Children

A Long Marriage The Churchills relied on one another even when apart

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

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‘The family and the home’ The lion no longer had his roar

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.

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Churchill the Grandfather Chartwell was full of grandchildren

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

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Difficult Times Ageing was difficult for both Winston and his wife

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

The Churchill Family in War All of the Churchill children served during WWII

All the Churchills supported their father. The children, to varying degrees, served him – and their country – in the Second World War, too. Diana served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), Sarah with the Photographic Interpretation Unit of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and Mary served in the armed forces in mixed anti-aircraft (AA) batteries with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Mary also attended the Quebec conference of 1943 as an aide to her father, while Sarah played a similar role at Teheran in 1943 and Yalta in 1945. Randolph served as an Intelligence Officer in the Middle East, was attached to the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS), and undertook missions in the Libyan desert and in Yugoslavia.

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Family Loss The Churchills endured many family deaths

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.

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The Child of Consolation Youngest daughter Mary was born in 1922

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).

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Father and Son Randolph and his father had a loving but often contentious relationship

Randolph perhaps epitomises the difficulty of being the son of a famous father. In his twenties, he veered between adoration of his father and bitter accusations of being treated as a ‘wayward and untrustworthy child’, interspersed with periods of excess drinking and ill-considered political initiatives.

Randolph duly stood for parliament in the 1930s but despite the obvious advantage of his father’s support, he was defeated each time, being seen – in true Churchill style – as a political maverick. He was elected as MP for Preston in 1940 but lost his seat at the 1945 General Election. While he had his father’s weaknesses (notably, obstinacy, arrogance and bad temper), he did also inherit some of his strengths, including a gift for writing and considerable personal bravery, serving with the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS) and conducting dangerous missions in the Libyan Desert and Yugoslavia. Yet, ultimately, he lacked his father’s political skills, charm and charisma.

Churchill no doubt loved his son, but sometimes despaired of him. Their strong personalities would often clash.

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Family Life life was a balance of the good and the bad

At various times Diana, Randolph and Sarah all caused their parent’s considerable worry and distress, their lives variously marked by depression, unhappy marriages and dependency on alcohol. Only Mary, the youngest daughter, escaped unscathed. As with all families, though, the bad times need to be balanced against the good. It is clear from the memoirs that there were plenty of fun times at Chartwell, and it must have been a source of pride to Churchill that all four of his surviving children served in uniform during the Second World War. The family would also rally round whenever he was ill or in need of support. For an interview with Mary Soames, click here. But despite Churchill’s desire for a happy, contented family life, it rarely ran smoothly for the Churchills and was not without its heartache and pain.

‘As children we soon became aware that our parents’ main interest and time were consumed by immensely important tasks, beside which our own demands and concerns were trivial. We never expected either of them to attend our school plays, prize-givings or sports days. We knew they were both more urgently occupied.’
Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage

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Churchill the Father Churchill was determined to be a good parent

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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Chartwell Life in the country

Although Churchill enjoyed travelling and holidays, he was happiest at Chartwell. Purchased in 1922, much against Clementine’s wishes, it was dilapidated and in very poor repair and Churchill dedicated much of his energy – and funds – to renovating and developing the house and grounds. He ended up doing much of the smaller building work himself, taking on the construction of a dam, a swimming pool (which proved very costly to heat), brick walls around the vegetable garden and creating a butterfly house out of a former larder, as well as re-tiling a cottage in Chartwell’s grounds.

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Action This Day – Spring 1889, 1914, 1939, 1964

Finest Hour 162, Spring 2014

Page 40

By Michael McMenamin


125 YEARS AGO

Spring 1889 • Age 14

“I like to have you all to myself”

J.E.C. Welldon, Winston’s Harrow head master, wrote to Lord —Randolph in April to advise that he would be taking Winston into his own house during the next term “He has some great gifts, and is, I think, making progress in his work.” Welldon encouraged Lord and Lady Randolph to visit the school in May or June: “You would have, if nothing else, at least the opportunity of seeing what Winston’s school life is like.”

Winston continued constantly and fruitlessly to importune his parents to visit. In June he wrote to his mother: “Do do come down tomorrow. I would be disappointed if you did not come. I am looking forward to tomorrow tremendously.”
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The Lady Soames LG DBE – HONOURS AND COAT OF ARMS

Finest Hour 164, Special Edition, September 2014

Page 40

By Paul H. Courtenay


A married woman cannot normally display her paternal arms except in conjunction with those of her husband.  This is a marital coat, showing the husband’s arms on the dexter side (right side as seen by the bearer of the shield), and the wife’s paternal arms on the sinister side; this is known as an impalement. The heraldic description is as follows:

Gules, a chevron Or between in chief two mallets erect of the second and in base two wings conjoined in lure Argent [SOAMES] impaling.

Quarterly 1st and 4th Sable, a lion rampant Argent, on a canton of the last a cross Gules [CHURCHILL], 2nd and 3rd grand-quarterly Argent and Gules, in the 2nd and 3rd grand-quarters a fret Or, over all on a bend Sable three escallops of the first [SPENCER]; and, as an augmentation of honour, in chief an escutcheon Argent charged with the Cross of St George Gules and thereon an inescutcheon of the arms of France, namely Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or.
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Afterword – A Friend Who Was Here

Finest Hour 164, Special Edition, September 2014

Page 36

By Richard M. Langworth


For our last cover I chose a still life I knew she would love, anxious to send her a copy. Instead I find myself sitting down to record the loss of the person who, next to my wife, was the most significant in my life as a writer. We cherish memories of her boundless acts of generosity, which changed our lives forever.

We met in 1983 at the Churchill Hotel, London, on the first of eleven Churchill Tours, many of which she attended. She had a reputation as a determined guardian of the flame, and I wondered if she would view a “Churchill society” as gratuitous or frivolous. No: Lady Soames (“call me Mary”) was entirely approachable and grateful for our work. She was soon a familiar voice on the telephone, as interested in our doings as any doting aunt.

Two years later she and Lord Soames attended the second tour’s dinner for Anthony Montague Browne, her father’s last private secretary (FH 50), held at the Pinafore Room, Savoy Hotel, meeting place of The Other Club. Speaking first, Mary said it was a priceless opportunity to declare what the whole family owed to Anthony: “Until my father drew his last breath, Anthony was practically never absent from his side.” As for us:
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Churchill Proceedings – Winston Churchill and Religion – “Let us Command the Moment to Remain” – Winston Churchill as Father and Family Man

Finest Hour 164, Special Edition, September 2014

Page 32

By Mary Soames

INAUGURAL MEETING, N. TEXAS CHAPTER, INTERNATIONAL CHURCHILL SOCIETY, 19 FEBRUARY 1986


I am excited and honoured to be here at the first gathering of the North Texas Chapter, and if I’ve had anything to do with people wanting to come then I am indeed happy. You will realise how deeply moving it is for me to see how revered, so long after his death, is my father’s memory, which the International Churchill Society does so much to keep fresh and green.

It makes me proud that you have all come here today to meet me. And as you are setting out on your way, may I venture to say to you what I hope the International Churchill Society does? It does a lot of things, of course—but I hope especially it will continue to take a particular care and pride in keeping the record straight.

There are a lot of stories told about famous people, and I find that as time goes on it is rather like the lens of a camera: Virtues and faults come out of focus. Inaccurate statements said in some paper or book are copied lightheartedly, and reproduce themselves all over the place. Few people take the trouble to go back to the source and find out if that really was what happened. I like to hope that the Society will, above all the other things, regard itself as the guardian of the true picture and try always to bring that camera back into true focus.
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