The article below, originally published by The Telegraph, December 28th 2013, discusses a new exhibit highlighting Clementine Churchill’s, the wife of Sir Winston Churchill, important diplomatic role during and following WWII. The exhibit features a number of presents received by Mrs. Churchill from famous players such as Charles de Gaulle, Stalin, and Roosevelt.
“How Mrs Churchill helped win the war” The Telegraph, Hannah Furness, Dec. 18/13
Her husband is widely recognized as one of the most important leaders in the history of Britain, but the true influence of Clementine Churchill, wife of former Prime Minister Sir Winston, on winning the Second World War can now be revealed.
An exhibition of gifts to the Churchill family, on display at their former home in Chartwell, Kent, shows Clementine as central to Churchill’s diplomatic missions, providing social graces and tactful interventions during his most difficult periods.
Various presents, posted by politicians, dignitaries and fans around the world, reveal how she helped negotiate in her own home, working “tirelessly” to keep up with Sir Winston’s engagements and hailed as the “real force behind Churchill”.
One gift, a lalique crystal cockerel, was sent personally to Clementine alone from Charles de Gaulle, and is said to be intended as an apology, after she intervened to smooth over his disagreement with her husband.
Others include thank you presents for her central role in coordinating sending aid to Russia, as well as a nineteenth-century cut glass fruit bowl in the shape of a Viking Long Boat from Stalin.
Lalique crystal cockerel (Jonathan Primmer/National Trust)
The exhibition, which includes 30 pieces sent to the Churchills towards the end and following the Second World War, are now on display at National Trust property Chartwell.
Some of them, such as a drawer of silver cutlery given by the people of Sheffield, are on loan from the family, with Sir Winston’s great-grandson Randolph Churchill opening the display.
Judith Evans, the house and collections manager of the property for the National Trust, told the Telegraph the gifts showed the true extent of Clementine’s influence at the time.
“She was an incredible woman,” she said. “She was quite a big player. She helped maintain difficult relationships and worked quietly behind the scenes for the war effort.
“She made sure they dined with the right people and led by example in keeping domestic life going.”
Speaking of the gift of the lalique cockerel, from De Gaulle, she said the rumoured inspiration for sending it began with an argument over dinner.
“De Gaulle came to Chartwell and used to dine with them,” she said. “Clementine got on very well with him by all accounts.
“On one evening, it is said, there was a disagreement between De Gaulle and Churchill over dinner. Clementine got very cross and felt he should have more respect for her husband.
“When he went away, he felt very keenly that he had upset her, and the cockerel is supposed to have been sent to appease her.”
Other gifts sent to the Churchills include a cut glass fruit bowl with silver mounts, in the shape of a Viking Long Boat, from Stalin after the Moscow Conference in 1944 and a brass brandy glass warmer from Portugal in the shape of a donkey pulling a cart.
Silver cigar box (Jonathan Primmer/National Trust)
President Roosevelt sent a series of large maps as a Christmas present in 1945, while King Peter II of Yugoslavia bestowed a silver cigar box made by Asprey of London in 1942.
As well as gifts designed for Sir Winston, such as a cigar box with his portrait and an ivory miniature as a 69th birthday gift from the 3rd Battalion 11th Sikh Regiment at Teheran, the family also received countless parcels of food, thank you cards and several animals.
A menagerie including a lion, a white kangeroo, a duck-billed platypus, and black swans are all recorded as being donated, but were not kept at the house.
Evans added many of the gifts were already housed at Chartwell, but had been archived away in previous decades because they “didn’t fit with the decor”.
Jon Primmer, the curator of the exhibition, said: “We wanted to show off the breadth of gifts they received from friends all around the world, from the common man to royalty.
“Every gift was met with thanks. They would make sure everyone who was kind enough to send them things was recognised.”
The exhibition, Gift of Power, is open at Chartwell in Westerham, Kent, until February 23, 2014, with a children’s trail around the garden highlighting the animals Churchill was offered as gifts.
Originally published here.