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Fireside

A Daughter's Tale

After a lapse of several months during the summer and early autumn I seem to be back on course with my non-fiction reading. The latest offering is A Daughter's Tale by Mary Soames.




Mary Soames (née Spencer-Churchill) was the youngest daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill, born about a year after the death of their fourth child, Marigold. One of her abiding wishes throughout her life was that her birth had been some consolation to them in their loss. Hers was a priviledged upbringing naturally. The Churchills were connected to the dukes of Marlborough and although the family constantly had money problems they still lived the life of the upper class, high profile politician's family.

Mary had what can only be described as an idyllic childhood. A nanny who was a cousin of the family looked after her throughout her childhood so no nasty stories there and she was happy at her private school, loved by her family etc. One of the things that shines out of the book in fact, is what devoted parents Winston and Clementine were. They clearly adored all their children, made sure they spent time with them, wrote to them constantly when they were apart. I haven't read a massive amount about Winston Churchill's childhood (I plan to correct that at some stage) but what I have read indicates it wasn't hugely happy so I wonder if this closeness to his own children was a reaction to that...

Anyway, about two thirds of the book deals with the war years (WW2), what Mary did to serve her country and the trials and tribulations of her father's leadership of the country: being especially close to her father these affected her deeply. She was one of the first women to serve in the mixed anti-aircraft batteries and rose to the rank of Junior Commander. Being a bit cynical, I have to admit I wondered if it helped that she was Churchill's daughter but still, if she was a real dud I don't think she would have managed it. Plus some of the hoo-ha she attracted did genuinely seem to mortify her, so it's swings and roundabouts with this kind of thing. I suspect whatever she did she couldn't really win, poor woman.

All of this was fascinating. What did get a little tedious was all the relating of parties and lunches with Naice Gels with double-barrelled surnames, whose names would mean nothing to most people. And because of who she was I don't think she suffered as most ordinary people suffered during the war... she never mentions rationing for instance. Although she did lose close friends and worried endlessly about her father, so perhaps I'm being a trifle unfair.

I suppose I'm slightly ambiguous about this book. On the one hand it was very interesting historically... although at times I wanted *more*. More about the people she met... Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Joseph Stalin and so on. More about the nitty-gritty of the war. But part of me felt slightly uneasy at this very priviledged girl's easy passage through life because of the family she was born into. How nice it would be if it was as easy for everyone.

Still, this was not a bad read. Mary Soame's writing style is very readable so no getting bogged down in the narrative. There was plenty to keep my interest and I especially enjoyed reading about Winston Churchill, the family man. The author died last year aged 92 and this was her last book, published in 2011, quite an achievement to write such a book in your late eighties! She also wrote a book about her mother, Clementine, which I think might bear reading at some stage. I seem to have discovered yet another reading theme...

Comments

Already it's interesting, because the only one of Churchill's children I can recall reading much about was Sarah with her thespian ambitions, and Randolph as the only son was on the edge of my awareness too. I don't remember ever hearing of Mary, Diana (well, maybe Diana a little), or Marigold (no wonder, as she died so young).

You're right that it's a little uncomfortable to think about how much difference a privileged upbringing makes to people's quality of life in so many ways, but how little effect it has on them when it comes to building good character. It's especially galling when people from privileged families take all the good things for granted and whine about how tough it was for them... although it doesn't sound as if Mary Churchill-Soames did any whining in her book.
The only one I really knew anything about was Randolph as I remembered seeing him on TV and news and in the public eye as an MP when I was growing up. I was totally unaware of the three girls or that Winston and Clemmie had lost a child. (I only found out a few years ago that my grandmother had lost a child in infancy too. More shocking was that his brother, my uncle, had also been completely unaware that he'd had a brother other than my father.)

No, I have to say MC didn't do any whining, even when I thought she might be entitled to. So that was something. You're right that a priviledged background seems to make no difference to building character, which leads to the 'nature or nuture' question I suppose. Oddly, I actually quite liked Mary... but from the various mentions of him in this book, I didn't like her brother, Randolph, very much at all.
My grandmother lost a couple of children in infancy too, and she never mentioned them. Just too painful, I imagine. One of Granny's friends told me at her funeral about having made the burial dress for one of the babies. If not for neighbors telling them, I don't think any of the surviving children would have known either!
I wouldn't have a problem with her privileged background, but I do wonder about anyone who writes what is basically an autobiography who hasn't actually done anything important. And if you're going to write about those around who have, then write about them!
I didn't have a problem with her background either to be honest, but it didn't stop me thinking about it. *g*

The book ends just after the war when she married, so you're right until then she'd just lived the life of an upper class girl who fought in the war like many others. After that I think she was a diplomat's wife but she hasn't written about it as far as I know. She has written about her mother though and I must check out what else she's written.