Mary Churchill, youngest daughter of Winston, was just sixteen years old in 1939 when she started writing her diary. She starts her entries with rather typical and trite comments about being sixteen, and her concerns are those of a person of tender years. But Mary was no ordinary teenager (a term that was not in general usage at the time), and as her father was involved in politics, she followed his lead and interested herself in the events of the day.

For Mary, Winston was not a distant figure but a very beloved and admired father, who also showed affection towards her. Her mother, the beautiful and intelligent Clementine, was the dominant figure in the home, together with her mother’s cousin, known as Nana, who served as Mary’s nanny. It is tempting to try to regard Mary as just another teenager growing up in an ordinary family, but how can anyone be considered ordinary if their home is the stately home of Chartwell and her parents’ friends and acquaintances are leading politicians from both Englnd and abroad?

Still, like many girls of her age and social class, Mary loved riding her horse and was preoccupied by her religious beliefs, her schoolwork and her friends. But as the situation in Europe grew grimmer and the threat of war began to hover over England Mary begins to consider her future. She rejects the idea of going to university as she wants to remain close to her parents, writing: ‘I am enthralled by the magnitude of Papa’s brain and personality. I fear I have not appreciated him sufficiently or loved him till just lately – but now my heart has been awakened and thrilled and I am torn between pride and a deepening and ever increasing love for him,’ showing considerable maturity and insight for a girl of her age. However, only a few weeks earlier she writes: ‘I have come to the frightful conclusion that (a) I am insincere (b) a coquette (c) I bite my nails (d) I think too much about myself. Reform is needed and I am determined to be more natural and nice.’

One cannot help but admire the girl’s sincerity and honesty. Growing up in a household where politics was the driving force it is hardly surprising that Mary was concerned about reports in the newspapers criticizing her father, and very much took to heart the various political skirmishes and infighting that characterized politics then and now. A slew of newspapers were doubtless delivered to the house every day (unlike the single newspaper in the average home of the time), and Mary’s life was obviously far from average. She lunches in London with her mother and various relatives, meeting Dr. and Mrs. Julian Huxley, for example, then goes to the zoo for a ‘private audience’ with the baby giant panda, concluding with a visit to the House of Commons where, from the Speakers Gallery, together with her mother, she watches and hears part of the debate about conscription. Only a few months later war is declared and, after a brief interlude, her father becomes Prime Minister. For Mary this means moving to 10 Downing Street and also spending weekends at Chequers while her beloved Chartwell has to be closed up and abandoned.

As the war proceeded Mary, together with her close friend Judy Montagu, joined the ATS and was posted to anti-aircraft battery duty. Army life was not easy for the cossetted child of English aristocrats, but she was determined to do what had to be done and in fact excelled in fulfilling her duty. As the war continued Mary still managed to enjoy life, whether on leave or at weekends, when she was often wined and dined by eligible young men, went to parties and night clubs, quaffed champagne and ate caviar and other delicacies. How she managed to do this during wartime, when food was rationed and blackouts prevailed, is beyond me, but the diary entries record all this as happening, together with shopping expeditions to Harrods and tea at Fortnum and Masons.

Affairs of the heart also concern Mary greatly during the war years, and she enjoys the company of English as well as American servicemen, spends time in France and Canada as aide-de-camp to her father, meets President Roosevelt and many other prominent personalities, and is an eye-witness to events that changed the course of world history.

The book of Mary Churchill’s diary ends as the war comes to an end, and jubilant crowds, including Mary, celebrate outside Buckingham Palace. In a note at the end, Mary’s daughter, Emma Soames, writes that just two days after ending her romance with one suitor Mary gets on the train taking her from Paris to Rome, having briefly met Christopher Soames, the junior Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Paris. On an impulse, young Soames jumped onto the train taking Mary to Rome to visit her sister, and by the time they arrived in Rome Christopher had proposed and been turned down. He proposed again, on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, and was accepted.

And so, as we now know, the young girl who embarked on writing a diary at the age of sixteen, continued to have a happy and fulfilled life. Together with Christopher Soames, she had five children, wrote books, was involved in public life, and died at the age of ninety-one. The account of her life as the daughter of a distinguished man is fascinating and surprisingly well written.