Looking at photographs of Churchill in the war years, the eye is irresistibly drawn to the thin man in the corner – the inevitable Thompson. Throughout the Second World War, and during Churchill’s Cabinet career in the Twenties, the taciturn East Ender never left his side.
Walter H. Thomson travelled over 200,000 miles while protecting Winston Churchill and was said to have spent more time with him than Churchill’s own wife. Thompson didn’t always work in the security services, he was originally a policeman who moved his way into Special Branch, where he became an expert in terrorism threats, which positioned him perfectly to look after Westminster’s security. On top of the constant threat of assassination at the hands of the Nazis, Indian Nationalists and Communists, Churchill also had a habit of voluntarily putting himself in dangerous situation such as IRA attacks, blitz bombing sites and most famously the Siege of Sidney Street, where a bullet allegedly rocketed through his top hat, inches away from his head. Thompson was said to have single-handedly saved Mr Churchill’s life on nearly 20 separate occasions and it will come as little surprise that after over 14 years of protecting Britain’s most famous minister he eventually had a nervous breakdown.
Walter Henry Thompson BEM was a British police officer who is best known as the bodyguard of Winston Churchill for eighteen years, between 1921 and 1935, and between 1939 and 1945 during World War II. Thompson reportedly saved Churchill’s life on numerous occasions. When he finally retired after the war, he published a memoir that made him famous in the UK and in the US. Scroll down for video
Thompson grew up in the working-class neighborhood of Brixton, South London. One of a family of thirteen children, he worked a number of jobs before becoming a police officer. He initially operated out of the Paddington Green police station. When the suffragette movement exploded, the police expanded the Special Branch. Thompson took the admission test and passed, later becoming part of the huge surveillance effort, by Special Branch, of the suffragette movement, during which he got to know most of the women’s rights leaders. He eventually moved on to tracking anarchists and other foreign threats before he moved to the protection detail. Thompson was initially assigned to Churchill in 1921 and worked with him until his retirement in 1935.
During his time with Churchill, Thompson traveled over 200,000 miles and is reported to have saved Churchill’s life on some 20 occasions, including times when Churchill’s own foolhardiness exposed him to danger from shrapnel during the Blitz, plots by the IRA, Indian nationalists, Arab nationalists, Nazi agents, Greek Communists and the deranged. The stress of his duties during his time with Churchill caused Thompson to suffer a breakdown, which took him away from Churchill, but within weeks, Thompson had recuperated and returned to his duties. Thompson was so liked by Churchill that when Thompson’s daughter fell ill, Churchill arranged for her to be attended to by his own doctor and insisted that the invoice be sent to him for remittance. The stress of the job, compounded by long absences away from his family, led to the dissolution of Thompson’s first marriage in 1929; during long hours waiting around whilst Churchill was in meetings, he grew close to and eventually married Churchill’s junior secretary, Mary Shearburn.
While working at a grocer’s he had bought with his family, on 22 August 1939 he received an infamous telegram that called him back into service as Churchill’s bodyguard. The telegram from Churchill read “Meet me Croydon Airport 4.30pm Wednesday.” Although at that time Churchill had no official position in government, as the leading anti-appeaserhe was aware of the prevailing risk to his life from assassins (particularly the Nazis) and engaged Thompson to protect him in the pay of £5 per week (£277 in 2016).On the same day, Thompson resumed his official duties with Scotland Yard, when Churchill rejoined the Cabinet on the outbreak of war.
He was with Churchill so much that he was a “perpetual annoyance” to Churchill’s wife, Clementine. For his service in protection of Churchill and to his country, Thompson was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1945.
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