Copyright © 1996 Winston S. Churchill.All rights reserved.
The `Chum Bolly'
Clementine Churchill was convinced that she was going to give birth to a boy. The Churchills' first child Diana, born two years earlier had been nicknamed the `P.K.' or Puppy-Kitten, after their own private names for each other: in his letters Winston signed himself, `Your devoted Pug' and she, `Your loving Clemmy Kat'. Even before Randolph's birth the new arrival was dubbed the `Chum Bolly' although when, in 1976, I asked my grandmother why, she could recall no particular reason. I have pondered whether it could be that he was conceived on a fine vintage of Chambolle Musigny. However, Sir Martin Gilbert, my grandfather's biographer, offers two more plausible explanations. He reports that the `Chumbolly' is a beautiful flower that grows in north-west India, where Winston had served with the Malakand Field Force nearly fifteen years earlier, while in the Persian language, Farsi, which also reaches to the North-West Frontier, it means a healthy, chubby new-born baby.
The `Chum Bolly' puts in his first appearance in a letter written by Clemmie to her husband from Penrhos in Wales on 18 April 1911: `I am counting the days till 15 May when the Chum Bolly is due. I hope he will not have inherited the Pug's unpunctual habits!' Regrettably he had: unlike his father who was born seven weeks prematurely, Randolph arrived a fortnight late and, thereafter, a regard for punctuality was never conspicuous among his attributes. Indeed I well recall Randolph in later life lecturing his mother, who invariably arrived for engagements well ahead of time, that `Punctuality does not rest in being early'. It was on this basis that, after furious and potentially lethal chases to the local railway station, we waved goodbye to many a train which Randolph insisted should be given a `sporting chance' to get away.
Randolph Churchill was born on 28 May 1911 at 33 Eccleston Square, a terraced house which had been his parents' home since their marriage in 1908 and was just a stone's throw from Victoria Station. Born within the sound of Bow bells, Randolph was fond in later life of claiming to be a `Cockney'.
His father, Member of Parliament for Dundee, though only thirty-six years old, already held one of the great offices of state, being in his second year as Home Secretary in Asquith's Liberal Government. As President of the Board of Trade, 1908-10, he had been responsible for placing on the statute-book several far-reaching measures of social reform which have survived to this day, including a scheme of National Insurance to provide every citizen with a state retirement pension and the establishment of Labour Exchanges nationwide to assist the unemployed to find jobs. As possibly the only holder of his office to have been in prison -- Winston was captured during the Boer War and held captive in Pretoria until his celebrated escape, brilliantly described in his book My Early Life -- he well understood what it was to be deprived of one's liberty. He was particularly shocked by the large numbers of young people being committed to prison and by the fact that two-thirds of the prison population had been jailed for offences no graver than drunkenness or the failure to pay a fine. The reforms which he instituted led to a reduction in these categories of prisoners from over 170,000 to fewer than 12,000 during the next ten years.
Although Churchill's reforms have benefited millions of his fellow countrymen down the decades, his tenure at the Home Office is more frequently associated with the violent and turbulent events taking place at the time: the Siege of Sidney Street and the Tonypandy riots. In the case of Sidney Street, in the East End of London, the Home Secretary was criticised in Parliament for having visited the scene of action and taken personal charge of operations in the danger zone after a gang of anarchists had killed three policemen and wounded two others. Far graver, however, were the charges levelled against him over his handling of the riots in the Welsh mining valleys of the Rhondda. It is deeply ingrained in the mythology of Socialism in Britain that Churchill sent troops to Tonypandy to `shoot down the miners' in the autumn of 1910. The charge could not have been further from the truth: it was actually Churchill who, on learning that the War Office had dispatched soldiers, had them detrained at Didcot and substituted mounted police instead. But this has done nothing to prevent the currency of the lie which was regularly thrown from the hustings at the subject of this biography and even, despite the passage of time, at its author.
Among the first to salute Randolph's arrival was Austen Chamberlain, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer in Balfour's Conservative Government of 1902-5 who, despite the passions aroused by Winston's defection to the Liberal Party in 1904, wrote to him from across the floor of the House:
29 May 1911
Hearty congratulations. I hope all goes well with Mother and boy --
It is a pity you cannot yet draw the Maternity Benefit [of 30s per week -- nearly 90 [pounds sterling] in today's money -- proposed by Lloyd George in the House of Commons three weeks before as part of the National Insurance Bill] but I understand that you are making it up through Government postage.
Chamberlain was seeking mischievously to suggest that Winston might be using free House of Commons postage, introduced earlier that year, to acknowledge the many messages of congratulation.
Winston, who was encamped with the Oxfordshire Hussars in the grounds ofBlenheim Palace doing his military reserve duty, wrote to his wife atEccleston Square five days after the birth of his son:
2 June 1911
My sweet & beloved Clemmie,
The weather is gorgeous, and the whole Park in gala glories. I have been out drilling all the morning & my poor face is already a sufferer from the sun. The air however is deliciously cool. We have 3 regiments here, two just outside the ornamental gardens, & the 3rd over by Bladon [where Winston would be buried].
I have 104 men in the squadron & a vy nice new young officer -- Valentine Fleming's younger brother -- `the lesser flamingo'. F. E. [F.E. Smith, later 1st Earl of Birkenhead] is here and everything promises to be vy pleasant. Many congratulations are offered me upon the son. With that lack of jealousy wh ennobles my nature, I lay them all at your feet.
My precious pussy cat, I do trust & hope that you are being good, & not sitting up or fussing yourself. Just get well & strong & enjoy the richness wh this new event will I know have brought into your life. The Chumbolly must do his duty and help you with your milk, you are to tell him so from me. At his age greediness & even swinishness at table are virtues ...
Always my darling your own loving
The Tories threaten to move a vote of censure on me after Whitsuntide. I hope they will. They are really too idiotic.
There are scores of precedents for the language I use about the Courts, including Mr Gladstone & many of the great Parliamentarians.
Two thousand kisses my sweet birdling.
Your own for ever.
This goes to you by the King's messenger who is taking the box.
He wrote again three days later:
5 June 1911
Lock up or destroy
Both your letters have now arrived. You should address them Q.O.O.H. [Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars], Blenheim Camp, not Palace, (wh latter produces delay).
I am so glad that you are both progressing so well. Ten ounces since last Tuesday is indeed good. I hope he is helping you as well as himself! ...
... We all marched past this morning -- walk, trot & gallop. Jack [Winston's younger brother] & I took our squadrons at the real pace & excited the spontaneous plaudits of the crowd. The Berkshires who followed cd not keep up and grumbled. After the march I made the General form the whole Brigade into Brigade Mass & gallopped 1200 strong the whole length of the park in one solid square of men & horses. It went awfully well. He was delighted. No news about the night march yet.
... & now my sweet little darling with my fondest love I sign myself your devoted friend & husband
Much of the month of June was taken up with the preparations for the Coronation of King George V which caused intense excitement throughout the land. This took place on 22 June and Clemmie, as a nursing mother, was granted the special favour of seeing it from the King's box. Indeed this had been arranged even before the birth of Randolph, when Winston received a letter from the King's Private Secretary Lord Knollys:
29 April 1911
My dear Churchill,
I spoke to the King today about his giving Mrs Churchill a ticket for his box in Westminster Abbey on the occasion of the Coronation. He said he should have much pleasure in giving her one, and you may like to know that he was very nice about it.
Three days after the Coronation Winston wrote from Hartsbourne Manor in Hertfordshire where, together with his mother Lady Randolph Churchill, formerly Jennie Jerome of Brooklyn, New York, he was at a house party given by the famous American hostess Maxine Elliott:
25 June 1911
My darling Clemmie,
It rained all the morning so I stayed in bed & ruminated amid my boxes...
Maxine sends you her best love. She & I spent a long time last night singing your praises. Did the Cat's ear burn!
The general turn-out on Friday [when Churchill and his wife rode in the coronation procession] made a great impression. Everyone admired the Cat, the carriage, the horses & the tiger -- separately, but in combination they fairly lifted the sultana. It really was great fun, & I am sure you will long look back to our drive & will like to tell the PK and the Chumbolly all about it -- so it will become a tradition in the family & they will hand it on to others whom we shall not see. Dear me, I have thought of you with tender love to-day. May all blessings be yours & all good fortune...
With fondest love,
Your own ever loving Husband W
Do ask Grey [the Foreign Secretary] to be godfather -- I am sure it is a vy good idea, & will give him great pleasure. I am always hearing nice things he has said about me. He likes & wistfully admires our little circle. What do you think?
Clemmie, who had taken her two small children to Seaford on the Sussex coast where they were staying in a boarding-house, replied a few days later approving the suggestion of Sir Edward Grey as a godfather and proposing Lady Ridley, Winston's first cousin, as a `Fairy Godmother' for the Chum Bolly. Accordingly, on 26 October in the crypt of the House of Commons, he was christened Randolph Frederick Edward Spencer Churchill -- Randolph after his grandfather, Lord Randolph Churchill, who had died sixteen years earlier; Frederick after his godfather and his father's greatest friend, F. E. Smith, also a godfather; Edward after Sir Edward Grey; and Spencer, a family name which had ceased to be hyphenated with Churchill because Lord Randolph objected to double-barrelled names.
In late September Churchill had been invited to stay in Scotland with H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister of the day. According to his own subsequent account, as he was returning from a round of golf -- a game at which Winston never excelled -- Asquith asked him `quite abruptly' if he would like to be First Lord of the Admiralty, to which he eagerly replied: `Indeed I would!'
Due to the prohibitive cost of the extra servants they would need, it was not until well into 1912 that the Churchills, together with the Chum Bolly, moved from Eccleston Square to the more splendid apartments of Admiralty House, Whitehall, overlooking Horse Guards Parade where numerous military exercises took place, including the annual ceremony of the Trooping of the Colour. This was to be their home for nearly four years until, with all the unpredictability attendant upon political life, the turn of events in Europe rendered them homeless overnight.
Following the Agadir incident of 1911, in which Germany sent a gunboat to a Moroccan port to which France laid claim, Churchill, while still Home Secretary, had begun for the first time to foresee the possibility of a European war. In such an eventuality he had no doubt that Britain's duty and self-interest demanded that she actively take the side of France. Thus, over the next three years as First Lord, he laboured unceasingly to strengthen and modernise the Royal Navy, to reinforce the entente cordiale with France and to forge a powerful alliance in the hope of deterring Germany from embarking on the path of war.
To Winston this was no drudgery: he was in his element and enjoyed every minute. As recorded in Irrepressible Churchill by Kay Hale, he looked back on his time at the Admiralty as `the four most memorable years of my life' because he could now `lay eggs, instead of scratching around in the dust and clucking. It is a far more satisfactory occupation. I am at present in process of laying a great number of eggs -- "good eggs", every one of them and there will be many more clutches to follow ... New appointments to be made. Admirals to be "poached", "scrambled" and "buttered".'
All the while, Winston paid close attention to his young family. In a letter written from Portland in Dorset on 24 March 1912 he described to Clemmie his visit to the naval base, his discussion about war plans and his intention to go to sea the following day to supervise target practice. The letter concludes: `I hope Diana is dutiful & that Randolph perseveres in growth & teeth cutting. Unless some crisis occurs I shall not return until Wednesday. I hope you will be well enough to come down to Portsmouth on Friday -- we will lie in the Solent & it will do you a lot of good. Good night my darling & sweetest Kat always your loving husband -- W.'
A few weeks later, during his wife's absence from home, he reported from the Admiralty:
18 April 1912
I have just returned here after a flying surprise visit to see the P.K. put to bed at 6.30. Both the chicks are well and truculent. Diana & I went through one Peter Rabbit picture book together & Randolph gurgled. You must have his tongue cut when you come home. It hampers his speech. He looks vy strong & prosperous...
The Titanic disaster [the liner on her maiden voyage to New York had struck an iceberg and sunk four days earlier with the loss of two-thirds of her 2,200 passengers] is the prevailing theme here. The story is a good one. The strict observance of the great traditions of the sea towards women & children reflects nothing but honour upon our civilisation. Even I hope it may mollify some of the young unmarried lady teachers who are so bitter in their sex antagonism, and think men so base & vile. They are rather snuffy about Bruce Ismay -- Chairman of the line -- who it is thought on the facts available should have gone down with the ship & her crew. I cannot help feeling proud of our race & its traditions as proved by this event. Boat loads of women & children tossing on the sea safe & sound -- & the rest -- silence. Honour to their memory...
In this letter Winston betrays something of his animosity towards the `women's libbers' of the day whom he regarded as the worst advertisement for their sex. To the suffragettes the First Lord was something of a bete noire and they showed the strength of their feelings by an attempted kidnapping of his children. Randolph recalled the incident in Twenty-One Years, the autobiography of his early years which was published in 1965:
Diana and I used to be taken for a daily morning airing in the Green Park in a double pram. This must have been just before the war. There were people called suffragettes who wanted to get votes for women which, I later discovered, was a proposal to which my father and Mr Asquith were strongly opposed; so the suffragettes tried to kidnap me in the park. I have a fugitive memory of being pulled out of the pram and of the nursery maid catching hold of me and pulling me back. More strongly etched in my memory is the detective who thereafter discreetly accompanied us on our morning airings lest this half-hearted attempt should be repeated.
Writing to his wife from the Admiralty yacht HMS Enchantress on 23 July 1913, just before going on naval manoeuvres with the Fleet in the North Sea, Winston gave a glimpse of his deep love for his family which was so important a part of his character:
... tender love to you my sweet one & to both those little kittens & especially that radiant Randolph. Diana is a darling too & I repent to have expressed a preference. But somehow he seems a more genial generous nature, while she is mysterious & self conscious. They are vy beautiful & will win us honour some day when everyone is admiring her & grumbling about him.
My dearest you are vy precious to me & I rejoice indeed to have won & kept your loving heart. May it never cool towards me is my prayer, & that I may deserve your love my resolve.
Write daily --
Always your loving husband
Of all the matters that commanded the First Lord's attention in the course of his duties, nothing aroused his enthusiasm more than flying, which became his passion in the latter part of 1913 and the first half of 1914. The day before his thirty-ninth birthday he started taking flying lessons under the instruction of Captain Gilbert Lushington of the Royal Marines. Four days later Lushington was killed while coming in to land at Eastchurch while piloting the very same machine in which he had given Winston his first lesson. He had entered a spin from which in those days the means of recovery was unknown. Churchill wrote a moving letter of sympathy to Lushington's fiancee Miss Airlie Hynes, but the incident did nothing to abate his enthusiasm for aviation which was still in its infancy.
In the next seven months he made some 140 flights in different aircraftand with various pilots, several of whom suffered Lushington's fate. At that point Clemmie, who was again pregnant, begged that he cease taking such risks. Winston, albeit reluctantly, agreed in his reply of June 1914:
It is curious that while I have been lucky, accidents have happened to others who have flown with me out of the natural proportions. This poor Lieutenant, another flying instructor whose loss has disturbed your anxieties again, took me up only last week in this vy machine!
You will give me some kisses and forgive me for past distresses -- I am sure. Though I had no need & perhaps no right to do it -- it was an important part of my life during the last seven months & I am sure my nerve, my spirits & my virtue were all improved by it. But at your expense my poor pussy cat! I am so sorry...
I will not fly anymore until at any rate you have recovered from your kitten [Sarah who was to be born four months later]: & by then or perhaps later the risks may have been greatly reduced.
This is a wrench, because I was on the verge of taking my pilot's certificate. It only needed a couple of calm mornings ... But I must admit that the numerous fatalities of this year wd justify you in complaining if I continued to share the risks as I am proud to do of these good fellows. So I give it up decidedly for many months & perhaps for ever.
In fact he was never to fly solo or to gain his Pilot's Certificate.
That summer Clemmie took the children for a bucket-and-spade holiday on the Norfolk coast. They stayed at Pear Tree Cottage at Overstrand, near Cromer, where many streams run down from low cliffs across the sand to the sea. While still working unrelentingly to bring the Royal Navy up to the highest state of readiness for war, Winston joined them at weekends and would mobilise all the children on the beach to build giant sandcastles and man their defences against the incoming sea.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to the great mass of British holiday-makers enjoying the sunshine of a glorious summer, Europe was sliding remorselessly towards the abyss. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in the faraway Balkan town of Sarajevo on 28 June did not arouse undue attention, although it was this that was to propel Europe into the costliest war of its long and bloody history. On Churchill's instructions the Third Fleet began a test mobilisation on 15 July and two days later King George V reviewed the entire fleet off Spithead. As he recorded in The World Crisis, his memoirs of the Great War, the review `constituted incomparably the greatest assemblage of naval power ever witnessed in the history of the world'.
In the last days of July Winston, abandoning his family by the seaside, hurried back to London to postpone the dispersal of the First and Second Fleets and the demobilisation of the Third. By the end of the month he was able to report to the King:
31 July 1914
Your Majesty is informed of the diplomatic, so I confine myself to the military aspect.
The First Fleet is now in the open seas. The Second Fleet will assemble tomorrow at Portland. All `precautionary' measures have (so far) behaved magnificently. The four old battleships will reach the Humber tomorrow. All the flotillas have reached their stations ...
The following night, acting on his own responsibility, the First Lord issued summonses to all Reservists for the full mobilisation of the Fleet. He wrote to Clemmie at Cromer:
Not to be left about but locked up or burned
There is still hope although the clouds are blacker & blacker. Germany is realising I think how great are the forces against her & is trying tardily to restrain her idiot ally. We are working to soothe Russia. But everybody is preparing swiftly for war. And at any moment now the stroke may fall. We are ready...
Two days later Germany declared war on Russia and on 3 August her forces invaded France and Belgium. Britain's ultimatum to Germany, demanding respect for Belgian neutrality, expired at midnight (German time) the following night. At that instant Churchill flashed the fateful signal to all HM Ships and Naval Establishments:
4 August 1914
COMMENCE HOSTILITIES AGAINST GERMANY
In Twenty-One Years Randolph records his memories, as a boy of three, of the coming of the war:
We were staying at the seaside ... There was a lot of excitement and my father had to go to London. One day we were told that war had come. We looked out to sea expecting that German ships would soon come into view but nothing happened, except that my father could not come down from London. We children were all disappointed -- no Germans and no Papa.
Writing more than fifty years later, Randolph, in the concluding passage of the second volume of the `Great Biography' -- the last he was to complete before his death -- reflected on his father at this period in his life:
Churchill was a romantic. Tears came easily to his eyes when he talked of the long story of Britain's achievement in the world and the many deeds of heroism which had adorned it. We have seen how deeply moved he had been by the untimely end of his flying instructor Lushington and the noble fortitude of his fiancee. Such fortitude in distress warmed and comforted his heart in all that he was doing to keep Britain and her Empire safe and glorious. If his life had ended in 1914 in his fortieth year we can be sure that he would not have been denied a page in history and that his epitaph would have been:
When War Came
The Fleet was Ready