Churchill’s Common Touch (4)

Churchill’s Common Touch (4)

con­tin­ued from part 3…

Part 4: “Being Shout­ed At”

Grace Hamblin in "The Factory." The portrait is by Frank Salisbury, 1942.
Grace Ham­blin in “The Fac­to­ry.” The por­trait is by Frank Sal­is­bury, 1942.

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…

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

  1. Do you know if it is pos­si­ble to get a British hole punch today like “klop”? I need one for a Churchill desk dis­play. He kept two of them. Any antique shop or busi­ness that might have one like Mr. Churchill’s for sale? Thank you. PS–can you pos­si­ble tell me the make or brand of Mr. Churchill’s desk hole punch?

    Sor­ry, no infor­ma­tion, but I direct­ed your query to Chartwell, where they may be able to help. RML

  2. I don’t know enough about FDR to com­pare the two of them, though from what I do know I think you are right that Churchill was the more sin­cere. What you saw was what you got, as his daugh­ter said: “His pri­vate voice was no dif­fer­ent from his pub­lic one.” As for ser­vants, see Part 3 in this series. Yes, he was a Vic­to­ri­an, with the atti­tudes of his time; and yet he said some remark­ably un-Vic­to­ri­an things about peo­ple that caused many of his con­tem­po­raries to call him a trai­tor to his class. See also

  3. I know the Grace Ham­blin sto­ries from Mar­tin Gilbert. But I wasn’t refer­ring only to his hard charg­ing with per­son­al sec­re­taries but his aloof­ness with ser­vants etc. I am aware also, how­ev­er, that peo­ple who don’t like Churchill (or his pol­i­tics) exag­ger­ate to the far extreme to show Churchill in the most neg­a­tive fact pos­si­ble (even to the point that he was an extreme racist and arch-impe­ri­al­ist and no lover of free­dom and democ­ra­cy at all). My per­son opin­ion is that Churchill -what­ev­er his faults- was prob­a­bly more sin­cere than FDR. FDR was a charmer but I think at times he was insin­cere and oppor­tunis­tic. He LIKED to PLAY the part of everyone’s favorite uncle but that was his pub­lic per­sona. FDR actu­al­ly could be as ruth­less as Churchill per­haps more so. Good exam­ples would be the Japan­ese Intern­ment or the Ex Parte Quirin case (the Nazi Saba­teurs). FDR pushed for all of them to get the death penal­ty (except for the ones who helped turn them in -they got life but were lat­er par­doned by Tru­man). And in the Detroit riots in 1943 FDR sent the Army with orders to shoot to kill if nec­es­sary. I know this to be true because my father was an NCO with the MP’s at that time. They had loaded weapons and loaded 50 cal­iber machine guns mount­ed on their jeeps. If the riot­ing African-Amer­i­cans did not respond to warn­ing shots and if they endan­gered the lives of MP’s they had orders to open fire (some­thing they didn’t have to do -the most they did was fire over their heads). But orders like that had to have come from the top.

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