As a wartime leader, his speeches helped inspire the British nation to defeat Nazi injustice and his pugnacious nature symbolised the British Bulldog fighting spirit. He was an officer, a boyhood fencing champion, polo player, an artist, an historian, an author, a politician, an amateur bricklayer, a butterfly breeder, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the first Honorary Citizen of the United States awarded by Congress – an accolade given to him by President Kennedy. I think however that it for his inspirational oratory that lifted up a nation during the dark days of war that he is best remembered as JFK so aptly mentioned during the Citizenship ceremony – “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” This following snippet given on 4th June 1940 following the defeat at Dunkirk epitomised his unique oratorial style – more memorable perhaps as he overcame a speech impediment (a lateral lisp) on his way to greatness:
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
This year, there are three anniversaries celebrating his life – the first, the 50th anniversary of his passing on 24th January, the second, the 75th anniversary of his first becoming Prime Minister (he served twice in this role) on 10th May and the third, to commemorate his famous speech for the Battle of Britain on 18th June 1940 – now known as his finest hour speech:
“….However matters may go in France or with the French Government or with another French Government, we in this island and in the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If we are now called upon to endure what they have suffered we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains, aye. And freedom shall be restored to all. We abate nothing of our just demands—Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians, all who have joined their causes to our own shall be restored.
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.”
I can remember – vaguely – my mother talking of the dark day of Churchill’s death and she still mourned him when I was growing up so in a sense, I probably knew more about him than most children of my generation. It’s a shame (and rather worrying) that today, according to a survey of schoolchildren last year as published in The Sunday Telegraph, they thought he was a cartoon character selling insurance! That’s just 12 years after he was named the Greatest Briton of all time. Perhaps those under 30 do not know about Winston Churchill so maybe these anniversaries and the various events surrounding Churchill 2015 will be a welcome reminder of those who helped fight for freedom on our behalf. The Churchill Central website gives a great insight into this wartime Prime Minister – far better than I could do – as does the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website.
There are quite a few reminders to this key historic figure both in London and in the country. The iconic Grade II listed statue by Ivor Roberts-Jones in London is situated in Parliament Square and stands, facing (quite appropriately) St Stephen’s Tower (aka Big Ben) in a spot actually picked out by himself! He is shown in his wartime great coat, trusty stick by his side and the bronze has an electric current running through it to deter pigeons! The statue was unveiled on 1 November 1973 by Clementine, Baroness Spencer-Churchill, Winston Churchill’s widow. There’s another statue of him in Old Bond Street, seated on a bench alongside President Roosevelt. There’s also a memorial plaque at Westminster Abbey and you can visit the Churchill War Rooms, the wartime bunker that served for 10 Downing Street during the Blitz. A third statue – a bust of Churchill – is in The Pinafore Room at The Savoy, London. Obviously Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s birthplace, will be pushing the boat out this year and there’s a revamped Churchill exhibition which opens 14th February 2015.
When Churchill was laid to rest, the occasion – by all accounts – was an epic affair – as reported here by Andrew Roberts of The Sunday Telegraph. The Statue Funeral was an honour granted by Her Majesty The Queen and it was the grandest occasion since the Duke of Wellington’s. Representatives from 112 nations attended, in Europe 350 million people, including 25 million in Britain, watched the funeral on television and the Queen unusually attended his funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral alongside six presidents, six sovereigns and 16 Prime Ministers. Typically, as someone who always went his own way, he is not buried at St Paul’s however – he preferred to be interred privately in the family plot at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, near Woodstock, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace. For many, including a tearful Noel Coward it seems, the most touching part of the proceedings was when his body was taken on board the MV Havengore from Tower Pier to Festival Pier and the dockers lowered their crane jibs in a salute. For anyone who attended the Queen’s Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant on 3rd June 2012 where 1,000 ships took part, this same restored Havengore took centre stage once more, looking resplendent as it carried senior members of the Royal Family to join Her Majesty along The Thames.
You can retrace the steps of the funeral next Friday (30th January) with a memorial tribute to Churchill. Commemorations will start in the morning at Westminster where there will be a service for politicians. The focus then turns to the River Thames. Members of the Churchill family will board MV Havengore at St Katherine’s Pier, Tower Bridge will open in tribute, HMS Belfast will give a four-gun salute and the MV Havengore accompanied by a flotilla will slowly go along to Westminster. At Westminster, a second commemoration will be held at the Houses of Parliament before a wreath is thrown into the Thames. MV Havengore will then return to St Katherine’s Pier.
Think what you like about Churchill – “a benevolent dictator” said Jonathan Dimbleby or “a ruthless egotist, a chancer and a charlatan at times” said Jeremy Paxman adding he would not get elected today. Well it’s true, the world has moved on a bit and is unrecognisable from the 1940’s but tell me, if we take ourselves back to the Battle of Britain, who would you rather have leading the nation? I know who I’d choose.
Contributor & Photographer: Sue Lowry
Magellan PR is on twitter: @MagellanPR / on Facebook: MagellanPR / on Pinterest: Sue Lowry / on Google+: Sue Lowry & MagellanPR and on Flickr: Sue Lowry. For more information on our company, visit www.magellan-pr.com. Follow our other blog focussing on travel in the South of England – A3 Traveller