She Who Must Be Obeyed

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Nineteen year old Clementine Hozier met 29-year old Winston Churchill in 1904 at a dance. He "stared and never uttered one word and was very gauche.” Four years later they met again. This time romance bloomed. Although the granddaughter of an earl, Clementine was poor and frugal. The announcement of her engagement to Winston was met with ridicule from high society over the fact that she made many of her own clothes.

She and Winston married in 1908 and spent the next 57 years together until Winston’s death at the age of 90. They had five children, including a daughter Marigold (nicknamed Duckadilly) who died of blood poisoning in the care of a nanny at the age of 3, a tragedy neither parent got over.

Though Clementine was a liberal, she was nonetheless devoted to her conservative husband and made supporting him her first priority. But behind the scenes, she told him what she thought and was the only person who could rebuke him for boorish behavior. Winston could be obstinate and temperamental, but he was always outspoken in his love for his wife. In correspondence, he called her “cat” and she called him “pug.” Their fights were usually about money. Winston, known for being “easily satisfied with the very best,” tended to overspend. During one dispute, she threw a plate of spinach at him. Winston, wisely, often referred to her as “she-whose-commands-must-be-obeyed.”

Taller than Winston, she was known as a better athlete. She loved horseback riding, tennis, and took up skiing at age 40. She could also rock a turban!!!

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Refugees, Walls and Winston Churchill Busts: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

In today’s world dominated by questions of refugees and walls, I’ve noticed interesting similarities to the historic events in my upcoming novel, Wickwythe Hall. The novel opens in May 1940 when the Germans invade France. Annelle LeMaire, a postulant in a French convent, takes to the road, one of thousands of French refugees fleeing the coming German tanks and troops. In France, it was called “L’Exode” or The Exodus.

The swift German invasion took everyone by surprise. This was because after World War I, France had built the Maginot Line, fortifications along the French border that were supposed to keep the Germans out of France for good. Considered impenetrable, the French thought they were safe behind their “wall.” Until the Germans broke through it.

So we have refugees and a wall. What about Winston Churchill?

Much like his bust that was retired from President Obama's White House for eight years, Churchill had been effectively banished from politics in England in the decade before the German invasion of France. He was considered washed up, a warmonger, and a crackpot with his ranting and raving about the menace of Hitler. He’d retreated to Chartwell, his home in the English countryside, where he painted and built brick walls, a pastime he enjoyed so much he even became a member of the Bricklayers Union. He also wrote scathing articles that urged England to build up its defenses and put a stop to the appeasement policy that allowed Hitler to rearm and grab land at will.

But no one took Churchill seriously. The First World War had been so devastating, the general consensus was humankind had learned its lesson at last. There would be no more war.

Then the Germans broke through the Maginot Line. The roads in France were clogged with refugees seeking to escape the terrors of war. And that very day, the British dumped Neville Chamberlain, author of the appeasement policy, and put Churchill back into the British version of the Oval Office as Prime Minister. After five long years of “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” the Allies, in the end, were victorious.

And guess what? They couldn’t have done it without the help an evil, Russian dictator.

As our heroine Annelle LeMaire might say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.