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Churchill’s Final Journey

To mark 50 years since a people’s farewell, we displayed the funeral train that took Winston Churchill on his solemn last journey.

Churchill’s funeral on 30 January 1965 was a historic event. While it was a significant state occasion, it was also an opportunity for people to pay their own personal respects. Thousands lined the trackside to watch as the train passed, and millions more throughout the world watched the funeral on television.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s state funeral, we displayed our locomotive, Winston Churchill. Visitors had the opportunity to see the locomotive for the first time since its cosmetic restoration at Mid-Hants Railway. It was displayed alongside the baggage van which carried Churchill’s coffin and Pullman carriage Lydia, which carried his family. This was the first time since the funeral that these vehicles had been seen together.

The funeral signified the end of an era. Not only did it mark the passing of a historic figure, but it would also be the last time that a steam locomotive would be involved in a state funeral. 

The train

Sir Winston Churchill wished to be buried alongside his mother and father. This meant that a special funeral train would be required to carry the coffin from the state funeral in London to Handborough, Churchill’s coffin was taken from Handborough station to St Martin’s Church in Bladon where he was buried after a private service attended by his family.

The locomotive

Locomotive No. 34051 Winston Churchill was one of 44 members of the Battle of Britain class produced by the Southern Railway between 1945 and 1950. They were all named after the people, aircraft, fighter squadrons and airfields involved in the Battle of Britain. Designed by the Southern Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer, Oliver Bulleid, their unique shape and innovative technology set them apart from other British steam locomotives.

Mid Hants Railway Ropley Works undertook the painstaking work to bring the Battle of Britain class loco back to its former glory in preparation for our exhibition.

The baggage van

The baggage van was used to carry Churchill’s coffin. It had previously been used to carry pigeons and vegetables.

After Churchill’s funeral, the van became a tourist attraction at the Pacific Palms Resort in Los Angeles. When the resort no longer required the van, it was given to Swanage Railway Trust in 2010. It was cosmetically restored by the National Railway Museum in 2014.

Pullman carriage Lydia

Pullman carriage Lydia has a unique place in railway history. It was built in 1925 and formed part of the Continent’s very first Pullman-type service, the Milan–Cannes route. Lydia was part of Sir Winston Churchill’s wartime command train during the Second World War, but was most famously used as part of Churchill’s funeral train in 1965.

The carriage was then shipped to America in 1968, where it went on tour with Flying Scotsman. Lydia would remain at the US National Railroad Museum until it was returned to Britain in 2002.

The locomotive ‘Winston Churchill’ had long been on display in Station Hall, but had never been fully conserved for display and was suffering from corrosion of the platework. During its period in store after withdrawal from service, it had also lost a number of parts.

Working with our colleagues at the Mid Hants Railway, a restoration plan was drawn up which would see the locomotive returned to as close to its 1965 condition as possible—making it presentable but not losing the marks of a long working life. Platework was repaired or carefully replaced if necessary, while Danny Holmes in the National Railway Museum workshop machined up new fittings such as the injectors and a whistle, using original drawings to replicate the missing parts. Finally, the locomotive was coach painted and lined by hand at the Mid Hants Railway to make it fit for show at the head of the funeral train.

The baggage van was in need of cosmetic work after its time in the USA and having then spent a few years on external view in the Purbeck seaside climate at Swanage Railway. Upon arrival at Shildon and initial stripping, almost all of the body timber was removed and new planking fitted.

Shildon’s workshop team of staff, placements and volunteers then set to repairing the doors, cleaning and repainting the underframe, repairing springs and preparing many other fittings. Once all was reassembled, a lot of time was then spent preparing the van for brush painting to present the van as it was in January 1965. Final painting took nearly a month to bring it up to the finish required for display, and shows the skill of the team who have worked hard to make it worthy of its place in the recreated train.

The state funeral

When Sir Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965, the funeral plans—code named Operation ‘Hope Not’—swung into action. Locomotive Winston Churchill, which was used to pull Churchill’s funeral train, was brought out of storage. It was subjected to a set of rigorous tests and procedures in readiness for the day.

Driver Alf Hurley and fireman Jim Lester were chosen to work the funeral train. They were not familiar with the route from Waterloo to Handborough, as it crossed into a region where they did not normally work. Alf and Jim were only given one opportunity to practice the route before the day of the funeral.

The state funeral began outside Westminster Hall at 09.45 on 30 January 1965. Big Ben chimed to mark the beginning of the funeral procession and then fell silent until the event was over.

Churchill’s coffin was brought to St Paul’s Cathedral, where the state funeral service was held. The Queen, as a mark of respect, entered the cathedral in advance of the coffin. Leaders and dignitaries from over 110 nations were in attendance.

After the funeral service, the coffin was loaded onto the barge Hanvengore and carried down the River Thames to Waterloo station. The Royal Air Force performed a fly-past while, in a gesture of respect, the London dockers lowered their cranes as the barge passed.

At Waterloo station, the coffin was loaded on to the funeral train. Churchill’s final journey to Handborough was watched by crowds of people who came to the trackside to pay their personal respects. British Rail opened up 21 stations along the route to accommodate the thousands of people who came to see the train.

Sir Winston Churchill was buried in a private service at St Martin’s Church in Bladon, alongside his mother and father. There were only two wreaths placed on his grave. One was from his wife, Clementine, and another from the Queen on behalf of the Commonwealth. When the service had finished, 80,000 people queued for hours to visit the grave.

A people’s farewell

People crowded to the trackside to watch the train as it passed. Many of them still vividly remember the event today.

On our blog

Both 34051 Winston Churchill and the baggage van have undergone extensive restoration thanks to funding from the Friends of the National Railway Museum.