Posts Tagged ‘death’

The Churchill files: How the Telegraph covered Sir Winston’s death

January 23rd, 2015

On January 15, 1965, Winston Churchill suffered a severe stroke. The long-retired former Prime Minister was now 90 years old, and so his death nine days later was not a surprise. But Britain’s mass media, including the Telegraph, followed him ever step of the way. Read on to see how.


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How Britain will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death

January 21st, 2015

Morning: John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, will speak at a special remembrance service at the Houses of Parliament.

11:50: A wreath (specially made at the Royal British Legion Poppy Factory in Richmond) is carried from the Church of St Peter, within the Tower of London, to the Havengore, the vessel that carried Sir Winston’s body along the Thames in 1965

13:03 Havengore will salute, and have the salute returned by HQS Wellington.

13.05-13.15: Havengore will continue past Festival Pier (the end of the original funeral route) towards the Houses of Parliament.

13.15 The event will culminate in a short service and wreath-laying in the waters of the river opposite the Palace of Westminster.

13:35: The service concludes.

Evening: After evensong a commemoration will take place at Westminster Abbey, where leading politicians and historians will join well-wishers to pay their respects. A wreath will be laid at the Abbey’s green-marble memorial stone unveiled by the Queen shortly after Sir Winston’s death.



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The death of Winston Churchill was the day the Empire died

January 20th, 2015

Another famous writer, the novelist V?S Pritchett, thought he could discern, “an undertone of self-pity. We were looking at a past utterly irrecoverable.” (To what extent is illustrated by a 2014 survey of British teenagers, 20 per cent of who thought Churchill was a fictional character.)

On learning of Churchill’s death, the man responsible for organising his funeral, the Earl Marshal, the 16th Duke of Norfolk, Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, put into effect a plan that was codenamed “Operation Hope Not”. Ever since Churchill had suffered a stroke while at No 10 in 1953, meticulous arrangements had been made for his funeral.

The Queen instructed Norfolk that the occasion should be “on a scale befitting his position in history”, thus guaranteeing that it would be the grandest state funeral for a commoner since that of the Duke of Wellington in 1852, even overshadowing William Gladstone’s in 1898.

The arrangements for the funeral had to be constantly updated due to Churchill’s great longevity. Lord Mountbatten joked of how “the problem was that Churchill kept living and the pallbearers kept dying”.

Churchill himself played relatively little part in planning the event, although he promised Harold Macmillan, “there will be lively hymns” and said to his private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne: “Remember, I want lots of military bands.” He got nine.

Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall for three days and nights, his coffin draped with a Union Jack on which rested his insignia of the Knight of the Garter. No fewer than 320,000 people filed past the catafalque that was guarded by members of the Services who stood statue-still, their heads bowed in respect and homage.

Even more people might have come had the thermometer not dipped below zero. Indeed on the day of the funeral itself, there were even casualties among the police horses on duty. The Salvation Army and Women’s Volunteer Service handed out soup, tea and sandwiches, further inspiring memories of wartime.

Across the country, flags flew at half mast, newspapers printed lengthy obituaries, black armbands were worn, football matches were rescheduled, shops closed, the National Association of Schoolmasters even cancelled a strike. Nothing was allowed to spoil what everyone knew would be an extraordinary historical occasion.

No fewer than 28 wartime bombs had fallen on St Paul’s Cathedral, one of them a massive five-hundred-pounder, yet Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece miraculously survived, partly due to its courageous and committed fire-watchers. The famous photograph of its dome standing undaunted above the fire and smoke of the Blitz still has the capacity to move Britons, and the church that survived Hitler’s bombers was the obvious place to stage the ceremony.

One break with precedent was the decision of the Queen to attend personally, a special mark of royal favour as sovereigns do not usually attend non-family funerals. In all six sovereigns, six presidents and 16 prime ministers were present that day.

On the morning of the funeral, Big Ben struck 9.45am but thereafter remained silent for the rest of the day. The great procession left New Palace Yard on its slow journey via Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, the Strand and Fleet Street up to St Paul’s. The gun carriage on which the coffin rested was pulled through the streets by 120 Royal Navy blue-jackets, a reminder of Churchill’s two terms as First Lord of the Admiralty. The sight as it left the Palace of Westminster was likened by one spectator to that of a great warship leaving harbour. Other troops in the procession, which included detachments of no fewer than 18 military units, marched carrying their rifles reversed. It took four majors of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars to carry all of Churchill’s orders and decoration behind the gun carriage.


The funeral service in St Paul’s Cathedral

As the cortège passed the Cenotaph in Whitehall, 100 flags carried by men and women of the wartime resistance movements of France, Denmark, Norway and Holland were raised in a final salute. (After the coffin had passed, a group of Danish under-cover soldiers laid a wreath of lilies at the Cenotaph. When asked for their names by a journalist, one answered, before slipping back into the crowd, “We were unknown at war, it must be the same now.”)

In all, some 350 million people watched on television worldwide; indeed the American TV audience was larger than for President Kennedy’s funeral 15 months earlier. No fewer than 112 countries were represented at St Paul’s. Only China refused to send an envoy, while the Republic of Ireland chose not to broadcast the occasion live.

Laurence Olivier contributed to the ITV coverage, but it was Richard Dimbleby’s commentary on the BBC that won the most plaudits. After the ceremony, President Eisenhower and the Australian prime minister Sir Robert Menzies made impressive broadcasts to the American people and the Commonwealth respectively.

Just as Churchill had promised, there were indeed some “lively” hymns. Hymns were not sung at Wellington’s funeral because they were considered unsuitable for solemn occasions, but 113 years later they were a central feature in Churchill’s. His half-American parentage, as well as his belief in the potency of the English-speaking peoples, were reflected in the choice of The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, while his lion-hearted personal and political courage were recalled by Who Would True Valour See and Fight The Good Fight With All Thy Might. At the end of the service, the congregation sang the National Anthem, heard the Last Post and then the Reveille, and the Dead March from Handel’s Saul was played on the organ. The coffin was carried out of the Cathedral to the withdrawal hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past. The pageantry was solemn, superb, sublime.

One of the most evocative images of the day was of “the Captains and the Kings” standing on the West steps of St Paul’s watching the coffin of the Great Commoner being taken on to its next destination, Temple Pier on the River Thames. Charles de Gaulle standing tall in his military greatcoat and kepi, Prince Philip in his Admiral of the Fleet uniform saluting the coffin, the gorgeous gold uniforms of Garter King of Arms and his fellow heralds, the massed ranks of world statesmen: it all made an unforgettable historical tableaux. As one of the papers put it: “It was an act of history in itself.” (And one that cost the taxpayer £48,000, the equivalent of £650,000 today.)


Churchill’s coffin transported through Parliament Square towards St Paul’s Cathedral

Because, unlike Nelson and Wellington, Churchill had chosen not to be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, the coffin was taken aboard the launch Havengore, to the booms of a 19-gun salute. As it set off upstream, pipers played the haunting lament Flowers of the Forest, and then 16 RAF Lightning aircraft swooped low in a fly-past. From Temple Pier, the coffin was taken to Waterloo station, and from there it travelled to Hanborough by train. The private burial took place in Bladon in Oxfordshire, near to Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born in 1874. (Lady Churchill had gently talked him out of his original intention, which was to be buried on the croquet lawn at his country house, Chartwell, in Kent.)

In 1965, London was still one of the world’s greatest seaports, its docks served by vast cranes stationed on innumerable quays. When the Havengore passed these giant structures at Hay’s Wharf, on the South Bank, their operators dipped the tops of each in turn, as even these enormous machines bowed their heads in tribute to the nation’s dead chieftain.

For many, it was the most moving moment of the day. When Noël Coward saw it he burst into tears – for him, the whole funeral was “a great and truly noble experience”. In his history of the funeral, Churchill’s Final Farewell, Rodney Croft records how the 36 crane drivers involved had willingly given up their time without asking for overtime pay. Sir David Burnett, the managing director of the company that owned the machines, arranged to cover their expenses anyway.

American visitors to Britain were shocked at the supposedly buttoned-up Britons crying in public. The writer Laurie Lee observed: “Not since the war has there been such emotion.” John Lukacs, an American historian who visited Britain specially for the spectacle, also recorded how, “in the crowd lived the spirit of 1940, there was a great democratic upsurge of Englishmen, with men in bowler hats and elegant women standing with the cockneys and stevedores”.

The pallbearers did not, in fact, carry the coffin at any stage – Clement Attlee was 82 years old at the time and several others were in their seventies – but they did march before it down the aisle. (The casket itself was hewn from English oaks on the Blenheim estate, and it took 12 white-gloved Guardsmen to carry it up the West steps of St Paul’s.)

The 10 official pallbearers included such important wartime figures as Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, General Lord Ismay, Marshal of the RAF Lord Portal, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Field Marshal Lord Slim and Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis.

The split-second timing of the ceremony left even De Gaulle impressed, who spoke with genuine feeling about the efficiency with which the Earl Marshal had organised the vast enterprise. Churchill’s widow, Clementine, in the opinion of everyone present and the words of one reporter, “carried herself like a queen”. As she retired to bed after that exhausting, hugely emotional day, she told her daughter, Mary Soames: “It wasn’t a funeral, it was a triumph!”

By the end of the week, no fewer than 100,000 people had filed past the grave at Bladon churchyard in Oxfordshire, an astonishing number considering how freezing it was. Buried between his parents and his brother in the Spencer-Churchill family plot, his grave is still visited by thousands of people from around the world every year.

Invited to mourn with the Spencer-Churchill family was Churchill’s last private secretary, Anthony (later Sir Anthony) Montague Browne. The whole occasion brought on in him, “black melancholy thoughts of the decline and decay of so much of what Churchill had stood for. Well might the nation mourn him.”

As if to underline this moral decay, when Montague Browne got back to London after attending the private family burial at Bladon, he discovered that his flat had been burgled.

For more information on Churchill 2015, visit www.churchillcentral.com; and on Winston’s living legacy: www.wcmt.org.uk


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‘British Schindler’ Sir Nicholas Winton honoured for saving children from Nazi death camps

October 29th, 2014

Following the German annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, Winton arranged transport for 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia through Germany to Britain ahead of the outbreak of World War II.

The first transport left on 14 March 1939, the day before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A final train load of 250 children, due to depart on 3 September 1939, was prevented from leaving when Poland was invaded.

The children were taken by train to foster families in England who were willing to put up the then-huge sum of 50 pounds sterling and had agreed to look after them until they were 17.

Sir Nicholas was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.


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Gas chambers discovered at Nazi death camp Sobibor

September 20th, 2014

More than 250,000 Jews were killed at the Sobibor death camp in what is now Poland. The SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered Sobibor to be destroyed after a successful prisoner uprising in which around 300 of those being held there escaped. He ordered all traces of the camp to be removed, and the area planted with trees.

The rooms were locked with steel doors equipped with peep-holes. It took just 20 to 30 minutes to murder each group of victims.

“These finds are all that remained of those who were murdered here,” one of the archaeologists told Süddeustche Zeitung newspaper. “We will learn more from them on how the murder in the camp was carried out and what the Jews went through before they were murdered.”

There was no chance of survival for those sent to Sobibor. Unlike other concentration camps such as Auschwitz, prisoners were not kept alive to work as forced labourers: they were all sent to the gas chambers. The camp was built expressly for the purpose of carrying out the Holocaust, and the overwhelming majority of those who died there were Jewish.

Jewish slave labourers were forced to build the camp, and shot dead the moment it was completed.

Jewish prisoners led an uprising at the camp on October 14 1943, in which they killed 11 SS officers and a number of camp guards.

Some 300 of the 600 prisoners in the camp at the time escaped, but only 50 to 70 of them are believed to have survived. Others died in the minefields that surrounded the camp, or were recaptured in the days that followed.


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Gas chambers discovered at Nazi death camp Sobibor

September 19th, 2014

More than 250,000 Jews were killed at the Sobibor death camp in what is now Poland. The SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered Sobibor to be destroyed after a successful prisoner uprising in which around 300 of those being held there escaped. He ordered all traces of the camp to be removed, and the area planted with trees.

The rooms were locked with steel doors equipped with peep-holes. It took just 20 to 30 minutes to murder each group of victims.

“These finds are all that remained of those who were murdered here,” one of the archaeologists told Süddeustche Zeitung newspaper. “We will learn more from them on how the murder in the camp was carried out and what the Jews went through before they were murdered.”

There was no chance of survival for those sent to Sobibor. Unlike other concentration camps such as Auschwitz, prisoners were not kept alive to work as forced labourers: they were all sent to the gas chambers. The camp was built expressly for the purpose of carrying out the Holocaust, and the overwhelming majority of those who died there were Jewish.

Jewish slave labourers were forced to build the camp, and shot dead the moment it was completed.

Jewish prisoners led an uprising at the camp on October 14 1943, in which they killed 11 SS officers and a number of camp guards.

Some 300 of the 600 prisoners in the camp at the time escaped, but only 50 to 70 of them are believed to have survived. Others died in the minefields that surrounded the camp, or were recaptured in the days that followed.


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Auschwitz museum hit by thefts as visitors remove ‘souvenirs’ from Nazi death camp

May 6th, 2014

“This is shocking,” he said. “This isn’t really vandalism because vandalism is something you do to a bus stop. This is barbarism.”

The museum’s operators say the size of the camp makes stopping crime difficult. Auschwitz-Birkenau covers over 200 hectares and contains a 150 buildings, and Mr Cywinski said despite the best efforts of staff it is impossible to “monitor the entire camp” and eradicate all theft and vandalism.

Poland’s culture ministry, which is responsible for the museum, said it opposed the installation of CCTV systems given the specific environment of the camp.

“How would you feel if you visited Asuchwitz-Birkenau barracks and noticed that there were two cameras monitoring every item,” asked Malogorzata Omilanowska, deputy culture minister. “How would we be able to maintain the authenticity of the camp?”

Mr Cywinski said the only long-term solution was education, but others have called for harsher legal punishments for anybody caught vandalising or stealing from the camp.

But Bogdan Bartnikowski, a former Auschwitz prisoner, said if people really knew what the camp was like, they would think twice about vandalism.

“If they had been there and feared they would be leaving the next day via the chimney, then they would not be so eager to scratch their name onto a bunk,” he said.


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