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Churchill’s state funeral recreated 50 years on

February 1st, 2015

The Havengore, which bore Churchill’s coffin, on the Thames (Image: Stephen Lock)

Havengore, the Port of London Authority’s flagship vessel from 1956 until the early 1990s, slipped her moorings from HMS President at St Katherine Docks at midday. On the quayside The Royal Hospital School Band played Rule Britannia. On board, the passengers were accompanied by the Queen’s Watermen, splendid in their ceremonial tunics, flashing scarlet against the murky water.

As she turned to sail upstream, pipers playing on her bows, Tower Bridge slowly opened to welcome her through.

Memorial flotilla passes under Tower Bridge (Geoff Pugh/The Telegraph)

Among those watching from the embankment was Gordon Roy, a 69-year-old Royal Navy veteran who was on duty that day in 1965. “I had been injured in an accident on the submarines,” he recalls, “and was still recovering in hospital. But they decided they needed some more bodies so they told me to get my best uniform and come down to stand on duty.”

He took his place near St Paul’s Cathedral, immaculate in his uniform of silk lanyard, white garters and belt. “I will remember it for ever,” he said. “It was the look on people’s faces – everybody was just spellbound.”

Roy says he felt compelled to come again yesterday. “I have to see the boss off again, don’t I,” he said smiling.

Ivor Edwards, a 71-year-old former corporal in the Royal Signals, was another veteran present yesterday and happy to share his memories. “In 1965 I was in Cyprus with the UN peacekeeping force,” he says. “I never got the chance to come then. We couldn’t even watch it on TV. That’s why I’m here today.’’ Edwards was one of many in the crowd to speak warmly of the former prime minister. “Churchill was the right man for the right time,” he said.

But how times have changed. The Havengore is still in pristine condition yet the banks of the Thames are now unrecognisable. London’s great docks are long gone and the work of the few cranes along the river remaining is restricted to the latest generation of steel and chrome skyscrapers. And that work continued as the small flotilla sailed past.

The cortege at the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill makes its way down Whitehall, London, 30th January 1965

As Havengore neared HMS Belfast, a four-gun salute rang out in tribute. Further upstream at Victoria Embankment, the Grimsby sloop HQS Wellington exchanged salutes with the smaller vessel.

Every bridge along the route was thronged with people, tourists brandishing “selfie-sticks”, office workers on their lunch breaks and of course those who had come specially to pay their respects. But crowds were thickest on Westminster Bridge where Havengore bobbed to a final halt on a stretch of river opposite the Palace of Westminster.

As the clouds darkened and raindrops spat down, prayers were said and the national anthem played on board. Then, just beyond the stroke of 1.30pm from Big Ben, Last Post sounded across the water, and a green wreath – embossed with a golden V for Victory created for the occasion at the Royal British Legion Poppy Factory in Richmond – was gently dropped overboard by Colonel Anthony Mather, who led the pall bearers at the funeral, and Barry de Morgan, former adjutant of the Queen’s Royal Hussars who escorted the coffin. It was carried swiftly away by the swirling currents.

Sir Winston Churchill, cigar in mouth, gives his famous ‘V’ for victory sign

The voyage was just one event among several on this day of commemoration, which had begun with a service in the House of Parliament and concluded yesterday evening at Westminster Abbey.

Prime Minister David Cameron was one of the first to lay a wreath at the feet of the Churchill’s statue in the Members Lobby, paying tribute to a “great leader and a great Briton”.

The archway over which the statue stands sentinel, was rebuilt out of shattered stone on Churchill’s personal command after its destruction during the Blitz. Mr Cameron urged Britons to continue to draw on such “courage and resolve” to battle the affronts to freedom we face today.

He spoke in the shadow of the hulking broze monument: Churchill, hands on his hips, the scowling leader still inspiring the nation he saved.


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