This text is taken from Mary Soames’s 1979 biography of her mother Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage and is reprinted with permission.
The youngest child of Winston and Clementine Churchill recounts how her parents became engaged at the time her father was President of the Board of Trade.
During the months of June and July [1908, Winston] and Clementine met several times, but as unmarried girls did not in those days lunch or dine alone with men, they met in the main only on social occasions. Clementine was by now deeply in love, and in an agony lest their growing friendship should be remarked upon. Such was her anxiety on this count that when Winston invited her to a garden party he was giving in the gardens of Gwdyr House (then the Board of Trade) she declined to go. Presumably their closest family must have been aware that something was brewing, but their discretion was complete. More than most girls Clementine could keep her own counsel, so now at this crucial moment of her life even her close friends were not aware of her feelings.
The parliamentary summer recess was soon imminent, and both Winston and Clementine were committed to prearranged visits, but they planned to meet at Salisbury Hall in the middle of August. In the interval, Clementine went to stay with Mrs. Godfrey Baring at Nubia House in Cowes. She took part in the round of balls and entertainments, but she was a somewhat distracted guest, as her thoughts were elsewhere. Read More >
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.
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).
Churchill’s relationship with his parents was difficult. They were remote and inaccessible, often preoccupied – his beautiful heiress mother, with her social life and her numerous affairs with young men, and his father, with his politics. Churchill doted on his mother and idolised his father and as a child was constantly seeking their attention and praise (not often forthcoming). He was determined to do things differently with his own children. Winston and Clementine had five children; Diana (1909), Randolph (1911), Sarah (1914), Marigold (1918) and Mary (1922). He vowed that, unlike his father, he would spend time with them and was an affectionate and devoted parent, building a tree house at Chartwell for the older three and, utilising his bricklaying skills, a little summer house for the youngest, Mary. With Churchill spoiling his children with affection, Clementine ended up doing most of the disciplining, but she was busy supporting her husband’s political life and work – she always put Winston first – and the children were really brought up by a succession of governesses and nannies. Like their father before them, the three older children, in particular, may have suffered as all three had difficult adult lives.
‘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
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