Winston Churchill’s last secretary recalled his love of animals

Winston Churchill and his dog, Rufus, at Chartwell in 1950

Winston Churchill is well-known for many things including his love of animals. He loved cats and dogs and budgerigars! His last secretary was Doreen Pugh. She did all kinds of things for him including secretarial duties during the last 10 years of his life. After Churchill’s 90th birthday in November 1964, Doreen Pugh was on leave but she was called back and she was with Churchill during the last days of his life.

Winston Churchill and his dog, Rufus, at Chartwell in 1950

Winston Churchill and his dog, Rufus, at Chartwell in 1950. Photo: in public domain and on Reddit.com

She said that Lady Churchill sat with him “sweetly for so long, and the cat on the end of the bed”. It seems that Churchill’s cat was on the end of his bed while he died or at least during those last days. He died on January 24, 1965.

Doreen Pugh recalled that on one occasion Churchill was working and painting in France. You may know that Churchill was a very decent painter whose paintings today fetch large sums of money. At the time he had a budgie called Toby. He decided that it would be good if Toby had a chance to meet another budgie. It was against the rules for visiting birds presumably in France to meet another bird like this. But Churchill was an eccentric and wasn’t that concerned with the rules! When he hired Doreen Pugh, no checks were done other than the standard interview. How times have changed.

Churchill took his budgerigar on car journeys and allowed Toby to be out of his cage during these journeys. She recalled Toby “fussing about and chewing edges of papers and generally enjoying himself”. He found a local man in France to bring over some young virgin budgies for Toby to meet!

Winston Churchill pets a cat, 24th May 1952

Winston Churchill pets a cat, 24th May 1952. Image in the public domain.

On another occasion Churchill fretted over a tank of tropical fish. He was concerned that they were treated properly and “that the right thing happen to them and it was arranged that they should go to the zoo”.

There are many stories of Churchill and his animals and his love for them. These are just little vignettes of his life with animals. There are two more articles about Churchill and cats below. You can access them by clicking on the links.

Postscript: in case you wondered whether it was he or someone else who wrote his wonderful speeches, I think I can confirm that he always wrote them himself. This is because Doreen Pugh was always typing up his speeches as there was a continual demand for them. He would dictate at speed and on one occasion she was asked to take a typewriter with her on a car journey while he dictated. It was a heavy typewriter and difficult to operate in a moving vehicle but he helped by turning “the paper and handing me the pencils and rubbers”. He was a kind man and he liked to tease and make jokes. He had a mischievous nature.

I am able to write this article because of The Times obituary on Doreen Pugh MBE today. She died in July 17, 2021 aged 96. She was born on May 31, 1925.