Churchill at the White House

"After my husband's death, I was lunching one day with Mr. and Mrs. Churchill at their home in London, and sitting by me, he suddenly turned to me and said, 'You never have really approved of me, have you?'"
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My first introduction to Mr. Churchill was when my husband announced to me one day at the White House that we would be having some guests visit us, that one of the sitting rooms on the second floor must be made into an office for them and arranged so that maps could be hung all the way around the room. He told me that I could not know who was coming, nor how many, but I must be prepared to have them stay over Christmas, to be included in everything we did, and to have an adequate number of Christmas presents. He added as an afterthought that I must see to it that we had good champagne and brandy in the house and plenty of whiskey.

All this sounded very mysterious, but since we had just been plunged into the war I was prepared for any amount of secrecy and what seemed to me idiotic restrictions. Everyone who went into the White House, including myself, had to be fingerprinted, and any reluctance to undergo this rather soiling process (I had always looked upon fingerprinting as something connected with a crime) was completely wiped out because I was given no choice. I was simply told that this was the case. Packages, no matter who had sent them or where they had come from, had to be fluoroscoped before they were delivered to us. Therefore, when my husband announced that I must be prepared to have visitors without knowing who they were, I accepted the fact without question and set about the preparations.

There had been many very difficult visitors in the White House before, and I knew that the staff was equal to any demands that might be made on it, but it was not until my guests really arrived that I knew quite what those demands would be.

I was told who the visitors were when they were actually driving to the White House, and I realized that my husband was very deeply grateful for the fact that Mr. Churchill had taken a long and dangerous trip overseas to cement our relationships and arrange for closer cooperation now that we were actually in the war and facing the enemy with our Allies, Great Britain and France.

I was glad Mr. Churchill had come, but I seemed to be an automaton in those days, registering neither fear nor joy but just accepting what had to be.

What was known as the Monroe Room, a rather formal sitting room on the second floor, was arranged as Mr. Churchill's map room. Only the people whom he was to have constantly around him were housed in the White House—his aide, Commander Thompson, and his secretary, Mr. Martin. The others went to the embassy. I soon became familiar with Mr. Churchill's desires. There must be a tray in his room with a plentiful supply of all the drinkables that were needed. His breakfast went up by nine o'clock, but Mr. Churchill did not get up till eleven. Much work, however, was done before he dressed. From eleven till after lunch he worked with my husband or on his own affairs, but after lunch he retired to his room and slept until about five o'clock. From then on he was ready for the real work of the day, much of which was done after dinner.

My husband was not given to sitting up late at night after dinner as a rule, but during Mr. Churchill's visits he stayed up, and I am sure he was deeply interested at all times, for they seemed from the very first not only to have a good understanding of each other and an ability to work together easily, but also to enjoy each other's company. They both loved history, both loved the navy, and while I think Mr. Churchill had a more catholic interest in literature, they had some particular literary interests in common.

For instance, on one occasion I drove down in the car with them to Shangri-La. This was a retreat which had been set up for my husband for weekends in the warm weather when he could not go far away. We drove through the town of Frederick, Maryland, and Franklin pointed to a window and said it was the window from which Barbara Fritchie had hung the Union colors. Mr. Churchill then recited the whole of the Barbara Fritchie poem. My husband and I looked at each other, for each of us could have quoted a few lines, but the whole was quite beyond us! Franklin happened to be fond of Edward Lear's Nonsense Rhymes, and I can remember Mr. Churchill capping every rhyme my husband quoted. How long they could have gone on, I don't know, but fortunately a turn in the road brought an end to this particular amusement.

Mr. Churchill and his party were delightful Christmas guests, and they accepted with very good grace their inclusion in our family celebration when they must have missed their own. They were accustomed to war sacrifices, and this rated as a war sacrifice.

Christmas Day with us usually started, as far as I was concerned, the night before. I filled all the stockings before going to midnight service, and on my return they were all hung in my husband's bedroom. The first thing I did on Christmas morning was to arise as early as possible and close the windows in my husband's bedroom so that it would be warm before the children came in. We would then go to get my mother-in-law to join us so that she could watch the children open their stockings. She would have a stocking also, though her interest in it was slight. The youngsters sat on my husband's bed, and he helped them take out their toys. I managed to get them all a drink of orange juice, but we rarely got them to breakfast before 9:30. Then the older members of the family would finish their own personal tree, which was on the second floor of the White House, and I would arrange all the packages on different chairs for every member of the household, or under the tree. Lunch was usually a very quiet meal.

We opened our presents Christmas afternoon. My husband was so interested always in watching everybody else that of course he could never get through his large pile of presents. Sometimes for days after Christmas any spare moments we had after dinner would be devoted to opening up his presents.

Mr. Churchill came other times after that on official missions to the White House, and Mrs. Churchill came too. After Quebec, where we had all met, he and his daughter Mary came to stay for a few days at Hyde Park with my husband.

Cigars Mr. Churchill brought himself, but the drinks and the food we always tried to remember to have according to his liking. Like all Englishmen he was very fond of beef in every form. I don't remember what his special dishes were that he liked, but I don't think he was at all finicky. Things had to be well cooked and nicely served, and he often spoke of the difference in our country where we did not have the strict rationing which they had in Great Britain. There they could have game and poultry, but little else. It was agreed, as a rule, that we would not serve too much of the only types of food which were available in his own country at that time.

Sir Winston did not believe in suffering where it was not necessary to do so as far as food was concerned. Something hot, something cold, two kinds of fresh fruit, a tumbler of orange juice, and a pot of weak tea were suggested for his breakfast tray. For "something hot" he was given eggs, bacon or ham, and toast. "Something cold" was translated into two kinds of cold meat with English mustard and two kinds of fruit plus a tumbler of sherry.

It was astonishing to me that anyone could smoke so much and drink so much and keep perfectly well. I actually do not remember that in those days Mr. Churchill ever had an indisposition while he was with us. Yet the trips that he took were strenuous ones, and often when he was here he worked long hours in spite of his periods of rest. In addition, he often took trips to other parts of the country to see things he felt it essential to know about.

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