By Celia Lee
A memorial service was held for the late Mrs Yvonne Henriette Marie Spencer-Churchill (4th May 1924-14th December 2010), at St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, on Saturday 28th May 2011, at 11.00 a.m.
Canon Adrian Daffern conducted the service which began with a welcome to the forty three members of the family and friends in attendance, and which included:
His Grace 11th Duke of Marlborough of Blenheim Palace; Clarissa, the Countess of Avon, sister-in-law to Yvonne; Cornelia (Sally) The Lady Ashburton and her husband John, Sally being Yvonne’s niece; Mary, the Lady Soames; Mrs Minnie S. Churchill and Mr Simon Bird; the Honourable and Mrs Peregrine Bertie; the Honourable Celia Sandys, Mr and Mrs Randolph and Catherine S. Churchill and their daughters; Mr and Mrs David and Marina Brounger and their children; Mr and Mrs Jack and Charlotte S. Churchill and their children; Mr & Mrs R.H. Spencer; the Honourable Iris Dawnay who was a close friend to Yvonne; Mr Allen Packwood Director, the Churchill Archives Centre; and Mrs Anthea Morton-Saner, formerly Manager of Curtis Brown the Churchills’ literary checking agency.
The organist was Dr Charles Mould of Woodstock, and the congregation sang the Entrance Hymn, ‘O God, our help in ages past’, written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), and based on PSALM 90, and which was followed by the Bidding Prayer, recited by Canon Daffern.
Yvonne’s nephew, Mr Guillaume Jéhannin, who had come over from France, gave a fitting tribute to his aunt’s memory, with fond recollections of her and Peregrine from his childhood holiday visits to their London home and later to “Fairdown”, at Vernham Dean, Hampshire.
The Honourable Celia Sandys provided a graceful tribute, speaking of her knowledge of Yvonne from she was a little girl. There had been wonderful Christmases provided by Minnie and Winston which they had all much enjoyed together as a family. Celia acknowledged all those who touched Yvonne’s life, most specifically her lawyer from Peregrine’s time, Mr Robert Sykes, and her full-time carer, Mrs Sally Jones. The book THE CHURCHILLS by Celia and John Lee had cheered Yvonne to see her husband’s father, Jack Churchill, included in the family history.
Both Guillaume and Celia emphasised the great and enduring love that had existed between Yvonne and Peregrine in a perfect marriage. Whilst Guillaume brought a smile to the lips of the congregation by joking about his ‘charming’ French accent, Celia did likewise, when she said that such was Yvonne’s dedication to Peregrine she was now in heaven perfecting paradise for him.
A soloist soprano, Miss Adina Henson of Bladon, sang beautifully, Gabriel Fauré’s Pie Jesu (Messe de Requiem), Fauré being a favourite composer of Yvonne’s.
There was a reading by Mr Jack S. Churchill, from 1 Corinthians 13, which was most appropriate as Yvonne before she married Peregrine had been a teacher in Paris, and she loved children. It contains the famous lines: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child”.
It was followed by John Bunyan’s [1628-88] hymn from Pilgrim’s Progress “Who would true valour see, Let him come hither”, bringing alive the rustic and historic atmosphere of a very English church service and tradition.
Mrs Marina (Churchill) Brounger read from William Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 116, on the importance of constancy of love in a marriage: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds, Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds.”
The tributes and readings by Guillaume, Celia, Jack, and Marina, were eloquently spoken, having been chosen with great care and taste, and with Yvonne obviously very much in mind. They provided a respectful end to an educated, cultured, and sophisticated lady, who was very much of the ‘old school’, possessing a fine taste in classical literature and music. In her day, in the 1960s, Yvonne had danced with Peregrine at a ball at Blenheim Palace, wearing an exquisite, floor length, two-tone green satin gown, and a diamond tiara. The artist Basia Hamilton once described Yvonne as being like a figure from a Victorian novel.
Canon Adrian Daffern gave a cheerful and uplifting address, though he had never met Yvonne. He praised the participation of those present, and those who had spoken. He talked of the history of St. Martin’s Church and its connection with the Churchill family. The site dates back to the 11th or 12th century. King Henry III’s chaplain had obtained from the King a grant of the Manor of Bladon, the Rectory being mentioned in 1269. The parish registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials, date from 1545, and are kept at the Bodleian library in Oxford. Building of the present church began in 1802, and the 4th Duke of Marlborough of Blenheim Palace paid for the building materials. The new and present day church was opened in 1804.
The congregation recited all together the Lord’s Prayer.
The closing hymn, Love Divine, all loves excelling, by Charles Wesley 1807-88, containing the eternal lines “Changed from glory into glory”, provided an appropriate parting with our beloved Yvonne, leaving us with a mental image of her at the point where human nature meets God.
Numerous memorial services for past members of the Churchill family have taken place at St. Martin’s Church over the years; we proceeded to the cemetery for the interment. The imposing Celtic cross to Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill dominates the family plot. Next to him rests his American wife, Jennie, whose grave is adorned with a beautiful flowering shrub that blooms an electrifying shade of pink every year. To the front, opposite the walkway, lies Sir Winston and Baroness Clementine Spencer-Churchill, and next them, Jack, and his younger son Peregrine. Winston who died in March 2010, is also buried there, his grave now being first in the front row. Johnny Churchill the father of Lady Ashburton is buried a little way off elsewhere in the cemetery.
It was a sunny if cool and blustery day, and St. Martin’s is situated at the top of a high, wind-swept hill, surrounded by trees. Canon Daffern conducted the interment and Yvonne’s ashes in a casket was placed beside those of her beloved Peregrine who died in March 2002.
It was with a sense of perfect peace that we turned our backs on the Churchill plot and another piece of that family’s history, leaving behind flowers and plants in Yvonne’s favourite colours, white, pink, and lilac, fluttering in the breeze in the sunshine of an English May day.
His Grace the Duke of Marlborough very kindly gave a reception in a private dining room of nearby Blenheim Palace. It was a joy to behold, and over pre-lunch drinks, we savoured Sir Winston’s favourite champagne Pol Roger, and each retold our cherished stories of Yvonne and Peregrine. During the excellent three course lunch the opportunity was provided for family and friends to get together and continue the conversation until 3.00 p.m.