Lockdown coincided rather fortunately for some of us with a joint project between the Archives Centre and Emma Soames to publish the wartime diaries of Mary Soames, Churchill’s youngest daughter.  Work had started on transcription some time before, but we were really able to get going on this once we were working from home (luckily the diaries had been digitized already).

The first page of Mary’s 1939 diary. Mary Soames Papers, MCHL 1/1/1.

In all, we transcribed 17 of the diaries, from 1939-1946 (in the end the 1946 entries fell victim to the editor’s pruning saw and the book stops in 1945, but some of Mary’s adventures in 1946 were so interesting that we couldn’t help going on a bit further).  Mercifully, Mary’s writing was reasonably clear, though wartime paper and ink shortages meant that sometimes she was scribbling in pencil on whatever came to hand: that could definitely be a bit of a challenge!  Once the transcription was complete, we had the more difficult task of deciding what to leave out; Mary was never boring as a writer, but we couldn’t include everything.  In the end, though, we managed to keep the pruning to a minimum, though quite a few of the many parties she went to (Mary’s wartime social life would put anyone to shame, particularly in a time of Covid), lists of names, and day to day entries where nothing very much happens, have had to go.

Mary with her father at Bertram Mills Circus, 1938. Broadwater Collection, BRDW V 3/3/44.

Mary was only 16 when war broke out, and her diaries bubble over with teenage fun and excitement, but she was also only too aware of her responsibilities as her beloved Papa’s daughter.  Though she joined up in 1941, to serve with the ATS, Mary accompanied Churchill as his aide to the Allied conference at Quebec in 1943, and also to Potsdam in 1945, and is a key witness to some of the great events of the war.  However, all along we have been determined to make this her book, not her father’s, so this is above all the story of a young woman growing up in wartime; we hope that readers will find Mary as much fun as we did!

Mary with her friend and cousin Judy Montagu in the ATS, c 1941. Clementine Spencer-Churchill Papers, CSCT 5/4/65.

Katharine Thomson, Archivist

Mary Churchill’s War is published by Two Roads.

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