Philip Ziegler

At home in the corridors of power

To be the daughter of an enormously powerful man must always be an enthralling if sometimes daunting experience. To be close to that father when, almost single-handed, he is shaping the destinies of the nation, if not the world, is to be uniquely privileged. Mary Soames took no part in the decision-making that was happening above her head, but she was singularly well placed to sense what was going on and to understand the man who was riding the storm with such courage and aplomb.

She was much younger than her siblings, her father was absorbed in his Herculean task, her mother knew that her first responsibility must be to her husband.  Mary Soames was therefore a solitary child, but she never felt neglected and was incapable of self-pity.

She spent a happy youth in the family home of Chartwell, broken by sojourns in Admiralty House and No. 11 Downing Street, where she distinguished herself by pouring water over the policeman on duty outside the door (a wholly uncharacteristic piece of mischief in a life marked throughout by generosity and consideration for others). She was present at the critical debate when Neville Chamberlain was hounded from office and the way cleared for Winston Churchill to take the lead. From then on she was near the heart of everything:

It was now that my love and admiration for my father became enhanced by an increasing element of hero-worship. I saw how people turned to him in confident hope; and my own daughterly affection became entwined with all the emotions I felt as a young, patriotic Englishwoman.

As a young, patriotic Englishwoman she felt it her duty to join the ATS — the Auxiliary Territorial Service – as soon as her age allowed it.

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