Lead out the pageant: sad and slow,
As fits an universal woe,
Let the long long procession go,
And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,
And let the mournful martial music blow;
The last great Englishman is low.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Something for the weekend. I Vow to Thee My Country set to scenes from the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill on January 30, 1965. Hard to think that half a century now separates us from that sad event. Churchill planned his own funeral and he made certain that all the great old hymns he so loved were well represented in the ceremonies. When he was asked if he was a pillar of the church, Churchill, whose attendance at services was sparse, said he was a flying buttress of the church, supporting it from outside. His beliefs about God were ambiguous, with contrary statements about religion being made about God and religion in the course of his life. I think that like many of his European generation coming of age in the late nineteenth century that he initially embraced agnosticism. Then, in battle he noticed that he was always praying for assistance, whatever his head thinking his heart obviously still believing in God! As he grew older I think a belief in God began to grow in him as he became acutely aware during his very long life of the mysteries of life and death. He sometimes spoke enviously of those who had religious faith untroubled with doubt, and perhaps at the end he joined their ranks. In a striking part of the funeral, two buglers played: the first one Taps and the second one Reveille, a symbol of the Resurrection.
The greatest man in secular history of the last century, Churchill wrenched the course of history and ensured that Hitler’s talk of a Thousand Year Reich would be remembered as a tyrant’s empty boast and not the beginning of a waking nightmare for all mankind. Politicians are always with us, as ubiquitous as fleas on a dog and often about as useful. A statesman like Churchill, who can see beyond present turmoil and disaster and point the way forward, is rare and precious indeed. On V-E day in Great Britain Churchill was hailed as the man who won the war. Churchill denied this and said that the victory belonged to the British people and it had merely been his privilege to give voice to the roar of the British lion. He was then promptly tossed out by the British people at the general election, his task completed. He would once again become prime minister in 1951, but it was anti-climactic, a mere epilogue to his career. His great moment had been when he sustained British morale and kept his nation in the fight against Nazi Germany at a time when victory seemed hopeless and even mere survival doubtful, and thus gave his people their finest hour.
For that he deserves to be remembered and honored, and not just by the British, but by all free men and women everywhere.