50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill's Passing is This Jan. 24: Read an Excerpt from "WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Churchills and the Kennedys" about Churchill's 1965 Funeral
This excerpt from "WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Churchills and the Kennedys" recounts the 1965 funeral for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and some who paid tribute.
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” filled St. Paul’s Cathedral during the state funeral for Winston Churchill, a tribute to the British Empire’s greatest defender and a lifelong admirer of the United States. “I want it in memory of my American mother,” Winston instructed about the song to be played after his death. Nearly one million mourners filled the London streets near the cathedral to pay their last respects to “Winnie,” the fatherly figure who shepherded them through war.
In one of the pews, former president Dwight Eisenhower sat with tears in his eyes, recalling the “soldier, statesman and leader whom two great countries were proud to honor as their own.” Part of the American entourage that joined Eisenhower at the funeral included Undersecretary of State Averell Harriman, the roving diplomat for both FDR and JFK (and a fill-in for President Lyndon Johnson, sick at home with the flu), and Kay Halle, the longtime friend of both families. “Poor Randolph Churchill called me from London today—all choked up about his father,” Halle wrote to Bobby Kennedy before she left for London. “What a titan is Sir Winston. An eternal flame he is too.”
Many commentators recalled Churchill’s honorary citizenship awarded by President Kennedy less than two years earlier and expressed sorrow that two of the twentieth century’s most revered leaders had passed from the scene. Watching on television from Washington, New York Times columnist James Reston said that Churchill’s funeral impacted the capital “more than any other event since the assassination of President Kennedy.” Winston’s remarkable example underlined “the imponderables of life,” Reston said, and “suggested that sentiment and history, that ideas and philosophy, are also powerful, and that the ‘special relationship’ between London and Washington was not merely a source of contention with Paris, but by itself something highly important.”
As Winston’s coffin floated down the Thames on its way to burial, his friends and family struggled to consider life without him. At the cathedral, Aristotle Onassis wept inconsolably—“sobbing like a baby” said one observer—at the loss of his friend and the most famous guest aboard his yacht. Yet Ari kept enough composure to insist that his former wife, Tina, now married to Winston’s cousin John Spencer-Churchill, the Eleventh Duke of Marlborough, be seated far away from him in the pews.
On the flight back to America, Kay Halle flew with Eisenhower and Averell Harriman and talked about old times. Both she and Pamela Hayward, the ex-wife of Randolph Churchill, had been invited by the former president to join him on the returning air force plane, with officers in white jackets serving caviar and champagne. Halle recalled how Winston always credited Eisenhower with putting the Allied cause in World War II above nationalism and his being the “architect” of victory against the Nazi war machine. Ike described the painting Winston gave him as a gift. He joked about the gray-haired appearance of their wartime British contemporaries, such as former prime minister Anthony Eden. “Averell, they look older than we do, though they’re younger,” Ike teased, putting aside his and Harriman’s past political differences.
For most of the long flight, Harriman chatted with Pamela, his former lover, whom he’d not seen in nearly fifteen years. The last time they’d spoke, she resented Averell’s fitful warning about her reputation after divorcing Randolph, as if she needed a morality lecture from a rich married man who’d cheated on his own wife with her. But this trip to attend Winston’s funeral became a sentimental journey for Pamela. Now living in New York, she felt pleased to see her son, Winston, and new grandchild, and still be treated by Clementine as a member of the Churchill extended family. At age forty-four, Pamela hardly looked dowdy, appearing just as attractive, with her light auburn hair and come-hither eyes, as when she and Harriman conducted their affair while Randolph was away at war. “It had been a memorable moment in Harriman’s life, saying good-bye to the leader he idolized, and seeing the woman who still possessed him and talking with her for hours as they crossed the Atlantic,” described his biographer Rudy Abramson. Both Ave and Pamela were still married during that plane ride, but six years later, when both their spouses had died, they met again, at a Georgetown dinner party hosted by publisher Katharine Graham (whose other guests included Kay Halle). “Since we were both suddenly free and alone, it just seemed the most natural thing in the world to kind of get together again,” explained Pamela. One of the witnesses at their wedding was Ethel Kennedy. When young Winston told Clementine about his mother’s intentions to marry Harriman, Churchill’s widow seemed pleased. “My dear,” replied Clemmie, “it’s an old flame rekindled.”