THE WARTIME DESPATCH BOX OF WINSTON CHURCHILL’S PRIVATE SECRETARY
Property of Sir John Peck
Item Number: 211421
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This official ministerial despatch box belonged to John Peck, Winston Churchill’s only Private Secretary to serve without interruption for the duration of Churchill’s wartime Prime Ministership, May 1940 to July 1945.
The box is intact and undamaged, constructed, as per tradition, of red morocco leather over wood, with black morocco interior, brass handle and working lock. J. H. Peck is embossed in gilt on the fore-edge of the lid, which is rubbed and worn. The royal insignia and cipher GR are additionally embossed in gilt at the center of the lid. Fascinatingly, the name of the previous owner of this box, Churchill nemesis: Thomas Inskip, is partially visible at the far side of the lid where the leather has rubbed away. The key is present and the lock is in working order. Within are a small quantity of Peck’s personal papers, including Peck’s wartime ration book.
Sir JOHN HOWARD PECK (1913-1995) joined the Civil Service in 1936. Appointed Assistant Private Secretary to Winston Churchill when Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1939, Peck followed him to No. 10 Downing Street as one of four Private Secretaries. Following Churchill’s defeat in the 1945 General Election, Peck served Clement Attlee briefly, then transferred to the Foreign Office in 1946. He later held a number of positions within the Civil Service before his final appointment as British Ambassador to Dublin 1970-1973.
THOMAS INSKIP (1876-1947) was PM Stanley Baldwin’s first Minister for Coordination of Defense. His appointment in 1936 was highly controversial. Winston Churchill, who had long campaigned for the creation of such an office, expected to be appointed to run it. When Baldwin named Inskip, a lawyer, Churchill famously observed that Inskip, “had the advantage of being little known and knowing nothing about military subjects.” Inskip also had no real powers and little staff. In early 1939 he was replaced by the former First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield, and moved to Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs.