Yesterday’s blog (Mild Electric Shocks) seems somewhat flippant in retrospect. I’d forgotten that Friday was the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s funeral. Turning on the television just after clicking Publish, I saw the BBC was re-broadcasting the whole black-and-white event.
I remember that day, 50 years ago, quite well. I was a 7-year-old boy at an uncomfortable boarding school in the English Midlands. We were given the morning off so that we could cluster around the school’s only (rather small) television to watch the funeral procession and the service at St Paul’s. The Headmaster’s wife, who wore a pronounced moustache, and whom we called Peeps, kept a frightening eye on us to make sure we appreciated the event’s significance.
In my seven-year-old mind Churchill was the ‘pugnacious British bulldog’, teeth clenched on a wet and revolting cigar, growling our enemies into submission. He stood for Victory and for British Supremacy rather than anything more complex. By the time of his death in 1965, of course, British influence was in decline and the country felt anything but supreme. On that wintry day, I suppose, Britain was burying its Imperial past forever. Not that I noticed that at the time. The (deliberately?) out-of-date map of the world that was used for our geography lessons was still preposterously red with British possessions.
The fact that I was aware of Churchill at seven was because my parents were both involved in the War Effort, and reminiscences of the War were a daily diet from infancy. Odd though it may sound, I suspect that the War years were my parents’ happiest. My father served in North Africa, and Italy, fighting a shooting war on the front line, and my mother on the gun parks of Southern England, calibrating guns.
The grainy, grey film that was broadcast again on Friday shows a gritty, grey London, dark from a hundred years of pollution (now so much cleaner). But otherwise, in its essentials, little has changed.
How different the world might have been if Lord Halifax had not stepped back from the Prime Ministership in May 1940 (which he need not have done, whatever he said at the time). It is probable that Halifax would have reached an agreement with Hitler, and Britain would have existed in the shadow of a Nazi Europe until such time as the Soviets swept across the continent (as some historians have suggested the endgame might have been).
But Churchill chose the impossible path, and won.
Things don’t change in their essentials. Coverage of Churchill’s funeral still looks good, even if it needed a little re-mastering. And although technology (business IT to be precise) occupies many of my waking moments, it hasn’t really made any difference to what is most important.