Churchill remembered

Last week, to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill, our Keeper’s Gallery wrote a blog post about the records that we hold here at The National Archives relating to Churchill’s funeral. As prime minister during the Second World War Churchill embodied British resolve and fighting spirit, yet he came to that office late in his career and in the bleakest of circumstances. As Churchill himself observed, it was as if his whole life prior to that point had been but a preparation for the challenge that now faced him. His long life left a lot of archival evidence – a search for Sir Winston Churchill using Discovery identifies archive material in 107 collections and 39 different repositories. Let’s look at some of the less obvious sources that exist.

A school for writers

While he is the most famous of Old Harrovians Churchill, as a writer, was educated at a school that already had a strong tradition in that field. The archives of Harrow School contain material for Sheridan, Trollope, Lord Byron and much else besides.

Sir Winston Churchill, catalogue reference: INF 1/244

Sir Winston Churchill, catalogue reference: INF 1/244

Early influences

Never forget that Churchill was half-American. His mother, the society beauty Jennie Jerome, provided the introduction for her son to important figures in the United States. Among them was the politician William Bourke Cockran, from whom the young Churchill was to learn so much about oratory. Cockran’s papers are in the New York Public Library and they contain a number of Churchill’s letters.

Standing up to the dictators

As Britain tried desperately to avoid war in the 1930s, Churchill warned of the dangers of appeasing dictators. One of the most scathing and effective critics of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin was the cartoonist David Low. So it is no surprise to find correspondence between the two anti-appeasers among Low’s papers at Yale University. Churchill was also a subject of Low’s cartoons.

Struggle for survival

The Second World War was directed, on the Allied side, by elderly men who were often not in the best of health. While Churchill comfortably outlived both Roosevelt and Stalin, this was largely due to careful management by his personal physician, Lord Moran. After Churchill’s death Moran published a controversial account of his famous patient, which was seen by many as a bit too revealing. There is more about this in Moran’s papers.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We will not be able to respond to personal family history research questions on this platform.
See our moderation policy for more details.