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The Centenary of Churchill

John Colville's personal appreciation of Sir Winston’s work and character

Ten years ago next month1, my wife and I went to Sir Winston Churchill’s ninetieth birthday party. It was a cheerful occasion and, although his mind sometimes wandered, and the once bright fires were now only smouldering, he enjoyed the occasion and received with pleasure the tributes that came from all over the world.

It was difficult, even then, to remember that a mere ten years before he had been Prime Minister, unwilling, it is true, to devote his full attention to details of administration, but still capable of making speeches that held the House of Commons spell-bound and still working with undiminished concentration on his last great objective, a detente between the Soviet Union and the West.

In that final period of office, Churchill found the world, after two great wars, unrecognizable by comparison with his early years in public life. Today, the 1950s are already a distant memory to us and, as each year goes by, the past seems to recede ever more quickly.

So it is, that as the pace of change accelerates, a man who such a short time ago bestrode the world like a Colossus, takes his place in the history books alongside far more distant figures. And yet, while the centenaries of Napoleon’s birth, of Wellington’s, Bismark’s, Abraham Lincoln’s, Clemenceau’s or Lloyd George’s passed almost without notice, that of Churchill seems to men and women in many lands an occasion to pause and reflect on his character and achievements.

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