Nursing Winston Churchill - special event at the Festival of Chichester

Doris Miles SRN
Doris Miles SRN

Tales of the Chichester woman who nursed Churchill will be told in a special event for the Festival of Chichester.

Jill Rose (née Miles) will be at Waterstones Bookshop, The Dolphin And Anchor, Chichester, PO10 9HD on Wednesday, June 26 at 6pm to discuss her book: Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill’s Nurse. The nurse in question was Jill’s mother, Doris Miles who lived in Chichester from 1957 until her death in 2016 at the age of 100.

As Jill says: “In an interesting historical twist, during the Second World War Doris had spent a weekend in Chichester with friends in January 1943, just weeks before she was summoned to Downing Street as private nurse to the ailing Prime Minister, who had been stricken with severe pneumonia.”

Although Jill has lived in the United States for many years, she has always regarded Chichester as her home town.

She said: “Doris’s letters to her husband Roger, a surgeon-lieutenant on active duty in the Royal Navy, form the core of the book. It has received accolades from Churchill experts both in the UK and the US, including Churchill’s biographer, the renowned historian Andrew Roberts, who described it as a fine and fun new book.”

Jill has edited the letters: “They are filled with humour and insight, describing Doris’s experiences as she cared for the man upon whom the fate of the nation depended.”

A few days after her arrival at Number 10 Downing Street she wrote to Roger: “Been having a long chat with the old boy, he’s been telling me his daily habits, did you know that he stays in bed until 12, sleeps from 3 to 5, never goes anywhere before 5, and never goes to bed before 2am. He also tells me that he hates cigars and never smokes more than a quarter of one!”

Churchill was an erratic sleeper, and he and Doris would talk in the small hours: “The PM is most considerate, and always the first thing he asks when I come on duty at night is how I have slept; and when I’ve tucked him up and wished him a very good night, he says he hopes I’ll get some sleep too. He’s very keen on people getting enough sleep, and we have long talks at night about that and many other subjects. Last night it was religion and dreams, and the night before was mostly political, very interesting.”

As Jill says: “Doris and the others in his medical team saw the Prime Minister in a uniquely intimate and vulnerable position. She became very fond of him, despite his many idiosyncrasies.”

Churchill’s personal physician Sir Charles Wilson had told her at the outset: “I must warn you, Nurse, the Prime Minister doesn’t wear pyjamas,” and indeed he didn’t, preferring a natty little silk vest, a velvet jacket with a diamond V on the lapel, and slippers of velvet with ‘PM’ embroidered on the front.

“The trouble is,” Doris observed, “that feeling a bit better he thinks he is cured and will probably walk down the corridor to have a bath in the morning with only a towel round him.”

After four weeks, Churchill was sufficiently recovered that he didn’t need nursing care anymore, and on March 15 1943, Doris went back to her family and friends and the familiar routine at St Mary’s Hospital in London where she worked in the Lindo Wing: “Had a very touching farewell this morning,” she wrote to her husband. “He thanked me very kindly for all I had done for him and made me sign the Visitors’ Book. He is most amazingly natural, and the whole time he treated me more as an intimate friend than a nurse.”

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