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1965: Memories of Churchill's funeral

Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965, aged 90.

He was buried six days later after a full state funeral - the only commoner of the 20th century to be accorded such an honour.

Thousands of people came to pay their respects at his funeral, and the ceremony was watched by millions more worldwide.

Your accounts

I am a 6th generation Texan and a product of an anglophile household.

I was nine when Mr. Churchill died. My father insisted that I watch the funeral coverage that we saw on Dallas television.

I was transfixed by the spectacle of the whole thing. When the ship's cranes bowed my father said that I would never live to see a greater man.

In his eyes, and now in mine, Churchill had been responsible for saving the world for the common values that bind the English-speaking world.
Keith Grantham, USA

My father was one of the seamen that pulled the gun carriage that took Churchill to rest.

My father's story has always interested me and for him to tell me all about the day still keeps me listening.

[Churchill] was a great man - it's a shame that people look up to footballers nowadays instead of people like Sir Winston Churchill. Maybe the world would be a better place.
Graham, England

I remember as though it were yesterday.

I was 13 years old and lived with my parents in Wolverhampton.

Mom had bought a second-hand TV set (a Baird) just a few weeks earlier.

"We sat and watched in absolute silence. I remember crying with my sisters at the solemnity of the procession"

Richard Green, Australia

Dad (a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery in 1916) had told all the family to be at home.

My two older sisters had been forbidden to go to work that morning.

Dad was a man of few words, but as the TV broadcast came on he said: "Be grateful, all of you. This is the man who saved our country. It is because of him that we are a free nation. It is because of him we are not Nazi slaves."

We sat and watched in absolute silence. I remember crying with my sisters at the solemnity of the procession, the precision of the sound of the guns every 60 seconds, and especially as the cranes all dipped in unison at the riverfront.

It will live with me forever.
Richard Green, Australia

Remember vividly having to stand from very early in the morning on the pavement outside Gamages Department Store, High Holborn.

I was six and bored stiff. But my parents felt we owed everything we had to Churchill - I think it would be fair to say they worshipped him.

On the rare occasion I drive along High Holborn today I always remember that January day in 1965 and standing there in the freezing cold waiting, waiting...
Margaret Wynne-Jones, Dubai

The whole school (500 boys plus staff - St Edwards, Oxford) lined the railway at the bottom of the school playing fields as the train went past.

Some of the boys had placed pennies on the line (highly dangerous) to keep as mementos - the train sped by at an alarming rate and it was difficult to make out any details of it - save the locomotive's name.
Richard Greenway, Switzerland

I went to London with some college friends on the Friday evening.

We queued at the Abbey to view the lying-in-state.

Then spent the night in Victoria bus station it was very cold!! In the morning we had a prime position near the Mall saw many dignitaries arriving and the cortege.

I was a teenager at the time but now forty years later it seems like yesterday. I am just very glad that we were there.

An unforgettable experience.
Mike Hart, Hong Kong

The funeral was televised here in the States, but most of the TV coverage was sound only.

Every hour and a half, when the first-generation broadcast satellite came into range, we would see 15 minutes of live pictures.

Later that day, ABC, CBS and NBC flew videotape back to New York, allowing them to show (and for us to see) the complete funeral.

Although I'm a lifelong American, I have always admired Sir Winston Churchill.

In my opinion, his leadership during World War II was the major reason why the Allies won the war in Europe. He should have been named Time magazine's "Man Of The Century".
Joseph Gallant, USA

I was still at school, but felt a sense of great loss of a great leader - a name always in the news was now no longer around.

The most moving moment was after the funeral service and the journey to Oxford by barge.

As the hero of our country made that final journey, the homage shown with the lowering of the cranes at London docks. It was made more poignant as it was a dull day, misty, and the TV film was black and white, making it more dramatic. An unforgettable image.
Jackie Domingo, Wales

As a young airman based at RAF Northwood, I was attached to RAF Uxbridge where we rehearsed for a full week for ceremonal duties at Sir Winston Churchill's funeral.

The drill square of the Queen's Colour Squadron at Uxbridge was very cold, but not as cold as the outskirts of the Tower of London, where we were positioned on the actual day of his funeral.

We had to "present arms" with our Lee Enfield 303 rifles, and hold that position for nearly half an hour whilst the cortege arrived and the coffin unloaded.

The Guard of Honour, which was composed of the Royal Marines, had just returned from the Far East.

Their RSM infomed the first aiders that under no circumstances should they attend to any of his men who fell.

Fortunately only a couple did and they were very quickly pulled to their feet by the said RSM!

It was a sad day but one which I am pleased to have attended and have such a grand stand view.
Des Martin, Scotland

I was only five years old when he died.

He was our hero. One of our neighbours had the only TV set in the street and we all watched the funeral very quietly.

I'll never forget when the coffin of Sir Winston Churchill was on the Thames, the cranes of the docklands bowed.

And of course I remembered all the people waiting in the cold to pay their tribute. Very, very moving.
Pauline Bitter, the Netherlands

I was 30 years old at the time, a post-graduate student at Southern Illinois University.

The funeral was the first time I had ever seen live TV from Europe. The satellite system was incomplete and the picture would black out every 20 minutes or so.

The commentary was by the late Richard Dimbleby. I particularly remember the cargo cranes on the River Thames dipping in farewell as the barge bearing the body passed by.
Dr Richard Laws, Canada

Winston Churchill's body was carried up the Thames on the Royal Barge and my brother, Phil Kealey - who I believe was coxwain at that time - was in attendance on board.
Val Wilson, UK

I have a vivid memory of the day - I was around 4 or 5 years old and at primary school.

In our class all the children kept a daily diary in which we had to write or draw about things we had done.

That morning our teacher told us about a very important man who had died and it was his funeral today.

In my diary I clearly remember crayoning pictures of ladies with long hair and holding flowers, following a coffin on a carriage, and underneath it in shaky childlike writing, "Today is Winston Churchills funeral."
Karen, UK

I remember vividly my father coming home from work, we ate a quick meal and travelled to Westminster to attend the lying-in-state.

It seemed as a child of nine that it was the right a proper thing to do for such a great man.

We froze that evening walking round and round the gardens next to the Palace of Westminster, but it had to be done. It was our small way of saying thank you to such a great man.
Sarah, UK

I was in a US high school when Churchill died, and had read a short biography and part of his history of WW II for a research paper.

The reading made a deep impression about the power of determination, and the power of language. I watched the procession and rituals for hours that day, and was also struck by the richness of tradition in British public life.

Churchill was truly remarkable: a junior officer in a cavalry regiment who led a nuclear-armed nation, an indifferent student who won a Nobel Prize for literature, a failed politician who regained his powers when his country needed him most, a statesman who fought Naziism but saw with equal clarity the evil awaiting the West as Soviet power crept into Eastern Europe.

More than 40 years after his death, I see no close contenders for the label of great man of the 20th Century.
Clark T Irwin

I was seven at the time and I recall starting to watch the beginning of the proceedings on the TV when my father suggested we drive up to London to try to catch some of it live.

We ended up standing on the route near to the Tower of London and I remember the complete silence from the crowds - about five deep - as the cortege passed by.

"I remember the complete silence from the crowds "

Patrick Cole, UK

We were near the front so had a good view. The soldiers lining the route were standing with heads bowed, with rifles reversed.

The drums of the military band were draped in black felt and as the coffin passed, there was a break in the music, with only a single drum beat ringing out marking the march step.

On top of the coffin, as far as I remember, were his hat and various medals and insignia.

I also remember the grim faces of the naval ratings pulling the gun carriage.

Standing next to me was a lady who had brought her dog along in a shopping bag - it was a chihuahua so its head just peeped over the side, which caused some amusement whilst waiting in the bitter cold for the procession to go by.
Patrick Cole, UK

I was a serving Metropolitan Police Officer at this event and was posted to the queue in Victoria Gardens, SW1.

It was a bitterly cold night and the queue was five deep all around the Gardens.

The members of the public were trying to join the queue at this point, not realising that it stretched along Millbank, over Lambeth Bridge, along St Thomas's Hospital and back over Westminster Bridge before entering Westminster Hall, making a total wait of some 3-4 hours before being allowed in.

Despite this wait they still availed themselves of the hot Bovril, tea and coffee provided on a stall by the then WRVS in the gardens.

Gone are those days, unfortunately, when the British public would show their devotion to their patriots in a like manner.

It is sad to have to rely on memories such as this when thinking of my pride to be British.

I doubt that in these days such devotion could be roused.
John Cox, UK

I remember Sir Winston's death day and watching the funeral on television. I was 15 and ill with the 'flu.

My parents went into Chicago from our home 90 miles away to sign The Book of Condolence at the British Consulate.

We were sad at the passing of one of the great ones of the 20th century. He did so much.
Kathleen Larkin, US

I recall my London born father sitting myself and two younger brothers down in front of our black and white television set and telling us to watch and remember, as this was the funeral of the greatest Englishman to live in more than a century.

In later years I also recall the hatred held by my Welsh miner father-in-law for the same man for breaking a miner's strike.

Churchill was a leader who understood that you stand by your beliefs and principles come hell or high water.
Chris, Canada

At the time, I was barely four years old, and living in Cardiff, Wales.

I clearly remember the weather, a grey and bitterly cold day, and while I was not old enough to understand the events on the television, I do remember being bitterly dissapointed that my favorite cartoons were not on that morning.

Such an impression was made upon me that, despite the passage of the years and my tender age at the time, I can still clearly recall where I was - at an aunt's home, and the events are as if just the other day.
Andrew, Australia

The first TV broadcast I really remember was Winston Churchill's funeral. The television was shared with friends because we didn't have our own at the time.

I can never forget my parents respect for this man.
Liz Clarson, Canada

"The BBC gave us hot soup out of a firework-heated tin"

Christopher Sawtell, New Zealand

I was on the Television Outside Broadcast team. I pointed the microphone to pick up the sounds of the pallbearers' boots. It was bitterly cold.

The BBC gave us hot soup out of a firework-heated tin.

The train was painted and polished like a Rolls Royce. I often wonder what has happened to the engine named Winston Churchill which pulled the train.
Christopher Sawtell, New Zealand

I vividly remember watching Churchill's funeral on Canadian television when I was five.

It must have been a live transmission, because I recall it being very early in the morning (around breakfast time, very unusual for Canadian TV back then!)

I was allowed to sit at my father's place at the kitchen table at our home in Halifax, Nova Scotia so I could watch the TV in the next room.

Churchill had visited Halifax twice during the war, and of course with our city's front line position in the Battle of the Atlantic, his great leadership was very fondly remembered.
Bernard Hibbitts, US (born Canada)

As a young lad serving in the Royal Navy, I remember the announcement of Churchill's illness.

I was a member of the base honour guard at RNAS Yeovilton at the time, and upon the announcement, shore leave for the guard was cancelled, and we were dispatched to Whale Island, Portsmouth.

"I consider it an honour to have served in some small way in his life and death"

Mike, US

For days we paraded around the island with the gun carriage, practising for the actual funeral day ceremony. As I remember, the day of the funeral was bitterly cold, especially at 0300 when we fell in for the parade.

Churchill was a statesman respected and admired around the world, and I consider it an honour to have served in some small way in his life and death.
Mike, US

I was 13 and living in Groombridge with my parents and younger siblings the year that Winston Churchill died.

My father, who was on sabbatical that year, sang Happy Birthday under Mr. Churchill's window some time before he died.

We had got to know Lady Soames, her husband and children while living in Groombridge because they went to the same church as we did.

My family visited their home and even got to meet Lady Churchill.

In response to my mother's question to Mrs. Soames regarding ways she took after her father, Mrs. Soames replied, "I'm afraid the only thing I inherited from dear Papa is his tubbiness."

I will always remember joining the incredible line of people that wound around the streets of London in order to have my chance to pay tribute to this great man by attending his "lying in state."

At times, the line didn't move for what seemed like ages, while at other moments we ran down the sidewalks to keep up.

I feel privileged to have had even this indirect connection to this incredible leader.
Maggie DeGregorio, US

"It was so cold I had to stand on my hat"

Mavis, Germany

I was there along with my sister. We had travelled overnight by bus from Manchester. We stayed with a friend just outside London and travelled in by tube for the funeral.

We stood opposite the Cenotaph and it was so cold I had to stand on my hat.

I have never attended such a momentous occasion and the feeling on that day was one of great sadness, but also of great pride and gratefulness for a man who brought us through another war.
Mavis, Germany

My wife and I went to join the queue at about 2330 on the second day - thinking it would be short at that time. Actually it stretched right over the Thames and back down towards St Thomas' Hospital.

It was bitterly cold but no one complained and everyone shared out their food and drink willingly and without effort. It took us three hours to get to St Stephens Hall but no one fell out.

When we finally got there the sense of awe and majesty was tangible. It was as if his presence filled the hall. We - like everyone else - went quiet and paid our respects deeply.

The memory has been with us ever since.
John Cherry, UK

I was only five but it was the first time I understood that people died. The enormous media coverage made it impossible to avoid - even if my parents had tried to shield me from it.

A few days later my grandmother died. I clearly recall asking my mother: "Will it be on the television - like Churchill?" Her reply that granny was not famous enough left me pondering for weeks.
Graeme Smith, US ex UK

One of my earliest memories is of being at primary school at the age of five and writing in my diary about Winston Churchill's funeral.

I can still remember the little picture I drew with my crayons of Churchill's grave and the ladies carrying flowers.
Karen Lovell, UK

"We stood on the street all night"

Will Smith, Canada

My wife and I were living in London at the time and went to St. Paul's the night before the funeral. We stood on the street outside all night armed with coffee and sandwiches. We felt we were witnessing a period of history.
Will Smith, Canada

The events of the funeral that remain in my mind were the cranes at Hayes Wharf, opposite the Tower of London, being lowered in respect as the launch went up the River to Waterloo. The Bullied Pacific that pulled the train out of Waterloo is now at York Museum. I was there in the spring of 2001 and it was sort of stuffed away in a corner, a great shame.
John Murray, Canada

Witness: Dr David Harris

"I travelled overnight by rail from Leeds - I arrived in London at 0300.

The streets were largely deserted and I walked from King's Cross to Parliament.

I had missed the lying-in-state and I went and had breakfast in Lyons Café near the Houses of Parliament.

I got chatting to an old man who recommended I went to Whitehall.

There were a fair number of people on the street at that time - it was a bitterly cold day of course and I stood there for close to thee hours getting very, very cold.

It was sombre - we were aware it was the end of an era and this was someone we should respect for what he'd done for Britain and the Commonwealth - and the free world.

I think by about 0945 to 1000 the procession had gone through and I started walking up to Ludgate Hill.

By the time I got there the service had finished, because shortly afterwards the cars started leaving.

My one recollection was these huge Russian Limousines being driven by at high speed with these Russian Generals inside, being whisked back to wherever they were staying.

I certainly felt part of history and I'm very glad I went."

Dr Harris lives in Canada and runs a geriatric psychiatry programme.

"In January 1965 I was a village policeman in West Oxfordshire near the Village of Bladon.

I had been on duty in Bladon Churchyard on the day of Churchill's funeral, together with thousands of visitors, not to mention the media and official guests - the world and his wife were there, or watching on TV.

The morning after was a different matter. I had returned to the graveside at 0600 hours with a colleague who shortly after left me alone to guard the grave and the wreaths.

I read the cards, one from "A Nation and Commonwealth in grateful remembrance - Elizabeth R" another signed "Josep Broz Tito" and another signed simply "Clemmie".

It was very cold. As it got lighter I could see Blenheim Palace through the trees.

Eventually the photographers returned and so did the visitors, thousands of them, but just for a few moments I had been alone in Bladon Churchyard, just him and me, I'll remember that."

John Harker, England

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