Sunday, 1 February 2015

London Calling - Churchill Remembered

Trafalgar Square

Happy February! I was on London today and made a short pilgrimage away from other business to pay my respects at the statue of Sir Winston Churchill which stands in Parliament Square and looks across the busy road towards the Houses of Parliament.

We have been remembering Churchill here in the UK this last week because it marks fifty years since his death and state funeral - an event which included  a procession of his coffin through the London streets on a gun carriage, a formal  service in Westminster Abby and then his body traveled on barge and by train to his final modest grave. The cranes along the river (which are no longer there) famously bowed when he passed by, and all along the route that his body took people turned out in their thousands to show their respect.

The Churchill statue on Parliament Square 
What did he do to deserve this unusual recognition by the State and adulation by the 'common people'? Who was he?

I will try to be succinct:

  • he was nobly-born (perhaps he would not have succeeded in politics in that time if this had not been the case), even though he later became known as a man-of-the-people;
  • he was not a academic success at school;
  • when a young man, he was a bold solider - sometimes writing up his adventures for the newspapers;
  • eventually he became a remarkably well paid-journalist; 
  • he wrote many books;
  • he was a massive self-promoter; 
  • he was a long-standing and crafty member of parliament, not always representing the same party;
  • he was a great orator - in this matter he has been compared with Abraham Lincoln and that comparison goes deep both are perhaps the greatest statesmen of their countries;
Lincoln's statue which is also on Parliament Square
  • Churchill was also the person who decided that the UK would go to war with Nazi Germany (others in the government would have sought appeasement and we would now be living in a different world if they had prevailed); 
  • as British Prime Minister he then led the UK through what became World War Two, making brave decisions and pushing innovative technologies that eventually led to success and changed the world for ever;
  • he was a dedicated bon viveur  (the cigars are well known about the nightly bottles of champagne less well so, although it seems even after a heavy meal and significant imbibement, he was able to carry on writing and working);
  • he had many fierce opponents in government (not everyone liked him);
  • he was a keen painter and recreational brick-layer;
  • he suffered from depression (his 'black dog') and 
  • he did not request a state funeral or a special grave (no grand mausoleum for him) and after all the pomp and ceremony his body was interred in a simple grave next to that of his father Randolph. 

I was a small boy when he died. I have no direct memory of him either as an elderly man or the great state funeral. However, I can claim a link (apart from the fact that I grew up in free country). On his death, the nation decided to establish the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to make a living legacy for him. Every year the Trust provides grants to British people to travel  to try to broaden their horizons, further their interests (different topics are chosen each year) and improve international relations. In my twenties I was fortunate enough to win one of these fellowships and went to South Africa. I did not emerge unchanged from this (which is partly the point); South Africa was still under the awful thrall of apartheid at this time, but this is another story.  Meanwhile I am pleased that we still remember Winston well and I am proud to be a Churchill Fellow. 

More about the Trust and the Fellowships HERE.

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