As It Happened
Follow this minute by minute account of the day Britain said farewell to Winston Churchill – as originally published by The Telegraph :-
As the Saturday of January 30, 1965, dawned grey and drizzly, this gigantic and well-coordinated plan began to click into motion.
08:15 As the day begins, Winston Churchill is lying in state in Westminster Hall, at the Houses of Parliament. In the past few days over 320,000 people have passed by his coffin, queuing over a mile in the bitter cold for a chance to pay their respects.
The weather has been bad, and planners considered calling off a tribute by the RAF. But today is better and brighter than feared – good news for the TV crews who are perched like lookouts in crow’s nests atop St Paul’s and Tower Bridge. In all, over 90 cameras are in position to cover the event.
08:30 Security guards and police officers are taking their positions in what the Daily Telegraph calls “the most extensive security operation of this sort ever undertaken in England”.
T.A. Sandrock, the Scotland Yard correspondent, reports:
“The first of nearly 1,000 security men who will be on duty today started moving into position at 10 o’clock last night. Their job is to search buildings along the route of the procession and take guard positions in them. Some armed men will take up vantage points on the rooftops. They will remain until ceremony is over.
Traffic and crowd-control police are also moving into position. They are linked with two-way radios to a special control room at Scotland Yard, which will direct reserves wherever they are needed.
One big problem for police is that bodyguards to foreign heads of state go armed. In the past, the Yard has asked bodyguards to leave weapons with them.”
08:40 More on the security detail. The Sunday Telegraph reports:
“The name of every person in every building in the line of sight was supplied to the police beforehand. These names were checked with a national list of politically uncertain people who might bear a grudge against particular leaders.”
08:45 Over at St Paul’s Cathedral the congregation begins to arrive.
The plan for today is simple: Churchill’s body will be borne through the streets to St Paul’s, where the ceremony will take place. Then it will continue to Tower Bridge, where it will be loaded onto a Thames launch and sent along the river to Waterloo station. Finally, it will be loaded onto a train and carried out to Bladon, Oxfordshire, his final resting place.
Almost 4,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen will be lining the route.
09:00 Big Ben tolls nine. At 9:45 it will sound for the last time today, thereafter remaining silent until midnight.
09:20 The family mourners arrive at New Palace Road, Westminster, by car. Among them are Lady Clementine Churchill, Winston’s wife, and Mary Soames, his daughter.
Her son Nicholas Soames (who was age 16 at the time) will be following the coffin in the procession. He remembers:
“The day of the funeral was bitterly cold but dry with a watery sun which broke through a leaden grey sky.”
09:30 Throughout the night, roads have been closing down – first Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross, then Cannon Row and Aldwych. Now King William Street follows. In all, nearly 80 streets will be closed. Some people have been waiting since 6am to watch the funeral go by.
09:35 It is time. In Westminster Hall, a party of Grenadier Guards drape Churchill’s coffin in the Union Jack and lay atop it the insignia of his Order of the Garter. Outside, a Royal Navy gun carriage – with cannon still attached – is waiting to carry him to the cathedral.
09:40 Representatives of France, Russia and the USA arrive at St Paul’s. Charles de Gaulle, Churchill’s wartime comrade, who led the French resistance during the dark years of Nazi occupation, is here. Lyndon B. Johnson, the US president, is ill, but has sent David Bruce, the UK ambassador, and Earl Warren, the famous a pro-civil rights Supreme Court judge, in his stead. The Soviet delegation is most interesting. While now opposed to Britain, the Soviets were a key ally during the war. They have sent Konstantin Rudnev, the deputy Prime Minister, and Marshal Ivan Konev, a veteran of Kursk and Berlin who later helped suppress the Hungarian Revolution.
09:45 At Westminster Hall the procession begins. Ian Waller reports:
“The sombre scene was broken only by the vivid splashes of red of the postilions’ uniforms, the white cockade of the Earl Marshal’s hat ruffling in the breeze, the fair hair of one of Sir Winston’s grandsons.
Slowly, tenderly, the eight bare-headed Guardsmen lowered the coffin on to the grey gun carriage, watched by Lady Churchill, her family beside her. Slowly she moved to her carriage followed by the ladies of the family.
A few moments’ wait and then the Duke of Norfolk spoke briefly to the Commanding Officer. The orders rang out across New Palace Yard. As one, the gun crew moved forward in slow time.”
09:50 Over 2,300 personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force are in the procession as it files through Parliament Square. It marches in slow time, 65 paces a minute, with an escort from the Metropolitan Police and military bands playing funeral marches by Chopin, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn.
At St James’ Park and Tower Hill, batteries of artillery start firing – once every minute. In the course of the day they will fire 90 times – once for every year of Winston Churchill’s life.
09:55 As the head of the procession passes the Cenotaph, 150 resistance fighters from France, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries dip their national flags in salute.
10:00 Selfridges shuts its food store early. Meanwhile, the door of St Paul’s is closed to the public.
10:04 The speaker of the House of Commons arrives at St Paul’s, with his mace. If there’s one way Churchill wanted to be remembered, it might have been as “a good House of Commons man”. The seat where he had habitually sat had been left vacant last week as a sign of respect.
10:06 Anyone looking out of the window of Bush House, the headquarters of the BBC’s World Service, would now see the head of the procession pass them by.
First come the mounted police escort, clopping along; then, the RAF bands, and behind them the air crews who fought in the Battle of Britain.
10:09 Next up are the army boys: 4/5 (Cinque Ports) Batt, The Royal Sussex Regt (TA); 4/5 Batt, The Essex Regt (TA); 299 Field Regt (RBY, QOOH, and Berks) RA (TA); and the marching band of the Foot Guards. Then, the regiments from the three outer nations of the United Kingdom – Welsh Guards, Irish Guards, Scots Guards, and the Coldstreams – and after them, the Royal Marines.
10:14 Behind the Royal Marines are the state trumpeters and the household cavalry. Yet more bands follow, and then come the Earl Marshal, who is coordinating the funeral. Four officers of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, into which Churchill’s old cavalry unit was folded, carrying the medals awarded to him on four black velvet cushions.
10:20 Now, trundling past the windows of Bush House, comes the gun carriage itself. Royal Navy gun crews draw it along, and behind it are the women of Churchill’s family in five black horse-drawn carriages.
Nicholas Soames (Churchill’s grandson) remembers:
“My uncle Randolph Churchill and my father, Christopher Soames, my cousin Winston, myself, my younger brother, and other male members of my family, including my grandfather’s devoted private secretary, Anthony Montague-Browne, marched behind the coffin. My grandmother and the rest of the female members of my family rode in five of the Queen’s carriages as we made our way to St Paul’s.”
10:24 The Sunday Telegraph reports:
“Pavements were lined four to six deep for the length of the street, from the City of London’s gateway at Temple Bar to densely-packed Ludgate Circus. Transistor radios carried by some of the younger onlookers were abruptly switched off when Sir Winston’s coffin came into view.”
10:25 The Queen, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles leave Buckingham Palace in their maroon limousine.
10:35 Her Majesty arrives at St Paul’s Cathedral. On the steps, she is met by the Mayor of London (Sir Lionel Denny), who is holding the City’s velvet-handled mourning sword. And they are received at the door by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
10:45 The gun carriage bearing Sir Winston’s body halts at the bottom steps of St Paul’s, met by a huge array of soldiers and dignitaries standing ready.
10:50 Churchill’s coffin, preceded by the pall bearers, is carried up the steps, which are lined with Household Cavalry. As the coffin goes through the door, the guard of honour shoulder and ‘order’ their arms (the position of Attention when carrying rifles).
10:55 Winston Churchill’s coffin is led through the nave as the choir sing.
As the Telegraph later writes:
“Sir Winston’s Orders and Decorations and banners, the Earl Marshal and the 12 pall bearers, all precede the coffin, borne on the shoulders of the eight strong Guardsmen.
They place his body gently on the black and silver catafalque under the Dome of St Paul’s.”
11:35 With the playing of the National Anthem, the Last Post, and the Reveille, the service ends.
Nicholas Soames remembers:
“The hymns chosen were my Grandfather’s favourites, including the mighty Battle Hymn of the Republic. It was overwhelmingly beautiful and sad when the trumpeters sounded the Last Post and the Reveille high up in the Whispering Gallery. It was a moment of supreme emotion.”
11: 46 The coffin finally appears from the mouth of the cathedral, preceded again by the pallbearers.
11:50 Churchill’s coffin is loaded onto the gun carriage outside St Paul’s, while the Royal Family watch from the top steps.
12:25 The gun carriage carrying Churchill’s body arrives at Tower Hill, where it will be loaded onto a boat and sailed down the Thames. Massed bagpipers play traditional Highland songs, and as the coffin passes through the gate to Tower Wharf, the troops shoulder their arms.
12:34 Michael Kernan is one of the Royal Marines escorting the coffin. Now 73 years old, he remembers:
“From where we stood, I could see the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and all I could think was: ‘They must be frozen in their kilts.’ Because it was the coldest day ever. It was bitter, even in my uniform with long trousers and great coat. When the gun carriage stopped in front of us, the pipes played a lament, as the coffin was taken off, and placed on the shoulders of the Guards who were part of the bearer party. Then the carriage was taken away, and the Guardsmen slow-marched down the hill towards the Thames. We Royal Marines escorted them, and presented arms as the coffin was placed on the barge.”
12:50 To a 17-gun salute from the artillery battery at Tower Hill, the Havengore casts off, bearing Winston Churchill out into the river.
“For me, this was a moment of colliding emotions: of solemn pride and great sadness… the Royal Marine band played Rule Britannia as Havengore slipped her moorings and turned out upstream on the leaden river… we watched in awe as the great cranes on Hays Wharf dipped in salute.”
The dipping cranes are not poetic exaggeration. Bill Read saw them too:
“I heard that was never planned, but was a spontaneous gesture by crane drivers of respect.”
12:52 The RAF begins its fly-past, Lightning jets soaring overhead in box formation.
13:00 Havengore passes under London Bridge. Those watching at Tower Wharf now finally turn their eyes away as the Royal Marine band plays the national anthem.
13:10 Churchill’s coffin arrives at Festival Hall pier near Waterloo station and is loaded into a hearse.
13:18 The hearse arrives at Waterloo. From here, Churchill’s coffin will be taken up by members of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, his old regiment. They will load it onto a special train with a hearse carriage which will bear it to Churchill’s childhood home in Bladon, Oxfordshire.
13:22 Barry de Morgan, now 82, was one of the hussars who met the coffin. He recalls:
” On the day of the funeral, dressed in my blues and great coat, I lined up with the men on Platform 11, waiting for the hearse. When it arrived, we took the coffin out and carried it on the shoulders of eight soldiers to the waiting train. For one horrid moment I felt that the weight would be too much as it was obviously heavier than the practice coffin. The hearse drew away and the bearers lifted the coffin on to their shoulders. Slowly we marched up the ramp to the coach door. Here the coffin was lowered to chest height and the party sidestepped into the coach and laid the coffin on a special bier.”
An officer from the Grenadier Guards cut the threads holding on Sir Winston’s Order of the Garter to the coffin and bore the insignia away.
13:33 The funeral train, drawn by a Battle of Britain class steam engine named ‘Winston Churchill’, pulls out of Waterloo station.
13:46 ‘Winston Churchill’ (the steam engine) chuffs on through Barnes, Twickenham, Ascot, and Reading, while London, with the funeral officially over, returns to its official business.
But in Bladon, the whole village is preparing for Churchill’s arrival. Roadside verges are tidied, fresh tarmac is laid, and even the trees in Blenheim Park have been trimmed.
19 police forces are helping to control the thousands of people who are expected to flock to the village, despite a warning from chief constable David Holdsworth to stay away.
14:13 On the train, Barry de Morgan and his Hussar comrades are taking turns to stand guard. As he remembers it:
“All the way down to Bladon, the station platforms were crowded with people paying their last respects: they stood and bowed, and took off their hats. Passing one ploughed field, I saw a young man standing on the bonnet of his tractor, doffing his hat.
A football game stopped and the players stood to attention facing the train. A lorry driver in a quarry stood on his bonnet with his hat removed. Even children stopped their play. I’d never witnessed such emotional scenes.”
(you will also find reference to a football game, being stopped, respects given and recommenced, in Mike Cross’ memories of the day in the “Personal Memories” page – Mick Luxford [editor])
14:41 Nicholas Soames is aboard the funeral train as it thunders through the countryside.
“In a way, the journey by train was as emotional as the rest of the day. In every field that we passed it seemed there were small groups of people waiting to say their goodbyes.
I remember a field full of mounted members of The Pony Club with their hats off; a farmer standing with his head bowed; a Thames lock-keeper standing to attention at the salute with his medals up; and on the flat roof of his house, an old man wearing his Royal Air Force uniform.
It was so very touching and at every station that we passed the platforms were thronged with people who had come to take their leave on a cold winter afternoon, to watch Winston Churchill’s last journey home.”
15:10 Bladon and Handborough are “virtually sealed off”, says the Telegraph, in anticipation of Churchill’s arrival. The main roads through the village have been closed all day and nobody is allowed in to St Martin’s Church, where the burial will take place.
The previous night, local chief constable David Holdsworth had warned:
“It is surely more important that people should be able to say that they respected Lady Churchill’s request for privacy than that they should be able to say that they witnessed the final and sad moments of the family funeral in Oxfordshire.”
That, however, has not deterred the crowds.
15:23 The funeral train pulls in to Handborough Station. RH Greenfield reports:
“Several hundreds of spectators stood silently in groups along the one-and-a-half miles of the route of the cortege to the village of Bladon.”
15:30 Churchill’s coffin is loaded into a hearse and leaves the station. All of Bladon seems to be lining the streets, but they are outnumbered by the 900 police officers standing guard.
15:38 The coffin arrives at the churchyard of St Martin’s, Bladon. Churchill is to be laid between the graves of his father, Lord Randolph, his brother, John, and his mother. This is a strictly family occasion: no press, no public.
15:40 Away from the prying eyes of the news, last rites are said over Winston Churchill. Clementine, his wife, lays a wreath of red roses, tulips, and carnations with the inscription: “To my darling Winston, Clemmie.”
Nicholas Soames remembers:
“The crowds of that extraordinary funeral day had melted away and, as dusk approached in the graveyard, just his very closest family were there. My grandmother, Clementine, stepped forward to say her final farewells. One by one, we followed. It was over so quickly.”
16:45 Now, Barry de Morgan helps lower the coffin into the grave.
“In the graveyard, the vicar gave the committal, with the Churchill family standing around the grave. I gave the order: ‘Prepare to lower. Lower.’ The bearer party released the tapes so the heavy, lead-lined coffin could go down.
As it did, I heard a noise but could take no notice.”
16:00 The family mourners file out of the church. Police will stay on guard for the next three days, watching for trouble from the crowd who will now be permitted access.
16:15 Back aboard the train, Barry de Morgan can breathe a justified sigh of relief; his job is done. But then one of his troops comes up to him.
“Sorry, sir,” he says. “My medals are missing !”
Suddenly Barry remembers the strange noise he heard as he lowered Churchill’s coffin into the ground.
“Immediately, I twigged, and turned to the officer in charge [Major Ronald Ferguson, the late father of The Duchess of York] and explained what had happened. He sent a despatch rider to recover the medals before the grave was filled in.”
And that’s the story of how Winston Churchill was almost buried with the wrong medals.
16:20 The funeral train puffs out of the station, returning to London.
16:30 Members of the public, who have been queuing outside the churchyard, are now allowed through one narrow gate in single file. By the time they leave, the grave will be one great bank of brilliant flowers – “poppies, tulips, carnations, creamy white lilies and deep red roses,” as the Telegraph writes.
One card, attached to a wreath of red tulips, reads:
“To Sir Winston. By your death we have been impoverished. But your noble life has enriched mankind for all time and your name will ever be enshrined in the hearts of all who value Peace, Freedom, and Honour. With sorrow, an ex-Serviceman.”
END: The stream of mourners will not die away for several days.
But life goes on. By Tuesday, February 2, the Daily Telegraph has returned to its ordinary fare. Chaos over coalitions in the Commons; arguments over equipping the RAF. It is the very normality that Churchill fought to preserve, in all its messy vitality.
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