Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) was famous for his trademark cigar and his (V) victory sign in the dark and cruel days of the Second World War. His link and special relationship with Malta are now well-known, having visited the island on several occasions, the first being in October 1907 and the sixth and last in January 1945.
Sir Winston started smoking cigars after his connection with Cuba. One of the most curious events in the Spanish-Cuban-American war was the presence of Winston Churchill (1895) much before the US entry into the war. Churchill was gathering information as a war correspondent and military observer.
Since experiencing Cuban cigars in Havana as a young war correspondent, Winston Churchill was rarely seen without a cigar clamped between his jaws. The cigar was a potent political prop and a steady source of solace when the “black dog” of depression snapped at his heels. In the Second World War, cigars brought ease and balance to a mind and body forced to carry the last hopes of a democratic Europe.
A recent discovery of the famous Briton’s close link with Malta was the unearthing of a photo of Sir Winston and a cigar stump attached to the glass of the picture frame. The story behind this was unveiled by Mr Wigi Ebejer’s grandson, Mr Gabriel Ebejer. Mr Wigi Ebejer was the Secretary of the Cirkolo San Gabriel, (then re-named San Gabriel Band Club) of Balzan. This gentleman passed away in 1946, aged 41. During the Second World War, Mr Ebejer was a member of the Demolition and Clearance Department, the headquarters of which was situated in Hamrun. Mr Ebejer was assigned the responsibility for the demolition and clearance work of the Clock Tower in Vittoriosa soon after the war ended. The Clock Tower had been destroyed by aerial bombing during the war. Mr Ebejer received the British Empire Medal (Civilian Division) for service rendered in Malta during the Second World War. Wigi Ebejer Street in Balzan (situated behind the village Church) was named after Mr Ebejer in recognition and to honour this man for his work and contribution to Balzan village and Maltese society.
A certain Mr Nappa who lived close to San Anton Gardens, worked as a cook at the Governor’s Palace at San Anton. His work colleague and friend, Mr Gabriel Debono worked as a messenger at the same palace. It was during one of Sir Winston’s visits which took place during wartime Malta that a British Secret Service escort of Sir Winston’s tested the messenger by asking him who was staying at the palace. Not knowing that the man was a member of the secret service, he told him it was Sir Winston and because of this Mr Debono was transferred to Valletta. The reason was that staff were not supposed to disclose to anyone who was staying at the palace for security reasons, especially at times of war emergency.
The cigar attached to the frame was a left-over piece of one smoked by the great man himself at San Anton Palace. Mr Debono had given the cigar piece to Mr Nappa and he eventually gave it to Wigi Ebejer.
This was not the only case of persons having work connections with the Palace, who collected cigar stumps left over by Sir Winston during his visits in Malta. In Guido Lanfranco’s book Bejn Storja u Drawwa (2007), we find an interesting account by one of the daughters of Mr John Scerri, the owner of Scerri Cigarettes of Hamrun. This story was of a waiter who worked at the Palace and was a frequent visitor at Scerri’s tobacco shop in Hamrun, who had collected a cigar piece and then gave it to Mr Scerri who placed it in a frame with a description as follows: ‘Stump of a cigar smoked by the Right Honourable Winston S. Churchill on 19 November 1943 while he was in Malta’.
According to Stephen McGinty in his book, Churchill’s Cigar (2007) published by Macmillan, the British ambassador to Cuba, Sir George Ogilvie Forbes, on 27 March, 1941 was informed that the Cuban National Commission of Tobacco had prepared a gift for Churchill “in recognition of his services to the causes of democracy”. It was a beautiful mahogany cabinet, 5ft tall, containing 2,400 of the island’s finest cigars. Forbes made it clear in a telegram that, in his opinion, the gift was “impossible to refuse”. Churchill was informed in a memo from John Colville, one of his private secretaries, who warned that Scotland Yard had advised against smoking cigars given as gifts: “They say that any noxious substance could have been added to the cigars during the process of manufacture, and it would only be practicable to examine chemically a limited number of them.”
With modern DNA testing, the veracity of allegations of cigars belonging to Sir Winston can be established. Such items of historic and collectible value of such prominent people as Sir Winston are very much sought after items and their prices can run into hundreds if not thousands of euros.