Winston Churchill’s Longtime Private Secretary Dies at 89
Churchill Centre Honorary Member Sir Anthony Montague Browne KCMG CBE DFC passed away on April 1st, barely a month from his 90th birthday. The news was announced one week later with the result that it became easily overlooked following the death of Lady Thatcher on April 8th. Montague Browne was seconded from the Foreign Office to serve as the Prime Minister’s private secretary in 1952. After Churchill retired from Downing Street in 1955, he asked that Montague Browne be allowed to remain with him. The request granted, Montague Browne stayed with the former Prime Minister until Churchill’s death a decade later. Consequently, he had more contact with Churchill than anyone outside the family during the last dozen years of Churchill’s life. In his 1995 memoir Long Sunset, Montague Browne chronicled this time with warm and absorbing style.
Anthony Montague Browne was born 8 May 1923. The son of an army colonel, he was educated in Switzerland and at Stowe. His time at Oxford was interrupted by war service. He qualified as an RAF pilot and was assigned to fly Beaufighter aircraft. His combat skill in the Middle East and Burma theatres earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross at the end of the war. It was this on top of his post-war service in the Foreign Office and fluent French, Montague Browne believed, which caused Churchill to select him to be his private secretary in October 1952. There were other candidates, he wrote, but “WSC insisted that the candidate should have fought in the war, and he had a penchant for the Royal Air Force at that time.” Additionally, Montague Browne came recommended by Sir John Colville, another veteran RAF fighter pilot who served as Churchill’s private secretary.
Functioning as a kind of chief of staff to a living but frail legend, Montague Browne had the responsibility to protect his boss from a constant press of well-wishers. He had to act with tact and promptness. He also served as a travelling companion frequently keeping his charge company at dinner or playing cards. It fell to Montague Browne to help coordinate both the final days of, and the funeral preparations for the great man’s life. After Churchill’s death, Montague Browne served two years in the Queen’s Household and thereafter worked for various companies in the City of London. He was a founding member and chairman of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. In 1982 he became an Honorary Member of the Churchill Centre. He knighted in the year 2000.