A Chichester author has penned a new book - Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill’s Nurse (Foreword by Churchill’s granddaughter Emma Soames; available on Friday, June 15).
“It is based on letters my mother wrote to my dad during the Second World War,” author Jill Rose explained. “Among the letters is an entertaining account of her visit to friends in Chichester in January 1943, shortly before she was appointed as private nurse to the ailing Prime Minister. Little did she know that Chichester would later become her home for the rest of her life. My family settled in Chichester in 1957, when I was nine. My father became senior surgeon at St. Richard’s Hospital, and my mother died at Manor Barn Nursing Home in Appledram in 2016 at the age of 100. Although I have lived abroad for many years, I still regard Chichester as my home town.”
Jill has shared some of her story:
“In January 1943, in the darkest days of the Second World War, a nurse named Doris Miles wrote to her husband Roger: ‘Had a very pleasant week-end with Dorothy’s sister and brother-in-law in Chichester – it’s a charming spot, and they are delightful people. . . . They’ve got a very nice flat in the main street of the town, quite near the Cathedral, and if ever we get to Pompey again on our travels we are to look them up. On Saturday evening we walked about two miles to a little pub at Dell Quay, on one of the creeks, and consumed a humble pint in a real old country-style pub. There were two delightful matelots who, with many blushes, sang a song called My brother Sylveste, and a Canadian corporal, extremely fat, who, with no blushes at all, sang the Canadian Army’s version of many well-known ditties. So on the way back Dorothy and I gave a few excerpts from the Mary’s collection, and we strode home to the tune of The Virgin Sturgeon and The Two Flies! ‘
“Doris worked in the celebrated Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in London; Roger was a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, serving at the time on a destroyer in the Mediterranean in support of the North African campaign. Little did they know that 14 years later they would settle in Chichester with their family and live there for the rest of their lives.
“Doris and Roger were married in London in January 1942, and a few months later Roger joined the Navy. He would spend much of the next four years at sea, and during his absence they wrote to each other several times every week. Despite the vicissitudes of his naval service, Roger managed to keep most of his wife’s letters. Now their wartime correspondence is brought to life in Nursing Churchill: Wartime life from the private letters of Winston Churchill’s nurse. Doris’s letters start in July 1942, when she is overjoyed to tell Roger that she is expecting their first child. Her happiness is soon dashed, however, when she suffers a miscarriage in August. But Doris was a practical and optimistic young woman, and she continued to ‘box on’ through the autumn and the festive season.
In February 1943 she was honoured to be chosen to nurse Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he was stricken with life-threatening pneumonia. Churchill’s personal physician Sir Charles Wilson was the Dean of St Mary’s Medical School, a position that had once been held by Doris’s father. Doris was the winner of the Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing, so she was the obvious choice for this prestigious position.
“During her time with Churchill, she wrote regularly to Roger about life at the centre of Britain’s war effort, and about Churchill himself. With unrivalled intimacy, her observations show a very human and seldom-seen side of the great man and include many amusing anecdotes; ‘a very valuable and unique insight’, according to Boris Johnson. She describes with wry humour their arguments and conversations, and life at Downing Street and Chequers. She writes as well of the everyday events that carried on despite the war; weddings and parties, family and friends, births and deaths, and working life at one of London’s busiest hospitals. She describes her feelings, her fears and her hopes for the future. Her personal story is adroitly woven into the wider context of those turbulent times.
“Historian Andrew Roberts (author of The Storm of War) has written: ‘Supported by the fine scholarship of the author, this book reminds us of the good nature and humanity of the greatest Briton, even while he was under unimaginable stress and a life-threatening illness. I heartily recommend it.’ John and David Suchet, whose parents were lifelong friends of Doris and Roger, have called it ‘a thoroughly absorbing read’, and Professor Allister Vale, a leading expert on Churchill’s health, says, ‘ A top quality, outstanding read, this well-written book is historically accurate and enhanced by unique photographs.’
“In the summer of 1957, Roger accepted a position as Consultant Surgeon at St Richard’s Hospital and what was then the Royal West Sussex Hospital. Doris and Roger moved into a house in Summersdale with their four children. The two eldest, Vicky and myself, attended Chichester High School for Girls, and the younger ones, Lesley and Geoffrey, went to a local primary school. Doris and Roger had always loved sailing; they joined the Bosham Sailing Club and on any summer weekend that Roger was not on duty they would be in a race or pottering about on the water with the children. They were good friends with Leslie Evershed Martin, and were supporters of the Chichester Festival Theatre since its inception. The pub in Dell Quay where Doris had spent that memorable Saturday so many years before became a favourite watering hole of her son Geoffrey when he was grown.
“Roger excelled as a teacher. In 1979 he was honoured by the Royal College of Surgeons by being named Penrose May Surgical Tutor, the first such award for 10 years. He was only the second surgeon outside of a major London teaching hospital to hold this prestigious post. In 2010 a new state-of-the-art teaching facility at St Richard’s Hospital was named the Roger Miles Clinical Skills Suite in posthumous recognition of his contribution to medical education. Sadly, he was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease shortly after his retirement. He and Doris moved to St. Martins Square, and for 10 years he battled the debilitating disease with his characteristic humour and stoicism. Roger died on St. George’s Day, April 23, 1990, with Doris and his two younger daughters at his side. Following Roger’s death Doris took up painting and became an accomplished water-colourist. She was a supporting member of the Oxmarket Arts Centre, and was also an enthusiastic bridge player. Doris had so many friends and acquaintances in the city that she could rarely walk the short distance from her front door to Marks and Spencer in East Street without meeting someone she knew. In her later years a series of mini-strokes and a broken hip severely restricted her mobility, and in December 2012 she moved to Manor Barn Nursing Home in Appledram. Here she often spoke with pride of how she had once been Winston Churchill’s nurse; it was one of the few things that she could remember through the fog of the encroaching years.”