To Celia Sandys he was just the man she called Grandpapa, but to the rest of the world, he was Winston Churchill, the “British Bulldog,” an iconic figure whose courage and determination led England through one of its darkest times.
Sandys is a journalist, author and TV presenter who has written five books exploring different times of her famous grandfather’s life.
She came to Oklahoma State University on Tuesday to share a program called “Memories Of My Grandfather” that focuses on his human side.
“After the war, the only people who took Churchill completely for granted were his grandchildren,” Sandys said. “Even his children were in awe.”
She describes a private Winston Churchill who was a very different man than most people would expect. His own childhood was “rather bleak,” she said, and he wanted to make sure the children in his family had a cozy one.
Sandys says her grandfather loved all living creatures and one of her childhood memories is feeding the fish with him in his garden.
At one point, he expressed a desire to be buried at his country home in Kent next to his beloved poodles Rufus I and Rufus II, but was ultimately buried with his parents at St. Martin’s Church, near Blenheim Palace, his birthplace.
Sandys says Churchill didn’t actually think of himself as a politician, he thought of himself as a writer. He was known for his stirring oratory, especially during World War II.
In 1953 he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."
Sandys began writing about her grandfather 28 years after his death when she came into possession of a trunk filled with diaries and letters belonging to her grandfather, his nurse and her great-grandparents. Those documents would form the basis for her first book, “The Young Churchill.”
Since then, she has explored different periods of his life, including his adventures as a young war correspondent and soldier in South Africa during the Boer War. Those years inspired “Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive.”
During that time he displayed a characteristic confidence and sense of destiny.
“Bullets mean nothing to me,” he wrote to his mother. “I have faith in my star. I am meant to do something in this world.”
“Chasing Churchill,” in which she retraced her grandfather’s journeys around the world, was turned into a PBS documentary in 2008.
Sandys says much has changed since her grandfather’s time in politics. She sees a troubling lack of respect.
“I think he’d be very unhappy in what’s going on in the world because everything’s changed so much,” she said. “I think that the fact is change can be good but the way that politics are now, no, it hasn’t changed for the better. They seem so acrimonious and people are so rude to each other.
“… Now we seem to have an extreme left and an extreme right, not to mention Brexit, which has caused splits in families … The whole thing, I think, certainly in Britain is a mess and it doesn’t seem that you’re totally happy here so it seems to be everywhere: Problems, problems in Germany, problems in France, all over the place. I don’t know how we can resolve it, but I think he’d be very unhappy about it.”
Sandys now spends much of her time preserving her grandfather’s legacy and sharing stories few others are in a position to know.
He may have been her loving grandfather whose passion later in life was painting, but she doesn’t forget that he was also the legendary statesman known by the rest of the world.
She says England would likely be speaking German now if not for him.
“Without Winston Churchill the world would be a very different place,” Sandys said.