Last Surviving Child of Winston Churchill Witnessed History First Hand
The Trustees, members and affiliates of The Churchill Centre around the world are deeply saddened at the news of the death of The Lady Soames LG DBE. Mary was more than just our Patron. She was our advisor, mentor, supporter and—above all—friend. Her passing marks the end of an era not only for our organization but for all those who respect the memory of her father.
Lady Soames died at her home after a brief illness surrounded by members of her family on Saturday, 31 May at the age of ninety-one. Nicholas Soames, the eldest of her five children, stated: “she was a truly remarkable and extraordinary woman, who led a very distinguished life. She was not just a wonderful mother to whom we were all devoted, but the head and heart of our family after our father died, and will be greatly missed.” Lady Soames’s husband Christopher, a former Cabinet minister and life peer, passed away in 1987.
Writing to Nicholas Soames on behalf of The Churchill Centre, Laurence Geller, the Chairman, stated: “Your mother will be very much missed not only by her loving family and all who knew her but by all who remember her as her father’s much loved daughter. All the members of The Churchill Centre join me in extending our deepest sympathy and condolences to you and your family upon your loss.”
Mary Churchill was born in Kent on 22 September 1922, the youngest of Winston and Clementine Churchill’s five children. In 2011 she published a memoir of her early life, A Daughter’s Tale, describing her idyllic childhood at Chartwell during her father’s “wilderness years.” Few today can claim to have met either FDR, Truman, Stalin, Charlie Chaplin or Lawrence of Arabia. Mary met all of them and more. Her earliest memories included playing in the garden of 10 Downing Street and meeting Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin when her own father was Chancellor of the Exchequer and living, therefore, in 11 Downing Street.
During the war Mary joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and served alongside men from the Royal Artillery in a “mixed” anti-aircraft battery. She also accompanied her father during several of the Prime Minister’s wartime travels. Eventually, Mary commanded a two-gun battery in Hyde Park and went with her unit to the continent during the closing months of the war. She vividly recalled meeting with survivors of the notorious Belsen concentration camp soon after its liberation. One victim spoke in broken French: “We are so happy to receive here today the daughter of the great man who has made our deliverance possible.”
After the war in 1947 Mary married Christopher Soames, who had a distinguished career as both a Member of Parliament and a diplomat. Together they had five children, fifteen grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren.
In the 1980s Mary became only the second Patron in the history of The Churchill Centre. The first was Lord Mountbatten. She became a familiar speaker and avid participant at Churchill Centre conferences and tours. Her last conference appearance was at Vancouver in 2007, when she celebrated her eighty-fifth birthday.
In 2005 Mary was appointed a Lady of the Garter by Her Majesty the Queen. As her father had been appointed a Knight of the Garter, Lady Soames became part of the first and only non-royal, father-daughter combination belonging to the United Kingdom’s oldest order of chivalry.
Last October when The Churchill Centre presented a bust of Winston Churchill to the United States Congress for permanent display in the Capitol building, Lady Soames was able to follow the ceremony from her home via a live-stream video through the internet. She also sent a message of appreciation.
In addition to her own memoir, she wrote a biography of her mother and other books about the history of her remarkable family. Richard M. Langworth, the long-time editor of Finest Hour, said: “a friend aptly suggested that ‘she knew how to be the daughter of a great man.’ In so doing, she achieved greatness herself.”
Please see the related article in this issue of the Chartwell Bulletin about the forthcoming special issue of Finest Hour, which will celebrate the life of this remarkable woman.