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What is the most celebrated state funeral for a 'commoner' in the United Kingdom?

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In the history of public commemoration in the United Kingdom, the most celebrated state funeral for a 'commoner' was for war-time prime minister, The Right Honourable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965). Before embarking into the political scene for nearly five decades, Churchill had an army career and saw action in India, the Sudan, the Second Boer War, and the First World War. Churchill received numerous honours and awards throughout his career as a soldier, statesman and author. After he had suffered a severe stroke in June 1953, when he was 78, while at 10 Downing Street – the official residence and office of the prime minister – Queen Elizabeth II (21 April 1926 – ) instructed her senior civil servants in November 1953 to arrange a public funeral for Sir Winston Churchill "on a scale befitting his position in history – commensurate, perhaps, with that of the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852." The plans for the funeral – codenamed 'Operation Hope Not' – came into force when Sir Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965. In total, 113 countries were invited to send representatives to Churchill's state funeral and was considered the largest assemblage of heads of state in the world until the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome on 8 April 2005. Despite the cold January weather, over 320,000 members of the public had filed past his coffin as it lay in State.

Bronzes of Churchill can be found across Canada including a bust at the Monument to the Québec Conferences, unveiled on 7 May 1998, commemorating the two Allied conferences held in the city in 1943 and 1944, during which the conditions for the Allied victories in Europe and the Pacific were discussed. The monument was controversial as it only displayed a bust of British prime minister Churchill and American president Franklin D. Roosevelt (30 January 1882 – 12 April 1945) and did not include any representation of Canada's longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King (17 December 1874 – 22 July 1950).

On this day, 24 January 2022, we commemorate the 57th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill and mark more than 23 years since the unveiling of a bust in his honour in Québec.

André M. Levesque

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