From the archives: alumnus meets Churchill

Seventy-five years ago [Friday 8 May], Sir Winston Churchill announced the end of the Second World War, now remembered as Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Michael Wemms (BA 1963) remembers his encounter with Sir Winston Churchill, who not only led Britain to victory, but led Bristol as its longest standing Chancellor from 1929 – 1965.

It was, I think, 1956. I was still at school and met the local MP (Humphrey Atkins). A long story, but the result was a call to meet him at the House of Commons. When I arrived, there were five of us, all from different schools. None of us quite knew why we were there.

We were ushered to a smallish room and, completely by chance, I was the first through the door. Sitting alone in an armchair was Winston Churchill. He jumped up to welcome us like long lost friends, poured our tea and offered cakes.

It took a while for even the bravest of us to get our wits together, but he quickly charmed us into a very relaxed and free flowing chat. We asked lots of questions, especially about the War, and even ventured a few views about the state of the nation and our politicians. I remember that we all held strong political views.

Towards the end he said how much he had enjoyed the chat, but we hadn’t asked him the most important question – why had we gone to War and why had it all mattered so much? If only I could remember his actual words. He spoke a little about honour and decency and how we couldn’t stand by, but then he began to gaze out the window – for a moment I think he was in some other time and place.

He explained that we had fought for our identity, our heritage and our history. He went on to talk about beauty in all its forms and I particularly remember how he described the beauty of outdoor things created by man, but changed by time and nature, how we had to preserve beautiful things as well as the way we live our lives. He talked very sadly about there being no choice, but what a terrible price we had paid.

Suddenly, he turned directly to me and asked what I was studying. ‘Literature, Economics, Latin and History Sir,’ I managed to say. ‘Do History my boy,’ he replied, ‘at Bristol.’ So I did!

With thanks to alumnus Michael Wemms. This piece was originally published in 2015.

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