Jan. 19, 2023

12. Winston Churchill's Last Bodyguard

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.


Bill mentions below that he is currently Chairman of the Dartmoor Society.  Why not take a quick look to see how one group in the South West of England looks to protect its locality,  community, culture and traditions. 

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.

Personal comment:

This really was an extraordinary story in which it was a privilege to play a small part.  The story actually spreads across two episodes. This week we consider the colourful life of Edmund Murray, Winston Churchill’s last bodyguard, through the eyes of his son Bill Murray.  Next week we take a closer look at Edmund’s relationship with Churchill to learn small slices of history that you will probably have never heard.

Bill himself is a colourful chap. We continued to chat after the recording and I thought you might like to hear a little more about him, in his words:

“The Murrays were very much a singing family. They always did sing when they were in Durham.  Growing up, my uncles and my dad would have local concerts around the mine. It was a real village hall atmosphere where they created their own entertainment. 

Durham is very much a place where people do sing and tell stories, and right from the very start of my recollections, perhaps as a two or three-year-old, there was always music in our family. We had an old Hammond organ that Dad could play, and there was a mandolin and other instruments,. 

There was a concertina in the house that I used to poke knitting needles into. I remember that. After dad had finished working for Churchill and came to Burton hall, we wanted to attract more customers so we started up a folk club in 1966. It was at the time when there was quite a folk song revival. 

My friend Clive knew Cyril Tawney, who lived in Plymouth and was a famous folk singer. We got Cyril to come up for six weeks to put on evenings for us and it worked very well. We also had other folk singers and local folk singers coming in. 

Sometimes the folk singer we booked might not turn up for some reason, which is why I started singing folk songs.  I started to mix with other folk singers in the area and got to know quite a few of the old local Devonshire folk singers and musicians, Bob Cann and people like that. I used to go down to a pub in North Taunton where we lived and sing with all the old guys down there. And so I've built up quite a repertoire of these old songs and done a lot of entertainment since. 

The entertainment led to other things. I was awarded the Dartmoor Society Award for nurturing the art of Song on Dartmoor.  I later became a committee member and currently am the chairman of the Dartmoor Society. It's a lovely organisation to be involved with, but I still do the entertainment. I still do many village hall dos. I go to the country with friends. I've got a particular friend called Jim Causley, who's very well known, that I do a lot of singing with. I also do various projects. We do projects on cider and on tin mining on Dartmoor. It's a lot of fun.”


Last week's episode

[Episode 11] Secondhand Embarrassment - Have you heard of secondhand embarrassment? Imagine you’re sitting on a train next to a toilet with an automatic opening door.  And then, for no reason, it starts to open.  Think this could never happen?

Next week's episode

[Episode 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?

Contact Batting the Breeze:
- Email us at steve@battingthebreeze.com
- Chat with us on Facebook

Thanks for listening!


[00:00:01] Bill: "This is Murray sir", said Williams. Mr. Churchill moved his cigar to his left hand. I took his extended right lightly in mine, taking care as I have been warned to avoid clasping it firmly. The great man shook my hand, [00:00:20] inspected me carefully, and belched. 

[00:01:05] Steve: Redecorating can be a pretty thankless business. But have you ever had a situation where you were stripping wallpaper or perhaps removing an old bathroom cabinet, to reveal some handwriting? [00:01:20] Handwriting that someone had left on the wall before putting up the cabinet in question or before wallpapering, with a view to you discovering it at an undetermined date in the future.

[00:01:32] Steve: Well, that happened to Kerry last year. She'd just moved into her new home in [00:01:40] Wookey Hole, a village in the South West of England, set in the wonderful Mendip Hills, notable for its rather quaint name, and its historical caves inhabited by humans for over 40,000 years.

The writing on the wall 
[00:01:58] Steve: Kerry was on a [00:02:00] mission redecorating her new home. On one particular afternoon, having removed much of the wallpaper in the hallway and up the stairs, she was merrily wielding her scraper to remove any last remnants of wallpaper when she noticed some handwriting. Had she taken [00:02:20] one more swipe with the scraper, she would've removed it from existence, and this story might never have happened.

[00:02:29] Steve: The handwriting was dated 1971 - just over 50 [00:02:40] years ago. Kerry dutifully recorded details of the inscription and realized that she had enough clues to be able to track down any offspring of the gentleman in question, a certain Edmund Murray.

Edmund Murray's writing on the wall

[00:02:54] Steve: After some investigation, she located Bill Murray, son of Edmund,[00:03:00] not too far away in Okehampton on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. They talked on the phone and arranged to meet so that Bill could see his father's handwriting for himself.

[00:03:13] Steve: And in December of 2022,[00:03:20] Bill and his wife Carolyn arrived in Wookey Hole. [00:03:40] 

Guest - Bill Murray

Bill's first thoughts about the writing on the wall 
[00:03:50] Steve: Somehow I'd managed to muscle my way in on this wonderful moment. After some reflection, everyone relocated to the kitchen for a [00:04:00] cuppa and Bill very kindly allowed me to turn on the recorder while we were chatting.

[00:04:06] Steve: What were your initial thoughts when you saw your father's wall art?

[00:04:10] Bill: Well, I was really surprised it came from nowhere, didn't it really, just the conversation. I suppose... because it's my father who's written it, it's a happy memory. It's a happy [00:04:20] memory. It's the sort of thing that he would do, it didn't surprise me in that respect. He had a good sense of humor and he would get something in his mind and then see it through. And to actually write something, a spontaneous thing probably between, I don't know, mixing up wallpaper paste or something like that... it didn't surprise me [00:04:40] at all really. 

Whose was the writing on the wall?
[00:04:41] Steve: There is something I haven't got round to sharing with you, and that is who exactly was Edmund Murray and what was his relationship to possibly the most influential world leader of the 20th century?

[00:04:58] Steve: So [00:05:00] would you like to tell us who your father was?

[00:05:02] Bill: Well, my father was Churchill's bodyguard. There were other bodyguards while Churchill was... leader of the Opposition and also Prime Minister. So from 1950 to 1955, Dad was working with other bodyguards. After [00:05:20] 1955, Churchill wanted Dad to actually be his bodyguard for the rest of his life. So Dad did another 10 years as... Churchill's personal bodyguard. 

[00:05:32] Steve: As it turns out, Edmund Murray led an extraordinarily colourful life as we'll see in a moment.[00:05:40] However, the early years were a little bit greyer.

Young Edmund
[00:05:44] Bill: Dad was born in county Durham. His family were miners. As far as I know, there had been miners for a few generations. Dad wasn't old enough to go down the mine, but... he would work at the pit head and look after the ponies that were [00:06:00] taking the trucks of coal, transporting them out of the mine and to... I suppose the... railway sidings. He did that for a couple of years while he was still at school. He did well at school. He was quite a clever guy, really. 

Foreign Legion
[00:06:13] Steve: The family moved to London. Edmund finished school, worked with his Uncle Joe in the Holborn Restaurant, [00:06:20] and then just before the war in 1937, Edmund...

[00:06:24] Bill: ...got a one-way ticket to Calais and joined the Foreign Legion. Signed up there, went down to the south of France to do his initial training and then over to [00:06:40] Algeria and... did eight years in the French Foreign Legion from 1937 to 1945. He was quite smart, my father, as I said, and... he was a good soldier. 

Edmund the musician
[00:06:52] Steve: And being quite smart, Edmund decided that there may be some benefits in joining the band.

[00:06:59] Bill: He was [00:07:00] a natural musician. He could... he was one of these people who could just pick up an instrument and learn to play it very quickly, he had a very good ear for music and he was a very good singer. And so he joined the Foreign Legion Band and that gave him quite a few privileges in terms of not having to go out into the... desert to fight, [00:07:20] because, ... he was more valuable looking after the band and he was working on the administration side of the band, as well as being a musician. 

Edmund the teacher 
[00:07:28] Steve: Edmund continued to spread his net as wide as he could.

[00:07:32] Bill: He also taught English. He taught English to the officer's children around the barracks and in the town as well[00:07:40] and he made a bit of money on that. He became very friendly with quite a few of the senior officers in the Foreign Legion. His other privileges were to take visiting celebrities around... the town, people like Maurice Chevalier.

Back to the band & Marlene Dietrich
[00:07:54] Bill: On one occasion, on Bastille Day I think, they went to perform at the [00:08:00] celebrations in Paris. It must have been just before the war, and Dad did dance with Marlene Dietrich, because she was there joining in the fun I suppose. 

Marlene Dietrich

[00:08:10] Steve: Maurice Chavalier and Marlene Dietrich, both Hollywood film stars primarily of the 1930s and 40s.[00:08:20] Marlene Dietrich was actually recognized for bravery during World War II. As a German, she spoke out against Hitler loudly and vocally. Despite being on a wanted list by the Nazis, she performed for Allied troops on the frontline in France and other locations. With that in [00:08:40] mind, I would thoroughly recommend you check out her rendition of, "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" and challenge you not to be moved by it.

WWII Indo China
[00:08:50] Steve: in the early part of the war, Edmund was allied to the Free French lead by General Charles de Gaulle. At this point, the allegiances of the Foreign Legion [00:09:00] were quite complex with some elements supporting the Germans and others supporting the Allies. Edmund, in 1940, took a long boat trip around the Cape of Good Hope...

[00:09:11] Bill: where he spent five or six years in Indo China fighting the Japanese doing a lot of sabotage work until Tonkin [00:09:20] was invaded by the Japanese. And then they had a long retreat to the borders of China. 

1945 Edmund leaves Foreign legion
[00:09:25] Steve: Edmund had served over five years and decided to submit his resignation. The next five years saw him land an assortment of roles, fairly disconnected, but all continuing the travelling theme. He [00:09:40] spent time in India teaching British soldiers skills as varied as jungle survival and parachute jumping.

[00:09:46] Bill: He went behind the lines on several occasions parachuting out of planes and then having to find his way back to India from where he'd landed. 

[00:09:55] Steve: Next up, his strong language skills, developed in the Foreign Legion, [00:10:00] enabled him to secure a job with the News of the World, traveling Europe, exploring the state of bombed out cities from the war. This led to a job escorting tourists around the very same cities.

[00:10:13] Steve: On one such trip to Lucerne in Switzerland, Edmund met his future wife, Bill's [00:10:20] mother, Beryl. He'd taken a group of tourists to the Flora Garten. During the evening as his singing had become well recognized there over time, he was invited up on stage to sing a few songs. As he stepped down off the stage, he was approached by, "A charming young lady dressed in black [00:10:40] lace from head to toe", who asked Edmund in perfect English if she could have the next dance.

Edmund's wife Beryl

[00:10:47] Steve: Edmund said later that he knew his bachelor days were over before the end of that waltz. They were married on the 26th [00:11:00] of December, 1947.

[00:11:03] Steve: Shortly before the marriage, Edmund was accepted into the Metropolitan Police in London. And then, in August 1950, two significant events followed in the [00:11:20] same month. First the birth of his son, William Anthony Lawrence, and the second, an assignment as bodyguard to Winston Churchill. 

Bill reads Edmund's introduction to Winston Churchill from his book
[00:11:32] Bill: Dad had been shortlisted and then offered the post.... well he was just called Mr. Churchill in those days.[00:11:40] He hadn't actually become Sir Winston. And... it's the sort of offer when you're in Special Branch that you'd be very silly to refuse. And... this is an extract from my father's book as to how the interview went:

[00:11:56] Bill: "This is Murray sir", said Williams. Mr. [00:12:00] Churchill moved his cigar to his left hand. I took his extended right lightly in mine, taking care as I have been warned to avoid clasping it firmly. The great man shook my hand, inspected me carefully, and belched. 

[00:12:19] Steve: [00:12:20] We diverted the conversation at this point because Bill mentioned that he actually met Winston Churchill a number of times.

Bill remembers meeting Winston Churchill
[00:12:29] Bill: I remember Dad saying to me when me and my sister met Sir Winston at 28 Hyde Park Gate, that Sir Winston did have very, very soft hands.[00:12:40] That was absolutely true. Very friendly hands they were, and a smile and he looked at us, I mean, we are children. We're children. I was probably maybe five, six years old. My sister was a couple of years older, my little sister, a couple of years younger. He'd have something in his mind to say to us like, "You are the oldest, "Oh, you are the [00:13:00] middle son", and "You're the young one", or something like that. He couldn't remember our names, but he would know my age because he knew that I was born in 1950 during the same month as Dad took on his... job as bodyguard

Bill meets Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill dies, Edmund leaves Met Police
[00:13:15] Steve: A glorious 15 year relationship ensued, which we'll take a [00:13:20] look at in a future episode. But inevitably it had to come to an end and in January 1965, Churchill died at the grand age of 90.

[00:13:32] Bill: And, that was really the end of Dad's association, not only with Churchill, but with also the Metropolitan Police because... having [00:13:40] worked so closely with Churchill for 15 years, he couldn't sit at the table or at a desk just doing ordinary, mundane tasks. And he resigned. He resigned, I think probably after he'd done 18 years service. If he'd have stayed to 25 years service, then he would've got a pension. 

Wookey Hole
[00:13:59] Steve: [00:14:00] Edmund then bought a hotel in Devon, the Burton Hall Hotel. While the move was good for Bill, it had a full size snooker table and five miles of trout fishing, it wasn't so good for the family cashflow, and so the story goes full circle as Edmund moves [00:14:20] to Wookey Hole.

[00:14:21] Bill: He sold the hotel and moved to Wookey Hole where he looked after.... it was a Madame Tussauds exhibition. It was called Titania's Palace, and it was like a great big doll's house. I only visited it and looked at it [00:14:40] once, and that was probably enough for me really. Wookey Hole was a great place to visit. Had the caves there and we always enjoyed coming up here. I suppose Dad, a mom stayed here for a couple of years and then Dad managed to get a job with the Admiralty in Bath and they moved to Combe Downe where they lived [00:15:00] happily ever after really from, I suppose, 1974 until Dad died in 1997.

Edmund Murray - French Foreign Legion

[00:15:09] Steve: An extraordinary life. Edmund had started out in and around the coal mines of County Durham in the 1920s and 30s, but went on [00:15:20] to a life of such colour. He mixed with royalty. He charmed them all; Eleanor Roosevelt, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Maria Callas, Margot Fonteyne. He batted the breeze with Greta Garbo and he danced with Marlene Dietrich.
[00:15:39] Steve: [00:15:40] He mingled with the world's great statesman of the mid 20th century; Harry Truman, JFK, President Eisenhower knew him well enough to call him, "Ed". But his charge perhaps was the greatest statesman of them all - Sir Winston Churchill.

[00:15:59] Steve: [00:16:00] So, if you ever find yourself removing an old kitchen cabinet or stripping wallpaper, just keep your eyes open because you never know what you may find. 



Marlene Dietrich NBC Radio Monitor

NBC Radio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons - Marlene Dietrich