Obituary: Mary Soames / Winston Churchill's last surviving child

Sept. 15, 1922 - May 31, 2014

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Mary Soames, the last surviving child of British World War II leader Winston Churchill, has died. She was 91.

Her son Nicholas Soames said she died Saturday evening after a short illness.

"She was a distinguished writer and led a distinguished life, with her service in the war, and is part of that generation which is passing," Nicholas Soames said Sunday.

He said it was "extraordinary timing" that Churchill's last remaining child died just before the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which is Friday.

"It is the great swing of history," he said.

Born Sept. 15, 1922, Mary Soames was the youngest of five children of Churchill and his wife, Clementine.

As her father led Britain's fight against Nazi Germany during World War II, she worked for the Red Cross at the age of 17.

At 18, she signed on with the Auxiliary Territorial Service, a women's military unit, serving in London, Belgium and Germany with anti-aircraft batteries.

She also accompanied her father on several overseas journeys, including the postwar planning conference in Potsdam, Germany, attended by President Harry S. Truman and Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

After the war, she married Conservative politician Christopher Soames, becoming Lady Soames when he was made a peer. He died in 1987.

Lady Soames wrote several books that provided an affectionate yet unsparing vision of her volatile, brilliant father and an intimate view of one of England's most prominent families.

"It's not my fault if my grandfather died of syphilis or my fault if my grandmother was very extravagant and liked marrying young men," she told an interviewer in 1982. "Each to their own."

She recalled her mother, Clementine, as "rather lonely" even as she coped with the needs of her children and the demands of Churchill's political life and wartime efforts.

"There was never any doubt ... as to who would be the winner of this contest -- Winston, both now and forever, would be Clementine's first priority -- before children, friends, and her own interests," Lady Soames wrote in "Family Album," a 1982 memoir.

She also wrote the highly regarded 1979 biography of her mother, "Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage."

Lady Soames' parents were married for nearly 60 years before her father's death in 1965. After somber state ceremonies, Clementine remarked to her daughter that the day, while long and trying, had also been a glorious one.

"You know, Mary, it wasn't a funeral," she said. "It was a triumph."

Lady Soames was also a patron of many nonprofit groups, including The Churchill Centre.

In 2005, she was appointed a Lady of the Garter by the Queen Elizabeth, according to The Churchill Centre. As her father had been appointed a Knight of the Garter, Lady Soames became part of the first non-royal father-daughter combination appointed to the United Kingdom's oldest order of chivalry, the center said in a press release about her death.

The center said Richard M. Langworth, the longtime editor of its "Finest Hour" publication, said: "A friend aptly suggested that 'she knew how to be the daughter of a great man.' In so doing, she achieved greatness herself."

She is survived by five children, including Nicholas, who is a Conservative member of Parliament.

Lexi Belculfine and the Los Angeles Times contributed.

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