February 14, 2015

Finest Hour 162, Spring 2014

Page 32

By Lee Pollock
Mr. Pollock is TCC Executive Director.


December 2011 marked the 70th anniversary of Churchill’s first speech to Congress, only three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Churchill had come to Washington to coordinate with President Roosevelt the now-combined war effort. At a joint session of Congress, December 26th, he received a rousing welcome, winning over even former critics with his roar of defiance at the enemy, driving them to their feet when he exclaimed, “What kind of a people do they think we are?”

The anniversary of this signal moment did not go unnoticed. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, observed that the Small House Rotunda near his office, containing a bust of the Hungarian patriot Lajos Kossuth, “had room for at least two more.” For months, the Speaker’s chief of staff Mike Sommers said, “we had a running conversation about whom we should place there. We kept coming back to Churchill.”

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Boehner, a lifetime Churchill admirer, has read “biography after biography,” Mr. Sommers continued. “Late in 2011 we started researching a resolution to authorize the placement of a Churchill bust in the Capitol, and realized we were on the cusp of the anniversary of Churchill’s historic address. We wrote the resolution and rushed it to the floor.”

House Resolution 497, approved unanimously, stated: “Churchill’s persistence, determination and resolve remain an inspiration to freedom-fighters all over the world,” adding that Britain “will forever be an important and irreplaceable ally to the United States.”

Since the Capitol “does not currently appropriately recognize the contributions of Sir Winston Churchill or that of the United Kingdom,” it continued, the Architect of the Capitol was directed to “place an appropriate statue or bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the U.S. Capitol at a location directed by the House Fine Arts Board in consultation with the Speaker.” Members of both parties spoke in support.

Believing this was the most important U.S. recognition of Sir Winston since his honorary American citizenship half a century ago, The Churchill Centre contacted the Speaker’s office and arranged for a trustee, Randolph Churchill, on behalf of his family and our Patron Lady Soames, to express appreciation and offer our services in locating an appropriate bust.

Working with the family, British Churchill organizations and the British Embassy in Washington, the Centre spent nearly two years selecting a suitable bronze, donating it to the Capitol, and helping plan the dedication ceremony in Statuary Hall last October 30th. In Churchillian fashion, we overcame many obstacles, including a government shutdown which furloughed many government employees weeks before the unveiling.

What type of bust should be placed in the Capitol? Where would it best be seen by hundreds of thousands per year? Although the Speaker’s office had considered commissioning one, we believed there was only one sculptor suitable: the late Oscar Nemon, Churchill’s friend, whose work had first attracted the keen eye of Clementine Churchill in the 1950s. We approached his daughter, Lady Young, about a new casting from one of his Churchill busts from life.

Alice Nemon-Stuart, the sculptor’s daughter-in-law and manager of the Nemon Estate, identified several possibilities and worked with us, the Speaker’s office, Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers and Curator Barbara Wolanin to evaluate them. Only two other estate castings of this bust are in existence: one is in the Churchill War Rooms, London; the other in the Russian World War II Museum in Moscow. Thus one of these busts now resides in each of the capitals of the “Big Three” wartime allies whose sacrifices led to final victory in 1945.

The Capitol sculpture collection requires specific donors, and The Churchill Centre was pleased to fill this role. The Nemon Estate generously supplied the bust at much less than market value and our chairman Laurence Geller agreed to cover its costs. We made a donation proposal, which was gratefully accepted, with information about Oscar Nemon and his relationship with the Churchills.

In Spring 2013 the laborious and intensive process of hand casting in the traditional lost wax method began in the British bronze foundry Pangolin Editions under the supervision of Alice Nemon-Stuart. It took four months to complete.

Working with Maria Lohmeyer of the Speaker’s Office of Special Events, we helped to plan the dedication ceremony and to fill the guest list. All Members of the House and Senate were invited, and within a week almost 100 agreed to attend—the largest number of acceptances within such a short time in recent history.

The Centre invited a broad array worldwide. Besides our trustees, affiliates and supporters, there were representatives of allied institutions such as the Churchill Archives Centre, National Churchill Museum in Fulton, and the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States. Over 300 ultimately attended, including Churchill family members Nicholas Soames, Edwina Sandys, Randolph Churchill, Jennie Churchill Repard, Duncan Sandys and Luce Churchill.

Distinguished guests included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the Churchill Centre UK’s Lord Marland and former Leader of the Conservative Party Lord Howard. Eleven MPs from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, on a visit to the U.S., arranged their schedule to attend. They were joined by H.B.M. Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott and Lady Westmacott, and senior members of the British Embassy staff. Historians present were Paul Reid, Candice Millard, Sir David Cannadine, and Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn. Representing USS Winston S. Churchill were her first and just-retiring commanding officers, Radm. Michael Franken and Cdr. Christopher Stone. George Washington University, which is partnering with the Centre in creating a new National Churchill Library and Center on its campus, was represented by President Steven Knapp, former President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, and Provost Steven Lehrman.

An unusual twist was the presence of a prominent British entertainer, Roger Daltrey of “The Who,” to continue a tradition in previous Capitol Hill ceremonies. He performed two songs, aptly titled “Stand By Me” and his classic, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Mr. Daltrey and Universal Music covered the entire cost of his appearance, including guitar and percussion players and a backup group.

Statuary Hall, site of the ceremony, is among the oldest and most historic spaces in the Capitol building. The home of the House of Representatives for much of the 19th century, it is filled with statues of great Americans: George Washington, Henry Clay, Dwight Eisenhower, Andrew Jackson, Will Rogers, and the Lewis and Clark guide Sacagawea.

The ceremony began with a Churchill favorite, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sung by the U.S. Army Chorus. Perhaps for the first time, in a building British forces had burned in 1814, the British and American colors were presented by the Armed Forces Color Guard, and both national anthems were sung.

During his welcoming remarks, Speaker Boehner paused for moving recordings from Churchill’s great speech in 1941 and referred to Churchill’s enduring American relationship as “one of history’s true love stories. Now,” said the Speaker in emotional tones, if you’re looking for his counsel or hoping to feel a little braver, you’ll find him just down the steps from here in a rotunda that, from this day forward, will be known as the Freedom Foyer….So long as we cheer Churchill’s example and defend all that he preserved, our shared and sacred cause will live on.”

Secretary of State John Kerry described the only recipient of a State Department honorary American passport as embodying “leadership in times of crisis,” a statesman who was “above all things parochial,” who “understood that even the greatest patriots are not just citizens of their own countries but citizens of the world.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told of a photo in her office: Churchill addressing the 1941 Joint Session, which included her father, then a Maryland Congressman. Sir Winston, she added, “rightly belongs to the world he helped save from tyranny. He will always hold a place in the American memory. Now, he will hold a special place in the Capitol.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recalled listening to some twenty-five hours of speeches by “one of my personal heroes,” and reading William Manchester’s The Last Lion, from which he read extracts. “Today we acknowledge the debt of America that we owe to one man,” he concluded, “for saving the world from the grasp of evil and the clutches of tyranny.”

In recalling “the greatest Englishman of his time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke of “the boundless potential of an alliance between our two nations… a conviction that only spread as the momentous events of the 20th century unfolded.” He recalled Churchill’s famous words upon his retirement in 1955: “Never be separated from the Americans.” That was wise counsel, McConnell added, hoping “that these two nations, which Winston Churchill loved so deeply and whose democratic values he cherished and so ably defended, always adhere to it.”

Churchill Centre Chairman Laurence Geller expressed the Centre’s honor “to have been invited to donate this striking bust,” and gratefully acknowledged the Churchill family and two special guests, the sculptor’s daughter Lady Young and Lady Gilbert, representing Sir Martin. Nicholas Soames MP (next page) spoke on behalf of his mother Lady Soames, who watched the ceremony online.

After events at the Capitol there was a private reception hosted by the Speaker in the Capitol’s Rayburn Room, and a gala dinner at the British Embassy. Among dinner guests was Congressman John Dingell, who was a 15-year-old page in the Senate Chamber when Churchill gave his 1941 address. Mr. Dingell recently became the longest serving member in the history of Congress.

Attendees received a commemorative program and booklet prepared by The Churchill Centre with messages from Lady Soames, Sir Martin Gilbert, and the Centre’s officers, along with three selections: “Churchill on America,” “Churchill at Large” and “Churchill on Politics.” Each guest was also given a custom-made “Action This Day” pin with a card explaining Churchill’s use of this label on urgent wartime communications.

The ceremony received intense coverage from media outlets around the world, ranging from The Times to the New York Post. Even the “alternative bi-weekly” Mother Jones mentioned the event. A great Churchillian, the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, wrote an op-ed article, “Churchill Is Home Again and Here to Stay.” Enthusiasm for the Centre’s initiative was widespread. Lady Gilbert, Lady Young, Randolph and Jennie Churchill and Edwina Sandys all complimented the organizers, and Lady Gilbert was deeply touched to represent Sir Martin—the guest we missed most of all.

Thousands of visitors saw the bust on display in Statuary Hall for thirty days, after which it was removed to its permanent location in newly-designated Freedom Foyer. On December 2nd, Speaker Boehner hosted a reception to mark its installation in its final location, saying to the Centre’s chairman: “On behalf of the United States Congress and the American people, thank you for all you and The Churchill Centre have done to support the cause of freedom and to immortalize the best friend America ever had.” Plans are being considered for an annual Churchill reception on Capitol Hill around November 30th.

Freedom Foyer is on the first floor of the Capitol immediately adjacent to the Crypt. Just to the side is a stone staircase, part of the original Capitol, known as the “British Steps.” It is said that these stones still bear marks from the burning of the building during the War of 1812. Churchill shares the space with Kossuth, one of the few other non-Americans to address a joint session of Congress. A third sculpture will be added at a later date.

The bust rests on a full-height plinth of natural color cream Marfa marble, also donated by The Churchill Centre. The plinth and inscription were hand cut by Hilgartner Natural Stone Company, which has produced stonework in Washington since 1863. The inscription was selected by the Architect of the Capitol and the Curator in consultation with the Speaker and Churchill Centre:

Winston Churchill
Defender of Freedom
Honorary U.S. Citizen
“In days to come,
the British and American
peoples will, for their own safety
and for the good of all,
walk together in majesty, in justice
and in peace”
December 26, 1941

In his war memoirs, Churchill described the joint prayer service with President Roosevelt aboard HMS Prince of Wales at Argentia Bay in August 1941: “The symbolism of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes draped side by side on the pulpit; the American and British chaplains sharing in the reading of the prayers…the close-packed ranks of British and American sailors, completely intermingled, sharing the same books and joining fervently together in the prayers and hymns familiar to both.… It was a great hour to live.”

For Churchillians around the world, October 30th, 2013 was an equally great hour to live. In thanking the Centre, Speaker Boehner wrote: “It is no understatement to say you were the linchpin in this effort, and I am grateful for everything The Churchill Centre has done.”

For transcripts of remarks by all speakers at the ceremony, please contact Mr. Pollack (page 2).

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