Detective Inspector Walter Henry Thompson BEM (3 December 1890 – 18 January 1978) 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 United Kingdom and the Western world.

Detective Inspector

Walter H. Thompson

Walter Thompson next to Winston Churchill testing a Sten Gun, 1941.
Born(1890-12-03)3 December 1890
Brixton, London, England
Died18 January 1978(1978-01-18) (aged 87)
Yeovil, Somerset, England
Police career
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
DepartmentMetropolitan Police Service
Badge no.PC 549[2]
AwardsBritish Empire Medal (1943)
Other workGrocer

Early life and career edit

Thompson grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Brixton in south London. One of a family of thirteen children, he worked a number of jobs before becoming a PC in Bayswater. He initially operated out of the Paddington Green Police Station. When the suffragette movement exploded, the police expanded the Special Branch.[2] 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, communists and other foreign threats before he moved to the protection detail.[3]

Protection detail edit

When it was discovered that terrorists intended to kidnap government ministers, Detective Constable Thompson was assigned to Winston Churchill as his bodyguard.[4] He occupied that function on and off between 1921 and 1932 until his initial retirement in 1935.[3]

During his time with Churchill, Thompson travelled 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 payment. 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.[5]

While working at a grocer's shop he had bought with his family, on 22 August 1939 he received a telegram that called him back into service as Churchill's bodyguard.[3] The telegram from Churchill read "Meet me Croydon Airport 4.30 pm Wednesday." Although at that time Churchill had no official position in government, as the leading anti-appeaser he 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 (£330 in 2024).[3] On the same day, Thompson resumed his official duties with Scotland Yard, when Churchill rejoined the Cabinet on the outbreak of war.[6]

He was with Churchill so much that he was a "perpetual annoyance" to Churchill's wife, Clementine.[7] For his service in protection of Churchill and to his country, Thompson was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 1943 Birthday Honours by George VI.[8] Thompson unexpectedly resigned as Churchill's bodyguard and from Scotland Yard duties following VE day celebrations in May 1945.[9] Churchill's gratitude to Thompson was evident when he presented his own personal cheque to reward the man who did most to keep him safe during the war years and he graciously extended an open invitation for him to visit "when and wherever I am."[5]

Retirement edit

In June 1945, with Churchill out of office and Thompson about to retire for a second time from the Metropolitan Police, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Downing Street decided that it would be improper for him to publish his memoirs for the foreseeable future and threatened Thompson with the loss of his police pension if it was published, even though he had nearly completed a 350,000-word manuscript. An expurgated version, I was Churchill's Shadow was published in the 1950s.

After his book was published he became quite famous and embarked on a book tour across the UK. When the American version of his book was released in America he did over 400 lectures with his wife and made a number of TV appearances on shows like To Tell the Truth, an American TV game show where he beat the panel and won $300 (US$3,412 in 2024).[10]

Thompson died of cancer on 18 January 1978 in Yeovil, Somerset, aged 87 years.[11]

After Thompson's death, his great-niece, Linda Stoker, discovered the full memoir manuscript inside a suitcase in a Somerset farmhouse loft.[12]

In media edit

  • Thompson, Walter H. (1938). Guard from the Yard (1938 ed.). Jarrolds. - Total pages: 255
  • Thompson, Walter H. (1951). I was Churchill's Shadow (1951 ed.). C. Johnson. - Total pages: 200
  • Thompson, Walter H. (1953). Sixty Minutes with Winston Churchill (1953 ed.). C. Johnson. - Total pages: 92
  • Thompson, Walter H. (2003). Beside the Bulldog: The Intimate Memoirs of Churchill's Bodyguard (2003 ed.). Apollo Limited Publishing. ISBN 9780954522308. - Total pages: 144
  • In 2005 13-part television series, on UKTV History, with Dennis Waterman reciting excerpts from Thompson's journal (originally broadcast between November and December 2005). On DVD, the documentary series is entitled Churchill's Bodyguard.

Bibliography edit

  1. ^ Hickman 2006, pp. 25–27
  2. ^ a b Hickman 2006, p. 25
  3. ^ a b c d Hickman 2006, p. 80
  4. ^ Roberts 2018, p. 247.
  5. ^ a b UKTV. "Churchill's Bodyguard, Series 1, Episode 13 - Love Him to Death on UKTV Play". UKTV Play. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  6. ^ Hickman 2006, p. 79
  7. ^ Moynahan 2005
  8. ^ "No. 36035". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1943. p. 2504.
  9. ^ "What You Need To Know About VE Day". Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  10. ^ Hickman 2006, p. 260
  11. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  12. ^ David Smith (13 November 2005). "Fresh light cast on Churchill's shadow". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 March 2019.