“To be opened in the event of my death…” Winston Churchill to his Wife, 1915

“To be opened in the event of my death…” Winston Churchill to his Wife, 1915

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…”

Winston and Clementine (Wikipedia Commons)
Win­ston and Clemen­tine before their mar­riage in 1908. (Wikipedia Commons)

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.

Good bye


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.

Further reading

Lady Diana Coop­er on Win­ston and Clemen­tine Churchill,” 2018.

3 thoughts on ““To be opened in the event of my death…” Winston Churchill to his Wife, 1915

  1. Once again fas­ci­nat­ing! There is always some­thing new to learn about WSC. Have a hap­py and healthy New Year.

    And you too old pal. —RML

  2. Superb arti­cle Richard. Thank for you shar­ing. Hap­py New Year. Sam and Lynne.
    Thanks so much and all the best for 2022. —R

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