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The Final Days of Winston Churchill

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Possessing an almost superhuman energy, Sir Winston Churchill attempted to remain in public life until the very end. While he had spent his entire life battling political obstacles and depression and eventually triumphing over these challenges, by the 1960s, his indefatigable character had begun to give way to physical and mental deterioration.

Although the Conservatives increased their numbers in the 1959 election, Churchill’s majority fell precipitously. A series of strokes and a bad fall in 1962 crippled him, and he was unable to attend the 1963 White House ceremony making him an honorary citizen of the United States. He suffered a final stroke in January 1965.

At age 90, Churchill died on Jan. 24, 1965, 70 years to the day of his father’s death. According to historian Paul Johnson, his last words were: “I am bored with it all,” but then added, “The journey has been enjoyable and well-worth making – once!"

Six days after his death, the world watched the funeral service of Britain’s most legendary prime minister. By order of Queen Elizabeth II, his body lay in state for three days in Westminster Abbey before his funeral. He was the first commoner since William Gladstone to have a lying-in-state, but, only the Duke of Wellington’s funeral compared in terms of magnificence. Approximately, 300,000 people would line up to view the coffin of the man who saved Europe.

The funeral service was held at Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Millions of Britons and people across Europe watched on television. The Royal Artillery fired the traditional 19-gun salute for a head of government, and the Royal Air Force fighters flew overhead. In a rare act, the Queen herself attended (Queen Victoria did not attend the funerals of Wellington and Gladstone). Five other monarchs, 15 heads of state, and representatives from over 100 countries, including former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, were present. 

Irish President Eamon de Valera declined to attend, and while he supposedly sent a personal note to Lady Churchill, he released a statement, “Sir Winston Churchill was a great Englishman, but we in Ireland had to regard him over a long period as a dangerous adversary." As an American of Irish descent, who understands that Churchill was no saint toward the people of the Emerald Isle, de Valera’s act was nevertheless no source of pride for me, especially as he shamefully offered kinder words following the death of Adolf Hitler.

After the funeral, Churchill’s body was taken on a launch (a small survey ship) called the Havengore on the Thames River to Waterloo Station. From there, his body traveled by train to his final resting place in Bladon, a small village northwest of Oxford. The yard of Saint Martin’s Church houses the graves of members of the aristocratic Spencer-Churchill family. The British Bulldog lies with his wife, parents, children, and ancestors.

Pat Horan is a research associate at RealClearPolitics and a contributor at RealClearHistory. He is a recent graduate of the College of the Holy Cross.

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