Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Churchill Series - Apr. 1, 2008

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

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.

Young Winston had turned fivc just a few months before on Nov. 30, 1874. Sixty-five years later, Churchil recalled the day: “I remember my father coming into my bedroom at Vice-Regal Lodge in Dublin and telling me,‘You have a little brother.’”

Shortly thereafter, the family returned to England.

The brothers’ parents were indifferent to their emotional needs and often away, even at Christmas. When they were at home, the parents often arranged for the boys to stay elsewhere, lest they distract the Churchills from political and social pursuits.

But Winston and Jack were not totally denied the care and attention parents owe their children. They received them from their nanny, Ann Elizabeth Everest, whom Winston called "my nurse."

“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.”

Mrs. Everest gave Jack the same deep affection and care she gave Winston.

Jack’s birth and Woom’s care, really love, for Jack young Winston 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. The hostile feelings can last a lifetime.

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 or 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.