CHURCHILL BACK IN BUSINESS, WEEK 3
In our “tell-all” age, it’s hard to imagine having worked for Winston Churchill and not writing about it. Virtually every man who labored alongside Churchill — from his wartime aides and generals, to his bodyguards — published memoirs or, at the very least, some version of their diaries.
The women, however, were another story. Fashion and form dissuaded most from writing anything. Over the next few weeks, we thought we would look at the scant handful of memoirs published by women who worked for Churchill, or even just knew him.
“I first met Winston Churchill in the early summer of 1906 at a dinner party,” wrote Baroness Violet Bonham Carter in her 1965 memoir, Winston Churchill: An Intimate Portrait; (published in the U.K. under the title: Winston Churchill As I Knew Him). As the daughter of then-future Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, Violet Asquith, age nineteen, had found herself “sitting next to this young man who seemed to me quite different from any other young man I had ever met. For a long time he remained sunk in abstraction. Then he appeared to become suddenly aware of my existence. He turned on me a lowering gaze and asked me abruptly how old I was. I replied that I was nineteen. ‘And I,’ he said almost despairingly, ‘am thirty-two already. Younger than anyone else who counts, though,’ he added, as if to comfort himself. Then savagely: ‘Curse ruthless time! Curse our mortality. How cruelly short is the allotted span for all we must cram into it! . . . We are all worms,’ he concluded. ‘But I do believe that I am a glow-worm.’”
This anecdote, perhaps the most quoted and revealing of Winston Churchill’s ascendant early years, is a gift that Violet Bonham Carter shared with the world in 1965, the year of Churchill’s passing. Her political acumen had long been astute and muscular — she’d been a voluble early opponent of appeasement and the first woman president of the Liberal Party, standing twice as a Liberal candidate for Parliament (each time defeated). Her literary perspective on Winston Churchill, however, was often delightfully, penetratingly feminine. She clearly loved the man, and could not conceal her disappointment when Churchill married Clementine Hozier in 1908. The two women were never rivals, though, and instantly united in their care and concern for Clementine’s extraordinary husband. He is “most extravagant about his underclothes,” Violet Asquith reported Clementine complaining early on. They are made of “very finely woven silk (pale pink) and come from the Army and Navy Stores and cost the eyes out of his head.” Churchill protested that he had the most delicate skin—which indeed he did. To the end of his life he only wore the finest silk underclothes and nightshirts. Pajamas he dispensed with altogether.
We do wish you the vaccinated equivalent of Winston Churchill’s finest silk underclothes. Smooth and safe. Do come visit us soon.