Walter H. Thompson
December 3, 1890|
Brixton, South London
|Died||January 18, 1978(aged 87)|
|Awards||British Empire Medal in 1945|
|Badge number||PC 549 |
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 UK and in the US.
Early life and career
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-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 (£277 in 2015). 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.
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 $300 (US$ 2,641 in 2015).
Thompson died of cancer on 18 January 1978, aged 87 years.
After Thompson's death, his great-niece Linda Stoker discovered the full memoir manuscript.
- 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.