A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, January 25, 2013

Franklin and Winston's Excellent Road Trip: Churchill and FDR Overnight in Marrakesh

Churchill Showing FDR the Sunset at Marrakesh
As I noted in my post yesterday on the closing of the Casablanca Conference 70 years ago, as soon as the morning press conference was over, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt set out on an overnight excursion to Marrakesh. Churchill had loved to visit Marrakesh to paint before the war, and wanted to show the always fascinating city to his American counterpart. Let Churchill begin the tale (sources for the quotes at the bottom of the post):
The President prepared to depart. But I said to him, "You cannot go all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakech. Let us spend two days there. I must be with you when you see the sunset on the snows of the Atlas Mountains." I worked on Harry Hopkins also in this sense. It happened there was a most delightful villa, of which I knew nothing, at Marrakech which the American Vice-Consul, Mr. Kenneth Pendar, had been lent by an American lady, Mrs. Taylor. This villa would accommodate the President and me, and there was plenty of outside room for our entourages. So it was decided that we should all go to Marrakech. 
Churchill writes as if it was spontaneous but since the villa had been arranged and US troops lined the road for 150 miles, one presumes some pre-planning.
Roosevelt and I drove together the one hundred and fifty miles across the desert — it seemed to me to be beginning to get greener — and reached the famous oasis. My description of Marrakech was — "the Paris of the Sahara," where all the caravans had come from Central Africa for centuries to be heavily taxed en route by the tribes in the mountains and afterwards swindled in the Marrakech markets, receiving the return, which they greatly valued, of the gay life [not what it means today —MCD] of the city, including fortune-tellers, snake-charmers, masses of food and drink, and on the whole the largest and most elaborately organised brothels [exactly what it means today —MCD] in the African continent. All these institutions were of long and ancient  repute.
It was agreed between us that I should provide the luncheon, and Tommy was accordingly charged with the task. The President and I drove together all the way, five hours, and talked a great deal of shop, but also touched on lighter matters. Many thousand American troops were posted along the road to protect us from any danger, and aeroplanes circled ceaselessly overhead . . .
Averell Harriman,who was along for the excursion, remembered the road trip this way (his memoirs refer to himself in the third person):
As soon as the press conference was over, the two were off to Marrakesh with Hopkins and Harriman, the Prime Minister's son Randolph, Hopkins' son Robert, Admiral [Ross T.] McIntire [Roosevelt's personal physician] and an entourage of aides. It was a four-hour drive of 150 miles through the desert, the dusty road lined with American soldiers standing at attention while fighter planes swept overhead. The British had prepared a picnic lunch of hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches and mince pies to eat along the way. 
If Harriman remembered the details of the lunch, Harry Hopkins remembered the alcohol in his diary:
At 1.15 we drove to Marrakesh — picnic lunch on the way. Everyone tired but relaxed. As the British had fixed up the lunch we had plenty of wine and Scotch.
Churchill continues the tale:
In the evening we arrived at the villa, where we were very hospitably and suitably entertained by Mr. Pendar. I took the President up the tower of the villa. He was carried in a chair, and sat enjoying a wonderful sunset on the snows of the Atlas. [See the photo at top.]  We had a very jolly dinner, about fifteen or sixteen, and we all sang songs. I sang, and the President joined in the choruses, and at one moment was about to try a solo. However, someone interrupted and I never heard this.
Hopkins and others at least visited the town, including what anyone who has seen Marrakesh will recognize as the Djemaa al-Fnaa':
We were put up at the villa of the late Moses Taylor — very pleasant. Our host was a young archaeologist named Pendar (Louise had once rented his flat in Paris) — he was one of our secret agents in N. Africa prior to the landings. Averell [Harriman], Randolph [Churchill], Robert [Hopkins, Harry’s son] and I went to visit a big fair — storytellers — dancers — snake-charmers — and 15,000 natives. Very colorful. The great trading market was near — but nothing much to sell — tho thousands ever milling thru. Dinner was good — army style — company aglow — much banter — Churchill at his best.
Harriman remembered more about the dinner conversation that evening:
At dinner that evening in the extraordinarily beautiful Moorish house of Mrs. Moses Taylor, then occupied by Kenneth Pendar, one of [Robert] Murphy's special agents, there were speeches, songs and toasts. Pendar took the head of the table, seating Roosevelt on his right and Churchill on his left. Harriman sat beside Roosevelt, and Hopkins next to Churchill.
It was the President's habit to shift gears conversationally when he preferred not to discuss weighty matters. This time he expounded to Pendar and Harriman his views about independence for Morocco on the Philippine pattern. He talked of compulsory education, of fighting disease through immunization and of birth control. "Occasionally," Harriman noted, "the P.M. interjected a pessimistic-and realistic-note. He doesn't like the new ideas but accepts them as inevitable."
Here again, as in their disagreements over India, Roosevelt and Churchill did not march to the same drumbeat. The Prime Minister made no secret of his determination to preserve the British Empire, although he knew that would be difficult. Roosevelt enjoyed thinking aloud on the tremendous changes he saw ahead-the end of colonial empires and the rise of newly independent nations across the sweep of Africa and Asia. "I felt his objectives were right," Harriman said. "I think he had a belief that his prestige, both personally and as President of the United States, was so great that he could influence the trend. He recognized the rise of nationalism among the colonial peoples. He also recognized that Churchill was pretty much a nineteenth century colonialist. So he said some of these things partly to jar Churchill but also from a fundamental belief that the old order could not last. All this was surely in Churchill's mind when he later said that he had not become Prime Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire."
Throughout this, their final evening together, Churchill kept looking for an opportunity to talk privately with Roosevelt. But the seating arrangement, to Churchill's great annoyance, made a tete-a-tete impossible. "Roosevelt rather liked the idea," Harriman recalled, "that he did not have to go through with this talk. He always enjoyed other people's discomfort. I think it is fair to say that it never bothered him very much when other people were unhappy."
Harriman had earlier hinted that Churchill wanted to discuss further the "unconditional surrender" term decided at Casablanca.

Pendar, the American Vice-Consul and an archaeologist as well as one of Robert Murphy's agents in Vichy North Africa before the Torch  landings, was living in the Villa Taylor, owned by the widow of Moses Taylor of Rhode Island. Legend has it that when Mrs. Taylor, a staunch Republican, learned FDR had stayed in her villa, she resolved never to stay there again.

Hopkins and Harriman stayed up well past midnight drafting cables for Stalin and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek about the Casablanca decisions.  Roosevelt was to fly back to Casablanca; Churchill was to stay on in Marrakesh a few days. Churchill remembered:
My illustrious colleague was to depart just after dawn on the 25th for his long flight by Lagos and Dakar and so across to Brazil and then up to Washington. We had parted the night before, but he came round in the morning on the way to the aeroplane to say another good-bye. I was in bed, but would not hear of letting him go to the airfield alone, so I jumped up and put on my zip [often referred to as his "siren suit'], and nothing else except slippers, and in this informal garb I drove with him to the airfield, and went on the plane and saw him comfortably settled down, greatly admiring his courage under all his physical disabilities and feeling very anxious about the hazards he had to undertake. These aeroplane journeys had to be taken as a matter of course during the war. None the less I always regarded them as dangerous excursions. However all was well. I then returned to the Villa Taylor, where I spent another two days in correspondence with the War Cabinet about my future movements, and painting from the tower the only picture I ever attempted during the war. 
The trip had occupied the afternoon of January 24 through the morning of January 25, 70 years ago.

Sources for the quotations above:

Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate,(Vol. IV of The Second World War, 1950), US Edition, pp. 694-695.
W. Averell Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy to Hitler and Stalin, 1941-1946,  (1975), pp. 191-192.
Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (based on Harry Hopkins' papers), (1948), p. 694.


David Mack said...

This was super, Mike. I will pass it along to some folks, including Carl Brown and my wife. Must get her to Morocco, including Marrakesh, but we will skip the brothels.

HalfPuddingHalfSauce said...

I trying to pinpoint the exact location of Villa Taylor using Google Earth. Can you help? Thanks.