Remarkable letters from a British nurse telling of her weeks spent with Winston Churchill at the height of the Second World War have come to light.
In the same month that the Nazis admitted their first failure of the war as the Germans surrendered to the Soviets at Stalingrad, the British prime minister was battling pneumonia.
Doris Miles speaks glowingly of the war-time Prime Minister in her letters to her husband Roger, a Surgeon-Lieutenant with the Royal Navy, chronicling three weeks at his bedside in February 1943 at 10 Downing Street and Chequers.
Doris, who died in 2016 aged 100, describes him as ‘most considerate’ and someone who treated her ‘as a dear friend rather than a nurse’.
Doris Miles, right, says the prime minister, left, treated her more like a dear friend than a nurse in letters she wrote while caring for Winston Churchill. The recollections of Doris, who lived to the age of 100, have been brought back to life in a collection chronicling their relationship
Letters to the nurse’s husband on board the HMS Tartar in the Mediterranean reveal Churchill’s ferocious work ethic, dry sense of humour and legendary drinking habits with champagne, brandy and whiskey his daily tipples of choice. They have been transcribed by her daughter Jill Rose, who lives in Florida
Doris Miles receives her Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing from Miss Ruth Derbyshire, Head of the British Red Cross and a former Matron of St Maryís Hospital, while the current Matron, Miss Mary Milne, looks on
Her letters to her husband who was serving on board the HMS Tartar in the Mediterranean reveal Churchill’s ferocious work ethic, dry sense of humour and legendary drinking habits.
They have been transcribed by her daughter Jill Rose and published for the first time in a new book, Nursing Churchill.
Doris, a recipient of the Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing, was working as a private nurse at St Mary’s Hospital in London when she was whisked to Whitehall to care for Churchill following his pneumonia diagnosis on February 16, 1943.
In a letter on February 21, she doesn’t refer to Churchill by name but mentions ‘V and Victory’ and says her patient is ‘all he is cracked up to be’.
She tells of Churchill’s voracious appetite for work which kept him up to the early hours when she felt he should be resting.
She writes: ‘The trouble is that feeling a bit better he thinks he is cured, and will probably walk down the corridor to have a bath with only a towel round him in the morning.
Doris and Roger Miles on their wedding day at St. Peterís Church, London, left, and Mr Miles is pictured during his service in 1942, right
The nurse’s room was on the upper floor of this building facing the front. It provided the setting in which she penned remarkable letters telling of her weeks with Winston Churchill while he battled pneumonia
‘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 three to five, never goes anywhere before five, and never goes to bed before two. What a man.’
A few days later, Doris describes how she and a fellow nurse, Dorothy Pugh, would ‘laugh like drains’ at Churchill’s desk which was covered in various glass jars including the day’s urine specimens and temperature charts.
‘Dorothy and I are now in full occupation of the study, and tonight we were laughing like drains at the PM’s desk,’ she wrote.
‘There is a neat line of medicine bottles at one end, flanked by two glass jars containing the day’s specimens of urine, two packets of M&B, and various charts, temperature charts, fluid charts, etc. Can you imagine all that on Hitler’s desk!’
In her next letter, she is struck by Churchill’s compassion for the men and women involved in the war effort, revealing how every morning he would ask for the number of Bomber Command casualties.
She writes: ‘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.
Winston and Clementine Churchill returning to 10 Downing Street in June 1943 following weeks spent under the care or nurse Doris Miles
The collection not only chronicles the nurse’s relationship with Churchill, but provides insight into her personal life with serviceman Roger Miles, who was a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy
‘Even when most ill he would ring up Bomber Command in the early hours of the morning to find out how many casualties we had (not how many bombs had been dropped) and how many planes had got back safely.’
By March 1, Churchill was on the mend and smoking ‘enormous’ cigars, a sure sign his health was improving. He would also sing ‘tunelessly’ to Doris while in the bath, something the nurse found ‘disconcerting’.
‘He sings a lot, rather tunelessly, and at the top of his voice – while being bathed or washed in bed, and is very disconcerting,’ she wrote.
‘As he gets better so his cigars get larger, and tonight after dinner he was smoking one that I swear was over a foot long – a mammoth and enormous cigar!’
The collection was compiled by the daughter of Doris Miles, who lives in Florida
In one of her last letters, Doris says Churchill, who was then 68 years old, knew age was being to catch up with him, although he retained his Herculean spirit.
She writes: ‘Just been tucking the old boy up for the night. It’s quite a performance, and involves undressing him, plying him with cold soup, soda water, sleeping tablet, and trying to make him do the breathing exercises he avoided earlier on!
‘Poor old boy, you know it’s taken it out of him and he says ruefully that he’s not the man he was. After all he’s 68. But it’ll take more than this to get him down.’
For the only time, she confides in her husband that Churchill, for all his qualities, could also be hard work.
‘Sometimes I wish it was someone else here instead of me, which is sheer cowardice,’ she wrote. ‘I’ve got awfully fond of him in spite of his occasional tantrums and rather overbearing ways. He’s very sweet to me, and always thanks me so nicely when I do anything for him.’
When Doris bid farewell to Churchill on March 15, he presented her with his signed portrait and insisted she signed the Chequers visitors book.
Reflecting on her time with Churchill, she writes: ‘Back again in the old homestead after a most amazing three weeks.
‘Now that I’m no longer on the spot, as it were, I can give you a lot more of the lowdown. Had a very touching farewell this morning, he thanked me very kindly for all I had done for him, and made me sign the visitors’ book – Doris Miles SRN, next to Anthony Eden and five away from the King of Greece!
‘I was presented with a signed portrait and a signed copy of My Early Life. When I thanked him I said I would be able to show them with much pride to my grandchildren.
‘He is most amazingly natural, and the whole time he treated me more as an intimate friend than a nurse. He would talk on the phone when I was in the room, and have ‘Most Secret’ documents lying around the bed. ‘Darling, I wish so much that you could have been there, even invisibly, to watch the goings on!’
A temperature chart chronicles the health of the prime minister as he battle pneumonia during the Second World War. The British nurse was at his side for three weeks during the fighting
The nurse told how Churchill made her sign his visitors’ book before she left, putting her name alongside important figures such as Anthony Eden
Doris kept the letters tucked away in a desk in the dining room of her townhouse in Chichester, West Sussex, until her daughter discovered them in 2001.
Captivated by their contents, Mrs Rose transcribed the letters and with her mother’s blessing has produced a book of the war-time correspondence between her parents.
Mrs Rose, 70, a retired computer programmer who now lives in West Beach, Florida, US, said: ‘My mother kept the letters all through her life in a desk in her dining room.
Doris Miles – who cared for the prime minister while he battled illness – is pictured with husband Roger Miles and Timo the dog during 1942
‘It was partly because of her affection for Churchill and also because my father had somehow kept them safe all throughout the war even when his ship was torpedoed.
‘One day in 2001 we were clearing out her desk and came across the letters and I started reading them. It was so exciting.
‘I transcribed the letters for her and suggested we could make them into a book but she said they could be published with her blessing after her death.
‘From the letters you can tell Churchill had this amazing personal charisma and loyalty to those people who were close to him and my mother was under his spell.’
Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill’s Nurse, by Jill Rose, is published by Amberley on June 15 and costs £18.99.