February 10, 2015

Finest Hour 164, Special Edition, September 2014

Page 21

A Churchill Family Album: A Personal Anthology / Family Album: A Personal Selection from Four Generations of Churchills. Allen Lane / Houghton Mifflin, 1982 et seq., 200 pages.

What a delight this book is! Long one of my favorites, it stands with Randolph Churchill’s Churchill: His Life in Photographs (1955) and Martin Gilbert’s Churchill: A Photographic Portrait (1974).

Melding careful photo selection with insightful captions, the book is drawn largely from the author’s own records and the albums of her mother, with input from many other collections. The 429 photos trace more than a century from Sir Winston’s parents to his great-grandchildren. A few pictures are familiar, but many are not.

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Only a family member could add such images to the Churchill saga. Most photos in the public domain have been used so many times that to print them again seems almost superfluous. Lady Soames, with few exceptions (and these are needed for continuity), has no truck with old chestnuts. The ten sections trace Sir Winston’s life from his childhood to Clementine’s widowhood. They include cartoons, drawings, paintings, letters, and newspaper or magazine headlines and pictures. Nor are they all about people. Some show places (such as Chartwell, Chequers, or Cabinet War Rooms), other events (notably VE Day), and private occasions like birthday celebrations.

The combination of public and private moments is appealing, providing a feel for life as the Churchills lived it. Some of the captions range up to a half page of text, and are often frank in relating what happened to those shown. Little conversational asides add to the informality.

Only fairly rarely do “outsiders” show in these photos (as in two showing people listening to Churchill radio broadcasts). Then as now, the media followed the “good and the great.” For example, Clementine and Winston’s 1908 marriage made the front page of several daily newspapers.

A striking feature of Family Album is the enormous span of time and change through which Winston and Clementine Churchill lived. We have been told they were born in an age before telephones or automobiles, and departed in an age that had mankind rushing toward the moon. But these are hard and intangible concepts in cold type. Family Album makes them come alive with tremendous, nay violent impact. To this extent it’s more than a book: it is an experience.

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