Winston Churchill dies
Britain's great wartime leader, whose personal story of adventure and high office reads like a movie script, had left office in 1955, retiring to life as a greatly venerated back bencher, a wit and sage who still lit up the Commons into his very old age.
With such a life it seems amazing that Winston Churchill lived to the great age of 90: he had been a prisoner in the Boer War ; fought hand to hand at Omdurman; reformed the Navy before WWI when he foresaw the conflict ahead; pushed forward military aviation and the early development of the tank; between the wars he served five years as Chancellor; and of course from 1940 he was the indefatigable figurehead and strategist who refused to give in to the seemingly inevitable Nazi victory.
The energy of the man during WWII was astounding, given he was in his mid-sixties when Chamberlain's resignation and Lord Halifax's refusal of the premiership left him the only credible candidate to lead Britain: he travelled the globe still to keep the allies together; he worked hours that would have killed a man twenty years his junior, often having to crawl exhausted to his bed; he made some of the most moving and motivating political speeches this country has ever heard.
Churchill, though born in Blenheim Palace to one of the best connected families in the land, did not have a life of easy wealth. His writing often only just kept his precarious finances the right side of insolvency - typically of the man he aimed to write 1,000 words before breakfast so he could attend to his myriad other concerns and interests, which included painting and, rather unexpectedly, bricklaying, a skill learned when working on his Kent home .
In early January 1965 Churchill suffered a major stroke, and despite the attentions of some of the greatest medical minds in the country he gradually slipped away. He died in his Hyde Park Gate home in Kensington on January 24 surrounded by his remaining close family: his wife Clementine, son Randolph, and daughters Mary and Sarah. Even though his illness was known, and the public was of course aware of his old age, the announcement of his death still seemed a shock - Churchill had been a life force, and a national fixture involved in matters of state during seven decades. His life story emphasises the pretension of so many contemporary leaders claiming to be statesmen.
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