A new book has revealed that MI5, Britain’s counter intelligence agency, injected pieces of Winston Churchill’s cigars into mice to test for Nazi poison. MI5 had already encountered Nazi chocolate bombs, and feared that a similar device may be used to assassinate the war-time Prime Minister.
Counter-sabotage boss Victor Rothschild saw Churchill’s love of cigars as the main threat. Robert Hutton, author of Agent Jack, said: “The safest thing would have been to destroy them all.”
“But Churchill was very much inclined to consume them, taking, Rothschild noted, ‘obvious pleasure’ from personal danger. “Rothschild calculated statistically what proportion of the cigars he needed to test to be conﬁdent they weren’t dangerous. “After each box was X-rayed, he would take his sample, grind it up in saline and inject the result into mice.”
Although poisoned cigars were never found, MI5 conducted similar experiments on other gifts, including a Virginia Ham and case of 1798 Armagnac. Churchill was reportedly “amused by the experiments but displeased by the delay”. Using cigars as an assassination device was not unique to Nazi Germany of course, with the United States having famously explored similar ideas in failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Winston Churchill’s appetite for cigars and alcohol are legendary, with a morning whiskey, a bottle of champagne at lunch, and 8 to 10 cigars making up part of his daily routine. Numerous cigars have been named in his honour, with the Romeo y Julieta Churchill and Daviddoff Winston Churchill series being most noteworthy.