Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sir Winston Churchill - Funeral (I Vow To Thee, My Country)

"I Vow to Thee, My Country is a British patriotic song created in 1921 when a poem by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice was set to music by Gustav Holst."--Wikipedia

"I Vow to Thee" is one of those stirring traditional pieces that seems to summon up the natural rolling hills and fields of the English landscape by just listening to it.

Here it is combined with footage of the funeral of Great Britain's most famous statesman of the 20th Century.

When I was about six, my father bought me what was called a book "for young adults" on Churchill's life shortly after the old fellow had died. It emphasized Churchill's larger than life persona and the enourmous span of his career as a politician, writer, soldier, historian and wartime leader. I was of course taken by the theatricality of his coming to office at a dark moment in British and democratic history. I went back to this book from time to time and one might say it was the starting point of my interest and affection for the British nations.

There have so many versions of his life played out in books and film and television mini-series that one might be forgiven for not stepping back a bit and marvelling how one man, however flawed, made such a difference to the world at a crucial time and could later write so well about the times of his life and his nation.

Although I likely would never have voted for the guy, I have always felt a certain fondness for the resolution and durabiity of this man. So call this a chance to share one of my favorite hymms and recall London and the United Kingdom at a very different time of official pagentry.


  1. If ever there was a conservative I admired it would be Him thanks for this reminder Doug.

    Nancy Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”
    Churchill: “If I were your husband I would take it.”

  2. I agree Mike.

    And thanks for reminding me of that famous quip.

  3. I watched this on the telly in monochrome at my granddad's council maisonette in Birmingham. My granddad had been in India as an imperial soldier, in the Boer War he was at the relief of Mafeking and he survived the entire First World War in France. I don't remember any particular emotions, we watched it much in the same way as we took part in remembrance Sunday events, because it was the thing to do. I was too young to get the full meaning of Churchill's passing, my dad and my granddad were pretty impassive, but then again they weren't the emotional type, neither father nor son. I have a clear memory of the event, we drank tea and ate madeira cake off square bone china plates with a blue floral design, the hearse rolled down Horseguard's Parade or somewhere equally as remote in London, a city that I had only once visited on a school trip to Kensington Science Museum, which in retrospect seems a strange destination that leaves out pretty well all the major sights in the capital. Anyway that's what I remember of the day, a bit sad, a bit boring....that's how I saw it back then as I recall.

  4. "I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old".

    June 4, 1940
    Winston Churchill

  5. In later life I came to detest Churchill for what he did in south Wales as Home Secretary in 1910 and 1911. It was there that Winston Churchill's class position is marked out, using troops to break the miners strike. Tonypandy was before the Bolshevik threat arose, but it was the reason that it did arise amongst worker across the world. I think courage is so lacking in elected representatives that when there is any suggestion they may have some that suggestion becomes 'over valued' and that is what I think happened with Churchill. He was also of course an American fifth columnist during and after the war, but that is another story altogether I think.

  6. That is quite humourous, thank you Mike!

  7. Doug, I do apologize for what happened here. I had hoped to share the video only, but I see that the 'link,' not even chosen by me, as I would have done so from the top--has brought me back here.

    If you would like me to delete my blog, please do let me know!

  8. If you want an orgy of patriotic British fervour this has got to be the real deal Doug.
    Fortunately most of us went to bed and forgot it immediately afterwards Sadly some of us are still trying :-)

  9. I think it is lovely.
    Thank ylu Dragon for sending this li k.

  10. You certainly have a considerable power of recollection, AA. I imagine that was just how most young people would have viewed the event, looking at the eyes of their parents for signs of grief or nonchalance.

    Of course no one could have been surprised by Churchill's death as people were by the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 ( at which I was three years and a quarter and have no people recollection)

    No men or women jumped to their deaths as was reported when Nassar was laid to rest in Cairo in 1970 as far as I know in either case.

    Your field trip to Kensington remnds of my own visits to places like San Francisco on field trips. They always seem to take kids to where something has been "mounted and stuffed" like a museum. How interesting it would have been to take us grade school brats to a bus tour of the vibrant Haight-Asbury district or to have some Black Panther s visit the school instead of being marched into Steinhardt Aqaurium in Golden Gate Park or to look at redwood trees near santa Cryuz that weren't going anywhere.

    Thanks for that personal recall of the event, AA.

  11. Nothing to apolgize for on my account. Please leave it up, Dragon.

  12. Very well selected. Could you imagine any modern politican making such a ringing adresss, Mike? I cannot.

    It's interesting to me that I once heard an interview with William Manchester, who wrote two books on Churchill, say that Churchill gave great speeches in an athmosphere of Parlainment where he would be heckled and shout at with catcalls like "Sit down you old sod!" or "Pull the other leg, mate, there's a bell on it!" One young Labour Party MP once got so carried away with a naddress denouncing him in a speech that he was ordered to go to Churchill's home at Chartwell and apologize, which he did that weekend.

    When the MP arrived, so Manchester's story goes, he was kept waiting...and waiting. When he asked when Churchill would be down to see him, he was told that "Mr Churchill is in the bathroom right now and can only be bothered to deal with one s*** at a time."

  13. Yes, AA, I remember reading about some of Churchill's activities as Home Secretary such as the infamous Sydney Street Siege of 1911, his later opposition to unions as you refer and the Indian National Congress, plus his conversion to the Conservatives in the 1920s. That domestic and colonial record would have precluded me from supporting him or any other Tory candidate.

    The idea of Churchill as "American Fifth Columnist" is interesting as the opposite could (and was) said of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal poiticians who refused to follow a course of isolationism towards fascism. Some of his own advisers conceded he would have been impeached by Congres if they realized how much FDR --as the leader of a officially neutral nation---was doing to promote a clandestine alliance with the British while leaving the other end of Pensylvania Avenue (the Congress) in the dark.

    might those charges came from within his own party at the 1940 Presidential race. PerhapUS aid could be said to have been too little at the first major part of the 1940-41 and then too heavy at the end of the conflict so as to leave the British people feeling they were occupied.

  14. I was glad I could find and share this, Phoenix.

  15. I think in the first video, the one with Churchill on the brier, one feels a sense of greater national loss and sponteneous outpouring, AA. This second video of Remberance Day Celebrations isn't as moving perhaps because so many of the people are there because they are ordered or expected to show up.

    Too bad this Holst chap couldn't have written something for the Americans. "My Country, Tis of Thee", frankly, is somewhat moving because I sang it in kindergarten in my day but it's no great shakes to "I Vow to Thee..." .

  16. Quite beautiful. Our words are banal by comparison, & so are our passions.

  17. I agree. The British do this sort of thing better. I know that's a cliche but it's true.

  18. Thank Doug for then giving me his permission!

    I wish it were possible to download this very moving pageantry. The "Golden Arches" better represent our history & aesthetics.

  19. I knew the music was Gustav Holst, but only at 1:40, did I realize this is one of the planets, in his suite. I haven't heard it for years...Jupiter? Perhaps! I have the CD but just a little too tired to leave my comfortable chair. Thank you so much for this, & the text, Thank you Aaran, even though you have no taste for your Youtube post. I loved it!

  20. LOL...yes, never forget, Dragon, that the world owes us for "The Symphony for Quarter Pounder and Cheese" by Ronald F. McDonald.

  21. You're exactly right, Lucija. It is "Jupiter"!

  22. very well said.

    I'm with you, in that I would likely never have voted for the man, but his presence at a pivotal stage of human history is inescapable and his role on the world stage during that time can never be diminished.

    I'm using my 2G smartphone as my internet connection now and it can't handle streaming content or large graphics, so I'll have to watch the video portion later on.

  23. Thanks Chuck.

    Hope you'll enjoy the video.

  24. Doesn't it sound like what Jupiter symbolizes? I knew it couldn't be Mars, Bringer of War, Venus...of peace, Saturn...Old Age (somber, profound), the Mystic or the Magician. Mercury & Jupiter were left, but Mercury is the Winged Messenger. Jupiter the Bringer of Jollity!

    Isn't it fantastic how Holst expressed in music/feeling just how these planets relate to Astrology.

  25. According to his official biographer Martin Gilbert

    "Winston Churchill, whose mother, Jennie Jerome, the daughter of a leading American entrepreneur, was born in Brooklyn in 1854, spent much of his seventy adult years in close contact with the United States. In two world wars, his was the main British voice urging the closest possible cooperation with the United States. From before the First World War, he understood the power of the United States, the "gigantic boiler," which, once lit, would drive the great engine forward."

    The "great engine" was basically the British Empire although the entrpreneurs on Wall Street also backed Hitler and apparently Stalin too so it was always a win-win situation for the oligarchs and still is of course.

  26. Oh, YES...& it still is. Some day perhaps, to its demise.

  27. Thanks for the link, AA. Cross my heart, I saw this very book for the first time just other day at the library. Thought about putting it on my short list,which is much too long but occasionally diminishes.

    I not read Gilbert's work on Churchill because I try to avoid "official biographers" in most cases. They tend to "tidy up" the back stories if you know what I mean.

    Example: Someone did an offical biography of Harry Truman years ago that was dull and flat, nothing like the straight-forward Midwestern plebian himself when his true voice was revealed after his death. I find Truman in his own words very much a strong tonic in books like Margaret Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" and the very good oral historian Merle Miller in the book "Plain Speaking".

    Truman on Richard Nixon, for example:

    "Richard Nixon is a no good, lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he'd lie just to keep his hand in."

    This is one of the kinder reflections he had on his Presidential successor.

    This might be one Gilbert book to read since I think the transfer of hegemony from Whitehall to Washington goes a long way to explaining the present mainstream attitudes of both nations toward the world.

    It says something about the span of the man's life that he once was in a cavalry charge in the Sudan, met and chatted with Mark Twain while both were giving lectures in a New York around 1904 or so and he still lived into the era of the hydrogen bomb, The Beatles and Men walking about in space.

    Churchill's parting advice to his Cabinet in 1955, "Never seperate yourself from the Americans" was taken at a time when no one could have foreseen the end of the Cold War. I'm sure he would have added, "But don't let them hornswoggle us back into Iraq!"

  28. Let's not get too far ahead in the story, Lucija. ;-)

  29. "...perhaps.." operative word, Doug!

  30. Being hornswoggled sounds terrible Doug. I never even knew that had happened until just a minute ago and now I'm in shock, which is obviously the delayed effect of transatlantic hornswoggling, a rather nasty business- thanks for letting me know Doug.

    My grandad who I watched the old bugger being dispatched .with via the black and white telly on his sideboard, he had been at the relief of Mafeking himself although he never did meet Mark Twain so far as I know. Before that he was in India where he did meet Lord Kitchener when he was hospitalised with malaria and Kitchener visited him.

    I tend to think that too much is made of Churchill's war years. Lets face it any PM who got through the 1940s without us being invaded would have had a pretty good press.

    Churchill wasn't all that popular at home hence the Labour landslide victory in the 1945 election. For five years, from 1945 to 1950, there were two Communist MPs at Westminster - William Gallacher and Phil Piratin.
    These electoral reversals for Churchill and the Conservatives reflect how sick everyone was of the war. Churchill was the man who oversaw the transfer of power and empire to Washington.

    Of course Mr Special Relationship Churchill needed a further term of office to complete the task which of course he got in 1951-55. He made four official transatlantic visits to America during his second term as prime minister and was an Honorary Citizen of the United States.

    To be perfectly frank Doug if you are born at Blenheim Palace with blood links to the American finance capitalist and speculator Leonard Jerome (his maternal granddad)....with all that behind you, you are going to meet a lot of important and well known people whatever your personal attributes may be.

  31. I blame myself for simply tossing out a shocking word like "hornswoggling", AA. I could have just used the word "tricked"or "deceived". Rather than toss "horns--------" out there in the middle of an international blog like its a standard word, not one loaded with visions more terrible than a war painting by Goya. What the hell was I thinking?

    Congratulations to your brave old granddad for avoiding Mark Twain. Twain was rather a public nuisance around England and parts of Europe and even South Africa. My family history and a surviving letter relates how my great Aunt Millicent, a celebrated party crasher and professional "poor relation", once jumped out of the window of a house on Duke Street at a High Tea in Twain's honor in Mayfair.

    It was 1896 or '97 so the story goes. Millicent was about to be formally introduced to the celebrated, but all too ubiquitous author. "He was a peculiar man in a white suit," she related in a brief note decades later. "The old bird gave me a wink. I knew he'd want to kiss my hand with his bushy American lips, and for me to later heap praise on his lesser works.

    "I knew I was for it if I didn't act. I legged it to the window, grabbed my skirts, leaped, hit the sidewalk, darted around a startled fellow, who looked remarkably like Lord Kitchener walking a poodle, and caught a tram."

    She survived and left for Canada shortly after. On the boat across, she avoided Henry James.

    When you mention Mafeking, i'm reminded how amazing it is that older people in our own lifetimes did indeed do remarkable things shave and some had brushes with remote but celebrated figures like Lord Kitchener.

    Point taken, AA: even Clement Attlee might be better remembered over here if he was PM in WWII and nobody invaded England.

    I remember reading about the two Communist MPs in the 1945 General Election. My father-in-law was in the American Air Corps in Italy in 1945 and passed along a copy of many newspapers from there, including a copy of the UK military paper "The Union Jack" that included news of the coming General Election and campaign statements by several parties including the Communists.

    I suppose it's too easy to forget how much what we know of staving off the terrible times of history is really the work of men and women are are only celebrated in family scrapbooks and the memories of a few.

    The inner strengths and resolve of the greater group of common persons, in the Service or at some post, has a lot to do with fighting an invader and letting the next generation breathe free air. What the poet Walt Whitman said about the American Civil War applies here as well:

    "Who know the conflict, hand-to-hand, the writhing groups and squads, the cries, the din, the cracking guns and pistols, the distant cannon, the cheers and calls and threats and awful music of the oaths, the indescribable mix - the officers' orders, persuasions, encouragements - the strong shout, "Charge, men, charge", the flash of the naked sword, and rolling flame and smoke? Of scenes like this, I say, who writes the story(?)...
    No formal general's report, nor book in the library, nor column in the paper, embalms the bravest, north or south, east or west. Unnamed, unknown, remain, and still remain, the bravest soldiers."

    I suppose Churchill did have a lot of advantages. He certainly didn't make a great start--last in his class at Harrow, a disappointment to his father with his education and choice of military--but he did make the best of the advantages he had, as a soldier and a journalist, with a lot of help from his mother so the biographer say in getting his first book s published. He made a living as a journalist and a writer as well as his work in the political realm. He embodied something important, bigger than himself to people all over the world. That was more than can be said for some other rich scions I can think of.