This year is the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. To mark this occasion, we are displaying a recreation of the funeral train which carried the former Prime Minister’s coffin from his state funeral in London to his private burial at Bladon on 30 January 1965.
As a member of the Exhibitions and Design team, it was my job to tell the story of this historic day. I began my research by looking through photos of the funeral train from our archives. Many of these photos include scores of people standing by the trackside to see the funeral train as it passed.
I was inspired by the pictures to find out more about these people. I wanted to discover why they came to see the train and what Churchill had meant to them. This felt like a really unique perspective and a story which only we could tell.
We put out an appeal for people to send us their memories of seeing the funeral train. We had a great response! Tony Oldfield sent us a story of how he and his then girlfriend, Linda, went down to see the train as it passed. Linda is now his wife and has helped us by creating a set of tablecloths. You can see them in Pullman carriage Lydia which is also on display as part of our recreation of the funeral train. Patrick Kingston sent us a great photograph which he took of the train as it passed a graveyard near Oxford. You can see this on display next to the train.
Our public appeal for stories even threw up a story of its own. Stephen Farrant got in touch to tell us about his memory of seeing the funeral train while playing football near Reading. We thought this was a great story and we shared it on our website. As a result, Graham Heath read Stephen’stale and got in touch to let us know that he was playing in the very same football match. The two old friends have now been reunited and we hope to see them at the museum soon.
For me, it has been a real privilege to work on this display. I’ve been given a great opportunity to read some fantastic stories and share them with our visitors.
Come and see the recently restored locomotive Winston Churchill for yourself as part of our display, Churchill’s Final Journey. You can also see the newly restored baggage van which carried the coffin, alongside Pullman carriage Lydia, which was also part of the train and hear the recollections of the people that participated, including fireman Jim Lester. Lydia will be on display until 3 May 2015. The baggage van will be on display with Winston Churchill until January 2016.