Hello, thank you for calling in, and thank you for your comments on my last post, I love to read them. Today's post follows on from that one...My mother rang me after she had read my post about her evening in the theatre with Churchill and Monty. "And I have to tell you that not only have I been in the same room as Churchill when he was alive, but I have also been in the same room as him when he was dead!" she said. "Whaaaaat?!" was my astounded reply. Here is the story...
Winston Churchill died on 24th January 1965 at the age of 90. His funeral was held a week later, on 31st January, at St Paul's Cathedral and for three days beforehand, his body lay in state in Westminster Hall. During those three days, the Hall was open for 23 hours a day for members of the public to come and pay their respects, and 321,360 people did so. Imagine that, more than 100,000 people each day! People of all ages queued up and then slowly walked around the Hall at shuffling pace, without stopping - if you have been to Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam or the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London you will know exactly what this was like. Here is Alfred Egerton Cooper's painting, entitled Lying-in-State of Winston Churchill in Westminster Hall, to give you an idea of the scene.
My grandmother, who I called Granny, was very keen to go and pay her respects but since childhood she had had what we referred to as "a bad leg" and so she wasn't able to stand and queue, so it looked as if she wouldn't be able to go. However, somebody told my mother that there was an unpublicised special arrangement for disabled people, who wouldn't have to queue. Obviously, there was no internet to help her find out more details so what did she do? She telephoned the news desk at the Daily Telegraph, of course! Yes, if they arrived first thing in the morning, they would be able to go straight in and bypass the queue.
So, Ma and Granny set off on the train from Clapton to Westminster. Although not a long journey, it was difficult and uncomfortable for Granny, who was 65 years old and not very agile, having to negotiate lots of steps and the jostling crowds of commuters travelling to work. Fortunately, she was able to sit down on the train. She was also anxious that the journey may be a fruitless one as she was not officially classed as "disabled". However, when they got to Westminster Hall at the appointed time, they explained their situation and were directed straight to the viewing platform. Having paid their respects to our great leader, they left and were back home by 10.30am.
So there you are, the time my mother was in the presence of the very late Winston Churchill. Now then, gentle reader, this was notable because in those unenlightened times, there was a distinct lack of facilities for disabled people - no special seating areas in theatres and football grounds as there are now, no ramps or dedicated toilets anywhere. If you were disabled, you had to accept that there were places you just couldn't access. This special arrangement was made because at this time, twenty years after the end of the Second World War, there were still plenty of ex-servicemen alive who were disabled because of their wartime injuries and who would want to pay their respects to our great wartime leader. In this country, we had to wait for another thirty years for the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to make the provision of services and facilities for disabled people compulsory. As we talked about the train journey there, Ma said that I should not pay any attention to the notion that people were friendlier and more considerate in those days than they are now: although somebody gave up a seat for Granny, nobody did the same for Ma, who had to stand for the entire journey...even though she was almost nine months pregnant! After all, I was born less than a fortnight later.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x