Q: The goodbye letter
I am doing some work for my English AS course and need a comparative piece to go with a poem I am studying. I have tried looking for Winston Churchill’s goodbye letter to his wife but have been unsuccessful. Is there any way I could even have a part of the text of the letter for my studies? —A.S., UK
A: “In the event of my death…”
This was a great and memorable letter. After his removal as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915, Churchill spent six uneasy months in a sinecure position, unable to influence war policy. Finally he decided to report to his regiment in the trenches of the Great War.
As soldiers did then and now, he wrote his wife a letter to be opened in the event of his death. Their daughter Lady Soames wrote: “The letter shows what deep faith he had in her judgment and resolution…” (Clementine Churchill, 127). From Churchill by Himself, (complete text; some paragraphing added):
Duchy of Lancaster Office, 17 July 1915
Cox [solicitors] holds about £1000 worth of securities of mine (chiefly Witbank Collieries): Jack [WSC’s brother] has in his name about £1000 worth of Pretoria Cement Shares and [Sir Ernest] Cassel has American Stocks of mine which should exceed in value my loans from him by about £1000. I believe these will be found sufficient to pay my debts and overdraught. Most of the bills were paid last year. Randolph Payne and Lumley are the only two large ones.
The insurance policies are all kept up and every contingency is covered. You will receive £10,000 and £300 a year in addition until you succeed my mother. The £10,000 can either be used to provide interest i.e. about £450 a year or even to purchase an annuity against my mother’s life, which would yield a much larger income at the expense of the capital. Of course it would be much better to keep the £10,000 and live on the interest than to spend it on the chance of my mother living a long time. But you must judge.
* * *
I am anxious that you shall get hold of all my papers, especially those which refer to my Admiralty administration. I have appointed you my sole literary executor. Masterton Smith [private secretary] will help you to secure all that is necessary for a complete record. There is no hurry; but some day I should like the truth to be known. Randolph will carry on the lamp.
Do not grieve for me too much. I am a spirit confident of my rights. Death is only an incident, and not the most important which happens to us in this state of being. On the whole, especially since I met you my darling one I have been happy, and you have taught me how noble a woman’s heart can be. If there is anywhere else I shall be on the look out for you. Meanwhile look forward, feel free, rejoice in life, cherish the children, guard my memory. God bless you.
It is interesting that Churchill’s securities were in the Witbank Collieries in South Africa. During his escape from the Boers in 1899, he was spirited into hiding there until they smuggled him onto a departing train.
This moving letter was first published in Martin Gilbert, editor, Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume III, Part 2 (1972). It is now republished as The Churchill Documents, Vol. 7, The Escaped Scapegoat, May 1915-December 1916 (Hillsdale College Press, 2008), 1097-98. Hillsdale is committed to keeping the entire Churchill biography of 31 volumes in print forever.