From Churchill's War Rooms: Letters of a Secretary 1943-45

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9780752440743: From Churchill's War Rooms: Letters of a Secretary 1943-45
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From Churchill's War Rooms Letters Of A Secretary 1943-45

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Review:

'One of the most atmospheric eyewitness accounts of that time' (Elizabeth Grice The Daily Telegraph 2007-02-19)

From the Author:

1. I particularly wanted a book that could represent a
secretary as she was then and is now with all her memories and memorabilia
around her - and thus bring to life the Cabinet War Rooms themselves.
Pulling all Olive Christopher's material together was like working on a
quilt - I felt that out of such a disparate mixture we could touch the
texture of the times. There were so many different pieces and a lot of
transcribing and sorting - verbal memory and recollections, tape
recordings, letters, cards, memos, books and booklets, photographs, passes,
pictures, cuttings, menus, scraps of information, and telephone
conversations.

2. The best thing was getting a small research grant from the British
Academy so I could go and visit Olive in her own home, talk to her and go
through everything to make my final selection - which is only a small part
of all that she kept.

3. The narrative is as she told it to me, backed up by additional research.
The letters are interesting for their gentle love story, and for what is
hidden because of the Official Secrets Act and self-censorship. Olive could
not of course write about what she was doing, so the reader has to fill in
the gaps. I like that. We know the `big' story, so now we can set it in the
context of ordinary lives. It is in the human detail of the letters and
memorabilia that we can get an immediate sense of the past.

4. Olive Christopher was just a secretary - though not an ordinary one,
typing up notes and plans for the great Allied invasions and other secret
matters. It is rare now to meet anyone who knew and worked for Churchill
during WW2, though she was really only on the periphery of his inner
circle. She did however see him quite often in the Cabinet War Rooms and of
course her boss General Hollis was in regular contact, as Secretary to the
Chiefs of Staff. Olive travelled to Cairo with Churchill in HMS Renown, and
was in Teheran for his birthday party, where she saw Roosevelt and Stalin.
She worked for Churchill in Marrakech, where he was secretly recuperating.
She saw him improve in health, attended his New Year's Eve Party, and met
General Eisenhower. She travelled in his party to the 2nd Quebec
Conference, and found she was filmed in the newsreel of his arrival. She
saw him at the Victory Parade in Berlin, and typed and filed notes for the
Potsdam Conference. Most of all, she knew lots about him through General
Hollis, and her prized possession is a signed photograph given to her. She
also has a Christmas card of one of his prints from Mrs Churchill.

5. What struck me was that Olive had a `good war' and life was glamorous.
They did work hard, but they had fun. Sometimes things were quiet in the
War Rooms and there are two lovely recollections - the first being of
sitting quietly sewing pretty underwear from cheap silk remnants, and the
other a noisy game of seeing how far they could unravel loo rolls down the
corridor.

6. Olive's story gives us a rare insight into the workings of the Cabinet
War Rooms and of being relatively close to Churchill. It also tells us a
bit more about women's lives at the time - it is therefore a very rich
wartime narrative.

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9780752446080: From Churchill's War Rooms: Letters of a Secretary 1943-45

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ISBN 10:  0752446088 ISBN 13:  9780752446080
Publisher: The History Press Ltd, 2009
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