January 30, 2015 / 10:19 AM / 2 years ago

Britain marks 50 years since wartime leader Churchill's funeral

3 Min Read

The statue of Britain's former Prime Minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, January 30, 2015.Eddie Keogh

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain marked 50 years on Friday since the state funeral of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, with the boat which carried his coffin under the dipping dockside cranes in 1965 retracing its journey along London's River Thames.

Britain's current leader, David Cameron, began the remembrance events at a ceremony in parliament, laying a wreath at a statue of Churchill, a man he described as "a great Briton" who should never be forgotten.

"A full fifty years since his funeral when the cranes along the Thames dipped low and the streets were lined with vast silent crowds, the sheer brilliance of Winston Churchill remains undimmed," he said.

"He left a Britain more free, more secure, more brave and more proud, for that we will always be grateful to him."

Churchill, whose inspirational leadership and dogged spirit are widely credited with having saved Britain from invasion by Nazi Germany, died on Jan. 24, 1965 aged 90.

Queen Elizabeth granted him the rare honour of a state funeral and more than 320,000 people filed past his coffin to pay their respects during three days of lying in state.

Randolph Churchill (L), the great grandson and Celia Sandys, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill lay a wreath at the statue of Britain's former Prime Minister Churchill in London January 30, 2015.Eddie Keogh

His funeral was the world's largest at the time, attended by leaders from more than 100 countries, as well as the queen, another unusual tribute for a prime minister.

The procession began at parliament, with the chimes of Big Ben silenced for the rest of the day, and the coffin was taken to St Paul's Cathedral for the funeral service. He was buried in Bladon, Oxfordshire, in central England.

A Union Flag is seen behind a statue of Britain's former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in London January 24, 2015.Luke MacGregor

On Friday, the Havengore, the boat which carried the coffin along the Thames after the service, will retrace that 1965 journey, with Tower Bridge being raised to honour the occasion.

The day's events conclude with a ceremony at London's Westminster Abbey.

Nicholas Soames, Churchill's grandson and himself a lawmaker, said it was a "fitting tribute".

"This event, 50 years after his death, is a strong reminder of all he did for his country and the continuing importance of his presence in our public life," he said.

Reporting by Karolin Schaps and Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison

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