Friday, August 24, 2007

The Churchill Series - Aug. 24, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Readers Note: Parts of the following post first appeared in a November, 2006 post.
This is the fourth in a five-part series intended to refute the assertions of some historians that Churchill was insensitive to the problems and accomplishments of ordinary people, particularly those who worked for him.

The claims of those who feel that way were presented in the first post. The second post discussed legislation Churchill supported and helped implement during the early 20th century involving the creation of labor exchanges to reduce unemployment, penal reform and old age pensions. Yesterday, the third post drew on Churchill devotion to and care for his former nurse, Mrs. Elizabeth Everest, during the last years of her life.

Today we look at how Churchill treated Mr. and Mrs. "Donkey" Jack. The Jacks (they picked up “Donkey” because they owned one) were gypsies who had an encampment on common land that adjourned Chartwell property.

Than as now many people in Europe treated gypsies as at best bothers and avoided them as much as possible. Property owners in England often pressure their town councils and other government agencies to clear gypsies off common land so they’ll leave the area.

Churchill didn’t do that with the Jacks. He was content to have them as neighbors. Clementine felt the same way.

But Churchill didn’t just leave the Jacks be. He often helped them.

When Mr. Jack died in 1933 he was to be buried in a pauper’s grave. Churchill arranged and paid for a funeral and proper burial.

The following October, Mrs. ‘Donkey’ Jack received a notice from the local government telling her she was to clear off the common land. Churchill responded by giving her permission to move her encampment onto Chartwell woodland property.

On New Year’s Day, 1935 Churchill wrote to Clementine, then on a cruise in Asia:

Mrs Donkey Jack will very likely never be able to walk again as it is unlikely her fractured ankle will knit together at her age. She was knocked down by a workman on a push bicycle and no compensation of any kind can be obtained for her in this desperate misfortune.

Should the worst be realized I shall try and get her into a decent home for the rest of her days at some small cost. …
A few weeks later he wrote Clementine:
While I was working on the new wall today Mrs Donkey Jack come walking along having trudged all the way from Westerham [ A village a bit less than 2 miles from Chartwell. – JinC] upon her injured ankle.

She was proposing to walk down there again tonight to get her pensions arrears which have accumulated while she was in hospital

I stopped this and we supplied her with food until Monday. …
Mrs. Jack continued to live on the Churchills' property and he continued to look after her until her death a few years later.

I don't know if there's one in twenty persons who would treat the Jack's with the generous neighborliness Churchill showed them.

The fifth post Monday concerns Churchill's response when one of the "ordinary people" who worked for him had a stroke.

I wish you all a good weekend.

Documentation for this post, including extracts from Churchill’s letters to Clementine, can be found in Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill, edited by their daughter Mary Soames. (Doubleday, 1998) (pgs. 370-373)