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story.lead_photo.caption Author Jill Rose's mother spent nearly four weeks in 1943 nursing Prime Minister Winston Churchill back to health from a bout of pneumonia. Doris Miles chronicled it all in letters to her husband, which Rose has compiled into her book "Nursing Churchill." Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

On March 3, 1943, British Speaker of the House of Commons Edward Fitzroy died suddenly of pneumonia.

The 68-year-old Prime Minister Winston Churchill, also ill with pneumonia, was that same day on his way to a smooth recuperation at his country home.

"Nursing Churchill" author Jill Rose can't say for sure whether a different nursing staff would have made the difference for Fitzroy.

"One thing I do know is that Fitzroy did not have my mum," Rose said.

Rose's mother Doris Miles nursed Churchill through a bout of pneumonia in February and March 1943. She wrote about the whole experience — carefully avoiding using Churchill's name — in letters to her husband, Roger Miles, then a surgeon-lieutenant at sea with the Royal Navy.

"Somehow, Dad had kept these letters safe during all those months at sea, despite being torpedoed at least once," Miles said.

Like most children, Rose wasn't too interested in hearing about her parents' lives when she was growing up in London. Even the life of her uncle, Richard Miles, who also met Churchill and was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, hardly piqued her curiosity.

"You never think, 'Mom or Uncle or Grandma isn't going to be there forever,'" Rose said.

At age 22, Rose moved to the United States, later marrying and working as a computer programmer. It wasn't until 2001, 11 years after her father's death, that Rose learned of the cache of letters. Quite the history buff, Rose realized the letters could make a fascinating book. She asked Miles for permission to compile them into a book.

"Maybe you'd better wait 'til after I'm dead," Miles replied.

Rose waited 15 years until Miles passed away in 2016 to begin approaching publishers about her idea. Gaining the interest of Amberly Press, she worked for seven months adding historical context to her mother's letters. The resulting book, "Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill's Nurse," came out in 2018.

Rose visited the National Churchill Museum on Tuesday to share about her book and her family's history.

Nursing Churchill

The story properly begins in a note dated Feb. 21, 1943, from an unspecified address.

"You will observe from the somewhat cryptic address that I am not in my usual position, and certainly up beyond my usual bed-time," Miles wrote.

She'd been summoned by the matron at St. Mary's Hospital in London, where she worked as a nurse, and asked if she could go straightaway to a "very important case" under Churchill's personal physician.

"So along I came, and here I am my second night on, and by the looks of things the beginning of many nights," Miles wrote. "I can't say much now, but I'll let you know full details later. Put two and two together and you get V for Victory."

Churchill had recently been diagnosed with pneumonia. In a time before antibiotics were widely available or used, the condition killed many.

"The condition was particularly threatening to an overweight, sedentary, 68-year-old individual who drank far too much and was never without his signature Cuban cigars," Rose said.

And the timing could hardly be worse. In February 1943, they were in the depths of World War II; though the German forces had recently given up on conquering Russia, the Allied forces' victory was hardly ensured. The death of Churchill — or even widespread knowledge of his severe illness — could prove damaging and demoralizing.

As Churchill's daughter, Emma Soames, wrote in the Nursing Churchill foreword: "(The) drama without Nurse Miles's skills, could have had such a much worse outcome — not just for the Prime Minister personally and our family but for the whole Western World."

Churchill arrived at St. Mary's weak and running a 103-degree fever. As a top-of-her-class nursing graduate and winner of St. Mary's Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing, Miles was the natural choice as his nurse.

Miles would spend the next four weeks looking after Churchill day and night, first at the hospital and then at Churchill's country estate Chequers. She rubbed oil wintergreen into his scalp in the evenings (while Churchill sang music-hall songs), "cajoled" him into doing his hated breathing exercises, gave him his pills and tested his blood.

As in most areas of his life, Churchill was an idiosyncratic patient. Miles recorded his fluid intake chart, which was dominated by various forms of alcohol. The two chatted about everything from dreams to military strategy. He also jokingly awarded her bars for her nursing medal when pleased with her.

"A further bar was awarded for being able to find him some cold jellied consommé without having to wake anyone up, so I gather I'm approved of," Miles recorded.

Miles recalled Churchill treated her not as a nurse, but as an "intimate friend."

At the end of Churchill's recovery period, he presented Miles with a signed copy of his autobiography "My Early Life" and a signed portrait of himself. The latter remained on Miles' mantle for decades. Rose said that, if asked, Miles would maintain she had merely done her duty.

"She lived to be 100, and by the end had forgotten most of her life," Rose said. "The one thing she never forgot is she'd once been Churchill's nurse."

Nursing Churchill is available for purchase at the National Churchill Museum and online.

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