill and Thatcher - Have you ever wondered if Margaret Thatcher ever met Sir Winston Churchill?  If you search, you’ll find that nobody really knows.  However, one person does know; Edmund Murray, Churchill’s last bodyguard.  Also, What happened when Winston Churchill demanded to see his bodyguard’s latest paintings?




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Thanks for listening!



[00:00:00] Steve:

[00:00:01] Steve: It was while they were going through the process of visiting a large number of potential properties that they were first introduced to Christina, the famous Onassis yacht, luxury personified: lapis lazuli baths, onyx tables, [00:00:20] hand-carved images of jade, classic paintings , gold icons, bar stools made from the skin of whales' testicles. [00:00:40] [00:01:00]

[00:01:11] Steve: Last week, we shared an extraordinary story of how a young lady... well, I'll tell you what, why not pop back to episode 12 and [00:01:20] listen in first . It's a great story. Suffice it to say for now, the outcome was to give me a chance to talk to Bill Murray, son of Edmund Murray, who was Winston Churchill's last bodyguard up until his death in 1965.

Bill Murray

[00:01:39] Steve: The more [00:01:40] I listened to Bill, the more I became fascinated by the unique relationship that developed between Edmund and Churchill. And as we'll see in a moment, he became so much more than just a protector.

[00:01:54] Steve: Alongside the fascination of the emerging relationship was also the fact that [00:02:00] Edmund's privileged position so close to such an eminent statesman, meant that he witnessed numerous mini-histories in that time; occurrences and social interactions that were largely, if not completely, unreported and unknown. So, with some help from [00:02:20] Bill, I wanted to share just some of them.

[00:02:22] Steve: In this episode, the second part of our Edmund Murray trilogy, we talk about Edmund, Sir Winston and Aristotle Onassis.

Churchill and Onassis

Churchill and Onassis

[00:02:39] Steve: [00:02:40] Winston Churchill met Aristotle Onassis for the first time in the winter of 1955-56 . Onassis was the most famous, and wealthy, Greek shipping magnate of the 20th century.

[00:02:55] Steve: Following Sir Winston's retirement, the Churchill's [00:03:00] contemplated purchasing a villa in the south of France. Onassis was introduced to them as an expert on property in the area, and they got on very well.

[00:03:10] Bill: Onassis had a suite at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo that he would let the Churchills use. So Lady Churchill and... Sir [00:03:20] Winston and their staff had accommodation at the Hotel de Paris.

The Christina O

[00:03:25] Steve: It was while they were going through the process of visiting a large number of potential properties that they were first introduced to Christina, the famous Onassis yacht, luxury personified: lapis [00:03:40] lazuli baths, onyx tables, hand-carved images of jade, classic paintings , gold icons, bar stools made from the skin of whales' testicles. That's [00:04:00] not to mention the 11 motorboats, one hydroplane and a fully equipped cinema.

The Christina O - Aristotle Onassis' yacht

[00:04:07] Bill: When Sir Winston reduced the amount of time he spent painting on the French Riviera, he did have the opportunity to go on the yacht.

[00:04:17] Bill: ..... generally around the Mediterranean, but it wasn't just [00:04:20] local, it wasn't just popping over to Italy. These cruises sometimes would last over three weeks. And on one occasion they went over to America on the Christina. But it was other places, North Africa, obviously Italy, Greece, the Aegean, the Ionian Sea.

Sir Winston boards the Christina O

[00:04:37] Steve: The yacht started life as the [00:04:40] HMCS Stormont, a Canadian frigate, which supported the Allies during the D-Day landings. Onassis bought the ship from scrap and renamed it after his daughter, Christina. She was the epitome of style in a golden age, but for all her opulence [00:05:00] and lavish memorabilia, Aristotle's most prized possession on board was an oil painting given to him by Sir Winston, which was named "The Moat, Breccles" painted in 1921.

[00:05:14] Bill: As youngsters, we were invited to go on board while the Christina [00:05:20] was in Monte Carlo harbour. And so we did have that privilege to be able to walk around this wonderful yacht.

The Christina O in Monte Carlo

[00:05:27] Steve: On the 5th of August, 1959, Aristotle and Tina, his wife, invited a small gathering to a cocktail party on the Christina; Sir Winston - [00:05:40] and therefore by association Edmund - John and Jackie Kennedy, Maria Callas and her husband. Nothing special by Onassis standards, until you reflect that Mr. Onassis had on board a wife from whom he separated a month later, the woman [00:06:00] who was going to be his partner for the next nine years, Maria Callas, and the woman who would become his second wife after that, Jackie Kennedy. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.[00:06:20]

 Winston's budgie

[00:06:20] Steve: Over time, Onassis and Churchill became close friends. As an indication of Winston's fondness of Aristotle, he bequeathed to him his budgerigar, Toby. Toby was originally [00:06:40] presented to Churchill by his breeder, Lord Montgomery. In fact, Edmund received one at the same time from the same source.

Churchill and Lord Montgomery

[00:06:49] Steve: In the latter years, Toby travelled with Sir Winston abroad under one proviso - that he wouldn't fraternize with the local [00:07:00] budgerigars, o n legal rather than cultural grounds.

[00:07:04] Steve: Toby always stayed in Churchill's bedroom. Each day, the valet was tasked with giving him the freedom of the room, frequently hopping onto Edmund's shoulder and pecking at his moustache.

[00:07:18] Steve: In [00:07:20] 1961, in the Onassis Suite on the eighth floor of the Hotel de Paris, a French window in the lounge was innocently opened, and Toby flew out in the direction of the casino, which was ironic because Churchill was known to like a flutter.[00:07:40] And, as it turns out, so did Toby.

[00:07:45] Steve: Churchill was extremely fond of Toby and so was particularly upset. Onassis never received his budgerigar. Toby was never seen [00:08:00] again.

[00:08:01] Steve: Of course, Edmund was observing this friendship developing first-hand.

[00:08:10] Bill: Onassis was a very generous man. He'd put himself out for Sir Winston. He had a great love of Sir Winston and [00:08:20] it was genuine. It wasn't just something that he did for show. They really did get on very well together. If Sir Winston needed anything, a cushion on his chair, or to go the toilet or whatever it was, then Aristotle Onassis would do that. He wouldn't ask one of his staff to do it. He'd do it himself [00:08:40] and he'd sit with Sir Winston for hours talking to him. And the two of them got on very well indeed.

Onassis takes Churchill past Gallipoli

[00:08:46] Bill: On one occasion they went through the Bosphorus and along the canal and they passed the Dardenelles.

The Dardanelles - also known as the Strait of Gallipoli

[00:08:54] Steve: The Dardenelles, also known as the Strait of Gallipoli, [00:09:00] that internationally significant stretch of water which connects the Mediterranean and Aegean through to the sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus, and into the Black Sea. It's one of the narrowest Straits in the world, which helps to explain its strategic importance,[00:09:20] particularly in times of war.

[00:09:23] Steve: In 1915 during the First World War, the Allies tried, disastrously, to gain control of the Strait. At that time, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, and Gallipoli would cast a long shadow [00:09:40] over his reputation. 70,000 Allies and 60,000 Turks lost their lives.

[00:09:48] Steve: It goes without saying then that the Dardenelles would always weigh heavily on [00:10:00] Churchill's mind as it must have at this moment, as they passed through...

[00:10:05] Bill: They went through during the night time, so it was just lights that they had. Aristotle Onassis asked Dad to be with him and Sir Winston as they went by the coast of Gallipoli. And that's quite [00:10:20] an amazing thought really to think that... with all the memories Churchill had and the way that his political status fell on account of Gallipoli, that my Dad was there with the two of them as they went past the scene of that part of the war.

The British and French Fleet at Gallipoli

[00:10:38] Steve: Edmund [00:10:40] recalls in his autobiography: " We went on deck to watch the dim distant outline of the shore and the hills for two hours. We were alone, entirely alone and invisible except for the glow of his cigar in the blackness. What memories, I [00:11:00] wondered, were stirring within his mind? Did he see before him, in that warm night air, the ghosts of the regiments of men who perished at Gallipoli Beach? Men who had been just cogs in the vast ponderous machine that he himself had [00:11:20] set in motion. I felt the drama as we sat there and judging from Sir Winston's reactions then and immediately after, it was an experience which had considerable impact upon him, and during the next two or three days, he was in silent retrospective mood.[00:11:40]

[00:11:40] Steve: As if this moment wasn't poignant enough, Edmund's uncle Joe had been one of those soldiers sent to Gallipoli to fight.

[00:11:49] Bill: My great uncle Joe talked to Dad about it because he was there and he went right through Gallipoli and survived. And then then he sent to the Western Front.

Edmund, Clementine and Winston Churchill outside 28 Hyde Park Gate

And finally

[00:11:59] Steve: Churchill [00:12:00] and Onassis remained very good friends to the end. Onassis died 10 years after Sir Winston in 1975. As for "The Moat, Breccles", it was sold in 2021 for an estimated one and a half million dollars. And the Christina? [00:12:20] Well, you can rent her yourself for a cool $100,000 a day.

[00:12:27] Steve: All inclusive, of course.

 [00:12:40] [00:13:00]



Aristotle Onassis 1967cr

Pieter Jongerhuis, CC BY-SA 3.0


Winston Churchill C3519635

Central Office of Information, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Christina O - Aristotle Onassis' yacht

Christina o 103 © stef-bravin


Winston Churchill during the Second World War in the United Kingdom H38661

Churchill and Montgomery


Dardanelles landsat

NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


British and French Battle Fleet at the entrance to the Dardanelles

British Navy photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons