Monday, June 2, 2014

"A Daughter's Tale" by Mary Soames (2011)

Mary Soames; Winston Churchill's youngest daughter; passed away over the weekend. In 2011 she released her memoirs, which I reviewed here. Her book was a fascinating account of growing up during the war years and her service; at first making bandages; and then as her father's assistant during his many wartime journeys.  Here is that review;

Mary Soames is the last surviving daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill. Born in 1922; she was a surprise baby; and lived through some of the most historical times in the history of the world. Her perspective on life before the war, and the changes engendered by the war, are a real eye opening experience into the daily lives of one of the world’s most notable families.

Winston Churchill was the face of England in World War Two. The fate of the Empire literally rested on his shoulders. Emerging from the shadows of the Great Depression; and at odds with Prime Minister Chamberlain; Sir Winston proved to be right concerning the threat posed by Germany’s military build-up; which was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Churchill staged one of the most extraordinary comebacks in political history, and then went on to win the war. And Mary Soames was there every step of the way.
In some ways Mrs. Soames, as the youngest, was surely the favorite daughter of the Prime Minister. She came of age just as the war broke out and served with a Women’s Auxiliary Unit, whose duties were to man artillery guns and shoot down enemy aircraft, including the new German V-2 rockets.

From life at Chequers, the family home outside of London during the war, to the family estate at Chartwell, with its panoramic views of the English countryside, Mrs. Soames takes you on a journey through a past which no longer exists. Along the way she manages to give you not only the cold hard facts of the peril which England faced, but also the very essence of the spirit which pulled them through their darkest hours. Her descriptions of air raids and the way the British people coped with the crisis, speak highly of them all.
Along the way Mrs. Soames manages to entertain, as well as explain, some of English history, as in her description of Lady Jane, whose bedroom she occupied briefly at the beginning of the war. She found her to be a kindly host, though at times she confesses to shielding herself with the bedclothes when she would hear the bombers overhead, not knowing whose they were.

Her encounters as a young woman in her early teens with the likes of T.E. Lawrence and Lloyd George will be of interest to anyone who is curious about that era of English history. Told from the perspective of a privileged young woman, these events take on a whole new direction and meaning.
Raised at first by her Nana, Mrs. Soames came to know her mother well only after a series of trips they took together when she was a young teen. Her descriptions of these trips are fascinating, in that they give us a look into a world which, for the large part, no longer exists.

When the war broke out in 1939, Mrs. Soames found she was old enough to help in the war effort. And help she did; serving in every position, from making bandages; which she admits to being very poor at; to manning an anti-aircraft battery, and also serving as Aide-de-Camp to her father on several trips to meet with President Roosevelt, crossing the Atlantic several times. On one trip she was almost swept overboard, and her account of that incident is harrowing.
The author has done something with this book which is very hard to accomplish. She has, at once, given us a look at a world which no longer exists, while chronicling some of the most harrowing years of the 20th Century. All the while, she brings a new humanity to a man who was larger than life when he was with us, and whose legend looms large in these troubled times. And, in addition to all this is, it is a wonderful tribute to the love between a father and daughter.

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