Churchill’s marriage to Clementine remained the cornerstone of his private life but his family life had its share of personal sadness. Aside from the distress caused by his children’s wayward lives, he lived long enough to witness the death of many of those close to him. His mother, the beautiful and glamorous Jennie, died aged only sixty-seven, in June 1921 (she had tripped, wearing high heels, down a staircase and broke her ankle; it didn’t heal and, suffering from gangrene, she eventually had the foot amputated; after enduring several weeks of pain, she died suddenly of a massive haemorrhage). Only months later, the Churchills’ beloved ‘Duckadilly’ died, aged only two and nine months. Churchill’s oldest friend and companion, his younger brother Jack, died in February 1947, six years after the death of ‘Goonie’ (Gwendoline, Jack’s wife), in 1941. Churchill was devastated at the loss and wrote to Hugh Cecil, ‘I feel lonely now that he is not here after 67 years of brotherly love’ (Gilbert, Never Despair). And of course, his daughter Diana died before he did, aged only fifty-four, in 1963.
The following September, in 1922, the Churchills’ fifth and final child, Mary, was born. Mary later wrote, in the prelude to A Daughter’s Tale, that she was ‘perhaps … for my parents, the child of consolation’.
Unlike her elder siblings, she didn’t cause her parents any significant worries. She supported both her mother and father throughout their lives and, during the Second World War, worked for the Red Cross and the Women’s Voluntary Service from 1939 to 1941 and served in mixed anti-aircraft (AA) batteries with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), serving in London, Belgium and Germany, rising to the rank of Junior Commander and being awarded the MBE (Military).
Sarah (born in October 1914 in the first months of the First World War) and Marigold (born just after the end of the War, in November 1918) were Churchill’s younger daughters. Life for them was to prove troubled and, in the case of Marigold, sadly very brief.
‘Many years later my father told me that when Marigold died, Clementine gave a succession of wild shrieks like an animal in mortal pain. My mother never got over Marigold’s death.’
Mary Soames, Prelude to A Daughter’s Tale