“…it wasn’t a funeral – it was a Triumph”
– Clementine Churchill –
Churchill in his Garter robes – Vogue
My great-grandmother Clementine’s private comment before retiring to bed on the evening of her husband’s funeral, echoed the thoughts of many. Although a sombre occasion where heads were bowed and tears flowed freely, the service at St Paul’s Cathedral was a reflection not of sadness, but of a great life lived and a great service performed. The tributes of the thousands who lined the streets along the route, and an estimated 350 million people watching on televisions at home, was summed up beautifully in those simple words, at that time unheard outside the Churchills’ London home, but later echoed by Carolyn Bennett Patterson, Assistant Editor for National Geographic. ‘They called it a funeral. However it was also, in truth, a triumph,’ she wrote in her editorial. ‘…the spectacle of a nation, a family of nations, not bowed in grief but standing, taller than life, in proud salute to the memory of a man.’
You can shed a tear that [he] is gone
Or you can smile because [he] has lived
The final days of my great-grandfather’s life had been hard, not just on the family, but on the nation as well. ‘…he belonged as much to others as he belonged to us,’ Great-Aunt Mary wrote in her biography: Clementine Churchill. ‘…we were only a small part of the laying-to-rest of Winston Churchill.’
Kings, Queens, Princes, Presidents, Chancellors and Prime Ministers from 111 nations were to attend Great-Grandpapa’s funeral. Despite the bitterly cold and gloomy weather, the streets, with crowd-barriers erected on either side to protect the procession of mourners, buzzed with activity. Many of those lining the pavements had been there overnight, ensuring the best spot to pay tribute as Sir Winston’s coffin, to be borne on a gun carriage, and slow-marched on his final journey along the very familiar streets he had travelled, and past the many buildings he had worked in. Outside Westminster Hall, a crowd of journalists waited patiently, and soon after 9am the family arrived. ‘It seemed that time stood still in the Palace Yard,’ the Sunday Express reporter recalled.
…there was a time when he was described as the most hated man in England – but we never had cause to mistrust him; like them or loathe them, his principles did not budge. For this alone he was respected and sometimes very greatly loved.
At 9:45am, Big Ben sounded the third-quarter and was then silenced for the remainder of the day. As the bitter east wind blew, eight Grenadier guardsmen, bearing Sir Winston’s coffin on their shoulders, emerged from the building where Churchill had served his nation as a Member of Parliament for over half-a-century. Hatless and dressed in long grey coats, their colours enhanced the beauty of the Union Flag, draped over the Blenheim oak coffin, atop bearing his Knight of the Garter accoutrements. “How can I accept the Order of the Garter,” Churchill protested when first offered the honour after his election defeat in 1945, – “when the people of England have just given me the Order of the Boot?” However, the love he had for his queen forced him, at her insistence, to later accept the honour. Her Majesty, although a monarch of tradition, follows more the spirit of tradition than the rigidity of tradition itself, and this was proven on January 30, 1965, when, against all protocol, she attended the funeral of a commoner.
As the cortège moved off from Westminster Hall, the first of a 90-gun salute boomed across London from St. James’s Park, a salute to every year Sir Winston had been with us. The black-draped, muffled drums began to beat to the majestic music of Handel’s Dead March. Immediately behind the gun carriage walked ten of the Churchill-men. Led by his son, Randolph and grandson Winston. His son-in-law Christopher Soames, and my father, Julian, followed. Behind them walked my cousin, Churchill’s grandson Nicholas, beside, his grandson-in-law Piers, then his grandson Jeremy, and nephew Major John Churchill. His great-nephew Peregrine and Private Secretary Anthony Montague Browne took up the rear, and they were followed by five of the Queen’s carriages, in the first of which sat a heavily veiled Clementine, accompanied by Sarah and Mary. Sir Winston once said, “Strength is granted to us all when we are needed to serve great causes.” And today, on one of the hardest occasions of my great-grandmother’s life, strength was indeed needed and granted.
Grey-coated Guardsmen accompanied white-helmeted Royal Marines, brass-helmeted Household Brigade, blue-jacketed sailors, and the RAF., all moved in precision of 65 steps a minute. Across London the processional music blared out and Field Marshall Montgomery, sadly too ill to travel from Africa to attend his friend and former comrade’s funeral, must have smiled while listening to the events in London, as he recalled the conversation he had had with Great-Grandpapa over the amalgamation of his old regiment, the 4th Hussars:
CHURCHILL: What about the Army’s horses?
MONTGOMERY: Some would remain.
CHURCHILL: What about the bands?
MONTGOMERY: You know, Winston, you are an extraordinary chap. I come to tell you about your old regiment and you talk about the horses and the bands.
CHURCHILL: I want to make sure I get a good funeral.
Every step of the way, the bands played a variety of well-known pieces. Had he been there, I feel sure that Great-Grandpapa would have enjoyed the occasion, and no doubt with a cigar in one hand and a flute of champagne in the other. “We must just KBO,” (Keep Buggering On), was one of his favourite phrases when facing hard times, and the words would have been very apt for the day.
“He was a warrior, and party debate was a war,” Prime Minister Harold Wilson told the House of Commons. “…he brought to that war the conquering weapon of words fashioned for their purpose – to wound, never to kill; to influence, never to destroy.”
‘It might be that we will not in the future speak of a Churchillian Era as we refer to the Victorian Era.’ Alan Moorehead wrote for Life Magazine, ‘But this man built a permanent bridge between those days and the present. He made far more impact on his times than any of his distinguished contemporaries.’
It was a feeling shared around the globe. The impact that Churchill had had, especially during the dark years of the Second World War, kept Britain alive and secured the freedom of every nation that fell under the untenable influence of the Nazis. “I have achieved a great deal, only to achieve nothing in the end,” Churchill lamented on his death-bed. To the end, Great-Grandpapa refused to acknowledge the inseparable and most vital role he played both before and during the war years. However the “nation and race dwelling all-round the globe,” that he instead praised for the actions and result, clearly disagreed. ‘Because amidst catastrophe,’ wrote poet Patience Strong, ‘he shone out like a burning tower.’
We stood beside him in the dark and lived with him our finest hour.
Upon his giant’s back he bore the burden of our destiny
And Time upon his name has set the mark of immortality.
The procession passed the Treasury Building, where Churchill had served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Ministry of Munitions followed. There, in 1917, Churchill had pushed through the final paperwork for the development of the one weapon that, nearing the end of the First World War, had had more impact on the general victory than any other: the tank. The Colonial Office was next, followed by the Home Office where, during the Battle of Sidney Street, Churchill firmly refused to negotiate with the criminals who held-off the police with rifles. He was widely criticised for allowing the building to burn and for stopping the fire brigade from attacking the flames. It was, however, a demonstration Hitler should have taken note of when complaining to the German people that Churchill had stubbornly refused his offers of peace. Churchill did not negotiate with criminals.
Next on the journey to St Paul’s was the War Office, whom Churchill had worked for as a British soldier, and on becoming Prime Minister in May 1940, was combined with the office of the King’s First Minister, to ensure he kept abreast of the to-the-minute details. This, followed by Downing Street, outside of which stood the Cenotaph war memorial, ‘Near [which],’ Great-Aunt Mary recalled, ‘we noticed the crowding banners and faces deeply marked by emotion of the French Resistance groups.’
As Great-Grandpapa’s coffin passed through Trafalgar Square, overlooked by one of his greatest heroes; Admiral Lord Nelson, the crowds rose in respect and one paper reported that occasionally a baby’s cry broke the silence.
‘That he died is unimportant, for we must all pass away,’ former secretary Grace Hamblin recalled. ‘That he lived is momentous to the destiny of decent men.’ She continued her tribute, writing, ‘He is not gone. He lives wherever men are free.’ This is true even today. When leaders of countries around the world speak of freedom, they often quote Great-Grandpapa.
He had no fear of anything, moral or physical. There was sincerity, truth and integrity…There was forgiveness, warmth, affection, loyalty and, perhaps most important of all in the demanding life we all lived, there was humour, which he had in abundance
Michael Christiansen, a former editor for the Sunday Mirror, was on Fleet Street as the procession passed-by. ‘It was no surprise to Editors to be telephoned at midnight and be asked in that familiar rasp: “What is happening in the world?”’ he recalled. “What are you doing with my speech in your paper?” was Churchill’s real question. “What comment are you making on it?” Conscious of the profound responsibility upon him, Great-Grandpapa wanted to ensure that his words were clearly understood in their context. “You must remember,” he once told a reporter, “I have always made my living by my pen and by my tongue.” Never was a truer statement made, and “One mark of a great man,” he said, “is the power of making lasting impressions upon people he meets.” Whether one knew Churchill personally, or not, those who lived through the five years of the Second World War would all agree, he made a ‘lasting impression upon’ everyone.
As the procession moved up Ludgate Hill, the imposing view of St Paul’s Cathedral came into focus. Inside, Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family along with the 3,000 attending heads of State and other guests, waited patiently for the man of the hour to enter. As the pallbearers appeared at the West entrance the congregation rose. ‘Ahead of us,’ Great-Aunt Mary later recalled, ‘swaying gently, went the shoulder-high coffin, and there seemed to stretch before us a limitless vista of pale blue carpet.’ As the procession moved up the Nave, the choir sang out Biblical quotations from the Gospel of John, from Job, and Timothy.
The coffin was gently laid on a catafalque in the chancel, and the family took their seats on the right. ‘Of all the great ceremonies of national mourning I have attended,’ wrote John Gordon for the Sunday Express, ‘this will be to me for ever the unique and unforgettable one.’
Once the family was seated, the organ sounded and the congregation rose and sang one of Great-Grandpapa’s favourite hymns; He Who Would Valiant Be. As they sang inside, the crowds outside, listening on transistor radios, joined in, as did many watching at home. ‘We prayed for his great mortal soul,’ John Gordon wrote.
We gave thanks in moving words for the memorable services he rendered to his country and to the cause of freedom. We praised his dauntless resolution and untiring vigilance, his courage and his endurance. And we committed his soul into the hands of God with the same confidence that we committed our own fortunes to him in our days of trial.
Following the opening prayers, the organ again began to play. A smile must have appeared on President Eisenhower’s face as the familiar notes of The Battle Hymn of The Republic, rang out. At the close of the service, while the procession moved off, the President spoke to the BBC, saying that Winston Churchill was “the epitome of the British in their defiance of threat.” He ended his broadcast, with the sincerity of familiarity, saying: “And now to you, Sir Winston, my old friend, farewell.”
Sir Robert Menzies, former Prime Minister of Australia, summed-up the general feeling of all saying:
There was nobody like him in our lifetimes. Someday, some year, there will be old men and women whose pride it will be to say ‘I lived in Churchill’s time.’ Some will be able to say ‘I knew him and talked with him and was his friend.’ This I can, with a mixture of pride and humility, say for myself.
Once outside, Great-Grandpapa’s coffin was again placed on the gun carriage. Accompanied by the military escort and family mourners, the procession walked to Tower Pier where the launch, Havengore, was moored. The weather was grey over the Thames, but as his body was piped on-board, sunlight broke through the clouds and gave an almost metallic shine to the water below. The Tower guns fired a 19-gun salute and the Marine band played Rule Britannia, as Britain’s greatest hero left on his final journey up the Thames, the river he had loved and travelled up and down many times as First Lord of the Admiralty. As the launch passed the London Docks, the cranes bowed one-by-one in respect. ‘It was a tribute that was all the more moving because it was so unexpected,’ the Sunday Mirror reported. ‘The farewell salute…was part of a never-to-be-forgotten scene at the spot Winston loved.’ Overhead, the Royal Air Force flew Lightenings, also dipping in respect of the man who had ensured and enabled their existence, his immortal words of praise during the Second World War vibrating in their memories; “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
At Waterloo Station, Churchill’s coffin was carried onto a Battle of Britain class locomotive named Winston Churchill and bearing his crest. ‘During the nearly two-hour journey to Long Hanborough,’ Great-Aunt Mary recalled, ‘Winston lay, once more, ‘In State’ – in the rattling luggage-van – where, even here, soldiers of his old regiment kept watch around him.’
As the train passed through successive stations along the way, crowds had gathered, hats off, heads bowed, their final farewell to the man everyone credited with their lives and freedom. ‘The winter fields had little groups of people,’ Great-Aunt Mary wrote. ‘Families with their children and dogs; a farmer, taking his cap off; children on shaggy ponies – all waiting in the chill of a winter’s afternoon, to watch Winston Churchill’s last journey home.’
Great-Grandmama had requested a private interment at the small parish church of St. Martin’s, Bladon. Apart from the family Anthony Montague Browne and Grace Hamblin, Jock Colville, (Great-Grandpapa’s Principal Private Secretary), Leslie Rowan, (another of Churchill’s Private Secretaries), Lord Moran (his personal physician), and the Duke of Norfolk, ‘who had, at the Queen’s command, directed the whole of this unique happening.’ The Rector, the Revd J. E. James, presided over the brief committal and once done, the family returned to the station and back to London. As the family filed past the graveside, saying their final farewells, Clementine’s wreath of red roses, carnations and tulips was placed. Her card, handwritten, read: ‘To my darling Winston, Clemmie’ Next to hers, Her Majesty’s exquisite spring wreath was placed. Also bearing a handwritten card, it simply said: ‘From the Nation and Commonwealth. In grateful remembrance. Elizabeth R.’
‘We were very tired,’ Great-Aunt Mary recalled. ‘It had been a long day. My mother and I and Grace Hamblin had an early dinner together, and after Grace left us we watched for a while part of the replay of the funeral on television.’ When Great-Grandmama rose to go to bed, she turned and looked at Mary and said, “You know, Mary, it wasn’t a funeral – it was a Triumph.” That final statement of the day summed-up perfectly not just the occasion, but the thoughts of millions around the globe both then and now. Great-Grandpapa’s life, although fraught with failure, was, when tallied together with his successes, a ‘Triumph.’
He secured our liberty. And perhaps gave us our lives. Having done so, he asked that we should not sink back into the lethargy and stagnation from which he lifted us. How have we fulfilled this trust which Churchill gave us? Have we used our lives and liberty to good purpose? Or have we just accepted them as our unvalued due?
Today is the 24th of January. It’s the day my father died.
It’s the day I shall die, too.
Winston S. Churchill
Sir Winston S. Churchill
“Today is the 24th of January…” On the same day in 1965, (50 years ago), Britain mourned the loss of our greatest hero, our beloved wartime leader, my great-grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill.
A mass crowd of photographers, journalists and the general public were huddled together at the end of Hyde Park Gate, awaiting the inevitable and sad news that Sir Winston had died. This, the third stroke he had suffered was to be his last.
The family gathered around his bed, my great-grandmother Clementine held the hand of her husband of over half a century and waited. My great-grandfather had slipped into a coma and Lord Moran, his personal physician, had said that these were most likely to be his last hours. Around eight o’clock in the morning Churchill took several deep breathes and peacefully passed away. His service performed. His duty done. For over fifty years, Winston Churchill had faithfully served his nation as a Member of Parliament, and in May 1940, was called upon to lead Britain through the five terrible years of the Second World War and ultimately to victory. The country once again united as they had during the war, but this time to mourn and remember the life of the Greatest Briton, ever, and celebrate the freedom that his great selfless service secured. The name Winston Churchill is, to this day, still revered throughout the world. The memory of those days, while now quickly passing as stories to a new generation, is still accompanied by the thought or words: “Thank God for Winston Churchill.”
Born into the Victorian-age to parents who strictly adhered to the popular belief that ‘Children should be seen and not heard,’ young Winston Churchill impatiently entered the world on November 30, 1874. The Churchills were attending a party at Blenheim Palace, the home of Lord Randolph’s father, Winston’s grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough. While riding in a pony carriage over rough ground, less than seven months pregnant, the labour pains began suddenly. Lady Jennie was raced back to the Palace, and with no time to get her to her bedroom, Jennie was ushered to the bland and unimpressive servants’ quarters where, early in the morning, she gave birth to a son, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill.
Blenheim Palace from the air
The palatial surroundings of Blenheim would provide many years of fun for young Winston. But the humble room in which he was born was more prophetic of the servant heart that he would develop as he matured.
So today-and oh! if ever
Duty’s voice is ringing clear
Bidding men to brave endeavour
Be our answer “We are here”
Fellow *Harrovian Sir Gerald Woods Woolaston, wrote of Churchill in later years, ‘No one in his life has ever more completely fulfilled the spirit of that verse than Sir Winston Churchill.’ – But the path that Destiny had prepared for my great-grandfather was full of potholes, many of which young Winston would fall into. With each mistake he learned and although sometimes crushed into the ground over events such as Gallipoli in 1915, he dug his heels in. He rose up, brushed himself off and as though nothing had happened, continued on his journey. ‘He consistently broke almost every rule,’ Sir Gerald wrote. ‘[He] was quite incorrigible, and had an unlimited vocabulary of “back-chat”’. As the years passed, these unpleasant tendencies would find remedies, but not before he almost came to blows with a Sixth Form boy, Leo Amery, whom, mistaking for a Fourth Form boy, he pushed into the school swimming pool during his first week at Harrow. As the angry Amery marched with determination towards young Winston, my great-grandfather stood his ground, desperately trying to think his way out of what he felt sure was going to be a fairly painful beating. “I mistook you for a Fourth Form boy, you are so small,” Churchill protested while apologizing profusely. Amery was unimpressed, but despite making matters worse, Churchill refused to give up. “My father, who is a great man,” he quickly continued, “is also small.” Fortune favours the brave. Amery laughed and the two became great friends.
Amery and Churchill served together in Parliament, and Amery was one of the very few to stand-by my great-grandfather throughout the bitter years of the 1930s; the ‘Wilderness Years’, when Churchill was often shouted down as he stood and warned of the gathering storm across the English Channel.
Lord Randolph Churchill
Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie)
Churchill’s childhood was hardly idyllic. His father, Lord Randolph, was the Member of Parliament for Woodstock, and his career came before anything or anyone. To him, young Winston was a mere annoyance whose only purpose was to continue the family name. Despite the distance, my great-grandfather placed his father on a high pedestal. He was my great-grandfather’s hero, and young Winston aspired to be just like him and follow him into politics, ‘at his side’. Churchill’s dream was to meet an abrupt end when at the age of forty, in 1895, Lord Randolph died of syphilis. ‘There remained for me only to pursue his aims and vindicate his memory,’ Churchill recalled in the autobiography of his youth; My Early Life. It was a purpose he vigorously pursued in his early years as a parliamentarian.
Lord Randolph, having been appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, resigned on a matter of principle and left office almost before the ink had dried on the Prime Ministerial appointment letter. He never rose again and remained on the backbenches of Parliament until his death. When my great-grandfather entered Parliament as the Member for Oldham, the shadow of the unhappy later years of Lord Randolph’s career haunted him. ‘Members of Parliament,’ Earl Winterton recalled, ‘said in private and some in public that he, [Churchill], was like his father – brilliant but unstable and a dangerous man with whom to work.’ Whether Churchill’s attitude in those early years was a result of some desire to justify his father to those colleagues who had abandoned him, or to ‘pursue his aims and vindicate his memory,’ is unclear. However, as Earl Winterton keenly observed, ‘His father had great ideals for which he was prepared to risk his career; so had he. His father was a rebel; so would he be. His father never cared if he caused offence in public or private; nor would he.’ Viewing Churchill’s career as a whole, one can see exactly how apt Winterton’s description was.
Churchill’s statue overlooking the Parliament building
Over the fifty-plus years Churchill served as a Member of Parliament, he regularly risked all for his ideals and beliefs, refusing to cower to those whose actions and words often threatened him. In 1904, my great-grandfather became the first Member in history to cross the floor of the House of Commons from the Conservative Party, whom he represented, to stand with the unpopular leader of the Liberal Party, David Lloyd George. Churchill was considered a traitor by Members on both sides of the House, but he remained a loyal Liberal for twenty years, and it cost him credibility he would not recover until the Second World War broke out in September 1939. ‘I think that most of Churchill’s contemporaries would agree that there is a considerable measure of truth in the contention,’ that this attitude towards Parliament ‘was a phase in his career…which disappeared after his selection for high Office and his marriage.’
Winston and Clementine Churchill
On September 12, 1908, Churchill married Clementine Hozier, whom he had met four years before at a ball hosted by the Earl of Crewe. Their first encounter had been disastrous, similar to the experience of a former girlfriend Violet Bonham Carter, who recalled that at a dinner party, ‘I found myself sitting next to this young man who seemed to me quite different from any other young man I had ever met. For a long time he seemed sunk in abstraction. Then he appeared to become suddenly aware of my existence.’ My great-grandmother remembered a similar experience. Both attended the Crewe ball, Churchill accompanied by his mother and Clementine with an equally suitable escort. Across the room, Clementine caught Churchill’s eye.
The Temple of Diana, Blenheim Palace
Mesmerized by her beauty, Great-Grandpapa asked his mother for an introduction. Having been formally presented, Churchill was speechless and stood helplessly staring for more than a minute. Great-Grandmama, feeling quite uncomfortable and less than impressed with the young politician she had heard so much about, politely extracted herself from the situation. Four years would pass until their next meeting at Baroness St. Helier’s dinner party, and this time Great-Grandpapa was determined to make a better impression. Churchill looked for his place setting and was delighted to discover that Clementine was to be seated beside him. Unusually late, Clementine enters the room between courses, and took her place next to Winston. Oblivious to the other guests who, as the night matured, began to leave, the two sat talking throughout the night, and on August 10, 1908, while at Blenheim, Churchill proposed in a small Temple of Diana on the estate. “At Blenheim,’ Churchill later said, “I took two very important decisions: to be born and to marry. I am happily content with the decisions I took on both occasions.” Despite the many tumultuous future years, Winston and Clementine loved and supported each other throughout. Great-Grandpapa found no greater advocate than Great-Grandmama. Throughout Churchill’s youth, both in the British Army and then his early Parliamentary career, his mother Jennie had been a prominent aide. Clementine easily slipped into the role as wife, hostess and then in 1909, mother. However, financial burdens were soon to put a terrible strain on their relationship, and it would not be an issue that was resolved until the end of the Second World War.
In 1922, against Clementine’s wishes, Churchill purchased Chartwell, his beloved home in the heart of the Kent countryside. It was a financial drain from the start, but Winston was confident that his writings and American stock market investments would more than adequately cover the expenses of totally gutting a large manor house. Great-Grandpapa was wrong. Following the 1929 stock market crash, financial disaster hit, and it hit hard. My great-grandfather unwisely ignored the advice of their accountant who had warned him that unless he curtailed his spending, he would face financial ruin. In 1935, that warning became a frightening reality.
Chartwell. The Churchill’s home from 1922
Churchill was already unpopular for his stance against Indian independence, but in 1933, in the wake of Hitler’s meteoric rise to the Chancellorship of Germany, Great-Grandpapa saw an evil tide on the horizon. “All these bands of sturdy Teutonic youths, marching through the streets and roads of Germany,” Churchill warned Parliament, “are not looking for status.” He paused. “They are looking for weapons, and, when they have the weapons,” Churchill continued, “believe me they will then ask for the return of lost territories and lost colonies.” Less than a year later, Churchill’s prediction came true. In defiance of the peace treaty of Versailles, Hitler pursued a rearmament program which put the rest of Europe to shame. From the ashes, with no money, outrageously huge debts and high unemployment, Hitler pull Germany to her feet in less than a year. By 1935, the military strength of Germany was equal to both Britain and France. Deputy Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin ignored the facts gathered by the Foreign Office and arrogantly assured Parliament that “this Government will see to it that in air strength and air power [we] shall no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores.”
In 1935, Churchill’s speeches took a completely new form. Until this point and from his earliest warnings, Churchill’s words lacked the facts to support his claims. However, while Churchill was on holiday in the South of France, God was to move in a mysterious way in the form of Ralph Wigram, a rising star occupying a high position in the British Foreign Office. ‘He was a charming and fearless man,’ my great-grandfather wrote of Ralph in his first volume on the Second World War. ‘His convictions,’ he continued, ‘based upon profound knowledge and study, dominated his being.’ Churchill noted, ‘He saw as clearly as I did, but with more certain information, the awful peril which was closing in upon us.’ Wigram provided my great-grandfather with top secret documents proving the rate of the German Rearmament Program. For the first time, armed with accurate and confirmed information, Churchill marched into the House of Commons, onto the battlefield from where he would tirelessly fight to prevent the ‘unnecessary war’, the description he later wrote of the Second World War. But Parliament and the country labelled him a ‘war-monger’, and ignored him. “I do not see why [the country] should be tricked,” He told Parliament. “I think they should have the plain truth told them, and if they disagree they have their constitutional remedy.” His voice was dismissed. Sitting, as he was, on the backbenches of the House, Churchill listened. With no physical power, Churchill’s voice became the force that finally turned the tide.
Former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
In 1936, thanks to Wigram’s help, Churchill forced Stanley Baldwin to admit that his 1935 statement on air equality was over ambitious and that he had misled the House. He apologized, promising to begin a rearmament program, but time was short, and Baldwin was more concerned with placating Hitler in the vain hope of preventing a second world war, than protecting Britain from the obvious now almost factual inevitability. “I do not hold that we should rearm in order to fight,” Churchill said in a broadcast to the nation. “I hold that we should rearm in order to parley.” Former Socialist Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald, disagreed. His view was shared by both Stanley Baldwin, who resigned as Prime Minister in 1938, and was succeeded by Neville Chamberlain, who like his two predecessors, continued to blindly believe that peace with Hitler and his Nazis was possible.
“Churchill is the most bloodthirsty of amateur strategists that history has ever known,” Hitler remarked in one of his early speeches. “He is as bad a politician as a soldier and as bad a soldier as a politician. Like a madman, Churchill has always been running all over Europe to look for a country to become a battlefield. His May Day speech was symptomatic of a paralytic disease, or the ravings of a drunkard.” Great-Grandpapa laughed at Hitler’s rants about him. “You have enemies?” He once said. “Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” There was rarely a time in Churchill’s life when he didn’t have enemies, and history shows that on many occasions he made stands which cost him not only credibility, but friendships, some of which had been cultivated over a number of years. Still viewed as ‘unstable and a dangerous man with whom to work,’ Churchill continued the fight alone.
Former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
In 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a meeting with Hitler in Berlin. He marched quickly to the eager press and waved a piece of paper in his hand, announcing a secure peace with Hitler and Germany. From outside Number 10, Downing Street, Chamberlain promised “Peace in our time,” to the British people, and from the backbenches, Churchill shook his head and lamented, “We have sustained a defeat without a war.” His words were shocking but sadly, within a year, they would be proved true. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. Following the fall of Czechoslovakia Britain and France formed a treaty with Poland to protect her from any enemy who crossed her borders. The news was announced, and Parliament expected an immediate response from the Government. Instead, Chamberlain sat and did nothing. Whether it was fear, sprung from the reality of the situation, or denial, Chamberlain refused to act until his own Cabinet threatened to abandon him. On September 2, Chamberlain sent Hitler the final ultimatum. It remained unanswered. At eleven o’clock on September 3, the ultimatum ran out and Chamberlain reluctantly told Parliament and the British people that “as a consequence, this country is now at war with Germany.”
Neville Chamberlain sadly proved himself to be a less than adequate wartime leader. The first six months of the Second World War had gone very badly. The British military lacked both men and munitions. The factories around Britain were unable to keep up with the mass and continual demands even for the basics of uniforms and rifles. Conscription was immediately reinstated in an attempt to address the former challenge, but as for munitions, they were produced and distributed as fast as possible. With every man jack of them in training or on one front or another, no one was at home to protect Britain should Hitler invade. Chamberlain began the Local Defence Volunteers, (later known as the ‘Home Guard’). The LDVs were made up of veterans of the Great War and young boys too young to be posted. But until the end of 1940, they were armed and defended our shores with nothing more than pitch forks.
In May 1940, Chamberlain’s fate was sealed. Realizing that he would be unable to pursue the war alone, he sought to form a Coalition Government with representations from each political party. Both the Socialist and Liberals refused to serve under him, and so, without the support of either Party or Parliament, Chamberlain was forced to resign. As the Conservative Party held the Parliamentary majority, it was Chamberlain’s privilege to interview and recommend his replacement to the King. There were only two potential candidates; Lord Halifax, a very ambitious man, who, under different circumstances would have jumped at the chance to lead Britain, but who, under the present circumstances, refused as he felt sure the man who took the job would simply be the ‘caretaker’, ultimately handing the keys to Hitler once the inevitable invasion concluded. The other candidate was Winston Churchill. Chamberlain favoured Halifax and was disappointed with the answer he received. He dismissed the two men, assuring them of a quick decision. Churchill, whose early and accurate predictions had afforded him a position in the War Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, returned to his office. Within an hour he was informed that the Prime Minister is on his way to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation. Shortly thereafter, Churchill received a call from the Palace, requesting he visit the King. Churchill left at once.
King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Winston S. Churchill
‘In the early evening of May 10,’ Sir Martin Gilbert recorded in his condensed biography on my great-grandfather: Churchill: A Life, ‘Churchill went to Buckingham Palace.
“I suppose you don’t know why I have sent for you?” the King asked with a smile.
“Sir, I simply couldn’t imagine why,” was Churchill’s reply.
The King laughed.’
Churchill immediately set to work inviting the leaders of both major political parties to take prominent positions in his War Cabinet. They accepted, and Churchill made the announcement to Parliament the following day.
Churchill was not the easiest of people to work for or with. Early on in his leadership, he managed to upset various people and one approached Clementine for help. ‘It is for you to give the Orders,’ Clementine wrote her husband, ‘and if they are bungled – except for the King the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker you can sack anyone & everyone.’ Churchill respected my great-grandmother’s opinion and continued reading, ‘with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm.’ Great-Grandpapa wisely acted on the advice and his attitude toward people changed dramatically. ‘I have, perhaps, given the impression that the Prime Minister was a hard task-master,’ wrote Mary Thompson, his personal secretary from 1939. ‘In some ways, I suppose, he was, but,’ as she continued, ‘it is only because his own standards are so high and his general knowledge so comprehensive that he demands high standards of others.’ Mary Thompson, like all who worked for Churchill during those evil years of the Second World War, left in 1945 with fond memories of the boss who had the ‘knack of saying just the right word to encourage one to make every possible effort to keep pace with his demands.’
Prime Minister Winston Churchill with President Charles de Gaulle
Following the French surrender in June 1940, Churchill warned Parliament and the people that it was likely that the Battle of Britain was about to begin, and, “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.” He wasn’t wrong. Hitler’s Nazism creed creating him a ‘Deity’, had spread like wildfire throughout Germany, just as Communism had infected Russia. The German people had been duped by an unscrupulous leader who took personal advantage of the desperate situation the Allies had left Germany in after the Great War. Hitler was a leader with no moral compass and whose only aim was to further his agenda no matter what the cost to the people he purported to represent. Churchill, in contrast, was a leader both of and by the people. On many occasions he was forced to bow to the majority in Parliament or the War Cabinet, and the proof of his servant heart became no more factual than when he refused the Order of the Garter, following his government’s election defeat in July 1945. “How can I accept the Order of the Garter,” he said, “when the people of England have just given me the Order of the Boot?”
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II forced my great-grandfather’s hand. Churchill had refused every offered honour to date. He argued that it was the people of Britain and around the globe who had ‘the lion heart,’ and that he had merely been called upon to be the ‘roar’. Her Majesty insisted that if Great-Grandpapa continued to refuse to visit her at Buckingham Palace and accept the Order of the Garter, she would be forced to come to him to confer it upon him at 10 Downing Street. Churchill was too much of a traditionalist and patriot to allow Her Majesty to be humiliated in such a way. Without argument he left for Buckingham Palace where he accepted the honour with gratitude and pleasure.
President Dwight Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill
In Charles Eade’s book: Churchill by his Contemporaries, former United States President Dwight Eisenhower wrote of Churchill saying, he was ‘an inspirational leader, he seemed to typify Britain’s courage and perseverance in adversity and its conservatism in success.’ Eisenhower respected Churchill greatly continuing, ‘He was a man of extraordinary strong convictions and a master in argument and debate…Yet in spite of his strength of purpose, in those instances where we found our convictions in direct opposition he never once lost his friendly attitude towards me when I persisted in my own course.’
In 1951, the Conservative Party was returned to Government and Churchill once again took the lead as Prime Minister. Now seventy-seven years old, the sparkle of his younger days, even those of the Second World War, had all but faded. However, his leadership never suffered. ‘Never has Churchill’s skill as a great parliamentarian been used to more beneficial effect than when he was Leader of the Opposition,’ wrote Earl Winterton.
Sir John Colville was my great-grandfather’s last Private Secretary. On January 24, 1953, Colville entered Churchill’s bedroom and found him shaving. ‘He said to me, “Today is the 24th of January.” I said yes, and he said, “It’s the day my father died,” I said something suitable, and he went on, “It’s the day I shall die, too.” Colville was lost for words. He had naturally heard several of Churchill’s predictions over the years, and helped form some of the speeches Churchill gave in later life, but to this comment, to this prediction, Colville could say nothing.
In 1955, Churchill’s health had declined dramatically and he decided it was time to pass the reins on to a younger man. Anthony Eden was to succeed him, and Churchill was pleased to serve with an old friend in whom he had every confidence would do well for Britain.
Churchill, although remaining an active Member of Parliament until 1964, spent much of those declining years painting and writing at Chartwell. In 1963, President Kennedy installed Churchill as the first Honorary Citizen of the United States of America. His love of America and its people had never been a secret, and he was incredibly touched by the honour. Sadly, Great-Grandpapa was too ill to make the journey, so Randolph accepted the document on his behalf.
On Monday, January 11, 1965, Churchill suffered his third and final stroke. My Great-Aunt Mary recalled in her book: Clementine Churchill, ‘my four elder children and I were due to go up to London to see my parents…During the morning my mother telephoned,’ she wrote, ‘my father was far from well.’ Mary left immediately for Hyde Park Gate. Entering her father’s room she found him silent and unresponsive, giving no indication that he was even aware she was there. ‘My father’s eyes were open,’ Mary recalled, ‘but he seemed very remote.’ In the afternoon Christopher Soames, Mary’s husband, visited his father-in-law. “Wouldn’t you like a glass of champagne?’ It was more a question in an attempt to kindle a spark, but Great-Grandpapa looked at him vaguely and said, “I’m so bored with it all.’ These were the last words Sir Winston Churchill spoke to any member of the family. “Is this it?” Mary asked Lord Moran, her father’s personal physician. “I’m afraid so,” he replied. Only the family and very close friends knew of the seriousness of his condition, but word leaked out and on Friday, January 15, swarms of reporters and members of the general public all crowded into the little cul-de-sac, Hyde Park Gate making entrance and exit impossible. Respectfully, Great-Grandmama asked that they move to the end of the street, and it was there that they remained throughout the remaining nine day vigil.
Winston and Clementine Churchill at Hyde Park Gate
On hearing the news, John Colville turned to his wife, and remembering his conversation with Churchill twelve years before, told her, “He won’t die until the 24th.” Throughout these final days, Great-Grandpapa slipped in and out of consciousness until finally, on the evening of January 23rd, he slipped into a coma from which he would never wake again.
Winston Churchill’s coffin, Lying-in-State in Westminster Hall
Just after 8:30 on the morning of January 24th, the press received the official statement that Great-Grandpapa had passed away just after 8:00 that morning. Britain began to mourn the loss of our greatest hero. His body remained at Hyde Park Gate from the Sunday morning on which he died until the following Tuesday, when his coffin was taken, at Her Majesty’s request, to Westminster Hall, where he was to be accorded a Lying-in-State. For three whole days Britons queued outside Parliament waiting for their chance to file past Great-Grandpapa’s coffin, now being guarded by officer representatives of each of the military wings. An estimated one million people passed-by his coffin and gave their respects, the line was sometimes a mile long. Many outside were in tears and they flowed even more readily inside the hall. Her Majesty visited, as did the Prime Minister. Clementine was regularly there, as were other members of the family. His death marked the end of an era and it is unlikely his kind will be seen again for many generations.
In reflecting on Churchill and his life of service, one has to wonder how he might fare in today’s political world. Some believe he would not survive. I maintain that his honesty would today, prevent him from rising to any significant governmental position. Churchill was a one-of-a-kind politician in many respects. He was honest to the point of being blunt. He genuinely served the people he represented either as a local constituency MP, or as Prime Minister. He we courageous, refusing to stand and watch silently as governments took decisions that would have negative repercussions for Britain. ‘To a man of Sir Winston’s gifts and stature,’ wrote Earl Winterton, ‘with more than half a century’s membership of the Commons, it is not surprising that…he should share the great merits and some of the defects of the House. It is this, above everything else, which makes him the greatest living parliamentarian.’
I became a serious student of the life, times and leadership of my great-grandfather in 2005, and it was at that point that I first began to form a plan to move to the United States. Churchill found Americans fascinating and fun to be with. His first experience was in 1896, when he visited New York on his way to Cuba. “What an extraordinary people the Americans are,’ he wrote to his brother Jack, ‘this is a very great country,’ he said. Having lived here in Texas these past five years, it has only confirmed my agreement with Great-Grandpapa on his assessment.
I first visited the United States in 1988, and I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Florida. From the moment I arrived I felt welcome. Considering the inclement weather in Britain I say, tongue-in-cheek; I also felt at home. It is hard to explain what it is about America that inspires such feelings, just as I would find it impossible to describe the reasons behind the same feeling I have for my own country, England. However, suffice to say that in living here, I have observed both cultures and believe that Churchill saw an interdependence that went beyond protection. Britain is a country of great traditions. We are steeped in history, while America is still less than three-hundred years old. Britain offers America a history she is unable to equal, an unconditional friendship she has benefited from many times since the Second World War, and a determination to Never Surrender against any foe, no matter what the odds. America, not being hampered with a long history of traditions, became, from the start, a more forward thinking nation, with great technological advances, and her sheer size affords Britain a protection that Churchill believed paramount for our future survival. Britain and America must continue to work together. Together, I firmly believe, as Churchill did, that we can achieve anything. But divided, both may suffer.
On initially becoming a student of my great-grandfather’s life, I was at first overcome with amazement at the incredible life he had lead. But, until I re-read My Early Life, I realized that I had missed several similarities we both shared, and on discovering, found myself inspired to face my own shortcomings instead of cowering away and using them as an excuse for failure. Great-Grandpapa and I both had pathetic relationships with our fathers. Both fathers were workaholics, both wrapped up in their own lives with little time for family. Yet despite Lord Randolph’s ill-treatment of his son, my great-grandfather wanted to be just like him. For myself, similar to Great-Grandpapa, I wanted my father to tell me just once that he was proud of me. But this was a pipe dream for us both.
Churchill painting in his studio at Chartwell
In my research of Churchill, I came read a short book he had written in the late 1940s: The Dream. It was an account Great-Grandpapa had given to the family, of a waking dream he had experienced in which he spoke of an imaginary conversation that he had held with his father. While painting in his studio at Chartwell, Lord Randolph appeared in the red leather chair in front of his son. The conversation began and Churchill filled his father in on everything that had happened since his death in 1895. At the end of the account, Lord Randolph was the last to speak and he said: ‘Winston, you have told me a terrible tale. I would never have believed that such things could happen.’ Winston remained silent as his father continued, ‘As I listened to you unfolding these fearful facts you seemed to know a great deal about them. I never expected that you would develop so far and so fully.’ Churchill remained standing by his easel. ‘Of course you are too old now to think about such things, but when I hear you talk I really wonder you didn’t go into politics. You might have done a lot to help. You might even have made a name for yourself.’ In a puff of smoke he was gone. Throughout Churchill’s life he was misunderstood. He was labelled arrogant and self-centred. However, this account proves otherwise. Great-Grandpapa had every opportunity to tell his father the significant role he had played in the years since 1895, but, for whatever reason, he decided not to.
The Dream pushed my life in a totally new direction. Similar to Great-Grandpapa, I had received a terrible education. I, like Churchill, was always in trouble. I was rejected by my peers and teachers alike. I remained at the bottom of my class and left school with little to show for the expensive education I had experienced for eleven unhappy years. The Dream ended my unconscious thought of trying to make my now dead-father proud of me, and I looked forward to a brighter and less burdened future. In reading about the terrible time Great-Grandpapa had at school, and the fact that he too left with no formal qualifications, gave me a hope that I had lacked until then. It is understood that those with university degrees have wider opportunities than those without. To a certain extent this is true. However, when we roll off the names of but a few uneducated successes, we see a pattern. Sir Richard Branson is one that comes to the immediate mind. Branson ignored his lack of qualifications and opened Virgin Records which became a serious record label. He worked hard and with determination, made it work. Sir Winston Churchill’s life is a testament to the impossible. With no formal qualifications, he wrote over forty books, one of which received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he painted over 500 paintings, some of which are currently on display at the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. He rebuilt much of Chartwell to save money. He became a Master Bricklayer, erecting the walls that house Chartwell’s gardens. He retiled the roof and built Marycot, a play house for his youngest daughter, my Great-Aunt Mary, who sadly died last year. He entered Parliament and eventually, in 1940, was asked to lead Britain through our most dangerous hour. In 1945, against all odds, Churchill stood on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building, waved his famous V-sign, and told the mass crowd below, “This is your victory.”
In studying, speaking and writing on the life, times and leadership of Great-Grandpapa, I quickly came to realise that I too can live a life where there are no restrictions on what I will do or where I will go. Success comes to those who work hard with an unequalled determination to Never Surrender! Today, I am a fulltime public speaker and author. Twenty years ago, but for the life of my great-grandfather, I may never have found a way through the mire that tainted my childhood and early youth. In 2005, I made it my mission in life to speak to as many people as possible about the life of Sir Winston Churchill. I was inspired, and other can be also. The legacy that Great-Grandpapa left us is amazing. He showed us the door to success and he gave us the two words we need to live by if we wish to ever achieve anything in life: NEVER SURRENDER!
Winston Churchill at the Canadian Parliament
Today we live in very uncertain times. Wars are raging in far-off lands, and fear is spreading as Islamist extremists threaten our very lives. The media paints a somewhat bleak future, and with the potential of Iran entering their own nuclear-era, and Russia rattling their sabres in Europe, it is no wonder that we are searching for the next Winston Churchill to lead us through to victory. However, Churchill was never the power behind the throne. Churchill demonstrated clearly what a people of determination can do. Stop looking for a man who was right for his time, he wouldn’t be right for today. We each have the same potential and opportunity that Churchill had. Whether you are the leader of your country, or the father of your household, we each have within us, the ability to be the Churchill that we seek. ‘If I have to depict Churchill in a few words they’re these:’ wrote Jack Colville, ‘He looked with scorn on the one-track mind. He was a great patriot, but never a nationalist, and I think it very important to differentiate between patriotism and nationalism. He was a radical – mentally and temperamentally he was a radical – and yet,’ Colville continued, ‘he continued at the same time to be a great traditionalist. He was a man of both physical and moral courage. He was imaginative, tenacious, gifted with foresight. Statesman, soldier, historian, writer, painter and even bricklayer, philosopher and polo player – to everything he did he brought enthusiasm, and he had no use for the second best. Add to that an iron constitution and it’s not surprising that he bestrode the world, as Shakespeare said of Julius Caesar, “like a colossus.’
We each have the ability to replicate the character Churchill displayed. We each have the chance to be great or terrible leaders. The choice is in our hands, just remember: NEVER SURRENDER!
CHURCHILL’S BRITAIN 2015
In June 2015, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, I, along with my wife Sara, am conducting a luxurious, exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of what is titled: Churchill’s Britain. As a guest you will have the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes where visitors are not able to tread. You will stand in Churchill’s bedroom at Chartwell, (only open to the family), and see the view that decided him on the purchase of Chartwell. Churchill’s Britain 2015, follows the exciting life of Britain’s greatest hero, Sir Winston Churchill.
Churchill’s Britain 2015 will be a fun and next-to-none experience for all.
For more information or to book your place on the tour, please email: email@example.com
SPACE IS LIMITED AND FILLING FAST
The brochure can be viewed and downloaded at: http://wscint.com
London in June can be a beautiful sight to behold. The flowers are out, trees are in bloom, and the birds chirp from dawn until dusk, tweeting out their beautiful and engaging songs for all to hear, bringing in the summer on the cusp of their joyful music. Standing in Parliament Square, looking around at the magnificent yet imposing architecture, the light begins to cast a shadow and as it creeps the mass of black begins to take form. First the tip of an unidentifiable head appears, then bit by bit, the rest of the body takes shape, and within minutes you find yourself standing by the cast shadow of Britain’s greatest hero, my great-grandfather and Britain’s Wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. I briefly closed my eyes, allowing the sunlight to beat against my face. The unaffected world passed around me as I peacefully stood imagining myself there, in that same spot also in June, seventy-five years before.
The European war had been raging on for nine months and the Allies were being overrun on every battlefield. The people of Britain eagerly awaited positive news but until Churchill took over the war effort leadership less than a month before, all news had been bad news. 1940 was one of Churchill’s most challenging years. History bears witness to the close-call of defeat that lurked around every street corner, and bred a fear that infected every household. Over the crackling wireless my great-grandfather’s voice echoed with words that struck deep into the hearts and minds of every Englishman, and every ally. “We will never surrender,” was the assurance with which Churchill pinned Parliament’s colours to the mask, and gave Britain the goal she had until now lacked from the leaders who brought us into this fight unprepared. “We will never surrender,” Churchill’s determination that gave hope and courage to millions in the face of almost certain defeat was never more needed than in June 1940, as thousands of ships, boats, and other flotillas crossed the perilous English Channel to rescue the 400,000 troops stranded at Dunkirk. It was a miraculous victory, and the one Churchill so desperately needed to silence his skeptics and solidify his premiership. Within three weeks of Dunkirk, France would surrender and the great Battle of Britain would begin.
From July to October 1940, the Luftwaffe subjected Britain to the cruelest of attacks, indiscriminately bombing civilian populations, churches, hospitals and private homes. Night after night Churchill stood atop his underground bunker, (the Cabinet War Rooms), horrified as he watched the attacks on his people, courageously with them above ground, but as the fires around the city rose, burning the centuries-old buildings he had known in his youth, he realized with frustration that in that moment he was as equally helpless to act.
Churchill scorned Hitler’s monstrous attacks and it served only to strengthen his resolve, “…he will have to break us in this island or lose the war,” he told Britain… “And now it has come to us to stand alone in the breach, and face the worst that the tyrant’s might and enmity can do.”
Before Churchill, Britain had been all-but ready to surrender. Chamberlain had sadly proved to be a weak wartime leader and there was a great national relief when he resigned and Churchill was appointed. “We are ready to defend our native land,” Churchill told the people at the height of the London attacks. “We are fighting by ourselves alone; but we are not fighting for ourselves alone,” he said. “…let all strive without failing in faith or in duty, and the dark curse of Hitler will be lifted from our age.” Never before had the British people heard a voice of such determination, and it was infectious. Every man, woman and child rallied. Neighbors who had never spoken began passing the time of day. Years old conflicts were put aside and as the fences were rebuilt, Churchill changed Britain’s focus from the threatening reality of defeat to the possibility, however narrow, of victory. “If this long island story of ours is to end at last,” Churchill told the War Cabinet, “let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”
Standing opposite the Parliament building I scan the droves of tourists, free and happy, laughing as they walk, some briefly stopping for photographs, others meandering around the square and off down Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square. Before moving on I briefly glance up at the statue of my great-grandfather and quietly thank God for him. The realization of how close we came to losing, that but for Churchill many of us wouldn’t be here, and Britons would be speaking German, hits hard. In 2015, we face wars on smaller scales but each with the frightening ability to escalate, and “without having improved appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance,” Churchill warned, “[Mankind] has got into its hands for the first time the tools by which it can unfailingly accomplish its own extermination.” We need a Churchill today and we need a Churchill now.
Unless you know Westminster, where the Parliament building sits, you might fail to notice the small thin road that passes between two large white buildings aside Parliament Square; Great George Street. Leading to the Wellington Memorial Arch aside which sits Apsley House, (Number One, London), the home of the Duke of Wellington, this road, beautifully eclipsed by evergreen trees, was travelled by Churchill on many occasions during the Second World War. Whether first or last, the road Churchill more often took was Horse Guards. Unknown publically until the 1980s, Horse Guards Road was the site of Churchill’s very secret bunker; the Cabinet War Rooms. While the bombs dropped above ground, the business of war continued below.
The innocuous entrance to the Cabinet War Rooms camouflaged itself behind sandbags. Although it would be rare that Churchill would enter from the road as there was an adjoining tunnel running from 10 Downing Street into the bunker, it was imperative that no one knew of its existence. “This is the room from which I will direct the war,” Churchill declared to those accompanying him on his first visit. During the five years of his leadership, 115 Cabinet meetings were held there, the last being in March 1945, when Hitler again attempted to break the Britons spirit with the V-bombs.
My first impression on entering the Cabinet War Rooms is a mixture of awe and bewilderment. Were we to face a war on a similar scale today, the bunker would most definitely offer a form of protection, but not much beyond. Governments wage war from the comfort of their official buildings. The President of the United States has his Situation Room, and the British Prime Minister has Downing Street. Communication over a secure channel is much simpler today. The old Transatlantic Room, where Churchill sat many times to speak with President Roosevelt is cramped with space only for one desk, one chair, one desk lamp and a phone. The sparse surroundings gives one the feeling that they are peering into a prison cell, not a communications room. On the occasions my great-grandfather entered the room and picked up the phone, a click was heard on both ends, signifying a listening ear. Both great leaders, desperately wanting to be honest with each other, knew that some secrets were best kept until a face-to-face meeting could take place. ‘Careless lips,’ were the watch words in that room, and often, when either Churchill or Roosevelt touched on sensitive subjects, the line would suddenly go dead, as the listener cut them off to ensure our secrets remained so.
My next stop was the Cabinet Room itself. Twenty-two black plastic-covered seats around blue cloth draped tables occupied the majority of the room, with little space to walk around. I sat in my great-grandfather’s chair and looked out through the glass that was once a wall. Behind me was a large world map, and on the table in front, an old red box, the type used by Cabinet Ministers. An unlit cigar sits in the silver ashtray on what would have been Churchill’s left, patiently awaiting its owner’s return. It’s amazing, even after seventy years the smell of cigar smoke still lingers, and the air of awe still fills that room.
Further down the corridor one passes the many rooms that housed the various personnel who were stationed in the bunker throughout the war. Churchill and my great-grandmother Clementine had separate bedrooms, and close-by were their security details. The walls of my great-grandfather’s bedroom are covered with maps. There is single bed with green coverings. At the back of the room sits a desk with an armchair on its right. The desk itself is nothing to write home about, like all the furnishings in the bunker, it is what it needs to be; functional. I felt a whiff of nostalgia while sitting behind my great-grandfather’s desk listening to Phil Reid, the Director of the Cabinet War Rooms, speaking of the many hours Churchill spent in that room and the speeches he gave from the desk where I now sat. In this day and age, it is hard to imagine what life was truly like in those days. Historical accounts, although accurate, offer only the facts but are devoid of the most basic and important of senses; touch and smell. But sitting in the room, again the pungent smell of cigar smoke filling my nostrils, I felt empowered, as if Churchill himself were there beside me. How amazing that even after such a long time Churchill’s presence, like the never fading smell of his cigar smoke, remains.
Of all the rooms that were occupied during and preserved as-they-were after the war, the most impressive must be the Map Room. From here, Churchill could see the full movement of our troops. From this room, Churchill watched engagements in real-time. The White House Situation Room has been featured on many films, and I would imagine that the room itself is much more impressive in the flesh. Computerized maps are thrown-up on screens with satellite footage of troop engagement, and in the White House Situation Room, Presidents have access to almost anything at the simple touch of a button. Wars are fought from that room, just as Churchill fought the Second World War from his Map Room. But standing in the Map Room where my great-grandfather had stood some seventy years before, I was totally gob-smacked by the lack of technology around me. A wooden table, divided in the middle with a bank of telephones on a raised shelf, was the only technology in sight. Phil took me over to the large wall-mounted map. At a glance you see only notes that have been stuck in various places on it. However, on closer inspection you begin to see millions and millions of tiny holes covering almost every spare space. My wife Sara asked Phil about this and he smiled, “Pins were used to indicate troop positions,” he told her. “As they moved, so did the pins.” When Britain entered the war on September 3, 1939, we were heavily outnumbered. We had little manpower and few weapons, barely enough to last the year out. Unmoved by the facts before him, Churchill proceeded as always in the direction he had set; the road to victory, and nothing would deter him, no matter how much Germany had in comparison to Britain.
From the Map Room I walked along another corridor to the Churchill Museum, “We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glow-worm” Churchill’s words etched in stone, is the first thing you see as you enter. I was present at the opening of this addition to the War Rooms and I remember the event very well. My cousin Winston, (Churchill’s grandson), was present. While looking at the amazing video footage and Churchillian memorabilia on display I heard Winston’s excited voice from across the room, followed almost immediately by a loud booming bang. I went over to investigate. A group had gathered around him and when he saw me, he beckoned me over. “I want you to watch this,” he said. Standing by a giant computerized cabinet table with dates running along both sides, Winston started to flick at the table and the dates began to move. He selected 1945, August. The date he chose was the 6th. Up popped a digitalize sheet of paper with the announcement of the first Atomic Bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. Suddenly a loud bang rang out, and the screen shone with a bright white light, followed by another sheet that gave more facts of the day. Winston was very excited. The interactive Churchill Museum is crammed with some of the most interesting Churchill memorabilia around. One of his Siren Suits is on display, the pistol he used prior to his capture from the Boers in 1899. There are digital images of his paintings, many of his original letters, awards and other such items, but one thing that draws more attention than most is his US passport.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy created my great-grandfather the first Honorary Citizen of the United States. Sadly Churchill never got to use it, and the honor was accepted on his behalf by his son Randolph. However, Churchill’s love for the United States and its people was no secret, “I cannot help reflecting,” Churchill quipped in front of Congress in December 1941, “if my father had been American and my mother British instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own.”
In June 2015, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, I, along with my wife Sara, am conducting a luxurious, exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of what is titled: Churchill’s Britain. The Cabinet War Rooms represents part of that tour, and as a guest you too will have the opportunity to go behind-the-glass where visitors are not able to tread. You will stand in Churchill’s bedroom, smell the waft of cigar smoke as you enter the Cabinet Room, feel the seventy year old pin holes representing the various campaigns of the Second World War, and then eat in the Switch Room. After dinner you will have the chance to revisit the rooms you wish to, or meander through the museum exploring the 90-year life of Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill’s Britain 2015 will be a fun and next-to-none experience for all.
For more information or to book your place on the tour, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SPACE IS LIMITED AND FILLING FAST
The brochure can be viewed and downloaded at: http://wscint.com