The Churchill Girls by Rachel Trewethey
Rachel Trewethey unravels the lives of Winston Churchill’s four daughters and, to a lesser extent, his son Randolph in a look behind the scenes of children born with silver spoons in their mouths.
The Churchill Girls (the HistoryPress) is well-researched, insightful and intriguing delve into the expectations of Winston and his wife, Clementine. It is, at times, however, and, at times, overly patriotic. The book examines their roles as parents and the highs and lows of their personal, social and romantic experiences and frailties.
In common with other upper-class families in high-pressure, privileged positions, both then and now, the Churchills were detached parents who left the duties of bringing up their children to others.
The author notes that Clementine was an unmaternal mother spending much of her time away from the children even when they returned from boarding schools. Unfortunately, evidence shows how some of the Churchill children’s carers were unkind to them. Anecdotal tales abound about how callous the staff were. There were reports of physical and sexual assaults on pupils at boarding schools. However, those in authority brushed these attacks under the carpet all too frequently.
Lack of Emotional Support
Winston and Clementine were too busy with their own lives to witness their children’s efforts at school events such as sports days. They also didn’t give any priority to the needs of the children during school holidays.
All these points may well resonate with readers. Particularly with the issues regarding children of the royal family and other wealthy families currently in the news . The lack of emotional support for the children was also particularly evident when the youngest daughter, Marigold, died at the age of two years, nine months.
The author notes how little help the other children received to deal with the grief and traumatic impact of their little sister’s death. In common with many families of that era, emotional feelings were considered irrelevant. The emphasis was on the “stiff upper lip”, emphasising that life must simply go on.
Many commentators label this “silent stoicism” or inculcating control of the passions. Prince Harry’s recent observations regarding the lack of emotional support after his mother’s death have brought this to light. Many children from affluent families have discussed the “curse” of having parents with other priorities than their children.
The three eldest girls also had to contend with was the carousel of “potential suitors”. Readers can reflect on Diana’s experiences as a “debutante”. She tells of all the balls and country house parties she attended as her parents sought a suitable husband for their eldest daughter.
Her account of her betrothal to a rich bachelor gives the reader an insight into a marriage totally lacking in romance.
Their parents continually stressed the importance of the “suitability” of partners and doing things in the “national interest”. Those readers that enjoy a “bit of scandal”, will gasp at the extent of sexual cavorting the upper classes enjoyed. These antics frequently resulted in extra-marital affairs and divorce settlements.
Amazingly, the Churchill girls actively supported their father and stayed loyal as a unit to him. They played vital roles during his time in the political wilderness. More particularly, they kept so many secrets of the campaign that kept him going.
They stood by Winston despite fascism and communism being popular amongst many of their friends and families. These friends included their cousins, the Mitford girls. As Britain’s political relationships with the fascist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini began to break down, Winston Churchill seemed to be a political “has been”.
His comeback to the upper echelons of political life and power occurred when Neville Chamberlain invited him to join the war cabinet in September 1939. His strong outgoing character caught the public’s imagination and he slowly began to gain popularity.
In May 1940, with Germany invading Denmark and Norway, Neville Chamberlain resigned as prime minister. A few days later on May 10th 1940, Winston became the prime minister of a national government.
“We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches”
Many readers will be aware of his “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech broadcast on radio across Britain to give emotional support to families as the troops retreated from Dunkirk.This time was significant for his family’s status and his as prime minister as he withstood the German onslaught.
The period after the war was a wake-up call for Churchill. In his efforts to win the general election in 1945, he focused on issues such as “a rough road ahead”. He should’ve promoted the welfare state and opportunities for social change.
The girls were aware that the policies he was advocating were not consistent with the electorate’s desires for change. The people wanted the introductions of new housing, employment and greater “equality of opportunity”. Post-war became a time of change for the Churchill girls. Their adventures in search of love continued to be critical features of their lives alongside their involvement in family politics.
The book might have appealed to a broader audience if the author had unravelled in greater depth some of the spicier aspects of relationships and affairs, in particular the cavalier lifestyle of Sarah. Rachel Trethewey reveals the lives of the children of a famous Prime Minister. She uses a range of research and anecdotal evidence to highlight the girls’ struggle to gain suitable partners and support the family.
It is worth noting that kindness, emotional support, humour, resilience and tenacity were crucial aspects of working-class families after the Second World War. These qualities subsequently turned their basic houses into family homes, providing experiences that wealth and grandeur cannot buy.
About the Reviewer
John T Morris (BA(Hons), MEd, MPhil, DipPsych, CertEd) was a fitness and performance coach. He is also a graduate of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Lancaster and Open Universities.
His research developed positive “growth mindsets” to promote motivation and tenacity. He also trained resilience and other personal skills to improve performance in sport, learning and employment.
About the Publisher
The History Press is a British publishing company specialising in the publication of titles devoted to local and specialist history. It also claims to be the United Kingdom’s largest independent publisher in this field. The company produces approximately 300 books per year and has a backlist of over 12,000 titles.
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