William Cash

Instrument of terror

William Cash meets a Devon farmer who keeps the family’s gruesome family heirloom — Hitler’s red telephone — in his safe

William Cash meets a Devon farmer who keeps the family’s gruesome family heirloom — Hitler’s red telephone — in his safe

A week before Christmas the Grampian microphone that Sir Winston Churchill used to make his VE Day speech in Westminster Chapel went under the hammer at a specialist sale of historical documents at Ludlow Racecourse by the Shropshire auctioneers Mullock Madeley. The estimate was a fairly modest £700–£1,000.

The microphone — whose wooden plinth is engraved with the words ‘The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance’ — has a curious history. In the 1950s it was the star attraction at a famous London restaurant, but it then crossed the Atlantic and ended up in a tequila restaurant in New Mexico. For some reason the owner’s wife did not like it, and put it up for sale.

I made a bid of £1,000, thinking that it would make the perfect present for my Churchill-obsessed father — a Tory MP for more than 20 years whose own father, an MC, was killed in the war. But my bid was unsuccessful. The microphone went for £19,000. When I asked the auctioneer, Richard Westwood-Brookes, if the hammer price was a surprise, he told me, ‘People will pay a fortune for a piece of actual history. It went for almost exactly the same price as I fetched a few years ago for the original manuscript of Hitler’s speech in which he first mentioned the “Jewish Question”. It was in a bundle of papers exchanged by a soldier for a packet of Woodbines on the steps of the Reichstag in May 1945. The papers had been in the family for years, and they probably wanted to make some cash. They didn’t know of their importance.’

There is, however, another almost equally ghoulish Hitler souvenir in Britain today: Hitler’s personal red telephone, which was beside his bed when he committed suicide with his pet Alsatian Blondi and his new wife Eva Braun in his underground bunker in April 1945.

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