Churchill’s Common Touch (1)

Churchill’s Common Touch (1)

Part 1: Mr & Mrs Don­key Jack

A recent book by a dis­tin­guished his­to­ri­an sug­gests that Win­ston Churchill dis­dained com­mon peo­ple. It cites anoth­er Prime Min­is­ter, H.H. Asquith, dur­ing World War I, pro­vid­ing a tow to a bro­ken-down motorist and giv­ing two chil­dren a lift in his car. The writer adds: “It is hard to imag­ine Win­ston Churchill behav­ing in such a fashion.”

It is not hard at all. In fact, Churchill did fre­quent kind things for ordi­nary peo­ple he encoun­tered, pri­vate­ly and with­out fan­fare. We know about them only through his pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence, thanks to the offi­cial biog­ra­phy, Mar­tin Gilbert, or the tes­ti­mo­ny of observers.

Grace Hamblin, 1987
Grace Ham­blin, 1987

A promi­nent exam­ple is the gyp­sy cou­ple Churchill befriend­ed in West­er­ham. Grace Ham­blin, long­time Churchill sec­re­tary and first admin­is­tra­tor of Chartwell, recalled them in a 1987 speech to the Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Society:

 There was a fun­ny old gyp­sy liv­ing in the dis­trict, called Don­key Jack, because he had a don­key and trap, and a wife and a dog. My father, who was a farmer, called him a par­a­site, because he lived on stolen pota­toes, straw­ber­ries and apples. But Sir Win­ston had a more roman­tic view. He thought it was won­der­ful. When Don­key Jack died, and his don­key had to be destroyed, there was nowhere for poor Mrs. Don­key Jack to go. It wouldn’t be safe for her to live on com­mon land. Sir Win­ston allowed her to live in his wood, in a lit­tle gaze­bo which had been there for years, full of ear­wigs and that sort of thing, but she loved it. It would have been stu­pid to offer her a house because she wouldn’t have under­stood it. He knew just what would give her pleasure.

In 1935, Mrs. Don­key Jack suf­fered a frac­tured ankle. Churchill sent her to hos­pi­tal for treat­ment, but, real­iz­ing her camp and her two dogs would be left unat­tend­ed, asked his gar­den­er Arnold to look after them.

“Should the worst be real­ized I shall try and get her into a decent home,” Churchill wrote his absent wife. “Mean­while her sav­age dog (the lit­tle one) still stands a faith­ful sen­try over her belong­ings. He allows Arnold to bring food at a respectable dis­tance and con­sents to eat it, but oth­er­wise he remains like the ser­aph Abdiel in Par­adise Lost:

 ‘Among innu­mer­able false, unmoved;

Unshak­en, unse­duced, unterrified;

His loy­al­ty he kept, his love, his zeal.’”

con­tin­ued in part 2…





4 thoughts on “Churchill’s Common Touch (1)

  1. There is always a revi­sion­ist out there. But I still have to look at the pic­tures with Churchill stand­ing with his peo­ple dur­ing the bomb­ing of Lon­don and his con­cern for shel­ter for the citizens.
    That did not hap­pen in Ger­many when Ham­burg was burning.
    There are so many exam­ples of Churchill’s deep con­cern for his peo­ple. How dare one criti­size the man who saved Europe .
    But your response Richard is con­vinc­ing. Well done.

  2. I look for­ward to con­tin­ue to fol­low this. Thanks for includ­ing me.

  3. Won­der­ful anec­dote. We know Churchill was won­der­ful com­rade in the field and was a very humane per­son and a lover of animals.

    Is it not true, how­ev­er, that in social cir­cum­stances, Churchill was very aloof to servants? 

    I met one of FDR’s body­guards many years ago and he said Churchill was charm­ing to FDR and his cir­cle but ignored guards and ser­vants entire­ly not even both­er­ing to excuse him­self if he bumped into them. By con­trast FDR was like everyone’s favorite uncle and he laughed and joked with everyone.

    Once again this is a sec­ond hand report but I have heard it many times that Churchill for all his virtues and qual­i­ties was a man of his age and his class.

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