Joke: Winston Churchill quipped that he preferred traveling on Italian cruise ships because "there is none of this nonsense about women and children first."
Examples:[Collected on the Internet, January 2012]
From "The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill" by James C. Humes:
Late in his life, Sir Winston took a cruise on an Italian ship. A journalist from a New York newspaper approached the former prime minister to ask him why he chose to travel on an Italian line when the Queen Elizabeth under the British flag was available.
Churchill gave the question his consideration and then gravely replied: "There are three things I like about Italian ships. First, their cuisine, which is unsurpassed. Second, their service, which is quite superb. And then — in time of emergency — there is none of this nonsense about women and children first."
Origins: On 13 January 2012, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground, was holed, and capsized in the Tyrrhenian Sea near the western coast of Italy, resulting in at least thirteen deaths among the passengers and crew. The Costa Concordia's captain, Francesco Schettino, was subsequently arrested on accusations that he had caused the disaster and then abandoned the ship before the evacuation of its passengers and crew was complete. (Schettino reportedly claimed he could not lead the evacuation because he slipped and fell into a lifeboat while helping passengers leave the stricken vessel.)
The Costa Concordia incident prompted circulation of the quip reproduced above, attributed to British politician and statesman Winston Churchill, in which the
former prime minister allegedly remarked that he preferred traveling on Italian cruise lines because in time of emergency "there is none of this nonsense about women and children first."
It is true that this quote appears in the book The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill (and is also attributed to Churchill in a number of other books). Whether Churchill ever actually uttered these words is another matter, however. The same basic quip about someone's expressing a preference for a particular nationality of cruise line because they have "none of this nonsense about women and children first" can be found in a variety of other sources, attributed either to an unnamed wag or to one of several different personalities noted for their wit (e.g., Noel Coward, W. Somerset Maugham). As well, the nationality of the preferred cruise line varies from telling to telling, with French and Italian being the most prominent.
Most likely this item originated as a common form of joke which denigrates or stereotypes a particular nationality, and it later made the transition to a bon mot supposedly voiced by one of a collection of well-known raconteurs of the day.