Churchill’s Common Touch (5)

Churchill’s Common Touch (5)

con­clud­ed from part 4…

Part 5: Loyalty 

"Their loyalty they kept...." Former Churchill secretaries Elizabeth Layton Nel (1942-45) and Lady Williams, the former Jane Portal (1949-55), at a reunion in 2006.
“Their loy­al­ty they kept….” For­mer Churchill sec­re­taries Eliz­a­beth Lay­ton Nel (1942-45) and Lady Williams, the for­mer Jane Por­tal (1949-55), at a reunion in 2006.

Churchill had “a rep­u­ta­tion for brusque­ness strength­ened by his han­dling of the com­mon folk,” his post­war body­guard Ronald Gold­ing continued.

He had the habit of sum­ming peo­ple up after two sen­tences of con­ver­sa­tion. They were clas­si­fied, it seemed to me, as either “inter­est­ing” or “unin­ter­est­ing.” With the for­mer, con­ver­sa­tion ensued; with the lat­ter, Churchill would ignore them. On such occa­sions Mrs. Churchill fre­quent­ly came to the res­cue, engag­ing the luck­less in con­ver­sa­tion. If they were tongue-tied she would do most of the talk­ing until it was time for them to leave. Mrs. Churchill was a charm­ing woman, who res­cued many social and civic events because of the inabil­i­ty of her hus­band to engage in small talk.

With those he found “inter­est­ing,” and cer­tain­ly the many who served him for lengthy peri­ods, Churchill devel­oped fierce affec­tion and an unshake­able loyalty.

“Loy­al­ty is a very won­der­ful qual­i­ty,” Churchill’s wartime sec­re­tary Eliz­a­beth Lay­ton Nel wrote,

I am sure that such feel­ings in the staff were rein­forced by the loy­al­ty which Mr. Churchill him­self always showed toward them. Once accept­ed as a mem­ber of his staff, one would not be pushed off; one’s errors might be point­ed out with vehe­mence, but they would soon be for­giv­en; one’s efforts on his behalf were appre­ci­at­ed, in the long run. Indeed I think he became attached to his staff, and in gen­er­al he great­ly dis­liked changes.

Eliz­a­beth remem­bered a par­tic­u­lar­ly emo­tion­al moment at Down­ing Street dur­ing Vic­to­ry in Europe Day, 8 May 1945, the height of Churchill’s victory:

As I was leav­ing the scene there arrived dear old Mrs. Lan­de­mare, the Churchills’ cook through­out the war, who had been unable to leave her kitchen soon­er and had thus bat­tled her way through those cor­ri­dors too late to see the fun. Mr. Churchill, full of the moment of tri­umph, was just going off with his Min­is­ters; but on see­ing her he broke away from them, came and shook her hand and thanked her for hav­ing looked after him so well through those years. When he had gone she turned to me almost in tears, and said that being spo­ken to like that meant much more to her than just see­ing the crowds.

“In think­ing of him nowa­days in a gen­er­al way,” Eliz­a­beth told me, “I remem­ber par­tic­u­lar­ly how he endeared him­self to those around him—and how fun­ny he always was. As long as one could ‘take it,’ one loved him with a deep devo­tion. Dif­fi­cult to work for? Yes, most­ly. Lov­able? Always. Amus­ing? With­out fail.”


N.B. Mrs. Landemare’s cook­book, long out of print, has recent­ly been republished.


2 thoughts on “Churchill’s Common Touch (5)

  1. He was human and he made mis­takes. Being who he was, the mis­takes were often on a grand scale. But so were the suc­cess­es. And by and large, the aver­age wasn’t too bad.

  2. Won­der­ful char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of Churchill’s per­son­al­i­ty. It makes one think that SOME PEOPLE did get the impres­sion he was brusque or hard to work for but that the peo­ple who knew him under­stood him and loved him. He for­gave and they for­gave. I have the impres­sion that peo­ple always knew where they stood with him. It is ter­ri­ble not to know where you stand and to be left in the lurch. I have read many books about Churchill but this sto­ry of Georgina Lan­de­mare is quite new to me. There is always some­thing to learn about Sir Win­ston. Not only a great and good man but a fas­ci­nat­ing man. He was, as I have said, a man of his class and age (who isn’t? ) but I think he was above all an indi­vid­u­al­ist who went beyond the stereotypes.

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