SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL: The Last Hurrah

“…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?

 

 

CREDITS

 

QUOTES

*Unless otherwise stated, all Winston Churchill attributed quotations are taken from: LANGWORTH, Richard – Churchill by Himself

“…it wasn’t a funeral…” – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘They called it a funeral…’ – National Geographic – Vol. 128, No. 2 – August 1965 – BENNETT PATTERSON, Carolyn – The Final Tribute

‘You can shed a tear that [he] is gone…’ – Anonymous – She is Gone

‘…he belonged as much to others…’ – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘It seemed that time stood still…’ – Sunday Express – January 31, 1965 – Goodbye, Sir Winston

‘…there was a time when he was described as the most hated man in England…’ – Life Magazine – February 5, 1965 – The Last Honors – Alan Moorehead

“He was a warrior, and party debate was a war,” – WILSON, Harold – Tribute in Parliament to Winston Churchill – January 1965

‘It might be that we will not in the future speak of a Churchillian Era’ – Life Magazine – February 5, 1965 – The Last Honors – Alan Moorehead

‘Because amidst catastrophe,’ – STRONG, Patience – Sunday Mirror – January 31, 1965 – A Salute From The Cranes

‘Near [which],’ – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘That he died is unimportant’ – LANGWORTH, Richard – Churchill by Himself

‘It was no surprise to Editors to be telephoned at midnight…’ – Sunday Mirror – January 31, 1965 – The Great Reporter’s Last Journey Down Fleet Street – Michael Christiansen

‘Ahead of us,’ – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘Of all the great ceremonies…’ – Sunday Express – January 31, 1965 – And at St Paul’s…a personal link was felt in every heart – John Gordon

‘We prayed for his great mortal soul,’ – Sunday Express – January 31, 1965 – And at St Paul’s…a personal link was felt in every heart – John Gordon

“the epitome of the British in their defiance of threat…” – Sunday Express – January 31, 1965 – A Fountain of Light and Hope – John Gordon

‘There was nobody like him in our lifetimes…’ – Sunday Express – January 31, 1965 – A Fountain of Light and Hope – John Gordon

‘It was a tribute that was…’ – Sunday Mirror – January 31, 1965 – A Salute From The Cranes

‘During the nearly two-hour journey…’ – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘The winter fields…’ – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘who had, at the Queen’s command’ – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘We were very tired,’ – SOAMES, Lady Mary – Clementine Churchill

‘He secured our liberty…’ – CREWE, Quentin – Sunday Mirror – January 31, 1965

 

IMAGES

Churchill in his Garter robes: Vogue

 

 

AUDIO/VISUAL

HANDEL, George Frideric – Dead March“Saul”: http://youtu.be/iOHrOegiF10

 

Procession Music played from Westminster Hall

Handel’s Dead March from “Saul”

 

© Jonathan Sandys 2015

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