Part 4: “Being Shouted At”
“I think being shouted at was one of the worst things to get over,” said Grace Hamblin, secretary to Winston and then Clementine Churchill from 1932, typical of the common Kentish folk who loved them. “I’d come from a very quiet family and I’d never been shouted at in my life. But I had to learn it, in time.”
In the midst of dictation one day, Grace told me, Churchill commanded: “Fetch me Klop!” Klop? she thought—what could it mean?
Finally, proudly, she struggled in with Onno Klopp‘s 14 giant volumes, Der Fall des Hauses Stuart. “Jesus Christ!” Churchill roared. What he meant was his hole punch, invariably called “Klop.” (He despised staples and other fasteners: piles of papers had to be “klopped” and then fastened together with a “treasury tag,” a bit of thread with metal “Ts” at each end.)
At first she found it daunting: “the strangeness of a large house, getting used not only to him, but to his family, his staff and friends who came and went. It was all very difficult. I went through many, many doubtful periods and was always comforted by the thought that I would only be there for a few months, and then go back to my old job.”
She wound up staying over thirty years until he died in 1965, and then remained as the first administrator, helping to turn Chartwell into a National Trust property:
As the weeks went by, I found myself trying hard to please him, to help instead of to hinder. He had a charisma: a way of making one feel wanted, making the most mundane task feel important.
He worked day in and day out and most terribly hard himself, and I think he drove us. He had a way of almost shaming one into overcoming a problem. His well-worn expression was “Find Out.” He would say, for example: “Do you know where Lord Beaverbrook is this weekend?” No, I’m afraid I don’t. “Well, find out!”
So one got into the habit of saying, “No, I’m afraid I don’t but I’ll find out,” which was a much better answer. Another thing he often said, if you looked a little bit doubtful about anything: “But surely you don’t find that difficult?”
Of course, one had to get on with it. He was always quite kind to the newcomer. I lately met a woman who went to him when she was 19. She’s still very pretty and in those days she must have been lovely; she is fair-haired and blue eyed, like a fairy.
Apparently he said to Lady Churchill when she first appeared, “Oh dear, she’s very young. I mustn’t frighten her!” I can well imagine him saying it. On her first dictation, he said something to her that he never said to me: “Don’t worry if you don’t get it all—I always remember what I’ve said.” He did indeed remember, more or less, but it didn’t get you out of making mistakes all the same.
The secretaries at Chartwell worked on the ground floor which Churchill called his “factory,” which he liked to visit. Miss Hamblin told Martin Gilbert: “He loved coming in and plonking down in the chair. He would welcome a guest at the front door, perhaps arriving for lunch, and say to them, “Do come in and see my factory.” I remember well one such occasion when I happened to he alone: “This is my factory, and this is my secretary“—pregnant pause—”Hmm, and to think I once commanded the Fleet.” Grace added, “I don’t think he meant me, he probably meant the room.”
continued in part 5…