Winston Churchill – family man

Winston Churchill had a younger brother, to whom he was very close. When they both had their own families they became practically one large family.  The two brothers were both soldiers but were complete opposites; Winston enjoyed the limelight and a manic lifestyle, whereas Jack stayed quietly in the background.

Clementine

Shortly after Winston had joined the cabinet as President of the Board of Trade in 1908, he was invited to one of Lady St Helier dinner parties.  She was the great-aunt of Clementine Hozier whom Winston had met briefly four year previously.  He remembered the beautiful young woman instantly and was delighted when he was placed next to her.  Indeed, Winston was so smitten he asked his mother to invite Clementine to Salisbury Hall.  Their romance began slowly with polite letters until Winston finally plucked up the courage to propose.  For the rest of their lives, when not together, they wrote letters and telegrams to each other almost every day.

Meanwhile, Jack Churchill had married Lady Gwendeline Bertie, (Goonie) on 7 August 1908.  Winston and Clementine followed them only thirty-five days afterwards; they were married in St Margaret’s, Westminster; and it was a marriage that lasted Winston’s death fifty-six years later.

Children

Clementine was a great help for Winston, accompanying him occasionally when he was giving speeches or electioneering.  But more often he went alone and so encouraged her to keep up with friends and interests so not be lonely.  She suffered with nervous depression and since Winston had experience of depression he was extremely considerate; he would send her on holidays or to friends, preferably into warmer climates, which always cheered her greatly.  Whilst she was away he would take over in the household and in return, his children, Sarah and Marigold (and later Mary), would take turns to keep him company; probably more likely interrupting his work, but he enjoyed their childish chit-chat and never sent them away.

Clementine and Winston Churchill had five children: Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold and Mary.  Winston adored every one of them and always tried his upmost to make time for them.  He often walked them to school, took them to the zoo and outings; he regularly went to see Randolph at his boarding school; sometimes taking his girls with him to see their brother.  Having suffered a fractious relationship with his own father, Winston did everything he could to ensure there would be no awkward atmospheres between himself and Randolph and any of his girls.  Young Randolph had inherited his father’s argumentativeness, but there was never any real animosity between them.  Indeed, when Winston became prime pinister for the first time, in May 1940, Randolph was the first to congratulate his father and profess his pride.

Tragedy

In August 1921 Marigold died from meningitis and septicaemia of the throat.  She was only two years and nine months old and the whole family was utterly devastated.  Although Winston and Clementine were delighted when Mary arrived in the following year, neither of them ever got over their tragic loss.  Fortunately they found an excellent nanny in Clementine’s first cousin Maryott Whyte.  Nana, as she was called, was a Norland -rained Nurse and although she worked for the Churchills, she was their social equal and Mary’s godmother.

It is well known that Clementine was not enamoured of Chartwell Manor, whereas Winston loved it immensely.  She thought it too dilapidated and too expensive to repair and maintain.  The property near Westerham in Kent certainly did need substantial restoration, but for Winston the house felt ideal.  So he bought it, restored it and added a new wing.  He hoped it would grow on Clementine, but it never did.

Horses

Winston’s love of animals originates from his first memories between 1877 and 1880.  His nanny, Elizabeth Everest, took to him to Phoenix Park in Dublin most days where he rode a donkey and loved it.  His best educational period was at Sandhurst where he learned about horses and how to ride them, especially in battle.  Horses had been essential in battles for centuries and were still used to a limited extent during the First World War.  After the war, Winston was the Secretary of State dealing with the demobilisation of men; but on hearing of the mistreatment of the military horses he was furious.  He would not tolerate cruelty to man nor beast and in his inimitable way, he demanded the horses be brought back as soon as possible. His intervention saved tens of thousands of horses from dying unnecessarily from disease or by the cleavers of French and Belgian butchers.

Thus, Winston could be hard, demanding and impatient in his work, but when it came to family he was quite the opposite.  It is true that Chartwell was a bolt-hole for him; to get away from London, politics, and a place to indulge in his love of writing and painting; but it was primarily for his family.  There was plenty of room for Jack and Nellie’s (Clementine’s sister) families to stay whenever they wanted to; but most importantly he wanted his children to have a proper home; where they could live and learn to love the countryside; and in time his grandchildren too.  Winston in the main was a respected and busy man, but above all he was a wonderful father and a happy and generous family man.

Stella Milner

See also articles on Educating WinstonChurchill and the First World WarChurchill’s dream, and Churchill’s pets.