In the middle of the photo is a woman in a white dress with vertical pink red and blue stripes. She has short curly light brown hair, and is looking at a balding man in a beige trench coat. To her left, is a lady with dark grey short hair with glasses, a black shirt and blue blazer.
Elizabeth Nel (center) with Patrick Mackie and Edna Oram during her visit to Vernon in 1989.


With the passing of HRM Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, the Vernon Museum has turned to the memories of a Vernonite who was not only received by the Queen during a visit to Buckingham Palace, but also served as Winston Churchill’s personal secretary.

Elizabeth Nel, then Layton, with her class from St. Michael’s School for Girls in 1926. GVMA #13678.

A Vernon girl makes it big

Elizabeth Nel, born Layton, arrived in Vernon with her family in 1924; they had emigrated from Suffolk, England, on the advice of a physician who thought the climate might ease Elizabeth’s father’s tuberculosis. In Vernon, Elizabeth went to the St. Michael’s School for Girls and later attended secretarial school in London.

At the outbreak of World War Two, Elizabeth served with the Red Cross, but in 1941 was sent to work at Downing Street, where she met Churchill for the first time. Initially, she would only sit silently behind a typewriter while he dictated his speeches to her, but she quickly earned his respect; while attending the 1945 Yalta Conference in Crimea, Churchill proposed a toast “to Miss Layton” during a banquet in which she was the only woman present.


It is said that Churchill and Elizabeth wept together after his defeat in the 1945 election, and that they remained in contact even after she immigrated to South Africa with her husband Frans Nel, a South African soldier who had served with the British Eight Army.

Elizabeth was invited to Buckingham Palace in 1990 for the 50th Anniversary of Churchill becoming Prime Minister. In an oral history of her meeting with Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth Nel described sharing fond memories of Churchill with the Queen between appropriately-timed curtsies. She also related her embarrassment during this visit while speaking to Lord Louis Mountbatten, who told her a bawdy joke with left him in chuckles, and her exchanging uncomfortable glances with the Queen. 

Elizabeth Nel passed away in 2007.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts


Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator