On a visit to a museum today to see the locomotive and goods van that that carried the coffin as part of an exhibition in York, Countess Charlotte Peel recalled her memories of the historic day and the huge crowds who turned out in their Sunday Best to pay their respects to the statesman.
Lady Peel, who lives near Masham, said: “It’s been a really moving experience seeing the funeral train which I travelled upon as a 10-year-old girl more than 50 years ago and explaining to my own grandchildren why it’s so important that its on display here.
“The museum have done a great job bringing the locomotive and wagons back to their sixties condition and seeing them together once more, has brought my memories of the day back to me, the huge crowds watching us go past and the deep sense of sadness that was felt by the whole nation but the most keenly by my own family.”
Together with other family members, she was a guest at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York, today to see its exhibition Churchill’s Final Journey.
Churchill was laid to rest in the family vault at St Martin’s Church in the village of Bladon and his body was conveyed on a train from London’s Waterloo station to Hanborough in Oxfordshire, pulled by Southern Railway’s number 34051 Battle of Britain class locomotive, named Winston Churchill in his honour.
The full train - the locomotive and tender, a parcel van that bore the coffin and a luxury Pullman carriage called Lydia that carried funeral guests - were reunited at the museum in York in January to mark the 50th anniversary of the farewell given to the indomitable statesman.
Churchill was the only statesman to be given a state funeral in the 20th century and on that historic occasion in 1965 thousands of people stood at station platforms to see him on his solemn last journey.
Millions more worldwide clustered around their TV sets to witness the milestone in world history, and the display features personal audio accounts from those with a special connection to that memorable day.
Anthony Coulls, senior curator of rail vehicles and rail technology at the NRM said: “Our locomotive and the carriages that it hauled have earned a place on the national stage due to the part they played in Churchill’s final journey.
“Until they were chosen to take the statesman on his final farewell, they were just standard rolling stock, especially the baggage van which carried everyday goods such as vegetables and newspapers before it was selected to transport Churchill’s coffin.
Mr Coulls said the full display was open until May 3 but people could still see the locomotive and goods van until the Autumn and he added: “..we hope people will continue join us in York to marvel at the train during this anniversary year.”
Dedicated teams of staff and volunteers worked at the Mid Hants Railways Ropley Works and the workshop at Locomotion: the National Railway Museum at Shildon to prepare the vehicles for a return to the limelight. In January a number of events were held to mark the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s funeral, including a flotilla on the River Thames.