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Jean, Lady Hamilton, 1861–1941 (Hardback)

Diaries of A Soldier's Wife

Military > Biographies P&S History > Social History WWI WWII Women of History

By Celia Lee
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 400
Illustrations: 18 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526786586
Published: 29th October 2020



Star review

'Celia Lee has an unrivalled knowledge of the invaluable and detailed diaries kept by Jean, Ian Hamilton's wife, and has written a remarkable biography based on those intimate daily records of the life of a member of the Edwardian power elite.' (Andrew Roberts, Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill and His Times, Autumn 2020)

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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.

Having spent their early married years in India the Hamilton's returned and set up house in the prestigious Hyde Park area of London, also eventually buying Lullenden Manor, East Grinstead, that they purchased as a country home from Winston Churchill when he could no longer afford it.

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.

Unable to conceive, Jean adopted two children, Harry Knight, who had been abandoned on the doorstep of the creche of which she was President, and Phyllis Ursula James that she preferred to call Rosaleen and who was nicknamed Fodie in the family. Fodie's mother was unmarried and abandoned by her soldier lover during the First World War. Harry was killed in action in the Libyan desert during the Second World War. Fodie, having been sent to be educated at a private school was trapped in war-torn Europe and never returned home again.

"Jean Hamilton's diaries are a fascinating and enjoyable read, revealing the human side of people who made history and enhances our understanding of them"

Alexandra Campbell, The Douglas Haig Fellowship Records, No.24 December 2021

Book review featured in:

Douglas Haig Fellowship Records Journal, December 2021.

Highlight: 'Jean Hamilton’s diaries are a fascinating and enjoyable read, revealing the human side of people who made history and enhances our understanding of them.' - Alexandra Campbell

Douglas Haig Fellowship Records Journal, December 2021.

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.

5 stars

Read the full review here

UK Historian

This is an amazing story about Jean, Lady Hamilton, and her attempt to chronicle her husband's life as a top-flight but penniless soldier, this at a time when young Winston Churchill, who became a close family friend, was emerging from his own distinguished and very colourful military career to enter a life of politics and ultimately become the most famous politician of the first half of the 20th century. Jean Hamilton is one of those larger than life people of whom we know very little until a book such as Celia's comes along. Fanscinating...

Books Monthly

As featured by

Churchill Society of Tennessee, Summer 2020

Celia Lee has an unrivalled knowledge of the invaluable and detailed diaries kept by Jean, Ian Hamilton’s wife, and has written a remarkable biography based on those intimate daily records of the life of a member of the Edwardian power elite.

Andrew Roberts, author of Leadership in War

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book which is basically a war diary. I found myself literally engrossed in till the last page I would highly recommend it.

NetGalley, Lynn Beck

About Celia Lee

Celia Lee is an Honours graduate in Humanities of the Open University and an Honorary Research Fellow of the Department for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham. A member of the British Commission for Military History as well as joint-chair of the Women in War group and English speaking press executive for the Polish Hearth Club, South Kensington, London, Celia is author of Winston & Jack The Churchill Brothers; The Churchills A Family Portrait, HRH The Duke of Kent A Life of Service; joint editor of and contributor to Women in War From Home Front to Front Line.She is a member of the International Churchill Society (ICS); the Biographers Club; the Gallipoli Association; the Western Front Association; The Douglas Haig Fellowship and is an honorary member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Tennessee Chapter of ICS.
Celia gives talks and lectures on Jean Hamilton and Gallipoli from her diaries; and the Churchills, including the inaugural lecture at the setting up of the Chartwell Branch of the International Churchill Society 2010; HRH The Duke of Kent and the importance of his charity work. She has spoken in England, Scotland, Hungary and the US.She lives in London and has been married for 50 years to John Lee, the biographer of General Sir Ian Hamilton.

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