The final resting place of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill is in a quiet corner of a peaceful English churchyard. It was his own decision to be buried in Bladon, just a long stone’s throw from Blenheim Palace. He is buried with his wife, Clementine Ogilvy Spencer Churchill. Close to him are the graves of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, his mother, Jennie Jerome, his brother, Jack, and three of his children, Sarah, Diana and Randolph. It is something of a Churchill plot; nearby is the grave of the glittering American heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the 9th Duke of Marlborough, Churchill’s cousin.
Churchill is best known as Britain’s wartime Prime Minister and inspirational leader from 1940-45. But for most of his life he effectively played a part in the transition from imperial, Victorian, Britain to the more egalitarian – and infinitely less powerful – nation that emerged from the Second World War. Born on 30th November 1874 at Blenheim Palace, into the aristocratic Spencer-Churchill family, he was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, took part in one of the last British Cavalry charges at the Battle of Omdurman in 1889, was an adventurer, war correspondent, was captured by the enemy in the Boer War, escaped – and was a Member of Parliament from 1900 pretty much without break until just before his death. He served in the trenches in the First World War, held great offices of state such as Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Admiralty. He painted, was a successful author and built a brick wall at his home, Chartwell. He was blamed, maybe unfairly, for the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915, is still classed as a reactionary by many on the left of politics and was mistrusted by some of his contemporaries – who saw him as ‘unsound’, an unprincipled opportunist – partly for switching from the Tory Party to the Liberals and then back again. As he said himself, “Anyone can rat; but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”
Churchill was certainly no saint, but it strikes me that his genius lay in his imagination and ability to see beyond the end of his nose, taking a longer view of history and future events than most people care to, or are capable of. He died aged 90 following a massive stroke, exactly 70 years after his father, on 24th January 1965. His wife, Clementine, followed him in 1977, aged 92.
Amongst the 3,000 people that attended Churchill’s state funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral were 6 monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth II, and 15 heads of state. US President Johnson did not attend, allegedly because Churchill had missed President Roosevelt’s funeral. But ex-President Eisenhower was there, as was French President de Gaulle and ex-Prime Ministers Atlee and Eden. Churchill’s coffin was taken by barge up the Thames, where the organisers were surprised to see the cranes of London’s docks dip in salute, and then to Waterloo Railway Station. From Waterloo, the steam locomotive Winston Churchill took it to Long Hanborough in Oxfordshire, from which it is a short distance by road to St Martin’s Church Bladon. There is a story that Churchill specifically wanted his coffin to pass through Waterloo Station, if de Gaulle outlived him; the obvious route to Hanborough is via Paddington Station.
Bladon is on the A4095 between the A44 (Woodstock) and Witney. Parking is limited – if you do travel by car, please consider local residents. You can walk to Bladon if you are visiting Blenheim Palace, about a mile to the north.