Winston Churchill– a fitting send-off remembered 50 years on

It is 50 years since Winston Churchill died this year. He was 90 at the time and died at his home in London’s Hyde Park Gate after suffering a stroke two weeks earlier.

It was not only a time for mourning the loss of one of Britain’s war leaders, it also signalled the very end of the British empire, as the Labour government closed up the last of the British troop presence protecting its outlying territories.Harold Wilson the Prime Minister was tackling difficult economic problems and was the complete opposite to Churchill who was a grand orator.

Churchill’s funeral ceremony took place at St Paul’s Cathedral. Many reported and wrote at the time that it was the end of an era and that there were no longer any great leaders to drive Britain forward.

Operation Hope Not was the code name for Churchill’s funeral arrangements, which had been in place since he had suffered a stroke while still Prime Minister in 1953. The Queen was also eager to ensure Churchill’s send-off was fitting for what he had achieved for the country, ensuring it would be a grand state funeral. She also attended along with five other kings and queens, six presidents and 16 prime ministers.

Nine military bands took part and more than 300,000 people paid their respects as his body lay in state at Westminster Hall for three days. On the day of the funeral, flags were at half mast, obituaries appeared in national press, people wore black armbands, sporting events were rescheduled, and the high street was shut – it was truly an historic event.

More than 350 million people watched the funeral which had been televised around the world, with Richard Dimbleby commentating for the event on the BBC. Churchill had chosen ‘lively’ hymns to be sung including ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, ‘Who would True Valour see’, ‘Fight the Good Fight with all thy Might’, and finally the British National Anthem.

After the ceremony, Churchill’s coffin was transported to the Thames for a military gun salute along with a Royal Air Force fly over. He was finally laid to rest at Bladon in Oxfordshire, alongside his family and where he was born in 1874.

Tourists visiting Britain at the time were amazed at the public outcry of emotion, which is uncharacteristic of the locals. More than 100,000 people then visited Churchill’s grave in the week after his funeral and is still visited by thousands of people today, The Telegraph reports.

The entire ceremony was organised down to every detail, and attendees were impressed with the planning, all down to Earl Marshal. Churchill left behind his wife, Clementine, who declared the funeral a triumph.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE