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1938: Prime Minister's wife opens ward

Anne Vere Chamberlain

Shares Husband’s Secrets

Thousands of letters of appreciations were received at 10 Downing-street (says a News Chronicle's special correspondent). Most of them were for the Prime Minister, but in many the name of Mrs Chamberlain was coupled with his, and some were addressed to her alone. For, since the crisis started, Mrs Chamberlain, known till then to a comparatively small circle, has been taken to the heart of the British public.

The photographs in the newspapers have done it. Seeing the Prime Minister off, welcoming him on his return, walking with him in St. James's Park, looking serious, smiling happily - there is scarcely a photographic aspect of her with which the public is not familiar.

Half Irish

But they would like to know what she is like, as well as what she looks like.

She is half-Irish, and has the blue eyes, humour, and unconventionality of that race. She is 'homely' and quite willing to admit that she can cook. Once, when being shown a scheme for opening of doors by pressing a knob with a foot, she said she would introduce the idea into Downing Street.

'So that when I am cooking dinner for about 40 people I don't need not stoop to open the oven. Then I shall turn on the wireless and forget about everything till the dinner is cooked.'

Her hearers - working women - felt it was necessary to assume she was joking but it is a fact that she thinks every woman ought to know how to cook, and she takes a close interest in the meals at No 10.

She likes 'good' music, often goes to concerts, and plays the piano well. Another accomplishment - -rare among wives of keen fisherman – is it we can talk about fishing, and even listen to others talking about fishing.

She 'can keep a secret'

She enjoys taking photographs, walking in the country, reading, talking on all kinds of subjects, and has the reputation of being one of the best listeners in London - a quality largely responsible, no doubt, for her marked success as a hostess.

She can keep a secret, 'My wife,' said the Prime Minister not long ago, 'has shared all my plans, and has been privy to all my secrets. She has never done divulge one.' And here is another tribute to her:

'She has rejoiced in my successes; she has encouraged me in my disappointments; she has guided me with her counsel; she has warned me off dangerous courses; she has never allowed me to forget the humanity that underlies all politics.'

She has one grievance. When she married Mr Chamberlain in 1911, she was Miss Annie Vere Cole, linked on her mother's side with the De Veres, of Curragh Chase. The grievance is that she prefers to be called Anne, but the prime minister insists on Annie.

When she scored

She scored when a ward of a new women's infirmary at Cuckfield was called the 'Ann Chamberlain Ward'. At the opening she said now I have a new baptism and henceforth I am Ann.' She is a grandmother though few who meet her will believe it. Her daughter married Mr Stephen Lloyd of Birmingham, three years ago. They have two children. Mrs Chamberlain's son, Mr Francis Neville Chamberlain, is 24. After leaving Cambridge he joined ICI metals Ltd, Birmingham. He is a gunner in the Territorials.


Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 2 Dec 1938, P9

Photograph: Portrait of Anne Vere Chamberlain (née Cole) (1883–1967) Wikimedia public domain image.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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