When my uncle was a boy, he said, he was leading a horse down a hill near North Weald in Essex. The horse was pulling a wagon loaded with cabbages, and my uncle had got down, he said, to assist the horse because the hill was a steep one. The war was on. The hill was on a quiet country lane, so he was surprised to see three limousines approaching together in convoy at speed. As the limousines drew level, they slowed to a walking pace so as not to frighten the horse. Seated in the back of the middle car, his face close to the window, and staring out, curious to see what was causing the delay, was Winston Churchill.
My uncle was nine or ten at the time, and he found himself staring directly into that famous, pugnacious face. The Prime Minister looked him in the eye, grinned and gave him the two-fingered V for victory salute. Then the car accelerated forward and he was gone.
My uncle told me this as we walked back to his smallholding from the nearest village, where we’d waited on the pavement, clutching our little sky-blue prostate cancer awareness flags, to see the Tour of Britain cycling race pass by. (If we’d blinked we’d have missed it.) That Churchill, even in an idle moment, and unobserved, would raise his game to rally the spirits of a small boy leading a horse in a country lane, added to his greatness in my eyes.
Wartime reminiscence continued back in the kitchen, where his elder sister was making herself a cup of tea. During the London Blitz, my grandfather moved his family from the relative safety and tranquillity of the countryside just outside London, into east London, to take advantage of the fall in property prices.