“At Bladon”: Fifty-nine Years On, Echoes and Memories

“At Bladon”: Fifty-nine Years On, Echoes and Memories

“When we were fifty-nine years younger”…

For those of a cer­tain age, my friend Dave Tur­rell sent a mes­sage under this title on Jan­u­ary 24th. On that day fifty-nine years ago, the Great Man depart­ed.  I saved the words for today’s anniver­sary, six days, lat­er: the inter­ment at Bladon.

Recall­ing Jan­u­ary 30th, Lord Moran reached what Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne described as “the top of his styl­is­tic form.” As did dear Antho­ny him­self, and the irre­place­able Grace Hamblin.

The poem “At Bladon” was read by Robert Hardy at the gravesite dur­ing our penul­ti­mate Churchill Tour in 2006. It is today fifty-nine years since Richard Dim­ble­by made the words indelible.

Charles Wilson, Lord Moran MC PRC

(Pho­to by Ter­ence Eden, Cre­ative Commons)

“He was tak­en at night to West­min­ster, to the Hall of William Rufus, and there for three days he lay in state, while the peo­ple gath­ered in crowds that stretched over Lam­beth Bridge to the far side of the riv­er, to do hon­our to the man they loved for his valour.

“On the fourth day he was borne on a gun-car­riage to St. Paul’s. There fol­lowed a long line of men in arms, march­ing to sor­row­ful music. With all the panoply of Church and State, and in the pres­ence of his Queen, he was car­ried to an appoint­ed place hard by the tombs of Nel­son and Welling­ton, under the great dome, while with solemn music and the beat­ing of drums the nation salut­ed the man who had saved them and saved their honour.

“The vil­lage sta­tions on the way to Bladon were crowd­ed with his coun­try­men, and at Bladon in a coun­try church­yard, in the still­ness of a win­ter evening, in the pres­ence of his fam­i­ly and a few friends, Win­ston Churchill was com­mit­ted to Eng­lish earth, which in his finest hour he had held invi­o­late.” [1]

Grace Hamblin OBE

fifty-nin e“At the end, I went down with the fam­i­ly to the funer­al, near his beloved birth­place, Blenheim, and to me that qui­et, hum­ble ser­vice in the coun­try church­yard was much more mov­ing than had been the tremen­dous pomp and glo­ry of the state cer­e­mo­ny in Lon­don. As the train made its slow jour­ney through the snow-cov­ered coun­try­side on that bit­ter­ly cold day, men and women were stand­ing in their lit­tle gar­dens behind their cot­tages, out in the fields or in the sta­tions as we passed, the men with their heads bared, say­ing a silent farewell to their hero.

“I thought of these peo­ple at home, and I thought of you, and the hun­dreds and hun­dreds of let­ters Lady Churchill received from all over the world. And I pon­dered on what had made this dynam­ic but gen­tle char­ac­ter so beloved and respected—and such a won­der­ful per­son to work for. I think what one found first was courage. He had no fear of any­thing, moral or phys­i­cal. There was sin­cer­i­ty, truth and integri­ty, for he couldn’t know­ing­ly deceive a cab­i­net min­is­ter or a brick­lay­er or a sec­re­tary. There was for­give­ness, warmth, affec­tion, loy­al­ty and, per­haps most impor­tant of all in the demand­ing life we all lived, there was humour, which he had in abundance.

“I hope I shan’t be infring­ing any copy­right or dis­pleas­ing any­one if I slight­ly mis­quote a pas­sage from one of those many, many let­ters Lady Churchill had received on his death. It came from a dis­tin­guished mem­ber of your com­mu­ni­ty here in Amer­i­ca, and it has always been in my mind. ‘That he died is unim­por­tant, for we must all pass away. That he lived is momen­tous to the des­tiny of decent men. He is not gone. He lives wher­ev­er men are free.'” [2]

Sir Anthony Montague Browne CBE DFC

Get­tys­burg, May 1959: WSC, Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne, Pres­i­dent Eisen­how­er. From the jack­et of AMB’s book.

“The pro­ces­sion to the grave­yard at Bladon was brief, and we were few in num­ber. We filed past the grave for the last time before it was closed. I was aston­ished to see a small and not par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­tin­guished row of medals lying on the cof­fin. I could only sup­pose that it had fall­en from the chest of one of the mil­i­tary cof­fin-bear­ers, and won­dered if it would remain there to per­plex archae­ol­o­gists of many cen­turies hence.

“We took our depar­ture for Lon­don in the freez­ing dusk…. At the back of my own mind there was the old quo­ta­tion from WSC him­self, of the death of Richard Coeur de Lion: ‘Wor­thy, by the con­sent of all men, to sit with King Arthur and Roland and oth­er heroes of mar­tial romance at some eter­nal Round Table, which we trust the Cre­ator of the Uni­verse in His com­pre­hen­sion will not have for­got­ten to provide.’

“On the way home, my mind was a blank. I tried to say some silent prayers for that brave and gen­er­ous soul, but they were choked and con­fused, and came to noth­ing. I could not mourn for him: he had so clear­ly and for so long want­ed to leave the World. But I was sub­merged in a wave of aching grief for Britain’s pre­cip­i­tous decline, against which he had stood in vain. When I reached our flat in Eaton Place it had been bur­gled.” [3]

“At Bladon”: Robert Hardy CBEfifty-nine

Drop Eng­lish earth on him beneath
do our sons; and their sons bequeath
his glo­ries and our pride and grief
at Bladon.

For Lion­heart that lies below
that feared not toil nor tears nor foe.
Let the oak stand tho’ tem­pests blow
at Bladon.

So Churchill sleeps, yet sure­ly wakes
old war­rior where the morn­ing breaks
On sun­lit uplands. But the heart aches
at Bladon. [4]


1. Charles Wil­son, Lord Moran, Win­ston Churchill: The Strug­gle for Sur­vival, 1940-1965, Tak­en from the Diaries of Lord Moran (Lon­don: Con­sta­ble, 1966), 842.

2. Grace Ham­blin, “Frab­jous Days: Chartwell Mem­o­ries 1932-1965,” Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Con­fer­ence, Dal­las, 20 Octo­ber 1987.

3. Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne, Long Sun­set: Mem­oirs of Win­ston Churchill’s Last Pri­vate Sec­re­tary (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1995) 328.

4. Richard Dim­ble­by read the poem “At Bladon,” by Avril Ander­son, in a break­ing voice over the BBC on 30 Jan­u­ary 1965.

2 thoughts on ““At Bladon”: Fifty-nine Years On, Echoes and Memories

  1. I was 13 when Churchill died. Although my mem­o­ries are vague, I remem­ber cov­er­age of some of the events on TV. I was aware of his role in sav­ing Britain and the Allies in the Sec­ond World War. I am enjoy­ing your arti­cles on him.

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