Fifty years ago this weekend Winston Churchill died.
I had only been in London for a very few weeks – the first time outside South Africa. If you can imagine, coming from mid summer in Johannesburg, sunny hot days – to a London which was grey and cold. This was before they cleaned up most of the buildings and everything was so dark and so grey and the days so short.
Churchill was old and frail and yet we felt stunned. He was lying in state in Westminster Hall and we went after work. I think we queued for about three or four hours. It was slightly surreal – cold, damp and the WRVS had trucks serving tea to the people waiting. I felt as if I had been time-warped back to a war I had never experienced.
I have never felt the need to share in public grief or joy except for this. It was extraordinary and I will never forget it.
My parents were also pleased that we went. In WWII there was no conscription in South Africa – and it was touch and go whether the government of the day would support the Allies or the Axis powers. It was an anxious time, they knew something of what was happening to the Jews in Europe. My father felt morally compelled to act to support Britain's actions in the war – not all did. He volunteered and served as a surgeon on a British hospital ship – the AMRA.
He felt, and I still do, that if it weren’t for Churchill we would not be here today. Certainly there would be no Jews in Europe – at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, Reinhard Heydrich said that "Europe would be combed of Jews from east to west”.
I am sure that this is simplistic but I do feel that Churchill was the only man in the right place at the right time and I will always be grateful.