NO, it was not a sad day. It was something altogether different, bigger, more hieratic, Churchill’s definitive integration into the historic setting of England with all its display of colors, feudal memories, and genealogical and heraldic traditions. Undoubtedly there is only one country in the world, on January 30, 1965, Eternal and Royal England, to be able to offer us a spectacle of such an outfit and such perfection. It is a country without art, which has no pretensions to formal beauty or spells of the word.
England has everything at hand, and the regulations of her ceremonial, whether joyous or funeral, provide her with the panoply, the accessories, the music, the rhythm, the true and still living marks of the majesty. All this accompanied by a ceremonial prodigious in its refinement, which sometimes only initiates are able to know and be able to appreciate.
The cumulative effect of this organized and hierarchical splendor is of such power that it is difficult to describe it in words, it is there however that the emotion is created, that the mourning shines through the beauty or beauty through mourning, and that we find ourselves shivering or being on the verge of tears.
Churchill: Knight of the Garter, Companion of Honor
Such, at least, are our feelings on the evening of January 31, 1965. Professional Democrats, those who absolutely want to see human life only in prosaic terms, are wrong. The truth, that of chivalrous and indomitable England, to which Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, Knight of the Garter, companion of honor, etc., belonged in all its fibers, is nevertheless there. It is to him that his queen paid the last honors, surrounded by the Great of this world.
British sovereigns are entitled to a royal blue carpet. It is the color of the carpet strip which had been extended in the median axis of the nave of Saint-Paul. Three golden armchairs, hung with red velvet, had been installed under the dome built by Sir Christopher Wren, a few yards from the catafalque, hung in black and silver. All the chandeliers had been on by 8 a.m. The program of the ceremony, governed by the Duke of Norfolk, Grand Marshal of England, specified the details, minute by minute. It was contained in a pamphlet framed in mourning purple, stamped with the arms of the deceased, that is to say with the shield of Spencer Churchill, surrounded by garter bearings.
The church is vast. It is one of the most spacious in Western Christendom, and Londoners are very proud of it. The ordinary public was not admitted there. It was entirely filled with notables; some in jackets, others in uniforms, medals and plaques of decorations on the chest, crosses in saltire or scarf for all windward commanderies, top hats, feathered bicorns, white gloves in their hands.
From time to time the leaves of the large west portal opened to let in some illustrious personage. At that moment, the icy air from outside entered the nave, and all the dignitaries began to cough.
Television screens had been hung from the pillars. They showed, from 9.45 a.m., the lifting of the body in Westminster, the installation of the coffin on the artillery extension, and the setting in motion of the procession. Those who were inside Saint Paul could thus see Churchill coming to them.
A Funeral with Staggering Precision
The program – we were going to say the script – executed with astounding precision. The world thus witnessed, seated between two lavishly decorated gentlemen, the acts of a sort of funeral ballet. We saw the members of the chapter, the minor canons, the prebendaries of Saint Paul, all marching with measured steps, their left heels artfully rejecting the hem of their cassocks. They descended the nave in procession to welcome powers and glories at the door.
“Gentleman-ushers with a purple rod” acted as openers and watched over the patience and dignity of the audience. Other characters dressed in the scarlet uniform of the dignitaries of the Queen’s House, adorned with gold embroidery more and more provided according to their rank, ensured the strategic supervision of this service of order which was, in fact, a court ceremony.
Arrival of Delegations
Here, dressed in a large black silk gown embroidered with gold, wearing a woolen wig, is the speaker of the Chamber. He enters, still in procession, preceded by the Mass of vermeil which is the symbol of his functions, followed by the official in charge of his purse, his clerks, his troll carrier.
A sign of mourning: these gentlemen have replaced their lace jabot with “mourners” in simple starched canvas, and the buckles of their shoes are adorned with jet instead of being adorned with rhinestones.
The Lord Chancellor, who is the Speaker of the House of Lords, follows at a distance with his particular acolytes. His costume is even richer, but he comes second because it is the Commons that take precedence over peers in the British parliamentary democratic system. Sign of mourning: these gentlemen have replaced their lace jabot with “mourners” in simple starched canvas, and the buckles of their shoes are adorned with jet instead of being adorned with rhinestones.
While these “entrances” follow one another inside the cathedral, the television shows us the procession approaching. She has passed Whitehall and approaches Trafalgar Square.
At 10:10 am, the assistance rises. She sees appear in the central corridor an old man of debonair appearance, dressed in a gray military coat with red lapels: it is the old Marshal Konev, very “good-papa”, a little surprised to have to parade in the middle of this pump.
The Americans follow. Then, it is the turn of non-sovereign foreign delegations.
At 10:25 am, it is the arrival of the kings. They are escorted, in procession, to the armchairs reserved for them under the dome to the left of the catafalque: Juliana of Holland and the prince of Bernhardt, Frederick of Denmark, Olav of Norway, the young Constantine of Greece, and the grave Baudouin of Belgium. General de Gaulle finally walks alongside the Grand Duke Jean de Luxembourg, both in khaki uniforms.
The lighting of Saint-Paul is not forgiving for the complexion and for the ages. It accentuates wrinkles and puffiness. It emphasizes the arches, juvenile acne, and creases. Kings are weary people.
On television, however, the procession is still approaching. It is not very far. The audience gets up again and turns together towards the front door. A large golden cross advances slowly in the central corridor. It is worn by a young chorister from Saint-Paul, dressed in an alb, the abundant and wavy hair drawing on the red, which one obviously selected for its resemblance to the angels of Boticelli. Other crosses follow bishops, butts, canons, the Lord Mayor of London wearing an ermine cloak and brandishing his mourning saber, pulling in his wake a character in a mink hat who bears the title of “remembrancer. Of the City of London and who is, in fact, its liaison with the parliamentary commissioners.
Finally, Here Is the Queen
And here is finally Elisabeth II, dressed in a small astrakhan coat, wearing a small black beret. Two meters to her left walks Prince Philipp and, to the right, the Prince of Wales in an ordinary black suit, the line impeccable, his hands behind his back as his father does.
The queen, at forty, is full of naturalness and good grace. We see that she can walk in public, which is not given to everyone. Going up the nave, she casts to the right and to the left them look at the same time benevolent and strict of a hostess who would seek to make sure that everything is in good order in her residence.
The queen mother follows. Then Princess Margaret and her husband, the Earl of Snowdon, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duchess of Kent and other members of the Royal Family of Windsor.
The protocol will not make her wait a moment: already the banners of the procession are outlined against the light in the portal of the cathedral.
Very slowly, the convoy advances in the axis of the nave. She is preceded by a veritable squad of characters in Shakespearean style armored in every way. They are the “pursuers”, the “heralds”, the “kings of arms”, and finally the most decorative of all: the king of arms of the very noble order of the Garter. These highly figurative characters have names to make you dream: Clarenceux, Portcullis, Rouge, Dragon, Bleu Manteau. They are gentlemen of a certain age, limping, wearing the mustache of an officer of the guard, and, for two of them, a monocle.
The weight of the years is even more noticeable when we see those who have the honor of symbolically carrying the cords of the stove pass by: the marshals are stooped, but they make a great effort to stand upright; Eden, her face ravaged, watches with a worried eye her neighbor Attlee, aged eighty-two, diminished by illness and who visibly finds it difficult to walk. Only Lords Alexander and Mountbatten, who are the last of this group, do relatively well: “My God, murmurs my neighbor, how old they have become!”
Churchill: An American Hymn
The bearers of the decorations appear in turn. They are four officers of the Queen’s Irish Hussars: the decorations and medals are pinned to black velvet cushions. We counted them as closely as we could. The great majority were marks of British distinctions. Neither the Legion of Honor nor the Order of Liberation figured there.
The coffin finally advances, carried by eight grenadiers, sturdy fellows who are tensed by the effort, their cheeks glued to the cheek of the flag, sweat on their foreheads. They carry the beer on the catafalque and set it up, in total silence.
The religious service begins. We will not describe it. It is short, with more music than prayers. Included are the hymns that Churchill loved, strong and triumphant hymns, without vocal blooms of any kind, which the audience sings in unison. It is these hymns that they sang at school, that they sang on Navy ships, at Sunday services, in camps in India or Africa, in the most remote corners of this country. which was the British Empire of Kipling.
No doubt because Churchill, was the son of an American and honorary citizen of the United States, a particularly popular hymn across the Atlantic is also on the program: it’s Glory, Glory Halleluia!
A prayer is then sung by the choirs of Saint Paul. It is a Russian melody borrowed as it is from the ritual of the Orthodox Church and translated into English.
The ceremony lasts thirty minutes and ends with a “God save the Queen” which the audience resumes in chorus.
A trumpet from the guard, posted on the upper gallery of the dome, sounds Aux Morts. A second trumpet, belonging to the infantry, responds immediately with The Awakening, symbol of resurrection.
The Last Farewell
The grenadiers pick up the coffin and hoist it again at arm’s length, while the great organs of Saint-Paul play Handel’s Funeral March, in a great thunder of harmonic echoed by the vault. The procession heads for the large gate. The queen follows a few meters, very serious. Then come the kings, the princes, the special envoys from over a hundred countries, the family, Lady Churchill, under a crepe veil, leaning on the arm of her son, Randolph, very pale and nobler in appearance than is used to seeing him in his journalistic activities.
The Marlborough cousins come after. Then the members of Parliament, the foreign notabilities. It is very cold outside. The group of the powerful and the glorious stopped under the columns of the peristyle of the cathedral, while, lower down, the grenadiers set up Churchill’s coffin on the artillery extension. The bells of the cathedral are ringing full blast. The funeral procession begins again. Kings, princes, marshals, ministers put their hands on their caps and caps. It’s their last farewell to Churchill leaving. They won’t see it anymore.
It’s finish. The Rolls-Royces of the Court, the passenger cars of all kinds take the guests of honor. The horse guards, in their red coats, leave. The good folks in London are starting to pack up their thermos flasks and fold up their blankets.
The cathedral bells continue to ring as the convoy heads for the Thames. The day is not officially a day of mourning. Every British citizen has the leisure to spend it as he pleases.