Friday, November 16, 2007

The Churchill Series – Nov. 16, 2007

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

I promised a post today on anti-British American feeling. It will be delayed until Monday.

The reason?

I’ve just picked up The Telegraph’s online obituary of Elizabeth Layton Nels, Churchill’s last surviving secretary from WW II who has died in South Africa aged 90.

In this post I want to provide you a link to the obituary. It’s heavily anecdotal and perhaps a bit too tough on Churchill but Miss Layton, as she was then called, shines throughout, reminding us what a great public servant can be.

I’m also going to provide here the portion of a letter she wrote fifty years after she left Churchill’s employ in which she responds to some ill-judged assertions. At the end of her latter, I provide another link to her obituary and add a few words.

Here’s the link to The Telegraph’s obituary.

In Search of History: A Historians Journey ( John Wiley & Sons, 1994) author Martin Gilbert reports: Fifty years later, Elizabeth Layton was to respond to a historian’s characterization of Churchill as "deeply ambitious, egocentric, often abominably selfish, difficult and ruthless" by sending a letter to the journal in which the comment hasd been published:

Many years have passed since those days but memory has not faded. Ambitious? Yes, I suppose so ; he could not otherwise have reached the pinnacle from which he inspired his country and the world. Egocentric and abominably selfish? No, these he was not, thought he was quite frequently inconsiderate, impatient (but he could be patient too), and demanding. But if he demanded their all from those who served him, he never spared himself in his mighty tasks.

Difficult? Yes, but nowhere near impossible; he was lovable, and one forgave him for being difficult. He had such an incredible storehouse of knowledge, such q quick intelligence, and yet something simple in his make-up too, so that he could not always see when he was being funny he was unconsciously so.

Ruthless? Chambers defines this as “pitiless, unsparing.” And here again I must disagree – pitiless never, unsparing possibly. (p. 167)
Mrs. Elizabeth Layton Nels obituary is here. RIP.

Jane Portal (Lady William of Elwel) from the immediate post war years is now Churchill’s only surviving secretary. My latest information (two weeks old) has her in good health and living in London at age 90.

I hope you have a nice weekend. If you pray, remember in your prays Elizabeth Layton Nels and all who served Churchill. We owe them so much.


Hat Tips: and Sir Martin Gilbert.