Last month London saw a series of events commemorating the funeral of Britain’s great wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill. Astonishingly 50 years had passed since that bitterly cold day in January 1965 but crowds still lined the Thames to watch the very same Port of London launch, Havengore, which carried his coffin, ferry various members of his family from Tower Bridge to Waterloo Station.
From platform 11, there the remembrance continued with a train journey to Bladon in Oxfordshire, where Churchill is buried near the family’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace.
As usual though with Churchill even at these solemn moments, the quirky and mischievous nature of the great man makes you smile – apparently he insisted that his funeral train should depart from Waterloo, not the usual station of Paddington, “if Charles de Gaulle outlived him!” Not really fair when the former French President said of him: “In the great drama, he (Churchill) was the greatest of all.”
Throughout his life Churchill took significant personal risks to stand up for what he believed in. Classically, from the roof of number 10 Downing Street at the height of the Blitz in 1940, he watched the destruction raining down upon the capital from German bombs, rather than take cover in the air raid shelters below.
He also made a point of visiting bomb-ravaged areas of the capital and raising morale with inspiring speeches – this truly was his ‘Finest Hour’.
And Churchill’s memory lives on in London. Underneath the Treasury buildings in Whitehall are the Cabinet War Rooms, run by the Imperial War Museum and largely left untouched from the 1940s. A great place to take children and an absolute reminder of just how desperate those days were.
Even in the most secure place in the capital, an armed Royal Marine stood guard outside the room in which the cabinet met – just in case an enemy assassin made it that far!
From the War Rooms, why not take a Churchill tour of your own? Under the shadow of Big Ben is the beautiful St Margaret’s Church where he married Clementine on September 12, 1908 – a marriage that was to last a lifetime.
Just across the road is the iconic 12-foot bronze statue of the great man by sculptor Ivor Roberts Jones, facing the Palace of Westminster, the very building where Churchill famously said: “We shall fight them on the beaches…”
There are a number of London homes featuring blue plaques with Churchill’s name – one of the best is at Morpeth Mansions, near Westminster Cathedral. Churchill lived here for nine years before becoming Prime Minister and recently his two-bedroomed flat came up for rental at €3,000 a week!
Back along Whitehall and across the road from 10 Downing Street is a great pub called the Clarence, reputedly Churchill’s hostelry of choice, where you will find a ‘Pol Roger bar’, named after his favourite Champagne.
Then of course, where better to round off the tour than with dinner at the Savoy, his favourite place to dine? Stop off at the American Bar in the hotel which Churchill frequented and, like him maybe, avoid the cocktails with a vengeance!
By Richard Lamberth