Monday, October 15, 2007

The Churchill Series - Oct. 15, 2007

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

Readers Note: The following post was first published in April 2006. Since then many readers have come to the series who likely missed it and those of you who read it on "the first go" may appreciate taking a second look at how Churchill managed what I consider the first great crisis in his life.


John Strange Spencer Churchill, Winston’s only brother and sibling, was born Feb. 4, 1880, in Dublin, Ireland, where the boys’ father, Lord Randolph, was serving as Vice-Regent.

Sixty-five years later, Churchill recalled the day: “I remember my father coming into my bedroom at Vice-Regal Lodge in Dublin and telling me (aged 5), ‘You have a little brother.’”

Shortly thereafter, the family returned to England. The boys’ parents were indifferent to their emotional needs and often away, even at Christmas. Or, if they were at home, they often arranged for the boys to stay elsewhere, lest they distract the Churchill’s from their political and social pursuits.

But Winston and Jack were not totally denied the kind of care and attention parents owe their children. They received it from a servant: their nanny, Ann Elizabeth Everest.

“My nurse was my confidante, Churchill later wrote. “Mrs. Everest it was who looked after me and tended all my wants. It was to her I poured out my many troubles.”

Everest had been employed when Winston was a baby. As a toddler he began calling her “Woom,” and would continue doing so throughout his life.

With Jack’s birth Woom was no longer just “Winnie’s nanny;” she became “the boys’ nanny.” Everest gave Jack the same deep affection and care she gave Winston.

Jack’s birth and Woom’s care, really love, for him confronted Churchill with the first great crisis of his life.

A five year old can be very angry and resentful when a sib arrives. Often, those emotions are directed savagely at parents, cherished caregivers and/or the sib. They can last a person’s whole life.

But a five year old can also take on a “big brother, big sister” role, “helping” parents or caregivers nurture the new sib.

We know how Winston resolved his crisis. Whatever anger or resentment he may have felt toward his parents, “Woom” and Jack, must have been slight and well-repressed. Historians and documents I’ve read note no change in Winston’s feelings or behavior toward “Woom” following Jack’s birth. What we know of the brothers’ relationship in their early years suggests it was then as it was during their adult years: warm, affectionate and caring; in a word: loving.

A five year old who resolves a great crisis in the way Churchill did has taken a long stride toward confident, caring adulthood. He’s beginning to learn that what he holds most dear may be threatened but that he has within himself the resources to master such threats and preserve what’s most dear.

The old expression comes to mind: “The child is father to the man.”
Churchill's recollection of his father telling him of Jack's birth is found in Martin Gilbert's Churchill: A Life (p. 2). This post draws on that work, John Keegan's Winston Churchill, and Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill (Mary Soames, Editor) for background.

The discussion regarding Jack’s birth as a crisis and Winston's resolution of it is my responsibility.