An original and insightful look at Winston Churchill through the eyes of those who knew him best—the women who worked with him throughout his life.
All politicians adopt a public persona that they believe contributes to electoral success. Though they might reflect the character of the politician, they reveal only a part of the man. What we know less about are the characteristics that Winston Churchill revealed when he was out of the public eye.
Much has been written about Churchill, and of the important world leaders, politicians, high-ranking military personnel with whom he interacted. But Churchill also required a vast staff to maintain the intense pace at which he worked. When Churchill strode the world stage, the secretarial and support staff positions were inevitably filled by women. Though extraordinarily talented and valuable to Churchill and his work, these women remain unheralded. He was not an easy employer. He was intimidating, with never-ending demands who would impose his relentless and demanding schedules on those around him. And yet these women were devoted to him, though there were times in his political career in which he was decidedly unpopular. Many reflect upon their years working for him as the best years of their lives.
Intelligent and hard-working, these women were far from sycophants. Just as Churchill was no ordinary Prime Minister, these women were not ordinary secretaries. Indeed, in today’s terms their titles would be much grander, as their work encompassed ultra-secret documents and decrypting and reading enemy codes.
A treasure trove of insight and research, Working with Winston reveals the man behind the statesman and as well as brings long-overdue recognition to the “hidden army” that, like Churchill, was never off-duty.
Despite the subtitle suggesting a portrait of women workers, journalist Stelzer (Dinner With Churchill) actually offers up a revealing behind-the-scenes view of Winston Churchill as seen by mostly but not exclusively female secretaries, an unguarded Churchill "when not on stage, when not performing." Utilizing oral histories conducted by the Churchill Archives in Cambridge, Stelzer devotes one chapter apiece to 12 employees' duties and observations of the Churchills. The accounts of those employed before WWII personal secretary Violet Pearman; Grace Hamblin, hired to assist with Churchill's literary work; and nighttime secretary Kathleen Hill establish Churchill as a hardworking author and public servant. Jo Sturdee and Marian Holmes, who both came on board during the war, provide lively stories about overseas travel in wartime (being followed by enemy submarines, eating decadent meals on board). Cecily Gemmell, Elizabeth Gilliatt, Lettice Marston, Jane Portal, Doreen Pugh, and Catherine Snelling, who were hired to manage an ever-burgeoning workload in the postwar period, recall Churchill's declining health, still-active work schedule, and household occasions including birthdays and dinner parties. Stelzer concludes that Churchill was a man so committed to his work that he was "often insensitive to the needs of those around him," but his secretaries regarded him as considerate, kind, even lovable. Readers seeking "unsung women" will not get what they came for, but Churchill devotees will delight in yet another view of the British leader.