Sir Winston Churchill’s Farewell to Parliament 27th July 1964 PART 1
Winston Churchill - The End of an Era
During the course of a long and eventful life, Sir Winston Churchill was, in equal measure, hailed as the saviour of civilisation and condemned as a man of war, ‘a warmonger!
In 1930, with all his soldiering behind him and his destiny still unknown, he wrote a small but important book dedicated "To A New Generation" entitled "My Early Life"; as only he could relate it. It tells of his birth at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, of his father, the distinguished Tory politician Lord Randolph, and of his mother, the wealthy American beauty, Jenny Jerome; seemingly both had little time for their son.
He leaves his readers in no doubt that the two people who were the greatest influences on his young life were not his parents, but Mrs. Everest, his nanny and his heroic ancestor John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough.
After a miserable school life at Harrow, young Winston went on to Sandhurst to pursue a career in the army. There followed adventures of heroic proportions in Cuba, India and the Middle East, culminating in the Battle of Omdurman where he took part in the last recorded cavalry charge.
He left the army in 1899, to pursue a career in journalism, and after a brief and unsuccessful adventure on the hustings in Oldham, left for South Africa as principal war correspondent of “The Morning Post'. The story of his capture by the Boers and his epic escape is legendary and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that it was all a preparation for what was to come - a long and distinguished career in Parliament. Years in the political wilderness between the first and second world wars provided the time for him to think, consult and write, and to ready himself for what lay ahead.
In 1930 he wrote his autobiographical gem - “My Early Life", which brings me to the purpose of this preamble - to pass on a few words of Churchillian wisdom for the benefit of today's politicians.
As I write, we are enmeshed in a quagmire of unfathomable complexity in the Middle East. Politicians, for I cannot call them Statesmen, of the twenty first century, too young to have experienced the horrors of war and seemingly with too little knowledge of history, are in danger of taking the world to a catastrophe with unforeseen consequences that even Churchill did not have to confront.
In a vain attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the American President quoted the words of his hero, Sir Winston Churchill. Unfortunately, neither his experience or wisdom matched that of his hero and through his Ambassador in London, I sent him the following quotation from Churchill's “My Early Life”;
"Let us learn our lessons. Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The Statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”
Sadly, the President was supported by a British Prime Minister whose lack of experience and judgement was matched by his own. Neither had lived through anything like a world war or had any experience of military service. Not that I am suggesting these are necessary qualifications for ruling a country, but they are of enormous help if you plunge your country and perhaps the world into a boiling cauldron of war. History will be their judge.
By 1964, I was married and living in Surrey with my wife Valerie and Denise our infant daughter On the 27th July, the morning papers hinted that Sir Winston Churchill, now 89 and retiring at the end of this parliament, would today attend the House of Commons for the last time, It would be the end of lengthy and memorable political career that started sixty five years earlier, when he stood for parliament in the Lancashire cotton mill town of Oldham. In an age when many events are labelled "historic" only time can be the final judge; yet it is sometimes possible to recognise an event that will enter the annals of history, and this I thought was one I should witness.
The Houses of Parliament reflected in the windows of Sir Winston's car as he enters Old Palace Yard.