Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

A Life in a Year – 24th January, The Death of 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 result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  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!

Now, the only thing that I can see that Princess Diana ever did was to whine a lot about having to live in Palaces, wear expensive jewellery and eat gourmet food and try to undermine and destroy the Royal Family.  Not so long ago you could have your head cut off for that sort of thing but by some bizarre twist the British have turned her into a heroine.  As low down as number twenty-seven was Emily Pankhurst who fought for women’s suffrage and much further down the list at number fifty-two was Florence Nightingale and in my opinion these two women’s personal legacy to the development of Great Britain as a nation is much, much greater than that of Princess Diana.

Churchill Funeral Message from the Queen

There were other anomalies on the list as well.  There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.  Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.  There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough, military genius and ancestor of the great Sir Winston didn’t even make the list.

In fact 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 because I really can’t imagine that it is going to be Boy George.

A Life in a Year – 17th January, Street Cred and Coming Second

There is something about coming second or even outright failure and disaster that is important about being British because, unique amongst nations, we have a talent for turning disappointment into success and accepting failure equally as we embrace victory and triumph.  This ability to absorb failure and turn it into a triumph is an exclusive characteristic that contributes to the British Bulldog spirit.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13.  During this second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition.  They Failed!  Let’s not misintepret this, they Failed!  On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.   And here is the point because even though he failed in his quest Scott became an iconic British hero, a status maintained ever since.

History is in fact littered with failed military battles and disasters that we have perversely turned into iconic moments of British history.  1066 and the Norman invasion – we were invaded and conquered!  Dunkirk and the Charge of the Light Brigade but my favourite example is the Battle of Isandlwana on 22nd  January 1879, which was the first major encounter in the Zulu War between the all conquering British Empire machine and the  Zulu Kingdom of South Africa. Eleven days after the British commenced their invasion a Zulu army attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of nearly two thousand mixed British and colonial forces.  The Zulus were armed with the traditional assegai iron spears and protected by cow hide shields and the British were armed with the then state of the art Martini-Henry breech loading rifle. Despite a vast disadvantage in weapons technology, the Zulus ultimately overwhelmed the poorly led and badly deployed British, killing over one thousand, three hundred troops, whilst suffering only around a thousand casualties of their own.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion. The British army had received its worst ever defeat fighting against a technologically inferior indigenous force. However, the defeat of the British forces at Isandlwana was turned into a victory just a few days later with the successful defence of Rorke’s Drift which simply erased the memory of the ignominious defeat!

Other disasters have also been turned into iconic successes.  The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world and pronounced unsinkable when she set off on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10th April 1912.  Four days into the crossing, at twenty to midnight on 14th April, she struck an iceberg and sank just over two hours later the following morning, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

In sport, the boxer Henry Cooper became a national hero for failing to beat Cassius Clay in a 1966 World heavyweight championship fight, Tim Henman is revered for only ever reaching the Wimbledon tennis semi-finals which is another example of the British stoic acceptance of failure and in the world of entertainment we actually seem to enjoy the annual ritual humiliation of the Eurovision song contest.

And it would seem that we can as a nation get mixed up about heroes and villains. I think that few would disagree that Winston 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 result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  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!  Now, the only thing that I can see that Princess Diana ever did was to whine a lot about having to live in palaces, wear expensive jewellery and eat gourmet food and try to undermine and destroy the Royal Family.  Not so long ago you could have your head cut off for that sort of thing but by some bizarre twist the British have turned this disastrous woman into a heroine.

A Life in a Year – 2nd January, James Wolfe and the Boys’ Book of Heroes

On the 2nd January 1727 one of Britain’s greatest military heroes, James Wolfe was born.   He became an army officer known for his training reforms but remembered chiefly for his victory over the French in Canada.  The son of a distinguished general, he received his first commission at a young age and saw extensive service in Europe where he fought during the War of the Austrian Succession.  His service in Flanders and in Scotland, where he took part in the suppression of the Jacobite Rebellion, brought him to the attention of his superiors.

The outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in 1756 offered Wolfe fresh opportunities for advancement.  His part in the aborted attack on Rochefort in 1757 led to his appointment as second-in-command of an expedition to capture Louisbourg. Following the success of this operation he was made commander of a force designated to sail up the Saint Lawrence River to capture Quebec.  After a lengthy siege Wolfe defeated a French force under Montcalm allowing British forces to capture the city but he was killed at the height of the battle by a French cannon shot.

This fact reminded me of a book that my dad gave to me when I was a young boy.  It was one of his own that he had had as a young lad, it was printed during the second world war sometime between 1941 and 1945 and was reproduced on thick low quality yellowing paper and it was called the ‘The Boy’s Book of Heroes’ and naturally Wolfe was included in a chapter called ‘Heroes of the Empire’, which also included Robert Clive, Duke of Wellington and Horatio Nelson.  The reason that I can date it reasonably accurately is because the chapter on Douglas Bader states that that at the time he was in a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

Dad loved history and always had books and stories to share with me the tales of the past and I know that he passed down his interest to me and this led directly to me developing my own interest and ultimately to studying and gaining a degree in history at Cardiff University in 1975.

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 result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  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.

There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.  Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.

There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthropist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  Interestingly this inequality isn’t something new because in the ‘The Boy’s Book of Heroes’ all of the fifty-five people included were men but inside the book it did make reference to a companion volume called ‘The Girl’s Book of Heroines’, which was nice but I can’t help wondering why they had to be kept apart like this?

I have still got the book and hope to pass it on one day to someone who will appreciate its value just as much as I do.  All of the pictures here are from the book.

 

 

 

1965 – Death of the Greatest Briton, 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 result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  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!

Now, the only thing that I can see that Princess Diana ever did was to whine a lot about having to live in Palaces, wear expensive jewellery and eat gourmet food and try to undermine and destroy the Royal Family.  Not so long ago you could have your head cut off for that sort of thing but by some bizarre twist the British have turned her into a heroine.

As low down as number twenty-seven was Emily Pankhurst who fought for women’s suffrage and much further down the list at number fifty-two was Florence Nightingale and in my opinion these two women’s personal legacy to the development of Great Britain as a nation is much, much greater than that of Princess Diana.

There were other anomalies on the list as well.  There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.

Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.  There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough, military genius and ancestor of the great Sir Winston didn’t even make the list.

In fact 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 because I really can’t imagine that it is going to be Boy George.

1955 – Polio, McDonalds and Disneyland

In 1955 there was a major medical breakthrough with the introduction of a vaccine to prevent the spread of an illness that caused widespread panic amongst parents.  Polio!

This is a highly infectious disease that affects the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis. It is transmitted through contaminated food, drinking water and swimming pool water.   Major polio epidemics were unknown before the twentieth century, even though the disease had caused paralysis and death for much of human history.  Polio had existed for thousands of years but epidemics only began to occur in Europe in the early nineteenth century and soon after became widespread in the United States as cities got bigger and a lack of hygiene and sanitation created serious health hazards.

By 1910, much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases and frequent epidemics became regular events, primarily in these big cities during the summer months.  It became an imperative to discover a vaccine so when this came along this was really good news.

There were a number of forms of polio with varying degrees of seriousness but the one that you really didn’t want to catch was spinal polio which was a viral invasion of the motor neurons in the spinal column which rather importantly are responsible for movement of the muscles, including those of the body and the major limbs.  When spinal neurons die, degeneration takes place, leading to weakness of muscles, and with the destruction of nerve cells, they no longer receive signals from the brain or spinal cord and without nerve stimulation the muscles becoming weak, floppy and poorly controlled, and finally completely paralysed.  Progression to maximum paralysis is as quick as two to four days.

Not being a doctor I have massively simplified the medical details here of course but one thing that was absolutely certain was that polio was a very nasty business indeed and parents were understandably worried sick about it because there was no known cure and if you caught it at best you would spend the rest of your life in leg irons or at worst in an iron lung.  The vaccine was administered by an especially nasty injection which if you were unlucky left an ugly crater in the top of the arm, but that was a small price to pay for peace of mind.  Thankfully, polio is now practically unheard of in those countries that use the vaccine.

Polio wasn’t the only killer of course and there were also vaccines and injections for other nasties like smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis.  And then there were the common children’s diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox which didn’t kill you outright but made you feel rather poorly for a day or two.  To protect against them there were regular trips to the doctor’s surgery for injections against them all and there were so many pricks in your arm that you began to look a bit like a pin cushion.  By the age of six or seven children of my age had had so many needles inserted that they must have had more pricks than an Amsterdam red light district prostitute!

So the nightmare of polio was under control but then, also in 1955, a man called Ray Kroc unleashed a new monster and the beginning of the western world obesity problem when he opened the ninth McDonalds franchise restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois, which eventually led to the McDonalds Corporation and world domination by the hamburger giant.

Kroc was a milkshake machine salesman and his work brought him into contact with the two brothers, Maurice and Richard McDonald, at their innovative hamburger restaurant in San Bernardino in California.

The brothers were interesting characters who were inspired by the assembly line manufacturing method of Henry Ford and in 1948 they closed their traditional restaurant for several months and applied the principles of mass production to the restaurant industry.  They pared the service back to the essentials, offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes, which were produced on a continuous basis, rather than made to order, and with no alternatives offered.  Food could thus be served to a formula, nearly instantaneously and always consistently, a new idea that they called “fast food“.  The waitresses were dispensed with and customers walked to a single window to place and receive their orders.  They made the food preparation area visible to the customers, to exhibit its standards of cleanliness, and they eliminated all plates and cutlery, serving only in paper bags.

The two brothers were not particularly ambitious however and only wanted to have their one restaurant but Ray Kroc wanted to have even more new McDonalds and he pressed then to expand the operation.  Eventually he lost patience and forced the brothers out of business by opening a rival diner that  he called McDOnalds (similar but not the same) right on the other side of the street.  The small restaurant of the two brothers lost their customers and Ray Kroc bought them out in 1961 for $2.7 million, which was a tidy sum in 1961.  McDonalds didn’t reach the United Kingdom until 1974 and now there are over a thousand of them.  I don’t remember when I first started using McDonalds, probably at about the time the children started to request it as a dining option, and now I would only use it if I am absolutely desperate!

France and McDonalds and obesity

1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.  Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time to many.

In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria became a sovereign state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours of Le Mans motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties has been the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.