Allen Packwood OBE, Director of the Churchill Archives Centre, remarks at the presentations of commemorative coins to Second World War veterans.
Allen Packwood OBE began by reflecting on his recent trip to the United States and the fact that in America they honour their servicemen and women more often and more publicly than in the UK. ‘Thank you for your service’ is a regular refrain. No doubt this was partly due to our stereotypical British reserve and stiff upper lip, but occasions like this provided an opportunity to rectify this and publicly honour the courage of those who served.
Packwood spoke of Churchill’s frontline experience as a young soldier in Cuba, the Indian North-West Frontier, the Sudan, South Africa and the trenches of World War One. He pointed out that it also took courage to lead during World War Two and the dark days of 1940, which may with the benefit of hindsight seem to be our ‘Finest Hour’ but then often seemed like a time of agony piled on agony. Churchill sought release in action and was never happier than when visiting the troops and flashing his famous V for Victory salute, which he sometimes deliberately reversed to send a different message to our enemies. He even wanted, and drew up plans to accompany the troops on D-Day and tried to persuade the King to accompany him (knowing full well that only the monarch could stop him). Even then, it took two handwritten letters from King George VI, the latest sent on 2 June 1944, before the Prime Minister grudgingly deferred to His Majesty’s ‘wishes and indeed commands’. Later, he reflected: ‘A man who has to play an effective part in taking, with the highest responsibility, grave and terrible decisions of war may need the refreshment of adventure. He may need also the comfort that when sensing so many others to their death he may share in a small way their risks’.
On his eightieth birthday in 1954 Churchill claimed that the British people were the lion and he had simply been called upon to give the roar. If so, our military were the claws.