Sunday Levity: The Trichinopoly cigar

Celebrating the continuity of policy

A retired senior navy officer related a curious story. The stringent editorial policy of this blog required some fact-checking before it could be published. And luckily for you, it checked out. So here’s the (published version) of the story of a humble civil servant who sought a promotion.

In the early 1960s the Madras government set up a pay committee to review the pay structure and the service conditions of its officers and staff. One day a ‘top secret’ double-sealed cover landed on the desk of the chairman. It was from ‘CCA, office of the chief secretary, Fort St George, Madras’. He opened the cover to find a very humble and polite representation for upgrading the post of CCA to that of office superintendent in the chief secretary’s office because of the petitioner’s unblemished service record of 20 years. But there was still no clue as to what CCA stood for.

The chairman sent for the petitioner and asked him what these three letters meant and what exactly did he do in the chief secretary’s office. With gravity and dignity behoving a member of the chief secretary’s staff, the latter stated that in view of the 30-year embargo regarding disclosure of secret matters, he could only speak after 1975. The chairman said that in that case he should withdraw his representation and place it before the next pay committee after 1975. Appreciating that he was caught in a trap of his own making, he clarified that CCA stood for Churchill’s cigar assistant and thereby the secret unfolded…

Photo: Cigar Blog NetworkWinston Churchill as Britain’s and the Empire’s prime minister during the second world war period, had two small weaknesses – one for French liquor and the other for Havana cheroot. In the early 1940s Hitler’s Wolf packs wrought havoc on the trade routes across the Atlantic. Not more than 20 to 30 per cent of ships in a convoy could reach England from the American east coast. There were critical shortages of everything in England including Churchill’s favourite Havana hand-rolled cigars. Housekeeping officers of 10, Downing Street were concerned about the depleting stock of Havana. One of them whispered to his counterpart in the India Office about securing a possible alternative supply of Trichy cigars from Madras.

Ciphers were exchanged between London and New Delhi and between New Delhi and Fort St George in Madras. Ultimately, the governor of Madras agreed to take personal responsibility for the project. He selected two reputed and loyal cigar manufacturers of Trichinapoly (now Tiruchirapalli). They were sworn to utmost secrecy to produce the best quality Trichy cigars for a ‘burra’ sahib in England. To handle the affair, the governor required an intelligent English-speaking person as an assistant. He needed to have knowledge about cigar-making and their quality; in fact, he had to be a cigar taster. The normal process of post creation would not suffice. Nothing could be disclosed about the project. Hence by exercising his special powers under the Defence of India Rules, the governor created a post of an assistant, naming it CCA. It was located in the chief secretary’s secret cell. No one but the governor, the chief secretary and the incumbent knew the real meaning of CCA, and an aura of mystique came to surround the post. Many thought it stood for chief confidential assistant who dealt with ultra-secret matters.

The flow of Trichy cigars from Fort St George to Whitehall began under the cover of secrecy and continued throughout the war. It was said that Churchill soon developed a taste for the mildly aromatic Trichy cigar in preference to the heavy pungent smell of the Havana cigar. Thus Churchill’s temper was maintained on a fine balance. In 1945 Churchill lost the election and became leader of opposition.

The same housekeeping officer brought to the notice of the new prime minister, Clement Attlee, the issue of ‘top secret’ supply of Trichy cigars to the former PM. Clement Attlee suggested that the supply should continue to the leader of opposition who was also the shadow prime minister and added that the number might be slightly increased so that His Majesty’s ‘real’ prime minister might occasionally enjoy a couple of puffs. The war ended. India became independent. Supply of Trichy cigars to Whitehall stopped and everybody forgot about the CCA of Fort St George. [D Bandhyopadhyay/EPW]

9 thoughts on “Sunday Levity: The Trichinopoly cigar”

  1. Another version of the story I came across was that after 1947, Fort St George continued the practice of sending the cigars to London, but instead of Whitehall, the new destination was the Indian High Commission. For several years after Independence, the district authorities in Trichy would send the cigars to Madras, and the officials in Madras would send the cigars, in a secret dispatch, to London. Some lucky sods at the Indian mission in London disposed off the cigars. But I couldn’t verify this.

  2. I won’t be surprised with latter unverified version – apparently CCA existed into 60s!

    BTW, Churchill took to cigarettes later on…I remember seeing a 70s picture of Churchill on Onassis’s (second husband of Jackie Kennedy) yacht in Mediterranean, with a cigarette in the old man’s hand – Dunhill, may be?

  3. Awesome,
    One of the more famous Trichy cigar brand is called “London Calling”, didnt know brand name literally meant something! Trichy Cigars are good – they just need to wrap and package it in more modern ways!

  4. Chandra I remember seeing a 70s picture of Churchill on Onassis’s (second husband of Jackie Kennedy) yacht… Winnie died in January, 1965.

  5. Kaangeya, it’s probably a 60s pic then. Tight shirts and pants, long hair of people (not Churchill’s) and other indicators looked very 70s to me. For some reason I though he died in the mid-70s – that would have made him more than 100 years old I guess…91 is not too bad for a cigar smoker and who should have died in South Africa in his 20s…

  6. I knew Winston Churchill was a heavy smoker of Havana’s famous cigars, but I never knew it was to this extent. I would’ve never thought that during a war a project for the P.M would be to get some cigars. Lucky for him he found an alternative cigar to satisfy his need/want. For me, personally, there is no alternative to a finely rolled premium Cuban Cigar. I too am a heavy cigar smoker and have to make sure I have enough stock of Cuban cigars to last at least a few months. I get them at a very reasonable price from, maybe if you like Cuban cigars too, you just might want to check that site out.

  7. it’s quite an interesting story. Everyone knew that Churchill smote but the fact that he had a secret supply line coming directly to him. This is quite interesting lo and behold, the CCA is no longer. Some would call is an abuse of power. The fact that he settled for anything less than a Cuban and is quite Astonishing. ChurchHill was amazing men and use a smart one to choose a Cuban cigar.

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