It was the most extraordinary event. Many people have written about it and tried to understand it but it remains hard to comprehend. It is not as if Churchill died young, nor had he been in power for some years. In fact, when in power or just politically active, he was not particularly popular, not even as war leader and certainly not after the war. Let us not forget that under his leadership the Conservative Party lost two elections out of three and barely managed to win the third one because the Liberal Party could not stand the financial strain of two elections in one year.

In the ten years between his well-earned retirement and his death, however, he was transferred into an god-like figure, an icon of British history and a man whom no criticism must touch. Of course, historians have discussed his political career and even his wartime actions for some time but any disagreement with the generally worshipping attitude has been met with shrieks of horror until very recently (as discussed in this posting).

The funeral was something separate. It was, unusually, a state funeral for a former political figure; it was beautifully planned and executed, furthermore, but that is not surprising. Britain, this blog maintains does pomp and circumstance better than any country. Besides, it has been said that Churchill himself had contributed a great deal to the planning.

There was more, though: the country was saying good-bye to a great leader but also to its own past without, perhaps, quite realizing it. Still recovering from the war and, even more so, the immediate post-war years, still unable to work out her role in the world, the whole country looked back with sorrow to a period, so well represented by the figure of Churchill, when its greatness, courage and steadfastness seemed unassailable. We were saying goodbye to all that. Sadly, it took a good many years to start looking forward again.

Here is a slightly abbreviated film of the funeral, very well worth seeing:

And here is the moment that always brings a lump to my throat: the cranes of London's docks (that were not going to survive Churchill for long) saying their farewell and the coffin beginning its final journey:


  1. dfordoom Says:
  2. On the subject of Churchill's legacy an idea that seems to be gaining traction is that Britain made a serious error in getting involved in the war. Any thoughts on this?

  3. Helen Says:
  4. It's not a particularly new idea. One could argue that it dates back to 1940 or so but, certainly, has been discussed seriously by serious historians for a couple of decades. My own view is that most likely Germany and Britain would have had to fight at some point but an even later one would have been better. At least, Chamberlain won enough time to bring the RAF up to scratch even if the army was not.

  5. dfordoom Says:
  6. I think Chamberlain has been treated a little unfairly by history. His policy wasn't appeasement. It was appeasement combined with rearmament. Probably not such a bad policy.

  7. Helen Says:
  8. As Churchill made sure that he would be. He actually said he would do that and from his point of view quite right. As soon as he lost that election in 1945 he began to write his version of history. It is time to realize that it was propaganda as much as history.

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