Eventually, the frailties of old age caught up with Churchill. In 1958, he paid two long visits to La Pausa where he began to feel less and less inclined to pick up a brush (he caught bronchial pneumonia and suffered fevers while there); his physical strength was finally failing.
In 1959, Churchill visited Morocco – and Marrakech (where he’d painted some of his most acclaimed pictures) – and painted from his balcony at La Mamounia for the final time. And when he next visited La Pausa, later in 1959, he found himself no longer able to wield his paintbrush. But he continued to be feted and honoured, and he was treated as a great statesman, the ‘Old Warrior’, wherever he went.
He enjoyed a final visit to the White House in 1959 and made one last visit to New York on board the ‘Christina’ in 1961. In America, he became the second person after Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette to receive honorary US citizenship and the first by Act of Congress. On 9 April 1963, Kennedy signed a Congressionally authorized proclamation conferring honorary US citizenship upon Churchill. Too frail to travel to America to attend the ceremony, Churchill watched from England via live satellite broadcast.
In June 1962, Churchill broke his hip during a fall in his bedroom at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and was transferred to the Middlesex Hospital (he told Montague Browne ‘I want to die in England’ and was flown back in a scrambled RAF jet). He stayed in hospital for two months.
Sir Winston was suffering from circulatory problems which caused him to spend much time in bed. Lady Churchill was also in poor health and she was admitted to Westminster Hospital for rest and treatment.
“‘Remember, I would like lots of military bands at my funeral.’ He got nine!”
While both were suffering physically they learned of the death of their daughter, Diana, from an overdose of sleeping pills. Unable to attend her funeral, they both went to the Memorial Service at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, in London.
Anthony Montague Browne, serving steadfastly as Sir Winston’s assistant, arranged for a series of dinner guests to provide the old man with company. WSC also continued to view films.
On 28 November he was taken to the House of Commons in a wheelchair and dined that evening at the Other Club.
After Sir Winston announced that he would not stand for Parliament at the next general election, some suggested that he should be made an honorary member of the House of Commons. Others objected that it would be an affront to the principle of elected representation. There is no record of Churchill’s views on the suggestion.
On his next visit to the Commons he was escorted to his seat below the gangway byhis son-in-law, Christopher Soames. Prime minister Macmillan welcomed him back as “our most distinguished member.”
In July the Churchills grieved for their daughter Sarah whose husband, Lord Audley, died in Granada, Spain. Read More >
In April the American Congress and President John F. Kennedy awarded Sir Winston Churchill an honourary citizenship of the United States of America.
In May it was announced that Sir Winston would not contest the next election. And so would end one of the truly remarkable parliamentary careers in the history of the free world. In some ways that announcement could be viewed as Churchill’s real retirement, because he was, as Lord Beaverbrook has written, “in every sense a professional politician, having trained himself for his vocation.” Robert Rhodes James has noted that Churchill was born into politics, and it was his devotion to his father that shaped his early political interests, attitudes and ambitions and propelled his early political career.
He had entered the House of Commons as Conservative Member for Oldham at the end of 1900 when he was just 26. This early period was devoted to finishing his father’s battles. In 1904 he had crossed the floor to the Liberals over the issue of Tariff Reform. 1906Two years later he was elected as a Liberal Member for North-West Manchester. In 1908 he had to stand for reelection to Parliament because of his appointment to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. He was defeated by his Conservative opponent, but within a month he found a new constituency in Dundee, Scotland.
In 1922 Churchill was defeated at Dundee and out of the House of Commons. The Liberal Party was in disarray. Attempts to return in West Leicester as an Independent in 1923 and in the Abbey Division of Westminster as a Constitutionalist in 1924 were narrow failures. Late in 1924 he was elected in Epping, near London, and subsequently rejoined the Conservatives.
In 1945 Labour refused to continue the wartime coalition and a general election ensued while Churchill was at Potsdam. Churchill’s constituency had changed from a country seat to a populous borough and its name was changed to Woodford. Despite the breakdown of the alliance, as a mark of respect Opposition parties declined to stand an official candidate against the Prime Minister in his own constituency.
But by the 1960s great diplomacy was required to convince Sir Winston that it was time to relinquish the seat. Even Lady Churchill, who so often took on impossible tasks in dealing with him, could not bring herself to meet this challenge alone. In the end, a coalition of Lady Churchill, son-in-law Christopher Soames, and a very tactful Constituency Chairman, Mrs. Doris Moss, achieved the inevitable, although Sir Winston would attend the House of Commons several more times until his final visit on 28 July 1964.
A prolonged recovery period from his fall during the summer “marked another definite stage in his slow decline.”
Because his mobility was impaired, alterations were made to the Hyde Park Gate residence. His office at No. 27 was converted into a bedroom, with bay windows looking out over the garden. An elevator was installed in No. 28 to permit access from the bedroom to the dining-room and the garden.
The events of the summer and autumn exerted considerable strain on Lady Churchill and friends rallied to her side. Violet Bonham Carter wrote: “It is though you alone could reach him with comfort and amusement. Your ‘private line’ with him has remained intact. Most people can be brave in short spasms – but the steadfast endurance of the ‘long haul’ is attained by few. You have had so many years of – sometimes intermittent, sometimes continuous anxiety and strain with never a let-up and now W. needs you and claims more from you than ever before . . .”
Lady Violet organized a group of friends to dine and play bezique with Sir Winston while Clementine had some time to herself or with her friends.
This summer brought physical pain and discomfort to Sir Winston, While Lady Churchill remained in London, Sir Winston holidayed on the Riviera. In the middle of a night, with a nurse on guard in an anteroom, Churchill climbed from his bed, fell and broke a leg.
A splint was prepared in the hotel room and the patient was taken to a medical clinic in Monte Carlo. After a temporary plaster was prepared, Churchill was taken by a special R.A.F. plane at Nice. The incident became a media event. An army of French photographers followed every move. The motorcade to the airport in-luded police motorcycles, a TV truck, an ambulance, a car full of detectives and two cars with Sir Winston’s staff.
In London, people came up to the ambulance with encouraging get-well words for the patient. Following surgery to repair the broken limb, Sir Winston survived successive attacks of bronchitis, pneumonia, a thrombosis and jaundice.
While he was in the hospital, conversions were made to 28 Hyde Park Gate to provide a bedroom on the ground floor. As he recovered he insisted on carrying on his normal routines as much as possible. Several films were provided for his entertainment: Winchester 73, a western; Above Us the Waves, a naval documentary; The Vanishing Prairie, by Disney and The Wooden Horse.
A very large household looked after Sir Winston’s needs. His private secretary and press officer was Anthony Montague Browne, who had also served him at 10 Downing Street. He commuted between Chartwell and London, 25 miles away.
Miss Grace Hamblin, who had begun secretarial work for Churchill in 1932, became secretary to Mrs. Churchill in 1939 and was placed in charge of the secretarial and accounts duties at Chartwell in 1945. She later became Administrator at Chartwell for the National Trust in 1965 and was secretary to the Churchill Centenary Exhibition in London in 1974. She lived in her cottage on the grounds at Chartwell.
Two junior secretaries attended to Sir Winston’s personal mail. One worked during the day, the other throughout the evening. They also arranged all trips, handled the telephone, organized the film showings and selected Sir Winston’s books at the library.
Sir Winston’s health and alertness continued to decline but he still played backgammon and bezique with family and friends. His animals provided him with much joy. He had a poodle and a cat, but his favourite was a green parakeet named Toby.
A few public outings, particularly meetings of The Other Club with his son-in-law, Christopher Soames, enlivened his existence somewhat, but most of his time was spent reading.
He read mostly historical novels but he also liked autobiographies. Among his favourite authors were Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Lady Churchill also read voraciously. She shared her husband’s taste for autobiography but also enjoyed romantic novels, particularly those by Barbara Cartland. She was more inclined to read titles from the best-seller lists.
His books were selected for him by his secretaries at the public libraries at Kensington or Westerham. He usually read half the titles they brought him but they knew his tastes so well that he seldom disapproved of any selection.
Although the state of Sir Winston’s health was quite acceptable, it was too demanding on him to travel to two special occasions. He was greatly disappointed that he was unable to lay the cornerstone of Churchill College, Cambridge, or to attend “Songs,” the annual sing-song at Harrow School.
In early November he participated in a family celebration at Quaglino’s Restaurant for the coming-out party of his granddaughter, Celia Sandys. Although he did not retire until 2 A.M., he was out at the Savoy the next night for a dinner of the Other Club.
His birthday on 30 November was a quiet family dinner in London. Shortly after the death of Sir Hugh Bateman Protheroe-Smith, aged 89, left Sir Winston the sole surviving officer of the charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman in 1898. Read More >
One of the visitors to Sir Winston’s home at Hyde Park Gate was Sir Anthony Eden, who told him that he had been offered and would accept an earldom.
In 1895 young Winston had been gazetted to the 4th Hussars. This summer he attended a dinner which revived many memories of those days. The regiment. now known as the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, hosted their famous colleague at a regimental dinner at Quaglino’s. Because the ballroom was below street level, the Hussars had a service elevator converted into an elegant one with brown felt on its walls, red carpet on the floor, and two brass pedestal ashtrays in the corners.
Lord Beaverbrook visited him at Chartwell to congratulate him on a great win by his new horse. High Hat. He reciprocated the visit to Beaverbrook’s villa when he and Lady Churchill went to France in August on their way to Monte Carlo. Read More >
In early Match Sir Winston joined Aristotle Onassis’ yacht at Gibraltar for an unhurried tour of the Caribbean and the US coast. On the day the first Russian cosmonaut went into space, Churchill arrived in New York Harbor for the final time.
Among the luncheon guests on the Christina was UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, who later commented to reporters: “This is a very great man, who has been the conscience of freedom in his time, and who now is in the sunset of his life and entitled to the privacy that he has earned in those years of endeavor.”
After lunch, Sir Winston observed the departure of the Queen Mary, the Cunard ship which had conveyed him to his wartime meetings with Franklin Roosevelt. At dinner he was joined by his longtime friend, 90-year-old Bernard Baruch, who told the press: “it will be good to be with him. He’s a wonderful young man at 86.” During dinner he received a telephone call from President Kennedy, who offered to send a special plane to bring him to the White House for a visit. But the old man was too infirm. Besides Lady Churchill was in hospital and he wanted to get back to her. Although pleasantly surprised, he declined the invitation but accepted “for some other time.”
The holidays were spent at Chartwell as Sir Winston recovered from the effects of his fall.
By mid-January he insisted on returning to the House of Commons. Despite the protests of his staff and family, he set off in his Humber Pullman, flying the flag of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
Later in the month he attended a meeting of the Other Club at the Savoy Hotel with his special quest, Aristotle Onassis. The menu included a roast piglet from the litter of a sow once owned by Sir Winston and purchased by the Mayor of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. With compliments of the Mayor, the frozen piglet and the apple for its mouth were flown to London and specially prepared by the Savoy chef for the Other Club.
Other events attended by the Churchills were the annual dinner of the Royal Academy, a performance by their daughter Sarah in As You Like It at the Pembroke Theatre in Croydon, and frequent dinners in West End restaurants. All of this activity exhausted Lady Churchill and in March she entered St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, for a complete rest and thorough check-up.
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
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