Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Memoriam: Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill was definitely a figure of holy reverence in my house growing up; I wasn't more than three or four chapters into his four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (or was it his six-volume history, The Second World War) when I whole-heartedly succumbed to the family cult.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNot that the worship of Churchill has been confined to my family; in 2002 more than a million Britons named him the greatest of them to have ever lived in a BBC poll. I even find that, the more I read about him, the more there is to admire - which is not my usual experience with politicians. Similarly, whenever I read about some unlikable quality of his (such as his casual bigotry, his treatment of working class people, or what have you) it's often something timely, whereas when I discover something amazing it's timeless (like leadership ability, creative output, or indomitable spirit). Not only that, as it stands the least of his good traits seem to far outweigh the worst of his bad ones.

In his long Parliamentary career he became the only MP to serve under both Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II, was named Father of the House for his forty years of unbroken service from 1924, refused a dukedom upon his retirement but accepted honorary US citizenship from President John F. Kennedy, and crossed the floor of the House of Commons twice to suit his conscience: from the Conservative bench to the Liberal then back again.

Born on this day in 1874, Churchill first came to public prominence in 1899 during the Second Boer War when, as a journalist, he escaped from the POW camp where he'd been interned. First elected to Parliament in 1900, he later served as Home Secretary (1910), First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, then held various positions both in and out of office - including Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924-9 - before serving as Prime Minister, first from 1940-5, then from 1951-5. When he died at the age of 90 in January 1965 - 70 years to the day after his father - he became one of only eight non-royals in British history to have a State Funeral.
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