Churchill’s Common Touch (2)

Churchill’s Common Touch (2)

Con­tin­ued from Part I…

Part 2: Alice Bateman

WSC in his limo, 1959: "C'mon Alice, you can do better than that!"
WSC in his limo, 1959: “C’mon Alice, you can do bet­ter than that!”….“G’wan, you fat old man, you get out of that car and walk your­self, you’ll live longer!”

Two oth­er West­er­ham com­mon folk who ben­e­fit­ted from Churchill’s char­ac­ter­is­tic kind­li­ness were Tom and Alice Bate­man, farm­ers who scratched out a liv­ing near Chartwell. Per­cy Reid, a stringer for a Lon­don news­pa­per, who kept an eye on Chartwell doings after World War II, wrote charm­ing­ly of a cat­tle sale in his book, Churchill: Towns­man of West­er­ham (Folke­stone: Regency, 1969):

Capt. and Mrs. [Mary Churchill] Soames—who then lived at Chartwell Farm—were at the sale most of the time and [their chil­dren] Nicholas and Emma were also tak­ing a child’s inter­est in what was going on. A daugh­ter of one of the cows offered for sale that day grazed qui­et­ly in a less dis­tin­guished field near­by. As a calf it had been giv­en to Tom and Alice Bate­man, broth­er and sis­ter, farm­ing in a small way near­by, by Win­ston Churchill when he heard that they had been out of luck in their farming.

“Pedi­gree?” repeat­ed Alice when asked about her two-year old Short­horn: “I sup­pose we could have had the pedi­gree if we’d liked but then—we don’t farm their way.” A touch of rur­al com­mon sense cropped up: “The paper wouldn’t make much dif­fer­ence to whether it was a good cow or not.”

Not sur­pris­ing­ly Alice Bate­man had lots of time for Churchill. “Got more in his lit­tle fin­ger than most of us have in our whole bod­ies,” she said. Alice worked for three years at Chartwell. “Not to sleep in,” she made clear, quick­ly. “Always has a word for you, has Win­ston. So has Mary, his daughter.”

Phil John­son, a West­er­ham liv­ery agent and some­time Churchill dri­ver, told me a delight­ful sto­ry show­ing anoth­er side to Alice. Once the great man, being dri­ven up the hill to Chartwell from West­er­ham vil­lage, found her trudg­ing along the road to her farm and stopped his Hum­ber lim­ou­sine. His impulse was to offer her a lift, but real­iz­ing she would be too proud to accept one, he shout­ed encour­age­ment: “Come on Alice, you can do bet­ter than that!”

“G’wan, you fat old man, you get out of that car and walk your­self, you’ll live longer!” Alice retorted.

“I’ll out­live you, Alice!” chuck­led Churchill, who liked to claim (inac­cu­rate­ly) that he took exer­cise only as a pall­bear­er for friends who had exer­cised all their lives. “You will not!” Alice shot back. “And he didn’t,” Phil John­son added, “Alice sur­vived him by six or eight years.“

“Kent folk don’t make friends eas­i­ly,” wrote Per­cy Reid. “Theirs is a stur­dy inde­pen­dence which is read­i­ly mis­tak­en for surly insu­lar­i­ty. Once won over, how­ev­er, Ken­tish peo­ple will remain your sin­cere if some­what over-frank friends for good. It was some­what on these lines that the unusu­al rela­tion­ship, which final­ly devel­oped between West­er­ham folk and Churchill and his fam­i­ly, grew up.”


With thanks for kind assis­tance in research to Paul Courte­nay, Phil John­son and Andrew Roberts, and to a dear friend, the late Grace Hamblin.

con­tin­ued in part 3…



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