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David Cameron's homage to 'great Briton' Winston Churchill 50 years after he was laid to rest

By Joe Churcher

Winston Churchill was remembered as "a great leader and a great Briton" at events to mark 50 years since the former Prime Minister's State funeral.

Seventy-five years since his "finest hour" in leading the fight against fascism in the Second World War, his descendants travelled the Thames on the boat that carried the great statesman's coffin in 1965.

The three main party leaders - none of whom were born when the nation turned out in vast numbers to mourn Churchill's death - laid wreaths at his Commons statue.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain must draw on the same "courage and resolve" inspired by Churchill to battle the affronts to freedom faced today.

Churchill was still remembered with affection by the country as a statesman, bon viveur and reformer, Mr Cameron said, but most of all as a patriot - with lessons to teach the modern world.

Wreaths were also laid by Commons Speaker John Bercow, his Lords counterpart Baroness d'Souza and Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames - Churchill's grandson - after a service in Parliament's St Mary's Undercroft chapel.

Among family members taking part in the commemorations was Randolph Churchill, who said his great-grandfather would have been "surprised but thrilled" as he put flowers at another statue, in Parliament Square.

"Here we are today, 50 years on, in what Churchill referred to as the 'broad sunlit uplands', and what's sad is that we are losing that remarkable generation that served us so well in two World Wars," he said.

"It is wonderful to mark this point and remember those heroes."

Crowds later gathered at London's Tower Bridge to watch a flotilla - including Havengore, the vessel that carried the coffin following Churchill's State funeral at St Paul's Cathedral - recreate his final journey.

Nine of his descendants were aboard as the bridge was raised for the teak vessel to pass.

Fifty years ago, one of the most poignant images of the pageantry was the lowering of cranes by London's dockers as the coffin passed by - today phones, tablets and cameras were raised to capture the memory.

Sir Nicholas, who walked behind the gun carriage bearing his grandfather's coffin, said that the events of 50 years ago were "awe-inspiring".

"The streets were 30 or 40 deep, full of people, wherever you looked. What was so extraordinary was to see the faces of people literally contorted with grief as the coffin went by, many people with tears pouring down their faces."

Winston and us: 10 ways former PM influenced history here

1. He famously referred to the "dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone" to say little had changed in Northern Ireland after Europe was shaken to its core by the First World War.

2. In 1912, Churchill supported Home Rule as part of the Liberal government of the time.

3. He got an angry reception in Larne and Belfast when he came to speak in support of the Home Rule Bill.

4. He visited Queen's University Belfast in 1926 where students presented him with a hat outside the Lanyon building.

5. In 1940, Northern Ireland prime minister Lord Craigavon wrote to Churchill to ask that Highland regiments be used to overthrow the Irish government and install a military governor in Dublin, as he believed Eamon de Valera had fallen under Nazi influence.

6. He expressed his hopes for a united Ireland in 1946 when speaking to the Irish ambassador to Britain, John W Dulanty, after the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London.

7. In 2002 he was named the greatest Briton of all time in a nationwide poll with more than a million votes. Former Northern Ireland Secretary, the late Mo Mowlam, put the case for him in a BBC documentary, provoking a surge of support for him.

8. In 2011, Dungannon golfer Darren Clarke was inspired to win The Open Championship by Churchill. At the time he said: "I've been reading a lot of books lately and the quote I had in my head all the way round was 'Never, never, never give in.' Who said that? Winston Churchill during the blitz in 1941."

9. As part of the UK Parliament's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death, Lord Bew, Professor of Irish Politics at Queen's, delivered an Open Lecture on Churchill and Ireland in the Council Chamber at Queen's University, exploring the unique impact the island had on him personally and politically.

10. As part of yesterday's retracing of the route his coffin boat took along the Thames, there was a salute of four guns from HMS Belfast.

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