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Tributes to Churchill 50 years on

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.

And 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.

"He knew that Britain was not just a place on the map but a force in the world, with a destiny to shape events and a duty to stand up for freedom," he said.

"Churchill was confident that freedom and democracy would win out over barbarism and tyranny in the end... and it did.

"And with every affront to freedom in this century, we must remember that courage and resolve in the last century."

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.

Alongside them was 17-year-old Nathania Ewruje, t he winner of the English-Speaking Union's (ESU) Winston Churchill Cup for Public Speaking, who recited from a 1955 Churchill speech.

Mr Bercow praised Churchill's "recognition and fulfilment of the role of the House of Commons" as "the essence of our democracy" during an extraordinarily long parliamentary career.

And he suggested it was emblematic of the stature of the great man that he refused all pleas for him to take a seat in the Lords - adding he was very much "a green benches man".

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 which 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.

At the National Railway Museum in York the train which took the coffin from London to the family vault at St Martin's Church in the village of Bladon - including a locomotive named Winston Churchill in his honour - was recreated for the first time.

US ambassador Matthew Barzun commemorated the anniversary - which coincided with the 133th anniversary of the birth of Churchill's American Second World War counterpart President Franklin D. Roosevelt - at a statue of the two men.

Sitting between the figures on the bronze "Allies" tribute in London's Bond Street - he said it was a perfect moment to celebrate that the "special relationship" remained "alive and well".

Sir Nicholas, who walked behind the gun carriage bearing his grandfather's coffin 50 years ago, told BBC Radio 4's World at One 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."

An evening ceremony will be held at Westminster Abbey.


From Belfast Telegraph