Churchill and the Order of the Garter

Winston Churchill received the Order of the Garter in 1953

This past May one of the commemorative events for Churchill 2015 was held at the spectacular and resplendent Blenheim Palace. In 1705, Queen Anne presented Blenheim Palace to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, on behalf of a grateful nation. Second World War Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s Great ancestor had led the British and their allies to victory in August 1704 outside of the town of Blenheim in Bavaria. Winston Churchill’s grandfather was the 7th Duke of Marlborough and when Winston’s mother prematurely went into labour, her son was born in a cloakroom at the Palace.

Churchill 2015 was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death in 1965. This event held at Blenheim Palace was a culmination of a week’s activities centred around the annual Churchill Conference, which this year took place in Oxfordshire. The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough invited us for the Churchill Memorial Concert sponsored by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. The concert is an annual fundraiser that support’s local charities around the small village of Woodstock, which borders the gates of the Palace.

As we arrived, we were greeted by smartly-attired attendants with full trays of glasses filled with sparkling champagne. Naturally, it was Blenheim Palace champagne. The event was black-tie and guests were dressed in their finery for the festive evening.

As went made a dash for more Champaign we passed a fellow with a magnificent jacket accompanied but his very attractive wife. He wore a claret-coloured smoking jacket with black embroidery and looked positively magnificent. His wife was one of the most beautiful Asian women I’ve seen. The most perfect complexion and she was resplendent in a mint green and gold gown.

My colleague Simon and I commented to this old chap about his superb blazer. He first said that he felt ‘He was rather underdressed.’ Perhaps traditionally, one would only wear a smoking jacket at the end of the evening when retiring to a library—but he looked marvellous nonetheless. We mentioned to him that we were members of the International Churchill Society and had been in attendance at the conference over the last several days. ‘Ah!’ he said, ‘Then you might be interested in a story of when I first encountered Churchill.’

‘Absolutely!’ We both chimed in.

‘Well, you see,’ he said, ‘in my younger days, which was some years ago I might add, I was a page at Windsor Castle. It was 1953, the same year of the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II that she bestowed upon him a knighthood of the Order of the Garter. As you know, by 1953 Winston Churchill was in his late 70s. And there he was wearing all of the ancient Garter robes presenting himself to Her Majesty. Well, when they finished the business at hand he started to walk backwards heading towards the door and out of the room. As you know, it’s custom not to turn your back on Her Majesty when in her presence. So as he’s taking steps back and he starts to trip on his Garter robes. I was just a little bit too far behind him but one my young colleagues rushed up behind him and grab him from behind and caught him just as he was beginning to teeter over backwards. It was quite a sight indeed! Fortunately, he was saved any embarrassment by my young friend. I’m afraid that was my first and my only encounter with a great man himself!’



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