Thursday, 22 May 2014

Wiston Churchill's Siren Suit ...

The siren suit is a one-piece garment for the whole body which is easily put on or taken off, originally designed for use on the way to and in air-raid shelters. The suit solved the problems of warmth and modesty encountered when seeking shelter during nighttime air raids in the United Kingdom during World War II. It was roomy and could be put on over night clothes quickly when an imminent air raid was announced by the sirens.

The suit was worn by both children and adults when sheltering in either back garden or public shelters.
Similar in style to boilersuits worn by many workers including mechanics, brick layers and tank crews to protect their standard clothing, the siren suit was invented by Churchill as an original leisure suit in the 1930s. He played a large part in popularizing it as an item of clothing during World War II, wearing it regularly, including when meeting other important people such as U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Dwight Eisenhower and Stalin.

The advantages of clothing that could be easily and quickly put on over other clothing led to the adoption of this style of suit during the war by many who were forced to leave their homes to seek shelter during air raids. That these raids were announced by the sound of sirens led to the adoption of their name.

Cut loose, with zippered and button closures, a belt and large simple pockets, siren suits were made of many fabrics but most typically wool or other materials available under clothing rationing. Suits could be bought ready made  or as a pattern from which they could be hand made with available fabrics.

Some suits had a panel at the back that opened to allow the wearer to use the toilet while still wearing the suit.

Winston Churchill was a famous wearer, having a pin stripe version which he wore during the war years and then for portraits by Oscar Nemon and Frank O. Salisbury after the war in the 1950s. Another suit, made of bottle-green velvet, was created for him by Turnbull & Asser. It is also claimed that Austin Reed made a suit for him. One of his suits was sold in 2002 for £29 875

These suits form a common motif in descriptions of war-time childhoods.

Churchill's Blitz siren suit put up for auction
Vanessa Thorpe and John Vincent

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 London 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: painting.

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 Windsor 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.

Five years ago Sotheby's sold a car used by Churchill during the Second World War - a 1938 Austin 10HP - for £66,000, 11 times its estimated value.

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