Jean, Lady Hamilton, 1861–1941 written by Celia Lee and published by Pen & Sword Books – £30.00 – Hardback – Pages 400

Jean, Lady Hamilton’s diaries remained forgotten and hidden in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College, London, for fifty years. The story begins with the young couples’ wedding, a dazzling bride, Jean Muir, marrying a star-struck Major Ian Hamilton. The daughter of the millionaire businessman Sir John Muir, Jean had all the money whilst Hamilton was penniless.

Jean chronicled Ian’s long army career that culminated in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. The failure there ended her husband’s distinguished career and almost ended Churchill’s as he had to leave his job as First Lord of the Admiralty. From new evidence it is possible to judge how close the campaign came to succeeding and the failure seems greatly due to the absence of fresh troops not being supplied by Lord Kitchener to the peninsula.

Winston Churchill in particular was like family in the Hamiltons’ home, he used to go there and practice his speeches, and painted alongside Jean to whom he sold his first painting. Because the Churchill’s were in genteel poverty, Clementine could not afford the £25 fee to enter a nursing home to give birth to her 4th child Marigold. Mary, the Lady Soames, Clementine’s daughter, supported Celia Lee in publishing the story. Marigold’s secret grave was uncovered in Kensal Green Council cemetery in 2001. The child’s life ended in tragedy just before her 3rd birthday when she died in the post-First World War Spanish influenza epidemic.

If anything applies to the saying ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’. When I picked this book up and looked at the cover it does look more like a book from a number of 19th century female writers. But what a pleasant and fascinating surprise it was, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a pleasure to read. It’s predominantly about the life of Jean Hamilton’s husband Ian as an officer during the Great War and life for both before and after for both. The book is written a bit like a diary and reveals a lot about what Edwardian life was like and the thoughts and meaning of being a woman/army wife in Edwardian Britain. There is also part of the book in which we learn about the young Winston Churchill and his wife and family. This book was quite revealing and a really informative book to read, one I have thoroughly enjoyed and could have read more about. I should add that Prof. Ian Beckett does the foreword in the book, and I was one of his students at university, now he wouldn’t remember me but I loved attending his lectures on ‘The Armies and Superpowers from about 1800’, one of my favourite years at university. I really enjoyed this book, please do read as it’s a great eye opener and one I’m happy to recommend.