clock

The Lady Soames, D.B.E. , April 21, 1991

President Saunders, Senior Fellow Vogt, Consul General, Ladies and Gentlemen:

All my life I shall treasure the honour you have given me here today in conferring upon me the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, and I thank you with all my heart.

I realize also it is a singular privilege to have been invited by Westminster College and Crosby Kemper Foundation of Kansas City to address you today, and to be the ninth person to make the Crosby Kemper Lecture, founded with such imagination and generosity, so that every year a large audience can hear a distinguished person speak on themes relating to British history and Winston Churchill

The concept of the lecture moreover is one whose value and interest will wax, rather than wane, with the passing of time; and the remarkable setting for this annual event - in undoubtedly the most moving and beautiful of all the physical memorials to Winston Churchill - will surely never fail to strike a chord among those who will gather here in years to come.

You will, I am sure, appreciate that I feel, with good reason, somewhat abashed, when I dwell on the roll call of distinguished persons who have preceded me here.

What, I asked myself, when the invitation arrived, have I to do in such a company? But I felt it would be cowardly (even perhaps churlish) to have refused this, albeit to me, daunting invitation. I felt I should (in the words my father often used) try "to rise to the level of events" ... or to the level, in this case, of what has been demanded of me.

Winston Churchill has passed beyond us into history: his record and achievements must stand the test of time. I think his will be a remembered name and his words ring true and heartening wherever and whenever men look and strive for freedom.

But even during his lifetime, and increasingly from the hour of his death, contemporary historians, strategists, literary critics, and, of course - muckrakers - had started on the inevitable continuing reassessment, which all figures of public stature must undergo. Apart from the historic record, tales and anecdotes - true or untrue - multiply, often with little regard for accuracy, and often slanted (if not invented) to suit the storyteller's own purpose. And now I find, that often with both his faults and virtues out of focus, Winston Churchill's character and personality risk becoming embalmed in his fame, and in the legend which attaches already to his hero-figure.

Because it has fallen to my lot to be Winston Churchill's child - and now of my parents' five children sadly the only survivor - I have a testimony, which I feel duty and honour-bound to give, and I am grateful for the opportunity given me to do so here.

But I have imposed upon myself strict rules: I am loth to stray beyond the frontiers of my daughterly knowledge; not for me is the luxury of imagined conversations or apocryphal jokes and anecdotes; nor will I allow myself to be lured into the tempting pastures of what-would-your-father-think-of-so-and-so, or such-and-such. And as in Parliament, I must plead "interest": I look back on my parents through eyes of love and gratitude and admiration. But if the lenses of my vision, are adjusted to love - I hope I can say it is not blind love.

But of course, my perception of my parents has changed with the passing of years: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child ..."

For me, clear, consecutive memories of my father begin with the opening of that decade, which in the chronology of Winston Churchill's life, has come to be called "The Wilderness Years." In 1929 he had ceased to be Chancellor of the Exchequer with the defeat of Stanley Baldwin's government, and for the next ten years he was to be out of office, although fully involved in active political life.

Winston was now in his mid-fifties: Clementine his wife, ten years younger, and myself aged eight, trailing along well behind Diana Randolph and Sarah. Politics kept my parents much in London. But Chartwell was the center of their family life, and the place my father - both then, and later - most liked to be in the whole world.

Chartwell was bought in 1922, in the week that I was born in London; and from the age of two until I was 17 I knew no other home: educated at a local school, I was indeed the "Chartwell child," and, never confined to the nursery wing, participated fully in my parents' life there.

Long before I was aware of my father's fame or that he was an important public personage, he was of course famous and important to me - as for a fleeting and felicitous time all parents are to their children.

His spontaneous enjoyment of so many things and his varied and numerous occupations made him a convivial and enthralling companion to people of all ages, as many who knew him well or worked closely with him have often recounted.

But to have been his child was an enrichment beyond compare. I was blessed indeed in the love of my parents and siblings. I was then the unconscious, even careless, acceptor of the golden dower of love and security, which is the rightful heritage of all children, and which certainly encircled my childhood years. As with my older brother and sisters, I, in my turn, was soon admitted to a grown-up world of interest, variety, excitement and fun.

Chartwell was my parents' home for 40 years: their London abodes changed several times, but Chartwell was their sure base and refuge - and was a veritable playground for my father. The place bears visible testimony to my father's love of construction and his skill as a bricklayer, in the extensive wall around the vegetable garden which he built, largely with his own hands.

He loved directing outdoor works: tree clearing; or channeling the meager trickle from the Chartwell through various courses, and transforming it into rushing streams and cascades, by skillfully placed pumps and stop-cocks.

Once in my mother's absence he converted a peninsula, which jutted out into the lower lake, into an island: this turned out to be a more extensive operation than he had originally anticipated - the digging works requiring the services of a giant mechanical digger and a system of skips on tracks to remove the large quantities of earth - which transformed our green and pleasant valley for one whole winter into a scene which looked like a film set for All Quiet on the Western Front. Occasionally my father's enthusiasms outstripped practical bounds. But all these activities afforded him immense satisfaction.

After the Second World War he addressed himself to farming, finding new preoccupations in the lives of the cattle and pigs, and in the output of a market garden. The basic logic of farming, however, caused Winston some difficulty - for he could not bring himself to devour livestock with whom (in his own words) " ... I have established social relations."

Later still, he took up racing and derived enormous pleasure from the triumphs of his brilliant grey horse, Colonist the Second, and other rather good horses he acquired and also bred in a small stud farm not far from Chartwell.

Animals were extremely important in his scheme of things: his faithful chocolate poodle Rufus was a constant companion; the beautiful marmalade Chartwell cat, a cosseted friend. For several years a blue budgerigar called Toby accompanied him even abroad, and visitors to my father in his room, where Toby flew free, were at risk from the bird's indiscretions.

And of course, from human company Winston derived the utmost stimulation and pleasure. Happy hours were passed round the dining room table with family, friends and colleagues, when conversation and repartee and argument flashed to and fro, or long-remembered lines of verse and prose poured forth like a torrent. Mealtimes, thus, would often last two or three hours. My mother would presently make a move. I can see now, so well, my father looking at her across the table: "Ah Clemmie," he would say, "it is so nice ... Do not go. Let us command the moment to remain." Ah, if only that were possible.

Chartwell was a veritable factory, and the lights gleamed from his upstairs study late into the night, as padding up and down the long room with its high vaulted, raftered ceiling, he dictated to one of his secretaries hour after hour his books, newspaper articles, and speeches. I soon became aware of the immense pains he devoted to his written works; he spent hours also correcting proofs and galleys. His speeches made him quite broody: "You must not disturb your father," my mother would say: "He is with speech."

Winston Churchill was an essentially natural person, and almost totally lacking in hypocrisy. Even as his fame and standing grew, his public and private persona remained much the same. He was a being blessed, in that for him the boundary line between work and play was smudged. His main life's work was a natural expression of his gifts for heroic action, oratory and writing. But when I ponder again his life and the wide range of his interests and activities, even I am always amazed anew by their variety.

His zest for life was one of his most attractive characteristics, of which those of us who were fortunate enough to be close to him were the luckiest beneficiaries. For he was such fun to be with, and his spontaneous enjoyment of so many things was infectious. In a life packed with action and arduous work, my father nearly always found time for what he called "my toys."

Because our generation's most immediate image of Winston Churchill is of the older man, it is easy to forget the dash and brilliance of his younger days. His cavalry training had made him a good horseman; he had been a brilliant polo player (playing his last game in 1923); he was a good shot, and loved a day with hounds, fox or boar hunting.

But, of course, the demands of politic and his writing, which he did always up against sharp deadlines, keeping his family by his pen, relegated both sport and social life to the margins of his existence.

But where sport and painting were in competition, painting won an easy victory. In a letter to his wife in 1921, when he was staying in Scotland with the Duke of Sutherland, he wrote: "It is another splendid day: & I am off to the river to catch pictures - much better than salmon."

I find it touching and attractive that, in those earlier days especially, the fun-loving and convivial side of his nature caused him an occasional glance at another sort of world: the glittering beau monde to which he and Clementine naturally belonged; the world which would be swept away a few years later in the First World War.

On once occasion in the early years of their marriage, in December 1910, Winston was staying with a fashionable house party at Warter Priory in Yorkshire for shooting. He wrote to Clementine, who had stayed at home because of a heavy cold:

... A nice party - puissant, presentable, radical in preponderance - a rare combination. I wish you were here ... Tomorrow pheasants in thousands - the vy best wot ever was seen. Tonight Poker - I lost a little - but the play was low." He continued reflectively ... "On the whole survey, how much more power and great business are to me, than this kind of thing, pleasant tho it seems by contrast to our humble modes of entertainment. I expect I will have a headache tomorrow night after firing so many cartridges. All the glitter of the world appeals to me: but thank God not in comparison with serious things.

One receives the impression of a spectator looking in on a brilliantly lighted scene, but turning resolutely - indeed gladly - back to the blustery weather outside.

And how fortunate indeed he was in the woman he had married. How different might have been the course of Winston Churchill's life and career had he married a socially eager or trivial-minded woman. Churchill would always, through his talents and thrusting nature, have been to the forefront of political life; but his energies might have been distracted, or who knows, the rapier of the purpose of his destiny blunted or tarnished, had the woman he loved lacked the dedication, the high principles, and the fiery courage of Clementine Hozier.

Any consideration of Winston Churchill's life and emotional make-up must recognize the role his beloved Clemmie played throughout the 57 years they lived together - through a period as cataclysmic and changing as any time in our history, and always in the glare of public interest.

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

Winston S. Churchill