Throughout time, it has been common for soldiers deployed to war zones to write a letter to loved ones in the event they are killed in combat. Deployed to the Western Front in World War I, this practice was followed by Winston Churchill in the aftermath of his resignation from the Admiralty.
On July 17, 1915, Churchill wrote Clementine in a letter marked: “To be sent to Mrs Churchill in the event of my death.” A very practical note, the correspondence outlined life insurance details, debts, stock holdings, and details of Churchill’s literary future. 1
Apart from the practical aspects, Churchill’s letter is interesting on two other points. First, Churchill was extremely concerned with his reputation. In appointing Clementine as his “sole literary executor,” the future Prime Minister indicated his desire that his story be told. For example, he wrote: “some day I shd like the truth to be known. Randolph will carry on the lamp.” He later tells Clementine to “guard my memory.” 2
Given Churchill’s later statements in The World Crisis, his reference to the “truth” is likely a reference to his role in the Dardanelles operation which sought to open the Black Sea through a naval assault on the Dardanelles Straits. The operation proved a disaster, costing the Allies over 250,000 casualties.
Having survived his time on the Western Front, Churchill defended his own role in the operation in his post-war writings. In 1931, he wrote: “I write this not in the slightest degree to minimize or shift my own responsibility. But this was not where it law. I did not and I could not make the plan.” 3
The second striking aspect of Churchill’s July 17, 1915 letter is the devotion and love he shows Clementine. While the majority of his letter focuses on the logistical operations of life without him, he does not forget his wife. Asking her not to grieve “too much,” he writes that she is who made him happy and taught him “how noble a woman’s hear can be.” Finally, he reassures her that even in death, he would always be “on the look out for you.” 4
Luckily, Churchill’s letter was never needed. However, even when writing on such a morbid topic, Churchill’s parting words were on par with his historical reputation. His love for Clementine loomed large as he continued to be wary of his public perception.