The Place to Find All Things Churchill

A Daughter’s Tale: The Memoir Of Winston And Clementine Churchill’s Youngest Child, by Lady Mary Soames. Part 2

From her private diaries, Lady Mary Soames recalls how she feared her father Winston Churchill would have a seizure after a row with her brother.

By Lady Soames

[Editors Note: The Daily Mail incorrectly refers to our Patron as “Lady Mary Soames,” when, as she herself has often pointed out, she is “Lady Soames,” having acquired the title by marriage rather than inheritance.]

THE DAILY MAIL, 10 September 2011—In Part 1, Lady Soames recalled dancing the night away in wartime London, listening spellbound to her father Winston Churchill’s speeches and witnessing his grief at his electoral defeat in 1945.

Here, in the second extract from her touching new book, she looks back on family traumas, narrow escapes and her unusual courtship…

My father Winston had fallen in love at once and forever with Chartwell Manor, which stands on a hilltop commanding the most sensational view to the south over the Weald of Kent.

Below, the hillside falls away to a lake, fed by a spring and alongside the valley ran a wide belt of beech woods.
Blushing bride: Mary accompanied by her father, Winston Churchill, on the day of her wedding to Christopher Soames in 1947

Blushing bride: Mary accompanied by her father, Winston Churchill, on the day of her wedding to Christopher Soames in 1947

I was nearly two years old when our family moved in and my first memory is snapshot-clear and must be from that summer of 1924.

I am lying in my big pram under the great yew tree on the lawn in front of the arcaded windows of the new dining room. Woken from my mid-morning siesta, I am greatly bored.

I am really too big now for the pram and start jiggling, and – securely held by my harness – manage to rock my ‘boat’.

Now I try a back-and-forth movement: this is great fun, except the pram pitches forward on to its handle, and I slide down, held awkwardly suspended by my straps.

Suddenly, grown-ups clutching white table napkins are running towards me – a luncheon party was in progress and my plight had been observed: I am rescued, taken into the dining room, consoled and made much of. I think dining-room life is very agreeable and plan to join it as soon as may be.

There was a wide age gap between myself and older siblings: Sarah was nearly eight years old, Randolph 11 and Diana 13 when I appeared on the family scene. I found myself alternately in the roles of new cuddly toy and real little bore.

When I was a bit older I was allowed to roam freely. Chartwell’s gardens offered endless opportunities for fun and freedom: wide open spaces, streams, lakes and trees to climb.

My nanny Maryott Whyte – or ‘Nana’ – and I, with the dogs, would head straight for whatever works were in progress. Perhaps Papa – who enjoyed bricklaying as a hobby – was building a wall.

When I was bigger I would volunteer to be his ‘bricklayer’s mate’ and hand him the bricks but this usually ended for me in tears as, soon becoming inattentive, I would drop a brick on my foot. Papa would be vaguely sympathetic, but thought me clumsy, and I would retreat howling to the nursery.

In the winter, more fun was to be had if Papa and his minions were wooding and making a bonfire, for Chartwell had many trees and much scrubland to be cleared. We all had our tasks (I being allowed to cast suitably sized twigs on the blaze); Nana would fetch large potatoes from the kitchen and bake them in the embers – they tasted rather charcoally, but were delectably comforting to hold in one’s freezing hands.

At all seasons our walks often took us down the hill to the farmyard, where the manager was kindly disposed to us. I was much in favour during the lambing season, as I undertook to bottle-feed any orphans. The lambkins would be brought up from the farm and a wire-netting enclosure constructed for them in the small orchard below the potting sheds.

Animals were a very important part of my life. My father loved animals – this was a strong bond between us – whereas my mother tolerated them.

There was animal life in abundance outside the house: goldfish in the water garden; geese, ornamental ducks, and black and white swans (the latter perpetually at war with each other) on the lakes; and a series of farm animals.

My pug Punch had the distinction of having a poem written by my father in his honour. At one point he became desperately ill (distemper, I suppose), and Sarah and I were in floods of tears. My father composed this touching ditty, which was chanted by the family while Punch was ailing:

Oh, what is the matter with poor Puggy-wug?
Pet him and kiss him and give him a hug.
Run and fetch him a suitable drug,
Wrap him up tenderly all in a rug,
That is the way to cure Puggy-wug.

Happily, dear Punch recovered and survived to a ripe and rather cantankerous old age.

Of all the excitements, nothing glows so clearly in my memory of my childhood and teenage years, though, as the Chartwell Christmases. I used to watch the gardeners bringing in the Christmas tree, and transforming the house with ivy, holly and laurel branches. A great bunch of mistletoe was hung strategically in the front hall.

When we were all assembled on Christmas Eve, the double doors between the drawing room and the library would be flung open to reveal the lighted tree: it was a beautiful sight. Predictably, one year – it was 1932 – the tree caught fire, and was ablaze in mere seconds before being put out with a fire extinguisher. I apparently sobbed hysterically.

The Christmas party usually seems to have prolonged itself over the New Year. Amusements and activities were not hard to come by: in the year of the ‘Great Snow’ – 1927-28 – the lane below Chartwell was so deep in drifts that a tunnel had to be bored through to allow traffic to pass; there was skating on the big lake, the older children made a wonderful igloo and my father created a splendid snowman.
Tiny terror of No 10

For me Chartwell was the Garden of Eden: I was intensely aware of natural beauty and, like my father, never tired of gazing out over the panoramic view of the Weald of Kent from our hilltop; or of the beauty of the orchard at Chartwell with the daffodils in the early mornings when I and my animals were the only ones about, and the dew was on the grass. These were intense and joyous experiences for me.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Winston was made First Lord of the Admiralty. Weekends were spent at Chartwell but we lived at Admiralty House in London during the week. There was a continuous stream of people for luncheon or dinner. I helped my mother with the entertaining, deputising if she had an outside engagement.

But it was my brother Randolph who provided the chief family excitement of the season when he became engaged to Lord and Lady Digby’s red-haired daughter Pamela after a rushed and hectic courtship.

Randolph had joined our father’s old regiment, the 4th Hussars, and since he might be sent overseas at any moment, their engagement was a short one.

Read all of Part 2 of the the excerpt at ©The Daily Mail

Go Back to Part 1 of the Excerpt


© Lady Mary Soames 2011. A Daughter’s Tale: The Memoir Of Winston And Clementine Churchill’s Youngest Child, by Lady Mary Soames, is published on September 15 by Doubleday, priced £25. To order your copy at the special price of £20 with free p&p, call The Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit www.MailLife.co.uk/Books.

Related Story

Join Now

Join or Renew NowPlease join with us to help preserve the memory of Winston Churchill and continue to explore how his life, experiences and leadership are ever-more relevant in today’s chaotic world. BENEFITS >BECOME A MEMBER >

WinstonChurchill.org

The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.

At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.