Death and funeral of Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965, aged 90. His was the first state funeral for a non-royal family member since Edward Carson in 1935, and as of 2019 it remains the most recent state funeral in the United Kingdom. The official funeral lasted for four days. Planning for the funeral, known as Operation Hope Not, began 12 years before Churchill's death. It was initiated after Churchill's stroke in 1953 while in his second term as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. After several revisions due to Churchill's continued survival, the plan was issued on 26 January 1965, two days after his death.
By decree of Queen Elizabeth II, his body lay in state at Westminster Hall for three days from 26 January. On 30 January, the order of funeral was held at St Paul's Cathedral. From there the body was transported by water along the River Thames to Waterloo station, accompanied by military salutations. In the afternoon he was buried at St Martin's Churchyard at Bladon, the resting place of his ancestors and his brother. Attended by representatives from 120 countries, 6,000 people, and unusually by the Queen, more than 1,000 police and security personnel, involving nine military bands, 18 military battalions, 16 Royal Air Force English Electric Lightning fighter jets, a special boat MV Havengore and a train hauled by Winston Churchill, homage paid by 321,360 people, and witnessed by over 350 million people, it was the largest state funeral in history.
Background and funeral plan
Voted as the greatest Briton in a BBC poll in 2002, Winston Churchill is remembered for leading his country (with the Allies) to victory as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. In June 1953, during his second term as Prime Minister, he had a severe stroke at a dinner party at Downing Street. Unknown to his guests, he collapsed and was left partially paralysed. The family kept the incident secret. Among the few who were informed of the news was Queen Elizabeth II, who had occupied the throne for just a year. She instructed the Duke of Norfolk, who is in charge of state funerals, to make preparations in the event of Churchill's death that should be "on a scale befitting his position in history". A meticulous and confidential plan titled Operation Hope Not was prepared. Churchill survived the next 12 years, during which necessary modifications were constantly made. The final documents titled State Funeral of the Late Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, K.G., O.M., C.H. were issued on 26 January 1965, two days after Churchill's death. The documents dictated the entire course of the funeral down to the minutest detail.
Illness and death
Churchill died of a stroke in the morning of Sunday 24 January 1965 in his home at 28 Hyde Park Gate, London. His physician Lord Moran announced the death at 8:35 a.m. Since 1949 he had suffered eight strokes. The last one was on 15 January 1965 from which he never recovered. He was in a coma most of the time and his last words were to his son-in-law Christopher Soames, "I'm bored with it all." The Queen immediately sent a letter of condolence to Lady Churchill, saying:
The whole world is the poorer by the loss of his many-sided genius while the survival of this country and the sister nations of the Commonwealth, in the face of the greatest danger that has ever threatened them, will be a perpetual memorial to his leadership, his vision and indomitable courage.
Lying in state
The funeral started on 26 January 1965. By 8:30 a.m. police and security personnel had taken up their positions in what The Daily Telegraph reported as "the most extensive security operation of this sort ever undertaken in England." At 9:15 a.m. Churchill's body was transported from his London home to Westminster Hall for the lying in state. It was led by Cameron Cobbold, 1st Baron Cobbold, the Lord Chamberlain in the company of family members. He was placed on a catafalque before Lady Churchill and the Earl Marshall. At 9:00 p.m. the first watch started in the hall by the Grenadier and Coldstream Guards. In the subsequent days the Royal Navy and five regiments of Foot guards also took turns.
Westminster Hall was kept open for 23 hours daily from 26 to 29 January. An hour was reserved for cleaning. The queue was most times more than one mile long, and the waiting time was about three hours; 321,360 people came to pay their respects.
Order of service
The funeral service on Saturday 30 January began with the chiming of Big Ben at 9:45 a.m. The clock was muted for the rest of the day. Ninety cannon salutes were fired at Hyde Park to mark the ninety years of Churchill's life. The coffin was placed on a gun carriage and draped with the Union Flag upon which was the insignia of the Order of the Garter on top of a black cushion. It was carried by a bearer party of eight guards from the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards from the hall. The procession started upon a drum beat by the Royal Navy and was then led by the Royal Air Force and the Foot guards. Following the gun carriage was Lady Churchill in the Queen's town coach and her son Randolph Churchill on foot; followed by family members and Churchill's private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne. The march processed through Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, the Strand, Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill. A marching band consisted of three officers and 96 soldiers of the Scots Guards 2nd Battalion. Banners of the Danish resistance movements were lowered in respect at the Cenotaph. Altogether 2,500 soldiers and civilians took part in the procession, while four half-companies of soldiers lined the streets. Four majors of the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars were assigned to carry Churchill's medals, orders and decorations.
After an hour, the service was held at St Paul's Cathedral. 3,500 people attended, including the Queen, who did not normally attend funerals. There were 12 pallbearers in the cathedral, including Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the Prime Minister of Australia Robert Menzies, and the former British Prime Ministers Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan. It was the largest gathering of dignitaries in history until the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II, with officials from more than 112 countries attending. Guests included the French President Charles de Gaulle, the Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia Ian Smith, the former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower, and many other past and present heads of state and government, and members of multiple royal families. Sir Robert Menzies, then the longest serving Commonwealth Prime Minister, who had known Churchill intimately in wartime, paid tribute to his colleague as part of the funeral broadcast, as did President Eisenhower. Churchill's favourite hymns were sung, including the "Battle Hymn of the Republic".
At the thanksgiving, Menzies recited a eulogy:
In the whole of recorded history this [the Second World War] was, I believe, the one occasion when one man, with one soaring imagination, with one fire burning in him, and with one unrivalled capacity for conveying it to others, won a crucial victory not only for the Forces (for there were many heroes in those days) but for the spirit of human freedom. And so, on this day, we thank him, and we thank God for him."
After the church service, Churchill's casket was carried to the Tower of London. The bearer party was led by 60 pipers. The Royal Artillery fired a 19-gun salute acknowledging Churchill's positions (as head of government and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports). The procession moved to Tower Pier at the Festival Pier, where the coffin was taken on board the MV Havengore. Naval ratings 'piped the side' and the Royal Marine band played the musical salute due a former First Lord of the Admiralty, Rule Britannia. As his coffin passed up the River Thames, more than 36 dockers lowered their crane jibs in a salute as the vessel passed. This was an unrehearsed procedure. Sixteen Royal Air Force English Electric Lightning fighter jets also flew above in formation as the boat sailed.
From Waterloo Station, the coffin was carried by a specially prepared train, the locomotive of which was named Winston Churchill, to its final destination in Oxfordshire. The hearse van, No. S2464S, had been set aside in 1962 specifically for the funeral train. In the fields along the route, and at the stations through which the train passed, thousands stood in silence to pay their last respects. Churchill was interred in St Martin's Churchyard in a private family ceremony. He was laid in a grave near to his parents and his brother.
The Scots Guards Battalion Digest reported, stating, "without a doubt the State Funeral of 30 January was the most moving parade that the majority of the battalion had ever taken part in or observed. Perfect timing, detailed rehearsal and greater dignity all combined to make it a proud and wonderful occasion."
Within a week, more than 100,000 people had visited the grave. In 1998 Churchill's tombstone had to be replaced due to the large number of visitors over the years having eroded it and its surrounding area. A new stone was dedicated in 1998 in a ceremony attended by members of the Spencer-Churchill family.
Because the funeral took place on 30 January, also the anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's birth, people in the United States marked it by paying tribute to Churchill's friendship with Roosevelt. Those who attended a service at Roosevelt's grave at his home in Hyde Park, New York, heard speakers at the service talk about the coincidence of the date in the records of two leaders who shared history.
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