High Fives Received

Sandra Vandenhoff

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Winston Churchill was more open about depression than hearing loss

January 10, 2012
posted by  Sandra Vandenhoff

Mr. Chartwell, a book by Rebecca Hunt, was listed on the prestigious Top 100 books by the Globe and Mail for 2011. I picked it for my holiday reading list.  Mr. Chartwell is actually the Black Dog, which is how Sir Winston Churchill referred to his depression. In Hunt’s novel, Churchill’s Black Dog is also just that: a big oaf of a black dog. No one else can see him, but he sits on Sir Winston’s legs and chest and refuses to leave.


The novel got me thinking about Churchill’s hearing loss. Churchill was a powerful prime minister; a journalist; a soldier in India, Egypt, and Sudan; a prisoner of war; a Member of Parliament for 60 years; an aviator; and a colonel in WWI. He was also a man who suffered from depression and hearing loss. He was more secretive about his hearing loss than he was about his depression.


Churchill made no mention of hearing loss in his own published works, nor is it discussed by his early biographers, except as an adjunct to his age. 


The first detailed mention of his hearing loss is found in the 1966 biography, “Churchill:  Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran,” written by Churchill’s personal physician, Sir Charles Wilson (Lord Moran).


Lord Moran told an interesting story about the Potsdam Conference of 1945. During this conference, President Truman, Stalin, and Churchill discussed the occupation of post-war Germany, and issued an ultimatum to Japan. Churchill had not read the briefs. Stalin was better prepared and would put sharp questions to Churchill, who would turn to his team and say, “What is the answer to that?” One of his team said, “We had to hiss the answers which he could not hear, and the whole thing became a shambles as a result.”


In 1950, Churchill was diagnosed with a high frequency hearing loss. Churchill refused to wear hearing aids.


In 1955, Lord Moran noted that “It does not seem a long time since Winston did all the talking at every meal; now he sits all huddled up in silence; he can no longer hear what is being said, he is outside the round of conversation and not a part of it. Though, at times, it is true, when there is a burst of laughter, someone will explain to him what it is all about.”


In 1962, Churchill had a visit from Dr. Robert Davidson, President emeritus of Westminster College, and his colleague.


Dr. Davidson said, “Mr. Churchill was in bed during the interview; he was recovering from a fall. As I entered the room, his aide told me to sit at the head of the bed on Churchill’s right. There was a microphone under the bedclothes at that side of the bed.  My colleague sat on the other side.”


“I found Mr. Churchill very lucid and we conversed on a variety of topics during the visit.  However, my colleague commented after we left, ‘The old boy is completely senile I suspect. He didn’t respond to anything I said.’ Of course, this was because he was seated out of the range of the microphone. Mr. Churchill’s age and hearing impairment had most certainly not affected his mind!”

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SharonC -Edmondson Cochlear Volunteer- Ambassador

January 11, 2012

How interesting. I was not aware of this. What a shame he missed to much he could have heard with some listening devices. Must have been devasting for him not being able to admit this. ~SharonC~
Sandra Vandenhoff

January 11, 2012

I agree, Sharon. It was a shame. Turns out he was perceived as being senile when he was not--it's just that he could not hear. If he had been aware that he was perceived this way, would he still have thought that it was better to hide his hearing loss? I wonder. The cost of admitting it must have been too high, in his own view.

January 11, 2012

I had a look at your website. This will be an excellent resource for all of us on this site. I am just awaiting activation of my second CI.
Michael Noble - A Cochlear Staff

January 11, 2012

Thank you, Sandra, for sharing this awesome blog. I learned a lot more about Winston Churchill and had no idea that he had a hearing loss. While I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, today is a much better (if not easier) time to have a hearing loss. Michael
Old Dude (Jerry) Awareness Dude

January 11, 2012

Very Interesting, thanks for all the great information.
Karen (aka grammaK)

January 11, 2012

I did not know this about Churchill either - very interesting. I don't know what hearing aids/devices were like in 1950, but I do know we've certainly come a L-O-N-G way since then! So thankful for what we have available to us today! Thank you for sharing this, Sandra. -Karen

January 11, 2012

Thank you Sandra for sharing-------I can identify with some of the scenarios. Yes, we are blessed to live in a time and place we have help available. Jerry
DDE Cochlear Ambassador

January 11, 2012

Thanks for sharing. I learned something new. Don

January 12, 2012

Your blog was very interesting as like most of the rest of the world we had no clue about Winston Churchill's deafness. But I'm not at all surprised at his reaction for which a number of terms could be used: perhaps self-denial? certainly stubbornness and pride, but probably most of all the stigma (note Karen's comment about the devices in the 50's)which would be accompanied by the subsequent fear of exclusion. I imagine if the "discreet" ITE (invisible) aids has then been available, he would have been more inclined to at least try them out. Sally
Debbie M. - Cochlear Ambassador (PA)

January 12, 2012

wow! You have me curious now as to what sorts of hearing aids were available back in 1950! the megaphone??? LOL

January 13, 2012

Self denial, stubbornness, pride and stigma as Corijack mentions are hurdles we all have had to overcome. I add vanity to the list. In my observations it is men for the most part who refuse to acknowledge their deafness and seek help. This is not always true but to wit my husband at 72 is just now admitting his hearing loss even though he has been married to me and seen me successfully adapt to hearing aids since my mid-thirties and finally adapt to cochlear implants. I can always pick out individuals with hearing impairment, because I have been there and experienced that. It is sad for me to see individuals in denial when there it so much help available. True, Winston Churchill did not have the technology available to him that exists today, but there are many, many "Winston Churchills" out their today needlessly living in self-afflicted isolation because of their vanity. Meredith

January 13, 2012

Sandra, this is fascinating! I will have to read that book too. I suppose there are other famous historical figures who had hearing loss and whose stories would be interesting as well. I've read that it takes seven years, on average, from the time a person is told they need hearing aids until they actually agree to get them. And who knows how many hearing aids are sitting in drawers unused because of all the reasons Meredith lists. I think we should all pat ourselves on the back for taking action to improve our lives by getting CIs. For many of us it was not a snap decision. Judy
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