MEMORIES OF DAVID LLOYD GEORGE - By Jennifer Longford
This article is based on a talk given at a meeting of the Lloyd George Society held at Llanwyrtd Wells, Powys in February 2001.
It is copyright and no part of it may be reproduced without the permission of the author or the Society. It was first published by the Society as one of four papers delivered at the weekend school of 9-10 February 2001.
What I am going to talk about is the last 15 years of Lloyd George's life from 1930 to 1945. It was not a twilight. The 15 years, except for the last few months, were packed with action and with hopes and planning for the future. He wrote a large number of books, the six volumes of the War Memoirs among them, but he wrote not only to put the record straight, but chiefly so that we could avoid in the future the mistakes of the past. He travelled a great deal and he had discussions with many people of interest, including Gandhi and Hitler. At the same time he created a one thousand acre farm out of land that been thought of as almost impossible to cultivate. He irrigated, improved the land and on it he grew hundreds of acres of fruit, and bred pigs and poultry.
Where do I fit in the story of the last 15 years? In the late 1920s, he became temporarily discouraged about his political future. Among other things, it was the beginning of a time of serious illness. So he thought he would allow his long-term mistress, Frances Stevenson , to have the baby she longed for. She was 40 in 1928 and in previous years she had had at two abortions to protect him from scandal. But now, perhaps, it would not matter so much, as long as she never claimed that the child was his, and neither of them ever did make such a claim.
He died when I was 15 and until then no one had ever suggested that I was his child. Afterwards I was aware that people thought I might be, but my mother kept her counsel until her own death 27 years later, though just before she died she wrote me a curious, ambiguous, letter which may have been meant to acknowledge that the father she mentioned was LG. However for the whole of the 27 years she stuck to her story that she had had an affair with another man, Colonel Tweed, one of LG's political advisers who was already married. Sometimes she even claimed to have married him, though it is certain that their affair never led to marriage, and when she showed me the certificate of her marriage in Guildford Register Office in 1943, the certificate referred to David Lloyd George as a widower and to Frances Stevenson as a spinster.
For the 10 days after Christmas 1928, LG had been intending to be on holiday with his family but he was not well, and he spent the time with my mother at Bron-y-de at Churt. He then joined his wife and children. Before he left, my mother said she suspected that she was pregnant and would send him a covert message if that proved to be the case. A little later she sent him a telegram saying, "The parcel we were expecting has arrived."
My mother spent much of her pregnancy in France, where she had relatives, but returned to England for the birth, as things did not go very well, and LG trusted English doctors more than French ones. I was born on October 4th 1929. As they had agreed, neither of them ever claimed that I was LG's child. On the advice of a solicitor, my mother officially adopted me. I spent my first few months being looked after by a "minder" who cared for several other children as well. Then I lived for four years in a house my mother had bought in Worplesdon about 20 miles from Bron-y-de, but frequently visited them there. Early in 1935 I moved into a house called Avalon that my mother had built a mile from Bron-y-de, and I visited them there daily when I was not at school.
LG was a philanderer; that one cannot deny, but his relationship with his two wives was different. He married Margaret in the year in which my mother was born. His wife was always referred to in my hearing as Dame Margaret, as she had been made a Dame before I was born. My mother became LG's mistress in 1912, and his second wife in 1943, two years after Dame Margaret's death in 1941.
You could say that he had a Welsh wife and an English wife. Caernarfonshire and Westminster were a great deal further apart, in terms of the time it took to go from one to the other than they are now. The Welsh wife looked after the constituency, his children, and occasionally, reluctantly, she visited London.
My mother was his English wife. She was actually half Scottish, a quarter French, and a quarter Italian - which makes her typically English. She was interested in politics and personalities and was able to advise and encourage him in a way that he appreciated.
I never heard him make a complimentary remark in my mother's presence about Dame Margaret and presumably he did not make any complimentary remarks about my mother to Dame Margaret. I am quite sure that Dame Margaret never heard him make any kind remarks about us. It is a quite remarkable thing that he kept two wives happy, most of the time concurrently, one for more than 50 years, the other for more than 30. Many people have difficulty in keeping just one wife happy for less time. But both wives were prepared to put him first, and in fact he insisted on that explicitly and without embarrassment. He was not a feminist!
My mother kept to the bargain she had made when he said she could have a child, but must not claim that it was his. In fact, she did have an affair with another man, and no one will ever know if this was a betrayal of LG or a rather extreme attempt to provide a cover if a scandal seemed to be in the offing. Oddly enough it never was.
So I called LG "Taid" (Grandfather). He was 66 when I was born, and I knew that he was not my grandfather, but he was the perfect grandfather-figure. He had responsibility for my discipline or day-to-day care, but he would spend as much time as he wanted or could spare on educating and entertaining me; and in fact the two were very often the same thing. When I was at home he took me on his daily visits to them farm and we had lunch together. He talked to me as if I was an adult. Most people did not, but I found it agreeable to be talked to in this way. He entertained me by telling me about the books and music that he liked. When I was 8 he took me to Stratford to see my first Shakespeare play - The Merry Wives of Windsor - appropriately enough. The following year he took me to London to see Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeomen of the Guard. His favourite of the Savoy Operas was Iolanthe with its parody of both Houses of Parliament, much of which he taught me at a very early age.
He also took my mother and me to Paris with him in 1938, partly so that he could have talks with Leon Blum and partly in order to show me the places that were important to him. We went to Les Invalides, where Napoleon is buried. He was a great admirer of Napoleon, the foreign upstart who had risen to the top of his world. In Les Invalides, there was the death mask of Clemenceau that was as important to him as the tomb of Napoleon. Clemenceau had disliked LG intensely, but that never worried him. LG admired his ferocity as well as his cleverness. LG could take on his enemies with enthusiasm and humour. It was people whom he had thought were his friends, only to find out later that they were not, whom he could not forgive for what he regarded as betrayals.
He read widely. He had a phenomenal memory for what he had read, and when and where he had read it. For light reading his preferences were Dickens and for Wild West stories especially Zane Grey . He infected me with his love for Dickens but I totally failed to appreciate Zane Grey though I enjoyed Wild West films. He had a large library built at the end of the living room in Bron-y-de and showed films there every Saturday evening, first a Western after which I went to bed. This was normally followed by an adult film. The only adult film I was allowed to stay up for was Proud Valley starring Paul Robeson, about an accident in a coalmine in South Wales. I continued to have nightmares about it for several years.
During the 1930s, one of LG's main occupations was the writing of the War Memoirs, six volumes of them. He had two purposes in writing them. One was, as he said, that many other people had written their versions of what had happened. He said that his shelves were groaning under the weight of books about the warm but no one else had seen it from start to finish in such detail, or from his perspective. The other and more important reason was from that 1933 onwards it seemed clear that we were approaching another war, and were approaching it with far too much complacency. We won last time didn't we? So of course we would win again! This was an attitude which appalled LG. He never, ever, thought of our having won the war, only of Germany having lost it. They lost it because they made more mistakes than we did, but only just. Two mistakes in particular were that the generals had more power than the politicians and that morale became low among German civilians. Wives and parents were writing to men at the front saying that they were cold and hungry and that everything was going wrong. In contrast, morale in Britain remained high and this was to a great extent due to LG himself, just as it was due to Churchill in the war which followed. But, almost up to the last minute in 1918 it was touch and go who would win. We were lucky that the Germans made so many mistakes, not clever ourselves that we did not. We might not win a second time and it was necessary to say so.
The memoirs were not written to justify himself. He could admit that we could make mistakes and that even he himself had made mistakes, but I think he always thought that his mistakes were due to his having been overrules by someone else. And the greatest mistake he made, in my view, was in allowing his dislike of party politics to let the Liberal Party slide into division and disarray. Asquith had considerable responsibility for this, but LG's 'coupon election' was a disaster for the Liberal Party. Basically it was LG's contempt for the machinations of political parties that never really allowed him to use them to get back into power. He had plenty of good ideas that he would have liked to have seen put into practice but he lacked a party to support him.
It must also be said that he made a mistake over Hitler. He admired him for having achieved in Germany some of the things LG would have like to see in England, the ending of unemployment for example, LG had written a book called "We can Conquer Unemployment" and the building of a road system which anticipated needs, rather than as always in Britain, tried to catch up with them. He also, I think, felt some regret, not guilt, for the way in which the Peace Treaties had been administered, so that Germany had been in a sense forced to become once again a threat to its neighbours. But because he liked Hitler personally and approved of some of his actions, he did turn a blind eye to what was being done to the Jews. He was told some about some unpleasant events but he would not confront them and talked instead, to me anyway, about the harm done to the economies of industrial countries by the power of international Jewry. He saw it, I think, much as many people see the power of multi-nationals today. But the persecution of ordinary people in Germany, which in normal circumstances would have roused his most active sympathy, was a matter to which he certainly turned a blind eye. This was a serious fault, it must be admitted.
And this is perhaps the point at which to discuss his attitude to politics in general. He went into politics out of a passionate concern for the under-privileged, the poor, the sick and those unable to stand up for themselves. He felt that only through politics could the wrongs done to such people be put right and it was always his first concern, his overriding interest. He was ambitious but ambitious to bring about changes which would help ordinary people. He was always prepared to work with rich and powerful people who had the same interests at heart but he had nothing but contempt for people who thought that having more money, land and titles made them of greater value than other people and entitled them to do nothing for others. He felt as much contempt for them as they had for "this little upstart from Wales". They were prepared to flatter him but in their view he was not 'one of us' and indeed he was glad not to be.
It is true that he accepted an earldom in the end. There were plenty of people who felt this was a great disappointment - that after all his gibes at the House of Lords, he had ended by joining them. At that time there were no "life peers". He would have been a great deal happier if he had not been forced to found a dynasty. But the facts are these. In the autumn of 1944 [aged 81] he was seriously ill and he was told he would not be able to fight another election. He did not know that he was dying. He certainly did not know that he would be dead before the next election, only that one was in the offing and that he would not be able to take part in it. By this time he had moved to Llanystumdwy. He was living in a beautiful Queen Anne house, Ty Newydd, which had been converted by Clough Williams Ellis to give a splendid room with a view over the mountains - the room in which he was to die a few months later. He resigned his seat in the Commons. He had represented the same constituency for 54 years. He was dejected and depressed.
I was at boarding school and I arrived home for the Christmas holidays to find Taid at the point of death. Then, on January 1st 1945, he became a member of the Houses of Parliament again! He had accepted an earldom with every prospect of taking part in parliamentary debates. In fact, he never did for he died at the end of March. But for those three months he had renewed hope, even renewed health. The change on the first of January was like a miracle. People blamed my mother for his accepted an earldom and many vituperative letters were written. She would have been perfectly happy to have remained Mrs Lloyd George.
I have not yet spoken much about his Welshness. There are recordings of his voice with a gentle Welsh lilt and it should never be forgotten that he has so far been the only British Prime Minister for whom English was not his first language. In all his years in Parliament he always had a Welsh-speaking secretary. During the First World War when he was Prime Minister and visiting the western front in France he could telephone directly to his Welsh-speaking secretary in London and the Germans found this an impenetrable code. He told gentle jokes about Welsh preachers, Welsh farmers and Welsh politicians.
He did not know that he was going to die when he left Bron-y-de in 1944 but he bought Ty Newydd intending to settle there, in the country where he planned to be buried on the banks of the River Dwyfor. He wanted to spend eternity hearing the sound of the river, more a romantic than a theological concept. He certainly did not want to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
When he died on March 26th 1945, I myself was standing at the end of his bed. My mother was on his left with the doctor. Megan was on his right. Gwilym and Olwen were both a little further away. It was all very peaceful. His breaths came further and further apart and suddenly no breath at all.
The funeral was on Good Friday, April 1st 1945. The war was still on and there was very little transport public or private, but eight thousand people made their way to the banks of the Dwyfor. They beautifully and with a full heart, the Welsh hymns that he had grown up with and always loved. Clough Williams Ellis, the architect who had built Port Meirion and had designed the lovely room in which LG died, made a beautiful and simple monument around the site of the grave and thousands of people visit it every year.
People have asked me how I think he would like to be remembered. I am sure that he would wish to be remembered as someone who cared more for the under-privileged than for the great and comfortable, more for the poor than for the rich; more for other people than for himself.
But I do think he would also like to be remembered for the things he did not have a chance to do. He initiated the Welfare State and he brought in the Old Age Pension using his magnificent energy and his skill at manipulating people so they did what he wanted. He hated war and minded about every casualty. There was no triumphalism in his attitude after the war was over, only infinite regret that it had been necessary.
If there had been no war, he might well have become a great reforming Prime Minister bringing in measures that had to wait another thirty years. It was a tragedy for him and the country as a whole that he did not have the opportunity to accomplish all that he had hoped to achieve.