“V” for Victory

Winston Churchill; signing pen for his honorary U.S. citizenship proclamation

Winston Churchill; signing pen for his honorary U.S. citizenship proclamation

It first appeared in Nazi-occupied Europe, then took hold in Great Britain.  Promoted by the BBC, the “V for Victory” campaign of World War II featured the letter “V” defiantly chalked on walls, sidewalks, streetcars and other public places, and its Morse code equivalent, three dots and a dash, musically rendered in the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.  But its most iconic manifestation was the two-fingered sign unforgettably employed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  “The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting Nazi tyranny,” Churchill declared in a special message broadcast on July 19, 1941.

In 1963, Kentucky Congressman Frank Chelf took the floor of the House of Representatives as a co-sponsor of legislation to make the British leader an honorary U.S. citizen.  The son of an American mother, Churchill already commanded the deep affection of Chelf and his countrymen, but more importantly, Chelf declared, “as long as any of us shall live we shall carry the memory of the resolute, valiant Churchill . . . always holding his hand aloft, with his fingers forming his famous V-for-victory sign, standing as a shining symbol of hope and man’s determination to remain free.”

A week after Chelf’s speech, Churchill wrote a letter thanking him “for the very agreeable things you say about me and for the graceful way you expressed them.”  On April 9, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed the proclamation conferring citizenship on Churchill, Chelf received the signing pen as a souvenir.

The papers of Frank Chelf, which include his work for Churchill’s honorary citizenship, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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