Jewels from the Archive by Esther Gilbert

Photo: Martin with Elizabeth Nel, 2006, in London

The Elizabeth Nel Correspondence

The latest edition of Finest Hour, “The Journal of Winston Churchill and his Times” (Number 183) contains an article by Cita Stelzer entitled “Working with Winston: The Unsung Women Behind Britain’s Greatest Statesman”. Cita Stelzer writes about Churchill’s secretaries, and she credits Martin with providing valuable sources on them for research.

I believe Martin met all of Churchill’s secretaries and gave them a rightful place in Churchill’s story. Notable among them, for both Martin’s friendship with her and for the archival material she gave him, was Elizabeth Layton Nel, who had been one of Churchill’s secretaries, from 1941-1945, during the difficult years of the Second World War. Elizabeth Nel gave Martin the letters she had sent home to her parents in Canada, letters in which she wrote openly about her life.

In the film Darkest Hour, Elizabeth Nel is portrayed by Lily James in a role in which poetic licence is stretched, but still it shows her important role in Churchill’s office during the war years.

In 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth Nel in what was to be her last trip to London as she died the following year. She had come to London with her daughter. For Martin it was a lovely reunion. Martin had visited her in 1984 in South Africa while filming the Churchill story there. At the time she had given him part of one of Churchill’s speeches she had typed and saved. This speech will be on display among other important documents at Hillsdale College.

Both Elizabeth Nel’s letters to her parents and her correspondence with Martin are in the Sir Martin Gilbert Archives at Hillsdale College, along with Martin’s correspondence with Churchill’s other secretaries throughout his life. A treasure trove for Churchill scholars, and for anyone interested in the history of that period.

Read More: In Search of Churchill

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