Our War Leaders in Peacetime - Attlee
Of all our political leaders the Prime Minister is, perhaps, the least ostentatious. No. 10 Downing Street is his London address, and Chequers, in Buckinghamshire, his country residence; but he was much more at home among his books in an ordinary house at Stanmore, on the outskirts of London.
Before he superseded Mr. Churchill as Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street, in July 1945 he travelled to Whitehall as often as not on the Underground, again as often as not smoking a pipe; back home in the evening he settled down for a quiet smoke and read. He sold his Stanmore house a few months ago, and today affairs of State cut right across his personal interests.
Before the war Attlee spent his week-ends playing tennis and golf. And if he did not excel at either he had the stamina to play a good hard-court game, and the eye and balance to be more than an average golfer. Now, after five years in the Cabinet, his golf and tennis have become rusty and he contents himself largely with home interests – when opportunity offers.
Newsreel and newspaper give the world details of the Prime Minister's public life; speeches, banquets, conferences. But his private life has escaped the public gaze, largely because it is so very “ordinary”. He enjoys the cinema, a game of cards, and a quiet evening with his wife – the fair-haired girl he married, Violet Millar, at a Hampstead church, 24 years ago. She is still his constant companion, but seldom appears in public life with him.
Janet, their eldest daughter, 22-years-old, is a Section Officer in the W.A.A.F. Martin, their 18-year-old son, comes home in Merchant Navy uniform when his ship docks in Britain. He wants to remain in the Merchant Service. Felicity, a year older, is training to be a nurse. The youngest of the family, 15-year-old Alison, is still at school. When all four children are home the Attlees have a simple and quiet celebration.
Reading is among the Prime Minister's favourite recreations. Ever since he went to Haileybury from his father's home in Putney, where he was born sixty-three years ago, he has been reading, mainly on social matters. His over-riding interest has always been the welfare of his fellow mortals. His father was a solicitor, and Attlee, a Barrister-at-Law specializing in Company Law, was doing well when in his early thirties he left the Bar for social work in London's Mile End slums. There he lived for several years, lecturing at Toynbee Hall and taking part in local government affairs.
The Attlees spend their time between London and the country. Weekdays find them in their self-contained flat at the top of No. 10 Downing Street. At week-ends Violet Attlee leaves a few hours before her husband to see that everything is shipshape at Chequers before he arrives for a little temporary relaxation.