March 12, 2015

Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 18

By Mary Soames

I do appreciate so much being asked to your lovely parties, and being kept in touch with everything going on in the International Churchill Society. All of us in the family find this profoundly moving: that there is such a Society, which exists to keep my father’s memory green, and may I also say, accurate.

But now for my main task, which is to introduce your speaker this evening. I am longing to hear what he is going to say myself. Because I don’t think, dear Anthony, I have ever heard you speak in public—though always and often, I’m happy to say, in private!

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I met Anthony for the first time in 1952 when he joined my father’s private office. He’d already had a gallant and distinguished career. He’d been a pilot of fighter bombers, and had been decorated with the DFC. All these things naturally commended him to my father, who admired and liked clever, brave young men.

I don’t think that when Anthony joined the private office he realised—nor indeed did any of us—that this was the beginning of a very long relationship. That lovely prayer of Sir Walter Raleigh’s, that speaks of true glory being not the starting out of something but the finishing of it, is appropriate. Anthony served with my father in his private office and became a great friend of the family.

I don’t know how long it took for Anthony to love and to like us. It took me only five minutes to like him, but for the first five minutes I was puzzled by the really dreadful Edwardian puns he told. I used to think: “He’s young, he’ll get over this.” But no. As the years went by, whenever we met, out again would come the puns. I hope he has some good ones for tonight.

But now, having been joking and frivolous, I come to what I really want to say. And it is a wonderful, God-given opportunity for me to express in public, with all of you who cherish my father’s memory, the enormous debt my father, my mother, and all of us who loved my parents owed, and still owe, to Anthony.

When my father resigned in 1955 he was sad and reluctant to go, let’s make no bones about it. He went into private life, but in a funny way, you see, it wasn’t private. He was a public institution. The Foreign Office —and we must give them some credit for this—allowed Anthony to remain with Papa. It was very, very noble of Anthony to allow this interruption in what would have undoubtedly been a brilliant diplomatic career. And from 1955 until my father drew his last breath, Anthony was practically never absent from his side.

What was private life like for my father when he retired? The whole world trod to 28 Hyde Park Gate. When we went abroad it was to call upon kings and presidents and prime ministers, to address great assemblies. The mail poured in. My father’s business affairs, and his private life, Anthony really masterminded and managed. He advised and helped. His knowledge, his professional know-how, his devotion, were the major factors in the last ten years of my father’s life. I am glad to be able to go on record and say this, because I wonder how many people know exactly how much Anthony meant to my father, my mother, and to all of us.

And one more thing. At first, all right, perhaps you could say it was a plum of a job. People might have thought they would have liked to be in Anthony’s shoes. But the day came when my father, although much beloved and venerable, was past his wonderful prime, was declining in energy and ability. He still wanted to take his part in affairs, but he needed help. He needed a wise friend, and a knowledgeable one, who would guard his reputation—who would guard every step he took. And long after it was really fun to serve my father, Anthony remained to bear the burden of the day, to be his friend and support throughout his sadder, declining years.

They were not necessarily unhappy years. Everybody who lives a long time declines, and a beautiful evening is a wonderful thing. But of course it was sad, the last two years, and it cannot have been fun, or particularly interesting actually, for a bright, bubbly young man with a future.

I am glad to have the opportunity to say this; to say from the family, and for all who revere my father’s memory, that we all owe a great debt to Anthony Montague Browne. My parents both knew it, and I really think, Anthony dear, that we in the family knew it. I want everybody else to know it.

And now I know we’re going to have a lovely speech and perhaps some really bad puns from Anthony.

For a copy of Anthony Montague Browne’s remarks, and the response by Lord Soames, please see Finest Hour 50 or email the editor.

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