The Funeral of Sir Winston S. Churchill
By John G. Plumpton
Finest Hour 66
In early January Sir Winston suffered a stroke which his physician, Lord Moran, informed the family would probably be fatal. After telling his son-in-law, Christopher Soames: “I am so bored with it,” he never again made an intelligible remark to anyone. While his family gathered around his bedside, the world’s leaders prepared to pay homage to ‘the greatest Englishman’. Shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, 24 January on the seventieth anniversary of the death of his father, Sir Winston died at his home at 28 Hyde Park Gate in London.
What Churchill had called “Operation Hopenot” went into action. The Queen directed that he should lie in State in Westminster Hall and that the state funeral service be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The state funeral was the first accorded a commoner since the Duke of Wellington. Over 320,000 people passed by the catafalque at Westminster.
January 30th was bitter cold and gray as the Royal Navy gun crew in measured slow march pulled the gun carriage with the body of the “Former Naval Person” to St. Paul’s. The bearer party of Her Majesty’s Brigade of Guards and a Royal Air Force escort flanked the sailors.
The sites passed by the funeral procession were the scenes of some of Sir Winston’s greatest triumphs: St. Margaret’s Church, where he had married; the Houses of Parliament, where he had made history; No. 10 Downing Street, where he had lived as Prime Minister; the Admiralty, where he had served as First Lord in two wars; Fleet Street, where he had published so many articles; and finally St. Paul’s which stood, like Churchill, defiant against everything Hitler had thrown at them.
The Queen laid aside the usual precedence of the Monarch and entered the Cathedral ahead of the casket. Representatives of more than 110 nations were in attendance. The honorary pall bearers were: Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, Mr. Harold Macmillan, Lord Ismay, Lord Normanbrook, Sir Robert Menzies, Lord Bridges, Field Marshal Viscount Slim, Marshal of the R.A.F. Viscount Portal of Hunger-ford, the Earl of Avon, Earl Attlee, Field Marshall Earl Alexander of Tunis and Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
After the service the cortege travelled to Tower Pier, where the coffin was transported on the Port of London Authority launch Havengore for the journey up the Thames to Festival Pier. At Waterloo Station it was transfered to a train and, guarded by representatives of his old regiment, the Fourth Hussars, now called the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, transported it to Lord Handborough Station. At the request of Lady Churchill, the committal service beside the graves of his mother and father at St. Martin’s Churchill at Bladon was a family service.
Only two wreaths were placed on the grave: “To My Darling Winston. Clemmie.” and “From the Nation and Commonwealth. In grateful remembrance. Elizabeth R.”
These are the words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, spoken in London on January 30, 1965, as the cortege of Sir Winston Churchill moved through the sorrowing streets and as the barge carrying his coffin up the Thames faded in the mist.
Upon the mighty Thames, a great avenue of history, move at this moment to their final resting place the mortal remains of Sir Winston Churchill. He was a great maker of history, but his work done, the record closed, we can almost hear him, with the poet, say:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
twilight and evening bell and after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark.
As I, like all other free men, pause to pay a personal tribute to the giant who now passes from among us, I have no charter to speak for my countrymen— only for myself. But, if in memory, we journey back two decades to the time when America and Britain stood shoulder to shoulder in global conflict against tyranny, then I can presume—with propriety, I think—to act as spokesman for the millions of Americans who served with me and their British comrades during three years of war in this sector of the earth.
To those men Winston Churchill was Britain—he was the embodiment of British defiance to threat, her courage in adversity, her calmness in danger, her moderation in success. Among the Allies his name was spoken with respect, admiration, and affection. Although they loved to chuckle at his foibles, they knew he was a staunch friend. They felt his inspirational leadership. They counted him a fighter in their ranks.
The loyalty that the fighting forces of many nations here serving gave to him during that war was no less strong, no less freely given, than he had, in such full measure, from his own countrymen.
An American, I was one of those Allies. During those dramatic months, I was privileged to meet, to talk, to plan, and to work with him for common goals.
Out of that association an abiding—and to me precious—friendship was forged; it withstood the trials and frictions inescapable among men of strong convictions, living in the atmosphere of war.
The war ended, our friendship flowered in the later and more subtle tests imposed by international politics. Then, each of us, holding high official posts in his own nation, strove together so to concert the strength of our two peoples that liberty might be preserved among men and the security of the free world wholly sustained.
Through a career during which personal victories alternated with defeats, glittering praise with bitter criticism, intense public activity with periods of semi-retirement, Winston Churchill lived out his fourscore and ten years.
With no thought of the length of the time he might be permitted on earth, he was concerned only with the quality of the service he could render to his nation and to humanity. Though he had no fear of death, he coveted always the opportunity to continue that service.
At this moment, as our hearts stand at attention, we say our affectionate, though sad, goodbye to the leader to whom the entire body of free men owes so much.
In the coming years, many in countless words will strive to interpret the motives, describe the accomplishments, and extol the virtues of Winston Churchill—soldier, statesman, and citizen that two great countries were proud to claim as their own. Among all the things so written or spoken, there will ring out through all the centuries one incontestable refrain: Here was a champion of freedom.
May God grant that we—and the generations who will remember him—heed the lessons he taught us: in his deeds, in his words, in his life.
May we carry on his work until no nation lies in captivity; no man is denied opportunity for fulfillment.
And now, to you Sir Winston—my old friend—farewell!