Grace Hamblin, Total Churchillian

Grace Hamblin, Total Churchillian

Grace Ham­blin at Dal­las, 1987.

Remem­ber­ing Grace: 1908-2002

Beloved by all Churchills, Grace Ham­blin died at her home in West­er­ham, Kent, aged 94. Aware she was ail­ing, I had just sent her some lit­tle thing in the post; Car­ole Ken­wright at Chartwell said it arrived in time, and she was able to read from it for a few min­utes.

Grace Ham­blin was the longest serv­ing and most loy­al­ly devot­ed of Churchill’s inner cir­cle, arriv­ing at Chartwell in 1932 as an assis­tant to then-prin­ci­pal pri­vate sec­re­tary Vio­let Pear­man. She spent vir­tu­al­ly her entire career as pri­vate sec­re­tary, first to Win­ston and from 1939 to Clemen­tine. In 1966 she became the first Admin­is­tra­tor of Chartwell, serv­ing through 1973. In 1974 she was sec­re­tary to the Churchill Cen­te­nary Exhi­bi­tion.

She was one of the few Churchill inti­mates who reject­ed every oppor­tu­ni­ty to prof­it out of her long years and inside knowl­edge, though she was often con­sult­ed, most recent­ly by the pro­duc­ers of the HBO/BBC film “The Gath­er­ing Storm.” More­over, she loy­al­ly kept her promise “nev­er to write,” although we were for­tu­nate to have her as guest of hon­or at a 1987 Churchill Con­fer­ence in Dal­las, where she deliv­ered a warm per­son­al account of life at Chartwell. (Avail­able by email.)

She did record her pri­vate mem­o­ries for the his­tor­i­cal record, and using these a recent book divulged that she and her broth­er had been the actu­al agents who burned a por­trait Sir Win­ston had detest­ed, at the behest of Lady Churchill. I knew her well enough to think she would be appalled at the media ker­fuf­fle over this “rev­e­la­tion,” well known to many for years, but hard­ly wor­thy of pub­lic­i­ty.

Grace was kind and oblig­ing to every­one she met, but there were two kinds of peo­ple up with which she would not put: those who ques­tioned or belit­tled the boss, and slap­dash admir­ers of him who were care­less with their facts.

To seri­ous searchers for the truth, she was an inspi­ra­tion to “get it right.” She was a priv­i­lege to know, one of the few alive whose expe­ri­ence dat­ed to the so-called “Wilder­ness Years” of the 1930s, when Chartwell hummed with the writ­ing of many books and arti­cles, and sur­rep­ti­tious vis­its by wor­ried con­fi­dantes as Ger­many armed.

The mes­sages received at the news of her pass­ing were touch­ing and heart­felt. I could not how­ev­er help think­ing that it was time for her to go: a time when duty, hon­or and coun­try seem so often to be replaced by irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty, dis­hon­or and nihilism, sac­ri­fice by greed, uni­ty by pol­i­tics, right­eous wrath by pleas for accom­mo­da­tion. Grace Ham­blin was alive and sen­tient and at the cen­ter in 1940, the year Churchill said “noth­ing sur­pass­es”; she could scarce­ly have under­stood the world we live in now.

In the first of his 1935 “Chartwell Bul­letins,” sent to his absent wife on 1 Jan­u­ary 1935, Churchill recalled in anoth­er con­text Milton’s descrip­tion of the ser­aph Abdiel in Par­adise. The words apply so per­fect­ly to Grace Ham­blin:

“Among innu­mer­able false, unmoved;

Unshak­en, unse­duced, unter­ri­fied;

Her loy­al­ty she kept, her love, her zeal.”

 

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