Tim Koch writes:
When Winston Churchill died in 1965, the historian Sir Arthur Bryant said:’The age of giants is over.’ In his recent piece on the ceremonies on the Thames to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, Göran Buckhorn called his article ‘a non-rowing related thing’. This is not strictly true.
Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. At the forefront of politics for 50 years, he was also a soldier who took part in five wars before the age of 25. As well as the sword, he also wielded the pen and was a journalist, historian and Nobel Prize winning writer. In the Sudan, he took part in the last British cavalry charge, in South Africa he escaped a Boer prisoner-of-war camp, in the United States he was made an honorary citizen, at home he was an accomplished artist and an amateur bricklayer. Throughout his life he lived beyond his means, drank and smoked enthusiastically and claimed to be ‘200 per cent fit’. In looking at his life, it is often difficult to separate truth from myth and unfair criticism from unquestioning hero worship. Churchill himself was one of those responsible for this confusion. ‘History will be kind to me’ he allegedly said, ‘for I intend to write it’. Ultimately of course, he both wrote and made history.
His career pre and post the 1939 – 1945 War is checkered to say the least and notable low points include his decision to return to the gold standard in 1929 and his determination to stay on as Prime Minister in the 1950s. However, when it was most important, Churchill got it right and it is difficult to imagine anyone else who could have led Britain as he did as Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945. He gave Britain, a little island standing alone against a ‘new dark age’, hope ‘when hope seemed irrational’.
Churchill died on Sunday, 24January 1965, the seventieth anniversary of the death of his father, Randolph Churchill. The Queen had given permission for a State Funeral (usually only allowed for a reigning monarch) and preparations for the event (code-named ‘Hope Not’) had been in progress for some time. Churchill had chosen to be buried not in Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, but in the family plot at Bladon in Oxfordshire. The body lay in state for three days at Westminster Hall and then on 30 January it was taken by gun carriage to St Paul’s for the state funeral service, attended by representatives of 112 countries. From St Paul’s the coffin was carried to Tower Pier and then taken up the Thames on the Port of London Authority launch Havengore to Festival Pier. ‘And so Havengore sails into history,’ intoned the BBC commentator, Richard Dimbleby. ‘Not even the Golden Hinde has borne so great a man.
From Festival Pier it was a short journey to Waterloo Station and the train to Bladon. However, it was the brief river trip that most of the 350 million people watching on television seem to remember, notably when the cranes that in those days lined that part of the river were lowered in an unofficial, unexpected and moving salute by the dock workers. As the BBC pictures showed this scene, it played in the voice of former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower:
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…
All cameras were focused on the stern of the Havengore, where the coffin surrounded by the pallbearers from the Grenadier Guards rested, and few seem to have captured the liveried figure standing at the bow. I would have perhaps expected it to be the Queen’s Bargemaster, one of the Royal Waterman, but, if that were the case, his livery would be red. The picture below is very unclear, but the figure on the bow must be in the blue of the Bargemaster of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen (who would also be a former Doggett’s Coat and Badge winner).
From 9 minutes and 16 seconds in, this Pathe newsreel gives you a different view of the vessel:
When the Havengore marks its journey of 50 years ago on this 30 January, Doggett’s men Simon and Jeremy McCarthy and their Bargemaster, Robert Coleman, dressed in their full livery, will provide the ceremonial crew on the launch’s journey from HMS President, just downstream of Tower Bridge, to the Palace of Westminster. For anyone able to be in Central London on the 30, the day’s full itinerary is on the Havengore website.
An interesting view of the day of Churchill’s funeral in those pre-digital, pre-internet days is on the website ‘photohistories’.
Churchill’s life in splendid high resolution pictures can be viewed at the website ‘flashbak’.
A great website celebrating Churchill is The Churchill Centre.