Elizabeth Layton Nel wasn't Winston Churchill's only secretary, of course. Over the years, there were countless women who typed for him. But there was another young woman who worked for him During World War II, Marion Holmes.
I particularly love the story where Churchill couldn't remember her name and an aide said, "Holmes — like Sherlock." And then he began to call her "Miss Sherlock."
Marion Holmes didn’t write a memoir, but her quotations in Tim Clayton and Phil Craig’s book Finest Hour and the BBC-TV series of the same name were incredibly helpful. When I write that Mr. Churchill calls Miss Hope “Miss Holmes” by mistake, that’s an allusion to Marion Holmes.
In fact, according to her diary, Winston Churchill once referred to Miss Holmes as Miss Hope: “He went straight into dictating and I took it down on the silent typewriter. ‘Here you are’ — he still didn't look at me. I took the papers, he reached for more work from his dispatch box and I made for the door. Loud voice: ‘Dammit, don’t go. I’ve only just started.’ He then looked up. ‘I am so sorry. I thought it was Miss Layton. What is your name?’ ‘Miss Holmes.’ ‘Miss Hope?’ ‘Miss Holmes.’ ‘Oh.’ ”
When I read this exchange, I knew I’d found the last name of my heroine.
I was never able to speak with Miss Holmes, who passed in 2001, but Mrs. Nel assured me that they’d had quite the adventure accompanying Mr. Churchill to Russia together.