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Winston Churchill by his Personal Secretary  -  Elizabeth Nel


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Recollections of the Great Man
by A Woman Who Worked for Him

Winston Churchill by his Personal Secretary:
Recollections of The Great Man by A Woman Who Worked for Him

by Elizabeth Nel

UK price: £7.99    US price: $15.95
Format: Paperback
Size: 6 x 9
Pages: 170
ISBN: 0-595-46852-7
Published: Sep-2007



Elizabeth Nel served as Winston Churchill's personal secretary during World War II. The vivid and human details of her experiences, of her impressions and memories of that great man at the height of the conflict against Hitler, make this compelling reading. An epilogue about the subsequent life of Elizabeth Nel over the past 60 years brings the book up to date

The launch of Elizabeth Nel’s book on Winston Churchill at the Churchill Museum, Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall, in February 2008, was a great success, thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of Celia Murray, who did all the hard work for the occasion and, in fact, made the event possible. As she herself said, it was graced with “wonderful people, excellent speeches and superb Nederburg top wines”, and Celia Murray finished off the event with a toast to Elizabeth Nel (with glasses of Amarula, the late author’s favourite tipple!). I am very indebted to Celia for organising the event, and a particular pleasure for me was being able to meet many of the Diadem Book authors for the first time!  I asked Celia to write a few paragraphs about the event, and her report is given here in full. I am indebted to her, too, for the photographs. —Charles Muller, Diadem Books.

Book Description

Elizabeth Nel
served as Winston Churchill’s personal secretary during World War II. The vivid and human details of her experiences, of her impressions and memories of the irascible and loveable war hero, take up the story of Churchill’s life at No. 10 where the BBC’s impressive drama, The Gathering Storm, leaves off—when Churchill took over the reins of Government at the outset of the war. Finally, the author, Elizabeth Nel, at 90 years of age, looks back across the years.

“Mrs Nel was Mr Churchill’s secretary from 1941 to 1945 and her experiences, from the first day of inevitable blunders to the wartime meetings in Canada, the United States, Moscow, Yalta and Casablanca to which she accompanied him, are told with a modest restraint.”—The Times Literary Supplement

“She was by his side when Germany attacked Russia; when Pearl Harbour, the fall of Tobruk and Arnhem occurred. But somehow the distant roar of guns is dimmed by the sweat of being Mr Churchill’s secretary.”—Daily Express

“It is a personal book, but one that shows the great admiration Churchill was able to inspire in those who worked with him.”—New York Herald Tribune

Elizabeth Nel served as Winston Churchill’s personal secretary during World War II. The vivid and human details of her experiences, of her impressions and memories of that great man at the height of the conflict against Hitler, make this compelling reading. An epilogue about the subsequent life of Elizabeth Nel over the past 60 years brings the book up to date. She now lives in South Africa, having turned 90 in June 2007.

Blu-ray Review: Darkest Hour
February 26, 2018
By Chaz Lipp, Contributor

Factual inaccuracies aside, director Joe Wright's Darkest Hour is a rousing, unexpectedly humorous, imminently watchable film. Arriving on Blu-ray hot on the heels of the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, it's high time to catch up with this filmed adaption of Winston Churchill's earliest period as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Wright, working from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, maintains a brisk pace that ensures Darkest Hour never feels like a stodgy piece of historical fiction.

Again, speaking of fiction, there are liberties taken with the real history (and some rather strange outright inventions), but Wright and McCarten's intention here is to highlight the generally mixed feelings in Parliament toward a figure who—post-Word War II—is generally lionized. The film picks up in May 1940 as ailing PM Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is facing pressure to resign. Churchill (Gary Oldman) is the controversial choice for replacement. He's hawkish, whereas Chamberlain and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Edward Wood (Stephen Dillane) favor potential peace negotiations with Italy and Germany. Churchill stands his ground firmly as he steadfastly refuses to consider an attempt at reasoning with Hitler or Mussolini.

Much of Darkest Hour deals with the rescue at Dunkirk initiated by Churchill (again, bucking many opinions strongly held by his underlings). Anyone who saw Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is likely to appreciate the "behind the scenes" glimpse into the planning of the operation. Nolan chose to focus solely on a "man in the field" approach, depicting the action of the mission from air, sea, and land (a detrimental approach, in my opinion, as I outlined in my review of that film). But Wright's film provides a necessary counterpart of Nolan's—though entirely different in style, the two films serve to strengthen the best in each, filling in holes found within both films.

As Churchill, Gary Oldman more than earns his Oscar nomination. In fact, he pretty much has "Nominate Me" stamped across his forehead. Some have cried out with charges of overacting, but the marvel in Oldman's work is in his quietest moments. Even buried below a mound of makeup (truly impressive makeup at that, also justly nominated by the Academy), the actor conveys a wide array of subtle emotions. It's not all bluster and histrionics, but when called upon to display Churchill at his most fiery, Oldman imbues every line and gesture with conviction.

The supporting cast, including Kristen Scott Thomas as Winston's devoted wife Clementine, is ace as well. Quietly stealing the show is Lily James (good in last year's Baby Driver but even better here) as Churchill's personal secretary Elizabeth Layton. Though the filmmakers play quite loose with the actual history of Layton's employment, the liberties taken are mostly understandable. She was a vital figure during Churchill's prime ministership and her memoir (Winston Churchill By His Personal Secretary Elizabeth Nel), though by no means the source of Darkest Hour, undoubtedly provided great insight for the filmmakers. The bit about her brother dying in battle is an invention—and a bizarre, unnecessary one.

At any rate, Darkest Hour earns its half-dozen Oscar nominations (including Best Picture, though not director for Wright). Fans of conventional storytelling and more traditionally-oriented Hollywood historical fiction will likely prefer it to the also Best-Picture-nominated Dunkirk.

Universal Studios' gorgeous Blu-ray edition (no 4K UltraHD version as of yet) boasts a few bonus supplements. Director Joe Wright offers feature-length commentary—after sampling it, I found Wright's tone agreeable and the will likely return to finish listening (especially to see if he addresses some specific liberties taken along the way). We also get some brief featurettes—"Into Darkest Hour" and "Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill"—that are breezy, EPK-styled pieces. A deeper examination of the real history might've been welcome, but one of the best aspects of Darkest Hour is that its engaging style will likely lead many viewers to learn more about Churchill and his leadership.

Available from the following on-line bookstores:


The Story of an amazing book launch in honour of Mrs. Elizabeth Nel - to read the full report by Celia Murray, click here

The Author when she served as Winston Churchill's personal secretary during World War Two:

The following are the first two paragraphs from the Foreword of Elizabeth Nel's book:

It was at a book launch in Kelso, in the Scottish Borders, where I met the Rev. Duncan Murray and his wife, Celia, who drew my attention to Elizabeth Nel and her book on Winton Churchill. Duncan, with Celia, had recently left South Africa to settle in Scotland, in order to take up a call in the Church of Scotland, and had been close friends of Elizabeth, in South Africa, for many years.

I wrote to Elizabeth Nel and received a glowing letter in reply – yes, she would be very agreeable to a new edition of her book, the original for many years now being out of print. Having read through her account of her experiences working for Winston Churchill, I was so intrigued, not only by her portrayal of that irascible yet loveable hero of World War II, but by her own charming personality that shines through every line of her captivating style, that I found I wanted to know more about her – about what happened to her, or what she did, after she left her life at No.10 and moved to South Africa – and surely any reader today would be equally eager to know how her life continued over the past sixty years. I suggested this to Duncan and Celia, and Celia was kind enough to phone her friend Lionel Heath, who lives in Port Elizabeth, not far from Elizabeth Nel, asking him if he would act as her scribe for an additional chapter, or an updated piece that might be included at the end of this volume. Elizabeth Nel had just turned 90, and Celia thought this would be a less strenuous burden for Elizabeth than that involved in writing the piece herself. As it happened, Lionel Heath was agreeable to this, and so his valuable contribution has been included in this volume as an epilogue.

Charles Muller

The Author (right) with her friend Celia Murray
at her home in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
(Christmas 2006)