Daily Mail

A river of people eddies around the foot of the rock called Churchill

- By Vincent Mulchrone

January 28, 1965

TWO rivers run silently through London tonight, and one is made of people. Dark and quiet as the nighttime Thames itself, it flows through Westminste­r Hall, eddying about the foot of the rock called Churchill.

And for all the tears and the stiff, awkward movements of Englishmen ashamed to give in to mourning, the first day of the lying-in- state of Sir Winston Churchill is ending on a note well removed from grief.

If you could distil the emotion that has flowed through England’s most venerable hall today into a sound the heart would recognise, it would never fit the plaintive oboe. You would have to play it bravely, distantly, on a bugle made for war.

People grieving give up something of themselves. The people who came back to Churchill today seemed, on the contrary, to be drawing some intangible strength from him.

Cold in his coffin, he was no less an inspiratio­n.

It showed itself in many ways as the true tapestry of England — not the braided, glinting highlights of ceremonial, but the rough and ready weave of the people — went by.

There was no form, scarcely any precedent, so people did the best they knew, out of a rich diversity of background and breeding. Tall, soldierly men came to the sort of attention which must have hurt their old backs and, without breaking the smooth pace of those pressing behind, bowed their heads in a clipped military way.

There were some who managed to fall on both knees as they passed the catafalque and immediatel­y rose without embarrassi­ng those behind.

Some blessed themselves with the Sign of the Cross. Some shook their heads as though impatient with death for taking him away. Some even seemed to walk by without looking up at the coffin. But all, without exception, looked back. Before they left the north door of the hall, some instinct of history made them pause, turn and take a last look.

Day-long, the three Services took part in the death watch over their old chief. The Navy, the Guards, the strangely young successors of The Few who fought the Battle of Britain, succeeded each other at the four corners of the catafalque.

For two hours Churchill’s contempora­ries, friends and ex-foes alike, moved by. Peers and Commons, the Royal Household and foreign Ambassador­s were the only figures on this momentous scene. As Big

Ben struck 11, the fateful hour in two world wars, the physician who pronounced Sir Winston dead joined the VIP queue moving slowly across the silent, carpeted floor.

Lord Moran was as much a friend as doctor to the man beneath the Union Jack. He walked, black topper in hand, explaining the scene to a gravefaced boy in grey.

And the interminab­le, anonymous stream flowed on through the night. Always there were tears, women blowing their noses hard, men flicking away something that seemed to have got into their eye.

But for everyone who cried there were a hundred who straighten­ed their shoulders.

It wasn’t grief which invested Westminste­r Hall tonight, it was pride.

 ??  ?? Tribute to the greatest Briton: Silent crowds flow past the coffin of Sir Winston Churchill
Tribute to the greatest Briton: Silent crowds flow past the coffin of Sir Winston Churchill

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