One of world’s greatest statesmen in the last 100 years was perhaps one its worst backseat drivers, says a woman who drove him for several years.
Heather Sawula drove Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War and has many fond memories of the man who symbolized the British resistance to Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Sawula, now in her mid 80s, said this weekend Churchill had poor vision but thought he could see everything on the road.
“I drove him wherever he needed to go because he didn’t like driving and his eyesight wasn’t good enough,” said Sawula who now resides in a senior’s home in Aspen Ridge.
She drove him to the Houses of Parliament on most weekdays and to Chequers on some weekends.
Sawula admitted, with a sparkle in her eyes recalling the event, she “lied about my age” to get into the Royal Artillery.
She was then selected to drive Churchill, who was British prime minister during the war years from 1940-45. He later served another term as prime minister from 1951-55.
Sawula said she needed to get away from her home near Edinburgh, Scotland or else she would have been stuck “doing all the dishes and washing,” she laughed.
She was selected by her artillery regiment to be a driver for Churchill and other VIPs who included British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Churchill’s wife Mary.
“He (Montgomery) could hardly see either,” she laughed. “No wonder they needed me.
“I used to drive Mr. Churchill on shopping trips and the theatre into the city at times,” she said.
Sawula learned to be a top rate driver by driving her father around in Scotland because he also had poor vision.
“I don’t really know how I got selected. It must have been a lucky strike,” she laughed.
Sawula said Churchill would often try to tell her where to go and how fast.
“He would say you passed that car too quickly and I would tell him I’m the driver.”
She said on at least one occasion Churchill said he wanted to drive.
“I turned to him and pointed at my badge which said driver and that was that.”
Asked if Churchill talked much while in her vehicle Sawula responded: “He only complained about everything and everybody,” she laughed.
“He was a great man but I liked him because he was honest. He had a large family around him to help.
“He was a king . . . the king of hearts,” she added.
She said he didn’t talk in the car about the state of affairs or how the war was going. One time Churchill complained about her driving and offered her his glasses which were thick.
“I told him they wouldn’t fit.”
Sawula said she didn’t fell the pressure of being responsible for such an important person. “When you’re young you don’t feel that pressure.”
She met her husband of 60 years Stephen Sawula from Alberta who was in a Canadian artillery unit.
The couple married in 1945 in Scotland and returned to Central Alberta where Stephen became a prominent businessman and a member of various local organizations and charities. He died six years ago.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate