Winston Churchill: Funeral of a great man, fifty years on
I remember exactly where I was fifty years ago today. I stood on Ludgate Hill, just below St. Paul's cathedral, watching the funeral cortege of a great man pass by. It was a Saturday and I didn't have to work. Even then, as a young man, I realised I was witnessing history. I had similar feelings a quarter of a century later when I stood at Checkpoint Charlie as another unforgettable event, the fall of the Berlin Wall, unreeled before my eyes.
Since then another quarter of a century has passed and, instead of Churchill and his like, we are governed by little men. I wonder if any of our current crop of pigmy politicians would have the resolve to do what Churchill did for his country.
Of course, perspectives change. Much has altered in half a century, a lot for the better but also a great deal for the worse. We all tend to look back through rosy glasses, but I am convinced we have lost that sense of nationhood and national pride that pulled us through the conflict seventy years ago.
Churchill was indeed a great man, one of the giants of the century. In my view, also, he was one of the two greatest British leaders of the last hundred years.
Even as a young man I was inspired by Churchill; few could fail to be impressed by his achievements for Britain, Europe and the world during the early 1940s. With the benefit of hindsight, the outcome of World War II seems predictable and ordained. Yet it was anything but.
Churchill was surrounded by parliamentary colleagues who felt the war was a lost cause. Quite by chance, and against considerable opposition, Churchill was chosen as premier instead of the appeaser, Lord Halifax. We can be fortunate that this was so for, without Churchill's resolve and his inspiration, Hitler could well have won the war in 1940. The world today would indeed be a different place.
"When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, 'In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.' Some chicken! Some neck!" - Winston Churchill, Ottawa, January 1942