Change of Plan
They had been waiting a long time for him; nearly three years, in fact. The British never expected to destroy Nazi Germany on their own. It would take the mightiest coalition in history to do that. But there were two related thoughts that sustained them through the darkest times: Hitler would never defeat them, and the United States could not stay out of the war indefinitely. One day, an American general would arrive as an avatar in khaki, brass buttons and a rainbow smear of medal ribbons, the manifest form of the assurance of victory, with all the power of America at his back, and the forces of democracy would then possess the amassed strength that would save the world.
Ike also brought something else with him, something more prosaic but almost as welcome—a crate of fresh fruit. The British, he knew from his earlier visit, not only craved the downfall of Hitler but yearned, too, for oranges, bananas and grapes, which had been unobtainable almost since the war began. Bearing these gifts, he landed in Britain on June 24, to intense, openly expressed curiosity and an understood but understated sense of relief.1
Ike moved into a suite at Claridge's, the most fashionable hotel in London, with his naval aide and longtime friend Harry C. Butcher, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve. When they had first met, Butcher was editor of The Fertilizer Review; he had since risen to a vice-presidency at CBS.
Ike had also brought to London another old friend, Thomas Jefferson Davis. Once Ike's strongest supporter in many a fierce argument with MacArthur, Davis was now Ike's adjutant general.
Eisenhower felt uneasy in the luxurious, upper-crust atmosphere of Claridge's, a place where anything that doesn't move is likely to be gilded and anything that does is likely to carry an aroma of snobbery. "I feel like I'm living in sin," he told Butcher. Eisenhower's chief of staff, Brigadier General Charles Bolté, gave him another good reason to move. "Claridge's is like a hunk of sugar," said Bolté. "One bomb and the whole building will dissolve." He urged him to come and live where he did, in the Dorchester, which was built of concrete and steel. The Dorchester also had a more modern, almost American, atmosphere. Two weeks after his arrival, Ike moved with something like a sigh of relief. The Dorchester faced Hyde Park and was only a brisk five-block walk to his ETO headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square.2
As the word spread that he was in London, invitations flooded in—to speak, to receive awards, to be feted and toasted, to open this or inaugurate that. He turned nearly all of them down, including a dinner hosted by the lord mayor of London. He also rejected, to Butcher's dismay, a chance to meet George Bernard Shaw. "To hell with it," said Ike. "I've got work to do!"3
Almost from the moment he arrived, Ike missed Mamie intensely. He wrote to her three or four times a week. He apologized for not being able to tell her anything specific about what he was doing but tried to give her a rough idea: "In a place like this, the Commanding General must be a bit of a diplomat—lawyer—promoter—salesman—social hound—liar (at least to get out of social affairs)—mountebank, actor—Simon Legree—humanitarian—orator and incidentally (sometimes I think most damnably incidentally) a soldier!" The main thing in his letters to Mamie wasn't what little news they contained but the constant reassurance that he was all right; that, and the warrior's eternal plea: "Lots of love—don't forget me."4
He also agonized over keeping in touch with John. "He's on my mind all the time," Ike told Mamie. Before he left for London, Ike had told John how much it would mean to him to get a letter, however brief, once a week, but like most young men his age, John was shy and self-conscious when it came to correspondence. After he had been in England six weeks and received nothing but a short note from his son, Ike became exasperated and couldn't help comparing his own upbringing with Johnny's: "Sometimes I worry that he may be just a bit spoiled. . . . Things have been easy for him. . . . After all—suppose he'd have had to start at 13 or 14 getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning working through a hot summer day to 9:00 at night—day after day—or doing his winter work with cold chapped hands and not even gloves—maybe he'd think writing a letter wasn't so terribly difficult!"5
It almost never occurred to Eisenhower that he might be responsible for the emotional distance between them. He was doubtless handicapped by the daunting self-control essential to any military career. More important, though, was the distant, emotionally stiff relationship with his own father. Ike frequently wrote to old friends and sent them his love or told them just how much they meant to him. No matter how far he traveled or how long they were parted, he did not do that with his own son.
Even after he had shunned all but a minimal effort on what he called "the Social Front," Eisenhower found the city too crowded, too noisy. Besides, the headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Street was in a building that the Navy owned, not the Army. He told Bolté he wanted to move out of the city—about fifty miles away, preferably. Bolté said that was impossible. He had to be within easy reach of the Ministry of Defence, the Air Ministry, Downing Street and so on. As for fifty miles, "You can't even drive at 20 miles an hour in the blackout," Bolté warned him.6
Despite this, his determination to get away from Grosvenor Square grew stronger. It was terrible to withstand the incessant demands imposed on him by two governments and make life-or-death decisions all day and then have nothing but a hotel to go home to at night. "I want to get the hell out of London," he told Butcher. The British generals and politicians he was dealing with nearly all had a place in the country to retreat to on the weekends where they could relax. Why shouldn't he do the same?
Butcher found the ideal place: a two-story, five-bedroom house called Telegraph Cottage built in mock-Tudor style. It was in the heart of London's stockbroker belt, near Kingston on Thames, a forty-minute drive from Grosvenor Square. Telegraph Cottage was set back from the main road at the end of a long driveway, had a large garden at the front and ten acres of woodland at the back. Best of all, perhaps, it was adjacent to a golf course.
At first, Ike spent only weekends at Telegraph Cottage, but by the fall he was there for half the week. In London, up to twenty people a day came to see him. Between visitors, he wrestled with mountains of plans and correspondence and there were dozens of telephone calls. At the cottage, he could play a few rounds of golf with Butcher, weather permitting, and think. Or stroll around in his wood, and think. Or plant a vegetable garden, and think.
Telegraph Cottage soon had something like a family atmosphere. Ike, Butcher, Ike's Army aide Major "Tex" Lee, his stenographer, Warrant Officer Walter Marshall, and his orderly, Sergeant Mickey McKeogh, shared the house. Ike's secretaries and female drivers were billeted with families living nearby, but they came to the cottage most evenings when he was in residence to watch a movie, play cards or simply chat.
There was only one thing missing, Ike decided. He asked Lee one day if Army regulations prevented him from having a pet. Lee said he wasn't aware of one. A few days later, Ike called Butcher into his office and told him, "I'm going to get a dog." He already had the ETO Service of Supply looking for one, preferably a Scottie. Butcher tried to persuade him to embrace a more exotic breed, but Eisenhower's mind was made up. "I like the independent attitude of a strutting Scottie." A week later, he had his dog, a black bundle of fur that he named Telek. It sounded like a cable address for Telegraph Cottage, but it amused him to tell curious journalists that the dog's strange name was "a military secret."7
From the moment Eisenhower arrived, the British were more than eager to learn all they could about this American general come to command the European Theater of Operations, the main theater of war. So, too, were many millions of Americans. He was almost as obscure a figure to his countrymen as he was to the British. The first morning he went to work at 20 Grosvenor Square, he had to carve a path, smiling and nodding, through a crowd of jostling, bulb-popping photographers.
Ike's predecessor in London, Lieutenant General James Chaney, had imposed a wide range of restrictions on the press, and many journalists came to feel the Army disdained, if not despised, them. Eisenhower changed all that. Three weeks after he arrived in London, he held what he called "a conference with the press," instead of a press conference. The point wasn't to give them news but to establish a working relationship. He talked about how well he'd gotten along with journalists during his nine years working with and for MacArthur. "I have only been double crossed by one newspaperman in my life," he said, shrugging it off as one of those things.8
They disliked the strict censorship rules, they said, and complained about how long it took to get photographs and stories through censorship. Ike told them he'd relax the rules immediately and would hire more censors to speed things up. They said they weren't allowed to give the names of any but the two highest-ranking American generals, himself and Carl Spaatz, commander of the Eighth Air Force. That rule is now abolished, Ike replied. And there was the subject of race. Reporters weren't allowed to file copy on racial friction between American troops or submit stories on black soldiers dating English women. Ike said the ban was lifted as of now.
The journalists left dazzled. It was like emerging from a tunnel into sunshine. "I don't think he needs a public relations adviser," wrote an astonished Butcher, who had arrived in England convinced that Ike would need his extensive experience with newspapers and radio stations back home to help get the press on his side. "He is tops."9
Excerpted from Eisenhower by Geoffrey Perret. . Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.