Churchill’s Private Secretary
BRACKEN, Brendan [1901-58]. An important collection of eleven autograph signed letters to his mother, 1920-28, with a further four letters to [his brother?] Paddy, 1928-34, one incomplete letter to his mother, a telegram and some related items, also an attractive photographic portrait (worn) of Bracken’s mother and a Keogh portrait of a child (the young Brendan?).
Born in Templemore, Co.Tipperary, Bracken ran away from the Jesuit College in Mungret, and went to Australia for a time. In 1919 he went to Liverpool as a teacher, and later established himself as a journalist and newspaper proprietor in London. He became a Conservative MP and a supporter and close friend of Winston Churchill. He was Churchill’s parliamentary private secretary 1939-41, Minister for Information 1941-5 and First Lord of the Admiralty 1945, and was arguably the most influential person of Southern Irish birth throughout World War II. He was at various times co-proprietor of The Economist and Chairman of The Financial Times.
The letters give an excellent flavour of his personality, his early struggles and his rapid rise. The first, 20 June 1920, from a Liverpool school, mentions a financial loss and says ‘I have not been able to afford to go to [a doctor], or to even get my glasses changed .. I am in indifferent health and will soon be without a post as I am leaving here at the end of the term .. I do not feel like answering the taunts etc which I have received, & no useful purpose can therefore be served in endeavouring to convince you that I am other than you imagine. I will respect your evident wishes, that you do not desire to have any more to do with me .. [but] Should you desire to keep in touch I will do so .. ‘
Evidently the correspondence continued, because an undated letter (also from Liverpool) says he was very pleased to get her letter. He says he is thinking of going to Edinburgh for the winter session at the University, if he can get some kind of a post, ‘but there are so many hungry Scotchmen that I fear my chances are poor.’
On 15 February 1923, his 22nd birthday, now in London, he writes very warmly. ‘You have had many sorrows & difficulties in life, & for many years you have had to face them alone .. But you’ve surmounted them all, which is the great test of life .. Anything that I am able to do is altogether due to you ..’. A month later, ‘We are deep in an awful fight at Westminster and I think we are going to win .. We are fighting the three great parties .. & only Winston could pull it off. A good deal of attention here is directed to the Irish vote which may pull the fat out of the fire – it will I hope be given in Winston’s favour ..’ [this may relate to a by-election contest].
In August 1923, he is ‘off to Budapest next week .. Business is booming there and I am hoping to be appointed Trade Commissioner for Hungary in London. I will, of course, hold this job with the one I now hold. It ought to be worth a couple of thousand a year — not a bad sum to begin with ..’, and he talks about buying a small country house outside London if it goes ahead.
In November, writing on letterhead of The Illustrated Review, he is just back from Dublin, where he saw Nancy. ‘I was walking back to Yeats’ house [presumably WBY] when I ran in to her.’ A year later, November 1924, ‘I shall never be so happy as I was last week. Dear Winston became chancellor after two years of enforced absence from Parliament.’
Another remarkable letter, March 1925, thanks his mother for her offer of a sum of money, which however he cannot accept because he has no need of money. ‘I am filled with affection and admiration for the remarkable way you battled alone for us after Papa’s death. Your difficulties were immense, but they were less than your courage. The hardest troubles you had to bear came from me, & I am never likely to forget this fact ..’
The telegram, dated 31 May 1929, says simply ‘Won’. This must refer to Bracken’s election to Parliament as MP for North Paddington.
There is a play written by Tom Kilroy titled ‘Double Cross’ one half of which is about Brendan Bracken, the other half is about Lord Haw Haw, two Irishmen, both of whom turned their backs on Ireland.
* This is a highly important correspondence, particularly since Bracken’s personal papers were destroyed (on his instructions) after his death.
As a collection, w.a.f. (1)