Sir Winston Churchill Funeral - 1965

Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Morning Prayer
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
8:30am Eucharist
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sir Winston Churchill Funeral - 1965

Fifty years after the nation stood still for the funeral of its great 20th century wartime leader, St Paul's Collections Manager, Simon Carter, reflects on the events of 30 January 1965.

The planning for ‘Operation Hope Not’, the code-named funeral arrangements of Sir Winston Churchill, began in the late 1950s. Such was the scale and significance of the event that meticulous and timely preparations were essential. The Cathedral Archives contain a wealth of information on how the day was devised and executed: detailed instructions for every part of the day’s events, the liturgical programme, maps, traffic directions and even invitations survive.

They were not required for implementation until a grey Saturday morning in January 1965, four days after the death of the seemingly indefatigable, wartime leader. The plans included provision for an extraordinary procession through London, a ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral, dispatch from the Tower of London by river launch, a military fly past, construction cranes lining the Thames and a train from Waterloo Station to Churchill’s burial place at Bladon in Oxfordshire; arrangements requiring the kind of military precision that would have pleased Churchill himself no-end.

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Only a very few were privy to the secret preparations. The Duke of Norfolk led the organisation of events; the coordination of the religious ceremony naturally involved consultation with the then Dean of St Paul’s, The Reverend Walter Matthews. He advised on matters such the Order of Service, the seating plan and the schedule of the ceremonial, the location of the coffin and the arrival and departure of the congregation. The form of service was agreed by the Cathedral Chapter at a meeting in January 1959.

Churchill had attended St Paul’s throughout his long political career and expressed his admiration for Christopher Wren’s designs in his History of the English Speaking Peoples. He wrote that “to later times it seems the real calamity (of the Great Fire of London) was not so much the destruction of the insanitary medieval city as the failure to carry through Wren’s plans for rebuilding it as a unity of quays and avenues centred on St Paul’s”.
During the years of the Second World War he was keenly aware of the catastrophic impairment to morale that damage to the Cathedral might cause – famously declaring at the height of The Blitz, as the City of London was engulfed in a fire storm, that “St Paul’s must be saved at all costs”. He appreciated the place the Cathedral had in the public consciousness. It was appropriate that the building which had become associated with British resilience should host the religious culmination of ceremonies for the figurehead of wartime resistance.
When the day arrived a blue carpet was rolled out over the black and white marble chequer-board floor from the west end to a raised platform beneath the dome. Here on a red carpet stood the catafalque surrounded by six monumental candlesticks and draped with a purpose made pall ready to receive the coffin. Television screens were erected in the nave to enable the waiting congregation to follow the progress of the procession which advanced from Westminster Hall at sixty five paces per minute past the tens of thousands who had lined the route. Television and radio coverage also reached between 850 and 900 million people who were watching or listening world-wide.
Attendees at the ceremony came from around the globe with Commonwealth and other world leaders assembled: President Kaunda from Zambia, President Shazar of Israel, the German Chancellor and foreign minister, the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers and the Crown Prince of Ethiopia all took their places beneath the dome. The memorial and Thanksgiving ceremonies held throughout the war years had hosted foreign troops and dignitaries but Churchill’s funeral was nevertheless one of the most international occasions St Paul’s had ever seen.
The British Royal family were nearly the last to arrive; the monarch’s presence at a state funeral was unprecedented.  The Queen and her family were led in procession to their seats by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London and the Cathedral Chapter. The Chapter wore black copes made especially for the occasion, trimmed with silver silk braid, the hoods emblazoned with the crossed swords of St Paul in silver embroidery. These, together with the funeral pall, remain in the Cathedral Collections today.
At 10.49am the choir sang sentences from the scripture as the coffin entered the Cathedral,   it was processed down the nave and placed on the Bier beneath the dome. A table at the head of the platform draped in black cloth supported Sir Winston’s Decorations, Orders and Achievements.  Dean Matthews in his bidding prayer focused on Churchill as wartime leader “a great man who has rendered memorable service to his country and to the cause of freedom… raised up in our days of desperate need to be a leader and inspirer of the nation…” praying that “the memory of his virtues and his achievement may remain as a part of the national heritage inspiring generations to come to emulate his magnanimity and patriotic devotion”.
At the end of the service, the hymns having been sung, The Lesson from Corinthians delivered and Handel’s Dead March played on the organ, the Coffin was prepared for withdrawal from St Paul’s. A remarkable piece of machinery, hidden beneath the dais, was used to turn the coffin through 180 degrees so that the bearers could easily collect and remove the coffin without shuffling around. As the Coffin was processed out of St Paul’s the congregation sang O God Our Help in Ages Past, the procession left through the Great West Doors, descended the steep steps and continued its journey to Tower Bridge Pier.  
Today Churchill is commemorated in St Paul’s by a bronze memorial plaque designed by John Skelton and set before the Quire steps which reads “The catafalque of Sir Winston Chuirchill stood here at his state funeral on 30 January 1965” and The Winston Churchill Memorial Screen, commissioned by the Cathedral Chapter and designed and made by the blacksmith James Horrobin in 2004, located in the crypt where it forms a line with the final resting places of Nelson and Wellington.