Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_special relations

Just how special was the ‘special relationship’ in the Second World War? (Part 1, 1939–41)

Source 7

Copy of a telegram from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt, 8 September 1941


CHAR 20/42B/105

Simplified Transcript


Original Transcript


To President of U.S.A. 8th September, 1941

Pray accept my deep sympathy in your most grievous loss.


Loss of President’s mother.

What is this source?

This is a copy of a personal telegram from Churchill to Roosevelt expressing sympathy after the President’s mother had died.

Background to this source

This telegram was sent just over a week after Churchill’s strong complaint about Roosevelt not changing the US policy of neutrality. Roosevelt’s mother had just died at the age of eighty seven and Churchill immediately sent his sympathy.

During the summer of 1941 Churchill and Roosevelt had met to discuss what the aims of Britain and the US should be for the Second World War and the years that followed. They published these in a document that was later called ‘The Atlantic Charter’ in early August, but within weeks Churchill expressed very strong disappointment that Roosevelt would still not declare war. Two weeks later Sara Roosevelt, mother of the President, died with her son by her side. They’d been very close throughout his life and Sara was often seen as a very dominant figure.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating what was special about the relationship between Britain and the US in the early years of the Second World War. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Why is Churchill writing to President Roosevelt?
  2. What is the tone of this this telegram?
  3. What does this tell us about Churchill’s feelings towards President Roosevelt?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference?

Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?

Churchill felt sorry for Roosevelt.

Churchill was an emotional character.

The relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt was one of deep friendship.

There was more to the links between Britain and the US than just the friendship of Roosevelt and Churchill.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • This is an interesting and moving document. Churchill was an excellent writer and the Churchill Archive contains many examples of letters of condolence written by him (try a search within the Archive for ‘condolence’ to find some of these). Interestingly, they’re usually much longer and more expressive than this short message. This leads to an interesting question for historians. Does the short letter indicate the two are so close that no more is needed? Or was Churchill simply pressed for time? Or does it reveal that the two are not as close as is sometimes assumed? In history it’s often the short sources like this which give us most to puzzle about.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 8

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