June 12, 2015

One Woman’s Churchillian Odyssey

FullSizeRenderOne of the Churchill Centre’s newest members encountered unexpected obstacles on her path to the 2015 Churchill Conference but persevered undaunted.

Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

I first encountered Churchill’s writing in 2014 at the International Churchill Conference in New Orleans, which I attended with other students from a community college in my home state of Mississippi. At the conference banquet, I met my good friend Kenneth Childs. He introduced himself as an attorney. I replied that I would not hold that against him. After I insulted his profession, we struck up a friendship. He asked if I was interested in attending the 2015 conference in Britain and very generously offered to pay for a plane ticket so that I could. In true Churchillian spirit I could not turn down an adventure. I made all the arrangements knowing it would be the experience of a lifetime. Little did I know just how much of an adventure it would prove to be.

After learning that Ken could not take the trip with me, I resolved to go solo, but traveling alone turned out to be the least of my problems. I left the Jackson, Mississippi, airport almost exactly at 6 AM on 26 May. After arriving in Atlanta for what was supposed to be a quick layover, Murphy’s Law took effect. My flight to Washington, D.C., where I would change planes again for London, was successively delayed three times. No one I spoke with believed I could still make the connecting flight to Heathrow, but while I remained in Atlanta my luggage was sent ahead to DC.

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I ended up at the lost baggage counter with emotional whiplash. There, a wonderful lady named Shana really helped me. She said she did not understand why the airline did not simply send me direct to London from Atlanta. I ran with this idea only to be told that I would be charged to have my luggage returned to me because I was supposed to be in DC. Lovely Shana, though, told me she would take care of it. After waiting a full twelve hours in Atlanta, I was flown to London first class.

Arriving at Heathrow, however, I learned that I had not left my problems behind me. My bags had not made it to London even though they had arrived in Atlanta in time to be switched to my flight. I was told to expect them at 9 AM the following morning.

To keep my spirits up, I decided to go into London and see the sights. I took a bus tour and saw almost every major attraction. I toured both the Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Abbey. After all, I could only wait. Reinvigorated, I returned to the airport that evening resolved that I would have to spend the night there to collect my luggage in the morning.

Back at Heathrow I messaged my mother that I was okay and then checked my email. Judith Kambestad, who was already at the conference hotel in Oxfordshire, had sent me a note to say that Ken had asked her to make sure I was safe. She was worried that I had not shown up yet. I emailed her the story, and she replied that she needed to see me physically standing in front of her to know that I was safe and fulfill her promise to Ken. She added that I could borrow some clothes from those already at the hotel until mine arrived. So around 7:30 PM, I boarded the Oxford Tube and headed north.

It took almost two hours for the bus to travel from London to Oxford, but I still had a few more miles to go. In Oxford I switched buses for one headed toward Bleinham Palace. After traveling a mere ten miles to the next station, it was almost eleven at night, and I still was not close to my destination, the Heythrop Park Hotel. The bus driver looked at me worriedly and asked where a single young-lady from America could possibly be headed in the dark. I told her the name of the hotel and she looked at me with pity. “It’s about three miles straight up that road,” she gestured.

By then, three miles on foot seemed a trifle given what I had been through. I was determined to have a hot drink and let my mother know I had arrived safe. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that it was three miles to the entrance to the grounds of the hotel, which was located in the middle of a golf course. It was another mile or so to the hotel itself.

There was a chill wind blowing, but moonlight illuminated the narrow tree-lined road. I thanked God that it was not raining. When I finally made it to the door of the hotel, I walked tentatively inside. The lady at the front desk looked at me sideways for a split second, but when I attempted to explain who I was, she cut me off with excitement. “There are people looking for you! I know who you are!” she exclaimed. Within minutes, Judith was walking around the corner. “Your driver didn’t drop you off at the door?” she inquired. “I’m afraid not,” I replied.

I was initially worried about not knowing anyone there, but by the end of the night, it seemed everyone had heard at least one version of my story. One very British man walked up and remarked, “So you’re the young lady from America who walked here from New Orleans?” The granddaughter of Winston Churchill himself, Celia Sandys, was personally introduced to me and commented on my Churchillian resilience. I felt like the guest of honor.

I did get a hot cup of tea that night. It felt good to have a place to sleep that was not an airport and clothes to wear that were not wrinkled and cold. Everything else went smoothly. The speakers were engaging and informative, and I came away with a deeper understanding of Churchill’s importance. My luggage arrived too late for the majority of my stay, but the other attendees helped me yet again. I dined at Blenheim Palace in an outfit borrowed from Allison Carlson and even took a selfie with the twelfth Duke Marlborough.

My adventure turned out to be well worth the trouble. I was so impressed by how members of The Churchill Centre came to my aid that the first thing I did upon returning home was become a member myself.

As I boarded the plane for home, I recalled another famous statement attributed to Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I will always embrace this advice. After all, you never know when a duke and a palace await you at the end of the road.

Lyndy Berryhill, seen above right with Judith Kambestad at St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, is studying journalism at the University of Mississippi.

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