Churchill's Blitz siren suit put up for auction
Vanessa Thorpe and John Vincent
The Observer, Sunday 10 November 2002 / http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/nov/10/artsandhumanities.politics
The image of Sir Winston Churchill seated at his desk, wearing his famous 'siren suit' and smoking a cigar, is one of the most potent of the Second World War. The pinstriped grey wool suit, designed by Churchill himself and worn during long nights spent working through air raids, is now to be sold for the first time - along with a half-smoked cigar.
They will come under the hammer next month at Sotheby's in
as part of an unusual cache of
Churchill memorabilia. The siren suit - expected to fetch up to £25,000 - was
made to keep the Prime Minister comfortable during his long working hours in
the early 1940s. Generously cut, with breast pockets and roomier pockets to the
side, it had fold-over cuffs and pleats to the trouser fronts. It was clearly a
favourite: when it tore at the front, Churchill went to the trouble of having a
large patch inexpertly sewn on to the chest. Small splashes of red on the
trousers suggest he may also have worn it while indulging in his hobby:
The suit was worn again by Churchill in the 1950s during sittings for the sculptor Oscar Nemon, the artist most associated with his likeness.
Nemon admired the suit so much that Churchill gave it to him as a keepsake and it was used by the sculptor in several commissioned works. The distinctive collar features on busts and statues of the wartime leader at
Castle, Churchill's former home,
Chartwell, and Paris, Monaco
and . Kansas City
Nemon treasured the suit and kept it folded between sittings. It has never been dry-cleaned and is extremely well preserved.
'It remains more or less as worn by Churchill,' said a Sotheby's spokeswoman on Friday. 'It preserves the impression and contours of his body to a remarkably evocative extent.'
A half-smoked cigar that Nemon kept as a souvenir from one of Churchill's sittings is expected to fetch up to £700. Both suit and cigar are being sold by Dr Alice Nemon-Stuart to fund the refurbishment of her father-in-law's studio.
'He really treasured this suit,' she said. 'It was designed by Churchill to retain a degree of formality while being comfortable at the same time. He was working incredibly long hours and wore it while working during the air raids, hence the name siren suit.'
Nemon, who died in 1985, felt the suit was a part of Churchill and of the wartime experience.
At the same sale, the revolver and whisky flask carried by Churchill following his escape from a Boer prison are expected to fetch up to £150,000. Churchill was captured while covering the Boer War as a correspondent for the Morning Post, but he escaped by climbing the prison wall.
A batch of letters included in the sale are expected to go for more than £200,000. They include a rare childhood letter from Churchill to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill. It reads: 'Darling Mummy. One line to tell you I am well - working - happy tho' tired - I am getting on all right and am learning lots each day. I now send you my youthful love...' Sold singly, it should fetch up to £12,000.