What Churchill's funeral says about Margaret Thatcher's
It was the smoke billowing above the dreaming spires far away down the line that announced he was coming.
We had stood in the bitter January wind waiting for what seemed hours. In our grey flannel suits and inadequate coats, we waited for the coffin of a man we had been told was perhaps the greatest prime minister of all time. In short, a man who saved the very country into which we had been born.
I was 17. I had no memory of the war, I was a bulge baby born after it. In life Churchill had seemed a remote figure from history. And yet as the train bearing his coffin drew closer, announcing its presence with a wailing horn, I and the boys among whom I stood felt huge emotion.
We had all grown up among parents who still grieved for lost loved ones; parents who had lived in the Blitz; parents who spoke chillingly of Hitler and the concentration camps; parents who talked of the “few”.
There had been strip cartoons about Churchill in our Eagle comics. We knew of his time in the Boer war as a correspondent. We knew too that he had written a remarkable multi-volume History of the English Speaking Peoples.
History records his flaws: spirits, a temper, a headstrong sense of his own being and capacity. But above all we knew that this was a man like no other who had led our families and the country through the country’s darkest hour.
When I saw Churchill’s coffin, draped in the union flag, flanked by a guardsman at each corner of the wagon. I cried and bowed my head. This was history, and every fibre of my being knew it. I glimpsed the driver in the engine cab, the guard at the rear, and then the disappearing red tail light as the train wound its way on to Blaydon and his final resting place.
For me, however – and, I feel sure, for a good many who witnessed Churchill’s passing – the emotions are less stirred. Respectful, aware that this day is not the same, and not eliciting the same acknowledgement of history.
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