First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchil
Without Churchill’s inspiring leadership Britain could not have survived its darkest hour and repelled the Nazi menace. Without his wife Clementine, however, he might never have become Prime Minister. By his own admission, the Second World War would have been ‘impossible without her’.
Clementine was Winston’s emotional rock and his most trusted confidante; not only was she involved in some of the most crucial decisions of war, but she exerted an influence over her husband and the Government that would appear scandalous to modern eyes. Yet her ability to charm Britain’s allies and her humanitarian efforts on the Home Front earned her deep respect, both behind closed doors in Whitehall and among the population at large.
That Clementine should become Britain’s ‘First Lady’ was by no means pre-ordained. Born into impecunious aristocracy, her childhood was far from gilded. Her mother was a serial adulteress and gambler, who spent many years uprooting her children to escape the clutches of their erstwhile father, and by the time Clementine entered polite society she had become the target of cruel snobbery and rumours about her parentage.
In Winston, however, she discovered a partner as emotionally insecure as herself, and in his career she found her mission. Her dedication to his cause may have had tragic consequences for their children, but theirs was a marriage that changed the course of history.
Now, acclaimed biographer Sonia Purnell explores the peculiar dynamics of this fascinating union. From the personal and political upheavals of the Great War, through the Churchills’ ‘wilderness years’ in the 1930s, to Clementine’s desperate efforts to preserve her husband’s health during the struggle against Hitler, Sonia presents the inspiring but often ignored story of one of the most important women in modern history.
fun nor yet his daring’.62 She also invited General Montgomery to join the party for New Year’s Eve, although she objected to his typically imperious manner. ‘Mrs Churchill was the only person I knew who always succeeded in subduing General Montgomery,’ noted Colville. On this occasion, she asked Montgomery’s aide-de-camp, Noel Chavasse, to join them for dinner. ‘“My ADCs don’t dine with the Prime Minister,” objected Monty, tartly. Mrs Churchill gave him a withering look. “In my house General
boss rose from the bathwater to dress. Clementine was already starting on the chicken course with the other guests around Lady St Helier’s dining table by the time Winston arrived. Ruth Lee, the wealthy American who, with her British husband Arthur, later donated their country house Chequers to the nation, wrote in her diary that Winston had taken the ‘vacant place on his hostess’s left. He paid no attention to her, however, as he became suddenly and entirely absorbed in Miss Clementine Hozier,
for their benefactors (in a characteristic touch, she sent cards entitling their chauffeurs to a free meal at the Wolfe Café in Westerham). Winston celebrated by buying the farms adjoining Chartwell, amounting to some five hundred acres. He was now a country landowner of stature, Leader of His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, a hugely successful author, and a worldwide war hero and celebrity. He threw himself into his new life and tried to put the hurt of July 1945 behind him. From helping to
captured by Winston’s friend, the artist John Lavery, in a portrait of Clementine with her daughter Sarah, which still hangs in the study at Chartwell. Clementine’s charm offensive with the Asquiths was going well, however, and in mid-February she was invited to spend a ‘useful’ weekend with them at their country residence, The Wharf. Those childhood games in Seaford now stood her in good stead, as she gave Asquith an enjoyably challenging game of golf – although, perhaps fortuitously, the Prime
increasingly uneasy about just how isolated Winston must be feeling in her absence. Even on board the Rosaura there were those who opposed his views and still clung to appeasement. When, after listening to a radio broadcast from England on 24 January 1939, Moyne’s mistress Vera Broughton led attacks on her embattled husband for endangering Chamberlain’s so-called peace, it was like a call to arms. A revivified Clementine flounced out majestically, booking her passage on the first steamer home the