125 Years Ago
Summer 1893 • Age 18 “I Had at Length Got In.”
Winston spent the summer of 1893 with his brother Jack on holiday in Switzerland. Shortly before leaving, he learned he had passed the Sandhurst entrance exam. He promptly sent a telegram to Lord Randolph telling him of this and, in Lucerne on 6 August, wrote a letter to him saying, “I was so glad to be able to send you good news last Thursday.”
Lord Randolph’s reply on 9 August did not reciprocate the enthusiasm. He expressed his “surprise at your tone of exultation over your inclusion in the Sandhurst list.” His father was primarily displeased that Winston’s score was not high enough to secure him a position in the infantry, only the cavalry. Thus, he complained, Winston had “imposed on me an extra charge of 200 pounds a year” to purchase and care for horses. “With all the advantages you had and all the abilities which you foolishly think yourself to possess & which some of your relations claim for you, with all the efforts that have been made to make your life easy & agreeable & your work neither oppressive nor distasteful, this is the grand result that you come up among the 2nd and 3rd rate class who are only good for commissions in a cavalry regiment.”
Oscar Nemon statue of Clementine and Winston on the grounds of Chartwell
Finest Hour 178, Fall 2018
By Jonathan Dudley
Jonathan Dudley retired from the University of Wolverhampton after a career in education.
A couple of years ago, that would be in 2015, I decided to take myself back to Chartwell. I had just finished writing the first full draft of a short memoir capturing the strangeness and the wonder of staying there with Mr. and Mrs. Churchill in the summer of 1949 and again in 1950. [See p. 51.] In 1949 I was eight years old: classrooms at my all-boys school in London were furnished with double-desks, each one shared by two boys sitting side by side. The little boy I was told to sit next to in this our final year at the school could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as my great friend. I had hardly spoken to him during the two or three years we had been at this expensive private school in South Kensington. Nevertheless Winston, for that was his name, mentioned one day that his grandmother had asked him to bring a friend when he went to stay with her and his grandfather in their country house in Kent this summer. “Would I,” he asked me solemnly, “like to be that friend?
It was a difficult one. I was not at all sure that Winston and I had anything much in common: I loved nothing better than kicking a football around, Winston seemed little interested in sport. He seemed to enjoy making artworks of different kinds, maybe cutting out bits of paper, colouring them in, all that sort of thing and frankly, it did not interest me very much. The fact that we had not had much social contact at school seemed to me a bad omen. Perhaps he was short of friends. Read More >
David Lough is author of No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money (Head of Zeus, Picador, 2015).
Was it the rolling acres of Blenheim or the chicken and rabbits of Banstead? Something in Winston Churchill’s childhood kept propelling him toward the dream of his own house in the country, surrounded by land and animals. It lay beyond reach until the First World War, when property prices had fallen far enough by 1915 for the two Churchill brothers to lease a small estate where their young families could spend the summer together. It was the land around Hoe Farm rather than its fifteenth-century house that appealed: “It really is a delightful valley and the garden gleams with summer jewellery,” Churchill wrote to Jack.1
The lease lasted just one summer, but his wife Clementine was equally smitten; that winter while Churchill fought in the trenches she wrote of her own longing for “a little country basket.”2 Churchill found on his return that he could earn much more than he expected by writing articles for newspapers, so the hunt was soon on for what he described to Sir Archibald Sinclair, a large landlord himself, as a permanent “country seat.” “I wish to find a place to end my days amid trees & upon grass of my own!” he wrote his former companion in the trenches. “Freed from the penury of office these consolations become possible.”3
Oscar Nemon’s statue of Clementine and Winston at Chartwell
Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s home in Kent, has opened a new exhibition Clementine Churchill: Speaking for Herself, focusing on the extraordinary life of Churchill’s beloved wife Clementine. The exhibition at the National Trust property features items that have never been publicly displayed before, including treasured childhood photographs and a portrait by Paul Maze, the Post Impressionist artist. Read More >
Celia Sandys & Lady Williams at the 34th International Churchill Conference
Lady Williams of Elvel, who as Jane Portal served as a secretary to Winston Churchill from 1949 to 1955, received a standing ovation after speaking in conversation with Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys at the Thirty-fourth International Churchill Conference in New York City. For one hour, the two women shared their memories of the busy life of the Greatest Briton. To watch the full video, please click here. Read More >
The author campaigning with his father Winston and mother Minnie, 1967. Photo credit: Alamy.com
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Randolph Churchill
My father, the younger Winston, like his father Randolph, was born during a tumultuous world war. He loved the fact that he was born on 10 October 1940, during the Battle of Britain, at the Prime Minister’s country house Chequers. The night before, his imminent arrival was foreshadowed by the delivery of a German bomb landing one hundred yards from the house. My father liked to say that he was the next bombshell to arrive at Chequers!
Thus began a life full of adventure, daring, and a role on the international stage, which lasted six decades. He inherited the energy and dynamism of his father—my grandfather—who in 1941 in the Libyan desert with SAS founder David Stirling talked his way into the Benghazi German naval base, remained there for twenty-four hours and succeeded in doing no damage to the enemy before they talked their way out. Randolph had an eventful life, full of political opinion and a good measure of drama. Winston’s mother Pamela, the irrepressible daughter of Lord and Lady Digby of Minterne, met Randolph in autumn 1939 on a blind date and married him three weeks later. Theirs was a generation where the cocktail of the war years provided impetus to getting married expeditiously.
Growing up Winston
It was never going to be easy growing up as effectively an only child (his half-sister Arabella was nine years younger) and also as the namesake and grandson of the legendary wartime Prime Minister. My father noted: “I had come to realise from an early age that the name of Winston Churchill, which I was so proud to bear, was both a lot to live up to and a lot to live down.” He was a young man in a hurry. He would often escort his mother on her travels and lacked the benefit of growing up with siblings and other young ones around him. He never liked structure or authority, and he did not enjoy his time at school. He wanted to get on and make his mark in life.
In her 1981 memoir Keep on Dancing, Sarah Churchill recalls how her show business aspirations were temporarily placed on hold when she and her sister Diana were called upon by their brother to support the family profession.
In January 1935 the routine of dancing classes was interrupted by a Parliamentary by-election. My brother Randolph decided to stand as an independent Conservative candidate in the Wavertree division of Liverpool. He was not, needless to say, looking for a safe seat, but he took the candidacy with alacrity as a challenge. He commandeered Diana and me to go up to Liverpool to help in the campaign. I murmured something about my dancing, which he imperiously pooh-poohed: politics were far more important. I adored him, so I went meekly—later enthusiastically—to help.
The political hustings were quite familiar since as children we had often accompanied my father on his campaigns. On this occasion my father watched Randolph from afar with a proud paternal eye, but desisted firmly from intruding, although he was obviously dying to. He confined himself to one appearance at an eve-of-poll meeting….[My mother] was away during Randolph’s campaign, so I kept her informed with two long letters:
22 January 1935 Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool
…I came up here last night to be with Randolph for his first meeting. It was very exciting. Sunday he was very depressed as he could get hold of no one, and everything was closed. Monday he Read More >
In 1996 an article in the American press discussed “great leadership,” based on a work of psychology by Professor Dean K. Simonton published in 1994. It surmised that “only children” made good leaders in times of crisis and deduced that Winston Churchill fitted that category perfectly. It is small wonder that for all of his lifetime Jack Churchill, Sir Winston’s only sibling, remained an enigma. He has been shrouded in a whispering campaign that he was not a Churchill at all and any one of six different men have been cited as being his “real” father. Celia Lee’s six years’ research in the Churchills’ papers shows these allegations to be simply untrue.
John Strange Spencer Churchill (Jack) was born in Dublin on 4 February 1880, during the time his grandfather, the seventh Duke of Marlborough, was Viceroy of Ireland, and his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was serving as his Private Secretary. The family lived there from December 1876 until April 1880. The men variously supposed to be Jack’s father never set foot in Ireland during that time, with the exception of John Strange Jocelyn, the fifth Earl of Roden. This man has been seized upon by various authors because of the unusual use of his second name as Jack’s, and it has been claimed Lady Randolph had an affair with him. Celia contacted the present Earl of Roden and determined that Jocelyn had only arrived in what is today Northern Ireland in January 1880, having inherited the title from his nephew who died of tuberculosis in Paris. Jocelyn was a lifelong friend of the seventh duke and a respectable married man with a wife and daughter living in England. Peregrine Churchill (Jack’s younger son) explained to Celia that Jocelyn, en route to visit an estate he had inherited in County Down, stopped off with the Duke and Duchess at the Viceregal Lodge in Dublin, and Jack was born whilst he was there. He stood as godfather to the child, explaining the honorific use of his middle name, as Jack was primarily named after John Churchill, the great first Duke of Marlborough.
Lord Randolph Churchill ’s life has long been over-shadowed by the enduring fame of his son. By comparison with Winston’s heroic feats as a war leader, the father’s political career was brief, embedded in the obscure and long-forgotten politics of late Victorian Britain, and a conspicuous failure. It is no surprise, therefore, that he attracts comparatively little attention, but in one respect, at least, the situation fails to do him justice. Winston Churchill was, in more ways than one, his father’s creation.
Randolph Churchill (1849–1895) was the second surviving son of the seventh Duke of Marlborough. After Eton, and Magdalen College Oxford, where he obtained a respectable degree in law and history, he devoted most of his time to fox hunting. In 1874 he was elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative MP for Woodstock, a small country town at the gates of Blenheim Palace, where the duke’s influence over the electors virtually guaranteed his victory. Randolph contested the seat partly from loyalty to his family, and partly in return for his father’s permission to marry Jennie Jerome, a match of which he initially disapproved. As yet he gave no sign of ambition and neglected politics in favour of high society. He and Jennie were a dazzling young couple at the heart of the “Marlborough House Set,” the favourite friends and companions of “Bertie,” the philandering Prince of Wales.
In 1876 a scandal plunged Randolph into conflict with “Bertie.” The Earl of Aylesford, a companion of the Prince, planned to divorce his wife on the grounds that she had committed adultery with Randolph’s elder brother, the Marquess of Blandford. In an attempt to prevent the scandal from becoming public, Randolph threatened to produce compromising letters the Prince had written to Lady Aylesford some years before. It was a daring move, driven by ferocious loyalty to the good name of the Churchills. Aylesford dropped the divorce proceedings, but the Prince was furious and instructed his friends to ostracise Randolph, in effect banishing him from high society. For the next eight years, until a reconciliation occurred, Randolph lived under the shadow of royal displeasure. “In the interval,” wrote Winston in his father’s biography, “a nature originally genial and gay contracted a stern and bitter quality, a harsh contempt for what is called ‘Society’, and an abiding antagonism to rank and authority.”1
Winston Churchill once observed about a photo of his grandfather Leonard Jerome that he was “very fierce.” “I’m the only tame one they’ve produced,” he said modestly.1 Jerome, like his grandson, spent a lifetime beating the odds.
Despite an historic disdain for hereditary aristocracy, Americans love to create their own—if transitory—nobility. They are the wealthy, stars, glamorous, or notorious. Leonard Jerome was all that and more: he was a feisty, flamboyant, ultra-wealthy investor, sportsman, diplomat, raconteur, and arts patron. He easily made fortunes and easily lost them. His friends were a “Who’s Who” of the nouveau riche elite, and by age forty his informal moniker was “The King of Wall Street.”
Jerome’s life started humbly in 1817: he was one of ten children who tended chickens and other livestock on father Isaac’s farm in Palmyra, New York. Arriving in Palmyra at the same time was the family of a young Joseph Smith, who went on to found the Mormon church. The Jeromes had their own religious antecedents. Their French Huguenot forebears immigrated in 1710.
At age fourteen, Leonard toiled in a store, where he learned to haggle. He followed brothers to Princeton University, but, struggling with math and expenses, he transferred to and graduated from the less expensive Union College in Schenectady, New York. He then studied law and started a practice before an entrepreneurial spirit led him to found a newspaper and printing business. Both succeeded thanks to his shrewd management and hard-hitting political editorials.
Celia Sandys, author of several excellent books about her grandfather Sir Winston Churchill, will interview Lady Williams of Elvel, the former Jane Portal and one of Sir Winston’s last-surviving secretaries, at the 34th International Churchill Conference, which will take place at the J. W. Marriott Essex House in New York City next October 10, 11, and 12.Follow this link to register today.
Celia’s books include The Young Churchill about her grandfather’s youth, Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive about his adventures in South Africa, and Chasing Churchill about his various travels. She is Co-Chair of the International Churchill Society Board of Advisers and a highly popular speaker.
There is no doubting that Churchill and Clementine’s long marriage was a successful one; their relationship remained close and intimate, despite – or perhaps because of – lengthy periods apart. Even when Churchill wasn’t away working, but was on one of his many holidays, he tended to leave the children at home with Clementine or the nannies.
Churchill relished his holidays and time abroad, painting and relaxing, and accepted invitations to spend time with friends and acquaintances whenever he could, often on the Continent. Clementine, however, often ‘found the company tedious’ (Mary Soames, A Churchill Family Album) and, after 1918, they often holidayed apart. In the winter/spring 1935, the Churchills were invited to join Lord Moyne (Walter Guinness) aboard the yacht ‘Rosaura’ for a long four-month cruise of the Far East. Churchill, preoccupied with the final stages of his biography of Marlborough, didn’t feel able to go, but Clementine, having surprisingly acquired a taste for exotic travel, decided to go. Churchill wrote affectionate and domestic letters – a series of ‘Chartwell Bulletins’ – to his wife in which he gave her the latest news of home, family and his collection of farm animals and pets. Here he tells her that ‘the guinea pigs have died … How paltry you must consider these domestic tales of peaceful England compared to your dragons and tuartuaras’. There were occasional family holidays, too.
‘You all looked so sweet & beautiful standing there, & I thought how fortunate I am to have such a family – Do not be vexed with your vagabond Cat. She has gone off towards the jungle with her tail in the air, but she will return presently to her basket & curl down comfortably …Tender love.’
Clementine, to Churchill, 18 December 1934, Baroness Spencer-Churchill Papers
Churchill had been determined to have a happy family – to maintain those ‘dominating virtues of human society’ – but he lived so many other lives – as a politician, as a war leader, and had so many passionate interests (writing, painting, holidays) – that his family was, to a greater or lesser degree, squeezed in among these other busy lives. There were painful consequences, of course, but Clementine had always accepted that her husband must come first (and ‘second and third’) and worked tirelessly to support him. And his children, however, they responded to the pressures of being the great man’s children, appreciated, and were proud of, all he had done for them and for the country.
Churchill was a devoted grandfather. He lived to have ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and both he and Clementine took great pleasure in being surrounded by their family, with the swimming pool and croquet lawn as great attractions.The Churchill family today continues to be very active in the fields in which Winston distinguished himself. Among Winston and Clementine’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren are family members who have achieved distinction in their own right as biographers and authors, in journalism and in art, and in serving their country in politics, government and the armed forces, and who carry forward the many aspects of the Churchillian legacy with pride.
‘Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and to millions tragic and terrible years?’
Letter from Churchill to Clementine, 23 January 1935, quoted in Official Biography by Gilbert
But it wasn’t always an easy marriage. Apart from their political disagreements and heated arguments – and spinach throwing episodes – both Winston and Clementine were prone to periods of depression – Churchill with his ‘black dog’ and Clementine with all her worries and concerns about life with the great man and the children – and both were also increasingly frail and unwell. When the War was over and Churchill had been voted out of office, life was miserable. With Churchill exhausted and increasingly depressed by his enforced inactivity, the children continuing to cause concern and distress and Clementine herself suffering from ill-health, there was considerable friction in the Churchill household. They had always holidayed separately, since 1918. Now tensions at home were eased by increasing time spent apart – Churchill began to spend more and more time abroad for his health, and his painting, with Clementine staying at home, relishing the peace and quiet and recuperating from her own ailments – and these separations served to remind them of their dependence upon each other; throughout these lengthy periods of separation, they continued to write each other affectionate letters. They did, however, travel together to France in 1958, to Lord Beaverbrook’s villa, La Capponcina, at Cap D’Ail where they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.
‘I cannot explain how it is but in our misery we seem, instead of clinging to each other to be always having scenes. I’m sure it’s all my fault, but I’m finding life more than I can bear. He is so unhappy & that makes him very difficult… I can’t see any future.’
Clementine to Mary, 26 August 1945, quoted in Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill
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 >
Finest Hour Image
The most recent issues of Finest Hour are available online to members. Join to automatically receive a subscription to BOTH Finest Hour and the Churchill Bulletin.LEARN MORE >VISIT FINEST HOUR ARCHIVE >
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.