Baltimore: The Baltimore Sun, 1955. Photograph. This original Associated Press Wirephoto captures eighty-year-old Sir Winston S. Churchill on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in his final hours as Prime Minister as he prepared to depart for Buckingham Palace, where he submitted his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.
The gelatin silver print on matte photo paper measures 8.125 x 8.625 inches (20.6 x 21.9 cm). Condition is very good, the paper showing little wear and only slight curling. The image bears extensive evidence of art department's modification, including crop marks and augmentation of the background as well as the lines of Churchill’s jacket and hat. The lower left of the image bears the notation “AP WIREPHOTO”. The verso of the photo is labeled, in print, “SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL RESIGNATION” and bears ink and pencil notation, as well as two received dates stamps – one in red reading “APR 6 1955 E” and the other in blue reading “1955 APR 6 AM 8:55”. An accompanying document testifies that this print is an original archive photograph of The Baltimore Sun.
By April 1955, Churchill’s Parliamentary career had spanned more than half a century. During every decade of that half century Churchill had held Cabinet office, including two premierships spanning more than eight and a half years at 10 Downing Street.
The night before this image was captured, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip paid Churchill an unprecedented honor, dining with him at 10 Downing Street. Churchill's Private Secretary, Jock Colville, recorded that after the Queen left Churchill "sat on his bed, still wearing his Garter, Order of Merit and knee-breeches. For several minutes he did not speak... Then suddenly he... said with vehemence: "I don't believe that Anthony [Eden] can do it." (Colville, The Fringes of Power, pages 707-9) He was right. But perhaps he was also voicing the sentiment of his secretary, Elizabeth Gilliatt: “I had wished he could die in office.” (Gilbert, Vol, VIII, p.1125)
At noon the next day, Churchill held his last Cabinet "almost fifteen years after the first Cabinet of his wartime administration, and almost fifty years since he had first sat in Cabinet." (Gilbert, VIII, p.1122) Then Churchill strode out the front door of 10 Downing Street – the moment captured by this image – and went to Buckingham Palace to resign.
A final bit of theater lay ahead in the hours after this photo was taken. When Churchill resigned, the Queen offered him a dukedom (having earlier ascertained from Colville that he would refuse the offer – in keeping with the notion that no further dukedoms would be given to non-Royal personages). Fortunately for all, the greater temptation of ending his life in the House of Commons caused Churchill to decline. Churchill later told Colville, “I very nearly accepted, I was so moved by her beauty and her charm and the kindness with which she made this offer… But finally I remembered that I must die as I have always been – Winston Churchill.” Unaware that Colville himself had reassured the Crown that the offer would be refused, Churchill noted “…it’s an odd thing, but she seemed almost relieved.”
The ceremonial offer of the dukedom aside, the Queen’s regard for Churchill was clearly genuine. The Queen wrote that same day to Churchill's wife: "Though I don't think it was intentional that your kind invitation to dinner should be a farewell occasion, in fact it could not have been more perfectly arranged, coming just before today's resignation. I hope you will both now have time for rest and relaxation in the sun..." Churchill became “a living national memorial" of the time he had lived and the Nation, Empire, and free world he had served. A decade later, the Queen personally directed that Churchill lie in State in Westminster Hall and attended his elaborate service in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Item #006006