Remembering Winston Churchill's lasting legacy

His speech delivered at a small Missouri college framed history for half a century

By Leigh Elmore

"…From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere…."

Those words were delivered by Sir Winston Churchill about midway through a speech he titled "The Sinews of Peace," delivered at Westminster College in Fulton, MO on March 5, 1946. The world was galvanized by the expression "iron curtain" and has thereafter referred to Churchill's address that day as "The Iron Curtain Speech." Many scholars view it as the acknowledged beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Winston Churchill delivers the "Sinews of Peace," more widely known as the "Iron Curtain Speech" in the Westminster College gymnasium, March 5, 1946. President Harry S Truman sits on the left. (photo courtesy National Churchill Museum)

Churchill had been voted out of office after the end of World War II. President Harry S Truman invited Churchill to visit and give a speech at Westminster College at the behest of Army Major General Harry H. Vaughan, a graduate of Westminster and presidential advisor.

Many a Westminster Col-lege student has committed the first few sentences of the speech to memory, as the legacy of Churchill's visit to Westminster and Fulton have been woven into local lore and memorialized quite dramatically.

In fact, on the weekend of May 3-5 members of Winston Churchill's family and dignitaries from across the globe will come to Fulton to celebrate the 50th anniversary of America's National Churchill Museum at Westminster College. The museum began its life in 1969 as the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library, but Congress in 2009 designated it as America's National Churchill Museum.

St. Mary Aldermanbury, built in 1666 by master architect Sir Christopher Wren. Destroyed in the bombing of London in 1940. Rebuilt in Fulton, MO 1961-1969. A portion of the Berlin Wall is at left. (photos by Leigh Elmore unless stated otherwise)

The museum itself provides a comprehensive look at Winston Churchill, the man, the politician, the statesman and as the orator whose words helped bolster the British resolve against the Nazis in World War II.

But the crowning jewel of the National Churchill Museum is the 17th century church, St. Mary Aldermanbury, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, that was rebuilt and rededicated on the Westminster campus in 1969.

Adjacent to the church is the sculpture titled "Breakthrough," created by Edwina Sandys, granddaughter of Churchill. Sandys created the work from sections of the Berlin Wall after it fell in 1989, a symbolic end to the Cold War, which her grandfather so vividly elicited in 1946.

Westminster students are steeped in the legacy of Churchill and what he has meant to the world. The ongoing effects of Churchill's speech along with the presence of St. Mary Aldermanbury and the museum have influenced a number of world leaders to visit the campus and speak on international affairs. U.S. presidents who have visited include Truman, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Soviet Premiere Michael Gorbachev spoke in 1992. Lech Walesa, who led Poland's drive for freedom, delivered a speech. British prime ministers in addition to Churchill who have paid their respects include Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath and John Major.

Warren Hollrah, recently retired after 22 years of working at the museum as a manager and tour guide, recalls former FBI and CIA director William Webster (a Missourian who owned a farm near Fulton) brought Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her husband for an unannounced visit.

"The museum and the church have been a tremendous asset for not only the college and town, but for all of Missouri as well," Hollrah said.

Detail of wood carvings at the altar.


Rising from the ashes

So, how did a church designed by Sir Christopher Wren arrive in Fulton? Here's a brief history provided by the museum:
As early as 1961, Westminster College President Dr. Robert L. D. Davidson began formulating a plan to commemorate both Winston Churchill's life and the "Sinews of Peace." A Life magazine feature on war-ravaged, soon-to-be-demolished Christopher Wren churches in London prompted the suggestion to import one of the churches to serve as both a memorial and the college chapel. After further investigation, college officials selected St. Mary Aldermanbury as the church to be saved.

A view of the inside of the church.

St. Mary Aldermanbury was not only an ideal choice because of its relatively small size, but also because of its unique and nearly 1,000-year history. St. Mary's was a focal-point of religious life in the old City of London, serving as a place of worship for literary greats William Shakespeare (who lived nearby) and John Milton. Founded in the late 12th century, the church shared in the rich history of London, surviving both the English Reformation, Restoration and numerous civil wars.

However, on Sept. 2, 1666, the church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, which swept through St. Mary's parish, burning for five days. When the fire was finally subdued, almost the entire City of London north of the River Thames – including St. Mary Aldermanbury – lay in ruins.

With so much of London in ruins, reconstruction of the many churches destroyed in the fire was of secondary importance – many would never be rebuilt. However, St. Mary, Aldermanbury became the ninth church restored, placing it among the earliest. With approval for rebuilding granted in 1670, famed architect Christopher Wren began renovating the church in 1672 with the removal of 1,068 cubic yards of rubble. Wren rebuilt the church on part of the old foundation with as much original stones as could be salvaged—saving both time and money. By 1677, the work was essentially complete; the cupola was added to the tower in 1679.

The carved walnut pulpit.

St. Mary Aldermanbury's location near the heart of London again proved dangerous during World War II at the height of the Blitz. On Sunday evening, Dec. 29, 1940, the German Luftwaffe mounted a massive air raid, dropping 20,000 incendiary bombs on London.  The German command planned the raid to coincide with low tide to impede fire-fighting. It worked. The shortage of water and the scale of the attack forced firemen to let parts of the city burn. At 6:45 p.m., St. Mary's suffered a direct hit by an incendiary bomb quickly setting the church ablaze. 

That night, 13 Christopher Wren churches shared St. Mary's fate. By morning, only its blackened shell and tower stood – the roof, the interior, and all furnishings destroyed. In the war's aftermath, there were neither the funds nor the need to rebuild all of London's destroyed churches. After standing as a ruin for 20 years, St. Mary Aldermanbury joined the list of parish churches slated for demolition.
It was at this point that Westminster College stepped in to save the church from destruction. Churchill's inspiration for the British people during the Blitz made the reconstruction of St. Mary Aldermanbury, itself a victim of the Blitz, a fitting memorial to the man. 

"It may symbolize in the eyes of the English-speaking peoples," Churchill remarked, "the ideals of Anglo-American association on which rest, now as before, so many of our hopes for peace and the future of mankind."

It took four years to finalize preparations for the project, and to raise the necessary $2 million (more than $10 million today) to make the move a reality. Actor Richard Burton was a major promoter and donor, appearing on 'The Tonight Show' with Jack Paar on NBC, who made a direct appeal.

In 1965, the removal process from London began. Workers carefully labeled each of the 7,000 stones, noting their location in the church. More than 700 tons of blocks were shipped to Fulton via boat and rail. In the moving process, the carefully ordered stones became scrambled. Builders in Fulton faced a jigsaw puzzle that spread over an acre.

The foundation stone was laid in Oct. 1966, 300 years after the Great Fire of London, and by May 1967, the last stone was in place. However, the project was far from complete. A meticulous re-creation of the church's interior required another two years of work. English woodcarvers, working from pre-war photographs, created carvings for the pulpit, baptismal font, and balcony.
The Blenko Glass Co.  manufactured the glass for the windows and a Dutch firm cast five new bronze bells for the tower.

A bust of Churchill overlooks a staircase to the church undercroft.

After nearly five years of work on what The Times of London called "perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture," dedication ceremonies for St. Mary's and the National Churchill Museum were held on May 7, 1969. During the course of the ceremonies, the Rev. Anthony Tremlett, the Bishop of Dover, England, re-hallowed St. Mary's as a place of worship.
Since that time, St. Mary Aldermanbury has continued to serve as a focus of religious life and history.

The completely restored church was dedicated on May 7, 1969 as the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library. The dedication address was delivered by British Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Other dignitaries in attendance included Missouri Gov. Warren E. Hearnes, former Gov. John Dalton, and representing the president was W. Averell Harriman, at-large ambassador.

On the weekend of May 3-5, the college will hold
a series of ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the memorial.

"This 50th anniversary weekend is designed to celebrate this extraordinary museum and commemorate the legacy of Winston Churchill," said Timothy Riley, director and chief curator of the museum. "His leadership -- and his statesmanship -- continue to inform and inspire us today, just as they did when he visited here 73 years ago, just six months after the end of World War II."

A portion of the Berlin Wall, which was later sculpted by Churchill's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.



On Nov. 9, 1990, Edwina Sandys, granddaughter of Winston Churchill, introduced her sculpture "Breakthrough" to the public at the National Churchill Museum. Made from eight sections of the Berlin Wall, "Breakthrough" not only serves to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also to memorialize Churchill's "Sinews of Peace."

"I had always wanted to make a sculpture for the Churchill Memorial at Westminster," Sandys said. "I thought I'd better go straight [to Berlin] while there was some wall left."

In 1990, with the support of Westminster College, Sandys and her husband, Richard Kaplan, had traveled to East Berlin to secure portions of the wall. Upon their arrival in Berlin, however, the couple realized the sculpture would be costly, as 4-foot-wide sections were selling for $60,000 to $200,000.

Fortunately, East German officials, intrigued by the idea of an erecting a Berlin Wall monument at the location of Churchill's 1946 speech, allowed Sandys to choose eight sections of the wall as a gift to Westminster College. Sandys modified the original sections by cutting out large male and female silhouettes from the wall—these cut-outs outs exemplified the newly-opened communication between East and West. 

A statue of Winston Churchill stands below the steeple of St. Mary Aldermanbury.


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