31 Jan 2018

Darkest Hour

I went to see the movie, Darkest Hour, at the cinema this morning. It is superb. Highly recommended.
The cinematography is stunning and so are the settings. You almost think that you are inside the palace in the Buck House scenes. Gary Oldman is quite extraordinary as Churchill. I felt that I was actually watching Churchill himself in a wartime newsreel. Surely an Oscar winning performance.
To me it was weird seeing the scenes and thinking how all this happened only 6 years before I was born.
When I first went to primary school in Putney in south London the school was brand new as the old school had been bombed and the area around the school was populated by prefabricated homes -prefabs as they were known-and bomb sites. I remember that even in 1955 they were still grim times but I did not appreciate the deprivation and terror my mother who stayed in Putney through the blitz had been through.
I had my personal encounter with Churchill or at least his coffin in January 1965. During my gap year between leaving school and going to university I was working at Barclays Bank Borough High Street branch in Southwark just over London Bridge. I had to work on the Saturday morning of Churchill's funeral and I was on London Bridge when his coffin was loaded onto a boat at the Tower of London and came down the river to Waterloo. See the photo below. I had bought a half frame camera to work that day. I think it belonged to my brother. I cannot remember the brand but I suspect it was either an Olympus or a Ricoh. Half frame gave 72 photos on a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film. I was using Kodak Plus-X film I can see from the negatives. It was probably in the camera when I borrowed it. Being London in January it was pretty gloomy and I force processed the film to push up the ISO or ASA as it was then known.
The slow passage of the boat carrying the coffin was a most impressive sight and all the dockside cranes had their jibs lowered as a mark of respect.
Now all the docks have moved way down the river so it is a scene which will never be repeated.
A few seconds after I took this photo a V formation of RAF English Electric Lightning jet fighters flew overhead and I took a photo of them over the flotilla. It is a great photo but I put the negative in a safe file and I have mislaid it!

My journey home that day took me my usual route by foot to London Bridge Station where I caught a train to Waterloo Station on a little back line. I then caught a train home to Ewell in Surrey where I then lived.
When I came onto the concourse at Waterloo I was surprised to find that my suburban train was on the next platform to the train which was carrying Chuchill's coffin and the funeral party to Oxfordshire where he was going to be buried in the churchyard at Bladon.
The funeral train departed just ahead of mine but we soon passed it and I took the photos below of the engine and also the wagon carrying the flag draped coffin which is just visible. Spectators are on the balconies of the public housing block behind the train.
So that's my personal connection to the Darkest Hour. The quality of the photos leaves a lot to be desired but they had a difficult birth and like most of us they are showing their age.

Photos are the IP of the author and may not be used in any media without approval.

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