Churchill a Soldier of Oxfordshire
The Museum maintains and displays an interesting selection of objects and memorabilia that assist in amplifying the story of Winston Churchill's experiences as soldier in peace and war.
Most people know that wartime leader Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace in 1874 and buried in nearby Bladon Churchyard in 1965 but few realise that he was also one of Oxfordshire’s most distinguished soldiers.
Internationally he was Britain’s leader in the darkest hours when the country stood alone against the threat of a Nazi Germany which had already conquered most of Europe. He led the fight-back which began with the Battle of Britain and, through an alliance with Russia and the USA, ended with the liberation of a Europe and ultimately the end of the Second World War.
Nationally he came to the public’s attention as a brave war correspondent in the Boer War and was elected Member of Parliament for Oldham in 1900 at the age of 25. After periods as President of the Board of Trade and Home Secretary he was First Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of WW1. Throughout this time he was an outstanding officer in the Queen’s own Oxfordshire Hussars - the Oxfordshire Yeomanry. Famously he wore his Yeomanry uniform when the guest of the Kaiser in Pre-War manoeuvres and again in 1915 when he resigned from Government to join his Regiment on the Western Front. His emergence as one of the greatest Englishmen culminated in a State Funeral at which, at Churchill’s express request, a detachment of the QOOH played a leading part.
Locally, Churchill remained close to not only the Spencer-Churchills at Blenheim but also the Fiennes family of Banbury and Broughton and the four Fleming sons of his great friend Major Valentine Fleming, MP for Henley and brother officer in the QOOH - tragically killed in action in 1915.
During the Second World War few are aware that Churchill secretly moved MI5 to Blenheim Palace - with some comfort from the intelligence that as one of Hitler’s favourite buildings, the Luftwaffe were under strict orders not to bomb it. He also made Oxfordshire a focal point for training operatives for the SOE - his secret underground working in occupied Europe. Initial training was undertaken at Overthorpe Hall just outside Banbury with specialist radio training provided by Oxford University. As well as being requisitioned by a number of Government Departments the University ontributed much to the wartime scientific effort. Most interesting was the work pioneering the mass production of penicillin and ultimately the discovery of its chemical structure leading to the production of most of the antibiotics on which the 21st Century now depends. All with support from Churchill himself.
Another Oxfordshire link can be found in the Summit Conferences held at Ditchley Park - a private country house 5 miles North of Blenheim. Churchill remained close to QOOH all his life. His service with the Regiment spanned the years 1901 to 1923 but in his political capacity he ensured that the Oxfordshire Hussars were the first Yeomanry Cavalry unit deployed to Flanders in September 1914. In the Second World War Churchill responded to a plea from the Commanding Officer Sir John Thompson and moved the Regiment from uninteresting border patrols in Northern Ireland to a far more interesting role as part of the invasion of Normandy.
To our knowledge, no other museum has featured Winston Churchill as a soldier. In spite of 7 volumes of official biography, 27 works by Churchill himself and over 260 other books on the great man there is only one book on the subject: “Winston Churchill Soldier, The Military life of a Gentleman at War” written by our good friend District Judge Douglas Russell of Iowa . And even this does not tell the whole Soldier of Oxfordshire story. Learn more ....
- Douglas S. Russel. Winston Churchill Soldier, The Military life of a Gentleman at War, Conway Maritime Press (2006), London, ISBN: 9781844860326.