The 24th January 2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill.
I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.
I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time. I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was. The competition was virtually pointless and the result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.
He died 50 years ago this month at the ripe age of 90. A miracle, considering he had drunk an estimated forty-two thousand bottles of Pol Roger champagne through his life; he thought nothing of starting the morning with cold game and a glass of hock and ending it in the late afternoon with the best part of a bottle of cognac.
After losing the 1945 election, he went on holiday to stay at Lake Como, with Sarah, his daughter, and Lord Moran, his doctor. It must have been one hell of a holiday but I doubt they would remember very much about it. Between them they polished off nearly one hundred bottles of champagne in a fortnight; Churchill also drank six or seven whisky and sodas a day, as well as three daily brandies. Earlier this year I was chastised by my doctor for drinking half a bottle of red wine a day!
The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten. Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who received nearly 25% of the votes. These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana! Mind you, to put that into some sort of perspective in 2005 there was a similar poll in the United States and Ronald Regan was voted the greatest American of all time. Ronald Regan – Ronald McDonald would have been a more worthy winner, at least in Britain we only put Margaret Thatcher in sixteenth place.
At this time lots of other countries ran similar polls, some of the results were equally predictable, South Africa voted for Nelson Mandella, Spain for King Juan Carlos, Greece choose Alexander the Great and, ignoring politics, Italy went for Leonardo Da Vinci. Some results were less obvious, in France there was surely someone more famous than Charles de Gaulle (Napoleon perhaps) and Germany overlooked Otto Von Bismarck and Martin Luther and choose Konrad Adenaur. My favourite is Canada, where, despite being the second largest country in the World, there are so few famous people to choose from that the long list was restricted to fifty and the top ten included three Scots, the public voted for a man called Tommy Douglas! In Australia the newspaper ‘The Australian’ selected Andrew ‘Banjo’ Patterson who pushed the World’s greatest ever cricketer, Don Bradman, into second place.
Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch. A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days. The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.
Very few other people have had them: Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill. So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will. We might have to wait a very long time for the next one.