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History and Politics
When the 21-year old Winston Churchill, an impecunious subaltern in the Indian army, met Pamela Plowden in Hyderabad in November 1896, it was love at first sight: 'she is', he wrote to his mother, 'the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. We are going to try and do the City of Hyderabad together -- on an elephant'.
Pamela, who was a few months older than Churchill, was the daughter of Sir Trevor Chichele-Plowden, at that time the Resident in Hyderabad. She was the first great love of Churchill's life, and they were to remain lifelong friends.
The relationship is chronicled above all in these letters, and it is evident that in the early years some diffidence, aroused partly by his lack of income and clear prospects, held him back. Nevertheless, by the time of his Boer War excursion, they were clearly very close: Pamela's response to news of Churchill's famous escape from Boer captivity was a telegram to his mother with the simple words 'Thank God -- Pamela', and Lady Randolph was able to write to her son before his return from South Africa with some confidence that 'Pamela is devoted to you and if yr love has grown as hers -- I have no doubt it is only a question of time for you 2 to marry'.
Some sort of informal engagement does seem to have followed, and in 1950 Pamela was to write to him to remind him that it was 50 years since he had proposed to her. By Christmas of 1900, however, when the two were coincidentally both staying with Lord and Lady Minto at Government House in Ottowa, there had been some slight drawing-back, in spite of Churchill's assertion to his mother that 'she is the only woman I could ever live happily with'. Two years later, she married Victor, 2nd Earl of Lytton: he was the son of a Viceroy of India, and was later to be Governor of Bengal and himself acting Viceroy.
It will be seen from the letters that the relationship was never as intense again; but that a warm friendship lasted for the rest of their lives cannot be doubted. Pamela always remained loyal to Churchill: when Eddie Marsh, considering whether to accept a position as Churchill's private secretary, consulted Pamela, she advised him 'The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults, and the rest of your life you spend in observing his virtues'. When Churchill sent her a letter in 1908 announcing his engagement to Clementine, he urged, as Pamela had in announcing her engagement to him, that 'you must always be our best friend'.
Pamela by this stage was the mistress of the great Lytton house at Knebworth, where her work with her brother-in-law Sir Edwin Lutyens, in civilising the Victorian Gothic interiors created by her husband's grandfather, Bulwer Lytton, was to have considerable influence among her circle. She was not to live a life unaffected by tragedy. In particular, she was marked by the deaths of her sons Antony, in a flying accident in 1933, and John, killed in action at El Alamein in 1942 -- both the subjects of moving letters in this correspondence. Antony in particular had been seen as a paragon of a certain chivalric ideal, and the commemorative volume Antony, Viscount Knebworth. A Record of Youth (1935), struck a chord with a generation scarred by the horrors of the Great War.
Nevertheless, Pamela responded generously to Churchill's own fortunes: on his being appointed to lead the wartime government, she wrote 'All my life I have known you would become PM, ever since the days of Hansom cabs'. After the war he sent her the galley proofs of volume I of The Second World War as a present, and he sent her the proofs of volume II for her approval. In the 1950s and indeed up until Churchill's death, they were still in regular contact. He may not have been, as he wrote in his youthful impetuosity, 'true till death' in quite the sense he meant then -- but they remained true nevertheless.