By coincidence rather than design, my wife and I visited Chartwell in Kent on Saturday, which marked the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The house, which was the family home of Sir Winston Churchill from 1922 to his death in 1965, is maintained by the National Trust, largely as it would have been in his lifetime. His favourite walking sticks are in a stand near the front door, paint brushes are scattered next to an unfinished canvas and a glass of whisky rests half-empty on a side table in his study. These small touches as much as the main museum rooms are very evocative and contribute to the feeling that the man has been called out of the room just briefly to take an important phone call or to attend to government business.
Among the volunteers answering visitors’ questions were a number of veterans clearly proud to be playing their part in keeping memories of the wartime leader alive. Seeing the veterans standing erect, medals pinned to their chests, it seemed a fitting place to be on that day of all days.
The visit all served to remind one of Churchill’s great eloquence and mastery of the spoken word which he used to steady and inspire a nation threatened by invasion from the sea, bombed from the skies and demoralised by daily privations. The US wartime correspondent in London said of his rhetoric: “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.”
Of course, the speeches and oratory were carefully crafted and rehearsed to have the required impact. And despite being voted greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 BBC poll, Churchill has become fair game for revisionist historians who challenge the widely held hagiographical view of him. But if you have any doubts about Churchill’s contribution to the victory against the Nazis, you might start by addressing your question to those men proudly wearing their medals and directing visitors at Chartwell.