My InterestEmbed from Getty Images
I collect everything on the Churchills, so this is a natural for me. Seeing it on #Netgalley, I had to have it. I will be buying the print book, but this review is based on the audio in which the editor (and reader of the text connecting sections of the diary) is Mary’s elder daughter, Emma.
Winston and Clementine Churchill suffered the sort of loss all parents dread. Going away and leaving the children with a nanny only to be called home to a dying child. Their fourth child, Marigold, died, soon after her parents returned home. A year later, Mary was born. Unlike the older children, Mary was cared for by a distant relative who had trained as a Norland Nanny. Winston and Clementine were very involved children for their class and day. Winston had been so neglected by his own father that he destroyed his son Randolph by spoiling him and never correcting his bad behavior. The three (surviving) older children all had difficulties with relationships and with alcoholism. Mary, however, was married for life to one man, had five healthy children, many grandchildren (one of whom was a bridesmaid Princess Diana–a very distant relative). Winston and Clementine both gave of their time and love to all of their children, but Mary having had a very stable and well-regulated childhood, turned out the healthiest. [In this the Churchills and the Roosevelts were so much alike–disasterous marriages for the children, etc., only it was FDR’s mother who spoiled them. FDR and Eleanor lost a baby son. Their 5 children had around 14 marriages between them].
The StoryEmbed from Getty Images
When the Diary starts, Mary is about to be 18, World War II is starting and Winston is not yet Prime Minister. Mary is in the last days of school–still a fairly rare thing for a girl of her class (Clementine had gone to school though). The Churchills included their children in the luncheons and dinners they gave, so their children were very well versed in public affairs, the arts, and literature from this exposure alone. Randolph only was indulged and allowed to argue and debate with guests even if it sent his mother from the table in anger and disgust. The girls, were to make polite conversation. So Mary often had a ring-side seat to some of the greatest moments in 20th Century history and met most of the Allied war leaders including Roosevelt. (She found FDR not as brilliant as her father and found FDR Jr, very handsome but a bit tedious; She admired Eleanor).
Her diary has the usual confidences about young men, about what she sees as her personal failings and, funnily enough some Bridget Jones-ish moments about her weight! She confides her thoughts on her siblings (she finds she can no longer lover or like her brother), her sister-in-law Pamela (whom she often calls “Spam) [and who would always be charitably described in books and memoirs as a “courtesan”] and on finding her eldest sister, Diana, a bit difficult (she was 13 years older). It is her sister Her cousin, Clarissa (later to be the 2nd Mrs. Anthony Eden–click for my post on her), who ran with a very artsy crowd, worked at Vogue and skipped any military service, she found hard going (as did I when I read her memoir). Her sister Sarah, the actress, and her mother, Clementine, she mostly got on well with and enjoyed spending time with each of them She and Sarah shared the duties of ADC to her father on his long trips to the wartime conferences (a role the Winston must surely have wished Randolph to have been capable of undertaking). But, it is her father whom she openly idolizes, adores, cherishes. He is almost a religion to her. She is so grateful (which is a huge sign of maturity I think) when he takes time out to speak to her. But, Mary, too falls afoul of “Papa” when she criticizes the sainted son, Randolph. She bitterly and quite rightly resents this.
One fun note–her thoughts on the movie Mrs. Miniver were like mine. It was a lovely film, but the family didn’t seem very British or middle class! I’ve always thought Walter Pidgeon was too “American”–Leslie Howard would have been a better choice to me.
Mary shows herself to be a a little (and understandably) priggish, very upper-class, and yet also very sincere. Her religious faith, her sense of duty, and her devotion to family and country are very typical of her time. She would go on to raise a Member of Parliament who became a Cabinet Minister (oldest son, Nicholas) and was wife of an MP & Cabinet Minister who also severed as the UK’s Ambassador to France and as the man who handed Rhodesia over to become Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (where her daughter had an affair with Andrew Parker-Bowles). Her home “training” stood her in good stead to be the wife of a successful politician–which it did, especially when Churchill suffered his stroke after the war–but that’s in a different book!
I wasn’t sure what I would be listening to when I started this book, but in the end I found it to be much, much more interesting than I had imagined. It’s too bad that Mary didn’t go on to try for Parliament. I think she’d have given Mrs. Thatcher some serious competition even without a University degree.
Mary Churchill’s War by Mary Churchill [Soames] and Emma Soames