Following the trail of Winston Churchill

File photo dated of Sir Winston Churchill giving his familiar 'V' sign. seventy years after the nation broke out in jubilant celebration at the end of the Second World War, Britons will again take to the streets to commemorate VE (Victory in Europe) Day.. Issue date: Friday May 8, 2015. See PA story MEMORIAL VEDay. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire

Michael Juhran
Woodstock
(Deutsche Presse Agentur)

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

This is one of the countless memorable quotes attributed to Winston Churchill during his long life as a politician.

With his sheer willpower, his legendary rhetorical skills and iron-clad military discipline, the man would emerge as the hero of the British Empire during World War II.

Today, 50 years since his death, anyone following the trail of Churchill, who was twice British prime minister, will learn not only a great deal about this exceptional statesman but also about the life of the English upper class from which Churchill emerged.

The history of the great statesman began in Blenheim Palace, the seat of his grandfather located near the town of Woodstock in the county of Oxfordshire. There is a new exhibition on Churchill there.

Churchill’s mother loved attending society balls, not to be deterred even by her pregnancy, and so it came to pass that at one ball in 1874, he first saw the light of day in a closet “amidst overcoats and feather boas”.

Blenheim Palace, since 1987 listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and to this day the seat of the duke of Marlborough, would play a crucial role in Winston Churchill’s life. He would return to the palace over and over again.

It was there as a boy that he thrilled at the military genius of an ancestor, John Churchill, who was a general in the 17th century.

The young Churchill would spend hours studying the historical works and rhetorically brilliant speeches of his father Randolph in the House of Commons and would begin to write his own biographical works.

Also at the palace he proposed to Clementine, who became his wife.

Churchill was a member of the House of Commons for a near record 60 years. Among the sculptures in Parliament Square in London, the statue of Churchill is the one located closest to parliament.

In the Whitehall area, a Churchill trail leads past the ministries he headed during his long political career: the Admiralty, the War Ministry, the Treasury and, of course, 10 Downing Street, the office of the prime minister.

Churchill lived there twice, from 1940 to 1945, and again from 1951 to 1955.

Tourists can visit the World War II bunker where Churchill’s cabinet met.

The hardened basement with arched ceilings is beneath the Treasury on St James Park. The Cabinet War Rooms are open as a museum, set up to leave the impression that the War Cabinet, which met there starting in 1939, had only moments ago left the premises.

Protected by a three metre-thick ceiling, the British war leadership decided strategy there day by day.

“A special room, disguised as a toilet, had a direct telephone link to the US president,” says Phil Reed, director of the Imperial War Museum.

“Unlike his ministers, Churchill could never stand it down here for very long.”

Even when the Germans were raining bombs down on the city, Churchill used to climb up on the roof of the Treasury to see the damage for himself, Reed said.

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