Four-year-old boy who gave Churchill a cigar

Gavin Hill looks at the picture of a small boy handing Winston Churchill a cigar at an airfield in the West Midlands.

"If only I had asked my father more questions when he was alive," he muses.

About a year ago, Gavin's father Richard had written him a letter recalling a meeting with Winston Churchill as a child.

In 1949, the former war leader was in Wolverhampton to address a Conservative Party rally at Molineux. And as his plane touched down at Pendeford aerodrome, he was greeted by a reception committee near the runway. Among the great and the good were two small boys who each handed the former – and future – prime minister a cigar. One of them was Gavin's father, Richard.

But while Richard's letter mentioned his meeting with Churchill, he didn't elaborate further. And it was only after Richard's death in September, aged 75, that his sister – Gavin's aunt – revealed she had two photographs of the young boy meeting the great statesman.

"It's strange," says Gavin, who now lives in Manchester. "He never talked about it, yet it obviously stayed with him enough for him to write about it in a letter."

Gavin, 52, who now lives in Manchester, is trying to piece together the story behind what his father was doing there, and how the four-year-old ended up face-to-face with Churchill.

"As far as I know, nobody in the family was interested in politics," he said.

"I believe the woman in the floral dress may have been his mother, and I think the man with the moustache may have been Lord Salisbury, but it would be interesting to know who the other people are.

"I think my grandfather may have had a link with Pendeford, my aunt said he flew from there, and my father's godfather was a captain with BOAC and former World War Two pilot. But we don't know much more than that or if these things are at all relevant."

At the time of the visit, Churchill was leader of the opposition, seeking a path back to power having lost the 1945 General Election to Labour's Clement Attlee by a landslide.

Describing his arrival, the Express & Star reported:

“The sun was shining and the lawns in front of the aero club house were gay with the summer dresses of the women, mostly wives of members, for entrance to the airfield was strictly controlled.”

The newspaper described how children were waving Union Flags as his plane, a silver Dove called "Clumba", taxied to a stop just before noon.

First person to greet him as he stepped down from the plane was Sir Robert Bird, president of the Midland Union of Conservative Associations, and chairman of South-West Conservative Association. He met Wolverhampton's Chief Constable Sir Norman Goodchild, before walking through the clubhouse to a waiting car.

He was driven to Wolverhampton Town Hall along what is now the A449 Stafford Road, which was "thickly lined with Wolverhampton people." Churchill stood up in the back of his open car and took off his hat to wave at the crowd.

Large crowds swarmed around the town hall for a glimpse of the man as he got out of the car and walked up the steps, stopping at the time to wave and make his famous ‘V’ sign.

Not everyone was happy to see him, however. Members of Wolverhampton’s Labour Party handed out a leaflet written by their agent W Justyn Jones containing speeches made by Mr Churchill between 1908 and 1948. The pamphlet read: “When you have read this you will understand why it is that sensible people vote Labour.”

Anti-Churchill slogans had also been chalked on walls near Dunstall Park

The Tory leader first visited the town hall – now the city's magistrates court – where he was met by mayor Councillor Harry Bowdler and his wife, the mayoress, as well as businessman and philanthropist Sir Charles Mander and deputy mayor Councillor Ted Lane.

Following the reception, he was then taken to lunch at the Victoria Hotel when there was a sudden rush by the crowd.

“The leading people, patting him on the back, shouted ‘good old Churchill’ and ‘good old Winston’, but they were soon controlled," the paper reported.

But it was his address to a crowd of 25,000 supporters at Molineux which was the main event, and probably helped set him on the road to victory at the 1951 election.

Gavin, a former journalist, says his father and grandfather both led interesting lives.

"My grandfather owned a very large ladder manufacturing company, and the family lived a Showell Lane in Penn," he says.

"My father inherited the business, and he sold it, making a lot of money, and he retired at 28, and travelled around to different countries.

"He led quite an extraordinary life, he stayed at Richard Burton's house, and had lots of interesting experiences, he was a rally driver in the 1960s.

In his later years, he returned to the West Midlands, settling in Bilbrook, working as a rep for the Greenhous motor group.

"He almost had two lives, the one as a wealthy, exciting existence, and the other as quite a humble life living in Bilbrook, but he didn't talk much about the past," Gavin adds.

*Do you have any memories about Churchill's visit to Wolverhampton, or have any information about the people in the pictures? Please telephone 01952 241491 or email Mark.andrews@mnamedia.co.uk

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