London: Central Press Photos Ltd., February 1956. Photograph. This is an original press photo of Sir Winston S. Churchill attending the 21 February 1956 funeral of Lord Trenchard, the first Chief of Air Staff and instrumental in firmly establishing the Royal Air Force. This image measures 10 x 8 in (25.4 x 20.3 cm) on matte photo paper. Condition is very good minus. The paper is crisp, clean, and free of scuffing. The verso bears the copyright stamp of “Central Press Photos Ltd.”, a received stamp of The Daily Telegraph from February 1956, and a typed caption. The original caption is titled “FUNERAL OF LORD TRENCHARD” and reads “21.2.56 SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL leaving the Abbey after attending the funeral service of Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Lord Trenchard.”
One year Churchill’s senior, Hugh Montague Trenchard (1873-1956) was a central figure in the development of the RAF. Like Churchill, Trenchard had served as a cavalry officer. In 1912, after two decades of military service, Trenchard learned to fly. At the Central Flying School in Upavon he again met Churchill, an old polo opponent. They shared both personal passion for flying and a keen, perceptive interest in flight’s military potential.
The First World War saw Trenchard command the Royal Flying Corps in France. In 1918 he served briefly as Britain’s first Chief of the Air Staff. He returned to the post in 1919 at the invitation of then Secretary of State for War and Air, Winston Churchill, remaining until 1930. He spent the decade securing and shaping the RAF that would play such a crucial role in the next world war. Both Churchill and Trenchard might lay claim to fathering the RAF. In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, Churchill and Trenchard labored together to firmly establish and viably sustain the fledgling service. At that time, "The Air Ministry was small and new; it had few friends." (Gilbert, Vol. IV, p. 208) Nonetheless, both men overcame resistance to build resources and organizational capacity.
"The problem of forming the Royal Air Force on a peace basis differs in many essentials from that which confronts the older services. The necessities of war created it in a night, but the economies of peace have to a large extent caused it to wither in a day, and we are now faced with the necessity of replacing it with a plant of deeper root." (Churchill & Trenchard, Permanent Organization of the Royal Air Force, 1919) Churchill and Trenchard’s vision of air power as integral to an effective future military was prescient; two decades later, Prime Minister Winston Churchill would famously praise the British pilots ("Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.") who played the vital role in preventing Nazi invasion.
Even before the First World War, Churchill was fully engaged in powered flight’s possibilities. As first Lord of the Admiralty, he “sought out the small band of adventurous officers who were the pioneers of naval aviation” and “In 1912 he founded the Royal Naval Air Service – a precursor of the Royal Flying Corps and, later, the Royal Air Force… Because of his efforts, England became the first country to equip a plane with a machine gun, and the first to launch an airborne torpedo.” (Manchester, The Last Lion, Vol. I, p.444)
Churchill’s farewell to Trenchard in February 1956 came in the twilight of Churchill’s own life. Less than a year before, on 5 April 1955, Churchill had resigned his second and final premiership at the age of 80. During his final decade, Churchill passed "into a living national memorial" of the time he had lived and the Nation, Empire, and free world he had served. As can be read in Churchill’s countenance in this image, he would spend his final decade saying goodbye to many things - friends and colleagues, the power and majesty of Imperial Britain, and his own vitality and place in world affairs. Churchill’s own death came on 24 January 1965, honored with a remarkably elaborate state funeral. Item #005452