I grew up in a family and a town which, for different reasons, regarded Churchill as anything but a hero. My parents, my mother in particular, held him in contempt for his abandonment of Poland to Stalin.
He was, for her, the epitome of the British establishment: an object of mistrust. It is much less known that Churchill was universally despised in my home town of Cowdenbeath and I give you this anecdote to think on.
As young students at the end of a hard day’s work retrieving second-hand parts for my mate’s van, Andrew and I retired to the local hostelry, Wee Jimmie’s, for a pint where we found ourselves roped into a game of dominoes by a couple of local worthies.
Students in physics and engineering are no match for the abacus minds that we were pitted against and we were losing badly. The news came on the television and the barmaid turned up the volume.
Nothing of note was being shown until an article which mentioned the name Churchill, in fact Spencer-Churchill. To a man, and with a synchronicity that comes from practice, the entire bar hawked and spat on the floor.
It was no surprise to me, having seen it many times, but for Andrew, a middle-class lad from Edinburgh, the shock was written across his face.
I leaned towards him and said that I’d explain later when we headed home. Churchill was no friend to the working people of Cowdenbeath, particularly the miners.
There has been much outpouring of gushing praise to mark the life of Winston Churchill as we commemorate his death 50 years ago.
And indeed Churchill was a great wartime leader, but while this role has quite rightly been heralded, he was far from the paragon of virtue some commentators would have us believe.
His finest hour aside, let us not forget that he believed that women shouldn’t vote, telling the House of Commons that they are “well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands”.
He was also fiercely opposed to self-determination for the people of the Empire, advocating the use of poisoned gas against “uncivilised tribes” in Mesopotamia in 1919.
For much of his career he was also a disastrous politician. In 1915 he had to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty after the disaster of Gallipoli.
His decision in 1925 to restore Britain to the Gold Standard caused a deep and unnecessary recession. That led directly to the General Strike in 1926, in which he was reported to have suggested using machine guns on the miners.
So, while we must celebrate his role as a quite brilliant war leader, let us not forget a rather more checkered past.