4 MARCH 1995, Page 30

Churchill's Dresden blub

Sir: May I add a footnote to the recent corre- spondence on the bombing of Dresden and other German cities (Letters, 18 February)? In the early 1980s I had lunch with Sir John Colville, who had been Churchill's private secretary for part of the war. He told me he was thinking of writing an addition to his reminiscences about the time he had spent with Churchill. He had, he said, come across a number of details which he had previously forgotten. One of them concerned the screen- ing of a specially edited film which 'Bomber' Harris's staff had prepared for Churchill in order to demonstrate the destructive effects of the big RAF and USAF raids on German cities. Colville said he thought the film con- tained pictures filmed on the ground as well as from the air; if so, perhaps they had been obtained clandestinely.

The screening took place in Churchill's private cinema. Harris was there, and so was Colville. When the film ended and the lights were switched back on, both men turned to see Churchill's reaction. Harris seemed gratified and expectant; Colville, as a student of the Churchillian character, deeply curious. Churchill was sitting in his seat with tears running down his cheeks. All he said was, 'Are we beasts, that we should do these things?'

A matter of weeks after our meeting, Sir John Colville died suddenly. I don't sup- pose he had the chance to write this newly remembered anecdote down anywhere. It may throw some light on Churchill's atti- tude towards a strategy which, no matter how brave and honourable the conduct of those who carried it out, many of us regard with abhorrence and deep shame.

John Simpson

BBC Television, Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12