The Prime Minister was a man of great passions – scotch, cigars, and books among them. But it was game playing, particularly cards, that helped keep his wits sharp and provided consolation during many long, war-torn nights.
A simple game of solitaire was not enough for such an agile mind. So he played a version considerably more challenging. A version that required skill, strategy, and sacrifice – qualities Churchill would summon many times during the Second World War.
Churchill’s version of solitaire would have been lost to the ages had the wily Englishman not encountered a young and charismatic Belgian diplomat named André de Staercke, whose own nation had fallen to the Nazi war machine.
While in exile in London in 1943, de Staercke became fast friends with Britain’s war leader. Churchill taught de Staercke his diabolical version of solitaire, using two mini decks of card across a wide table.
Three decades later, de Staercke had become Belgium’s most senior diplomat. In 1973, he befriended an American ambassador representing the United States at NATO, headquartered in Brussels. His name was Donald Rumsfeld.
Just as Churchill had taught the rules of the game to de Staercke, de Staercke taught them to Rumsfeld. While contemplating moments of war and peace, and traveling to many distant lands, the future two-time Secretary of Defense would play the game many times over the next 40 years.