Elizabeth (pictured above) knew the truth of Winston’s utter loneliness.
It was a truth she tenderly guarded, for she knew that the Lord had not just entrusted Winston to her solely for the discipline she would enforce, but more for the vacuum she would fill in his life.
Even by Victorian standards, the Churchill family were not close. Quite to the neglect of their son, Randolph and Jennie Churchill gave themselves completely to their social ambitions. It was common at the time for parents to maintain an astonishing distance from their children, receiving them only at prearranged times, and under the watchful eye of servants. But the relationship between Winston and his parents was awful.
Whilst Winston revered his father as a great statesman, the feelings of respect and affection were not reciprocated. Lord Randolph frequently expressed harsh disappointment in Winston. His father thought Winston was backward, rarely talked to him, and regularly vented his mounting rage on the child. More than one historian has concluded that Lord Randolph actually loathed and was deeply disappointed in his son.
Winston later wrote sadly of his mother, “I loved her, but at a distance.”
Thus it was that Elizabeth Everest – who Winston came to call “Woom or woomany” – became not only his nanny, but his dearest companion. He came to share with her an understanding and tender loyalty of the secrets of his widening world. She was, the stereotypical British nanny; plump, simple, cheery, ever optimistic and always compassionate. The boy grew to love her completely. Of their special relationship, Violet Asquith later wrote, that in Winston’s “solitary childhood and unhappy school days, Mrs. Everest was his comforter, his strength and stay, his one source of unfailing human understanding. She was the fireside at which he dried his tears and warmed his heart. She was the night-light by his bed. She was security.”
She was also his guide. It was with her, in the safety of their shared devotion, that Winston first experienced genuine Christianity. Watching and listening to her pray, he learnt how to do the same. From her lips he first heard the Scriptures read with such loving devotion. He was so moved, he eagerly memorized his favorite passages. On long walks together they sang the great hymns of the Church, spoke of the heroes of the faith, and imagined aloud what Jesus might look like, or how heaven would be. As they sat together on a park bench Winston was often transfixed while “Woom” explained the world to him in simple, but distinctly Christian, terms.
“My nurse was my confidante,” said Churchill. “Mrs Everest it was who looked after me and tended all my wants. It was to her I poured out my many troubles.”
Boris Johnson writes in his autobiography of Churchill, “On one famous occasion, neither of his parents could be bothered to come to his Speech Day at Harrow; so Mrs Everest came, and Churchill walked around town with her, arm proudly in arm, while the other boys snickered.”
Winston did not always maintain the clarity of belief that his nanny would approve of. In early adulthood, he immersed himself in the anti-Christian rationalism that swept his age. But he eventually recovered his sense of purpose during an escape from a South African prison. So deeply had he received the imprint of Mrs. Everest’s dynamic faith that in this time of crisis, the prayers he had learned at her knee returned almost involuntarily to his lips, as did the Scripture passages he had memorized. He found himself speaking out scripture learnt as a child.
Historians are at odds about whether or not Churchill was what we would call a “committed Christian” today, but certainly from that time forward, his beliefs defined him, as it did his sense of mission. In an age of mounting skepticism, Churchill proclaimed the cause of “Christian civilization.”
Eight years before he became prime minister he wrote an essay on the life of Moses in which he said, of God,
“He is the God not only of Israel, but of all mankind who wished to serve Him; a God not only of justice, but of mercy; a God not only of self-preservation and survival, but of pity, self-sacrifice, and ineffable love.”
What a quote that is!!
I find it so wonderful that this lonely, but fiercely brave man, learnt so much from the one person who stayed by his side for the first 20 years of his life.
In what ways could the little hidden things that we do for others encourage them to grow and learn and become who God has asked them to be?