Audience also Salutes Legendary Eagle Squadrons, Yankee Flyers Who Aided Great Britain
The criss-crossing Hollywood search lights could be seen for miles away signaling a major event was about to take place Thursday night inside the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, part of the National Churchill Museum.
As people strolled to the church, they were photographed in formal attire “walking the red carpet” with a backdrop of movie posters, as the iconic statue of Churchill outside the entrance to the museum kept careful watch.
Inside, the soundtrack from one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Darkest Hour, echoed off the interior stone walls and high arched windows of the only structure in North America that witnessed and survived the German Blitzkrieg at the start of World War II.
More than 150 invited guests and reporters watched the full-length motion picture, which explores the tumultuous first weeks of Sir Winston Churchill’s premiership in May 1940 after Hitler had invaded Poland and France, and was preparing to bomb London.
The movie stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, was directed by Joe Wright, and is set for its national premiere in New York City and Los Angeles on Wednesday, November 22. It will be released in Missouri and the rest of the country in December.
“When we approached the distributors of the movie, Focus Features, about this very special place – the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury – and its connection to Churchill, the City of London, and its bombing by the Germans on Dec. 29, 1940, they said we ‘must’ show it in the church,” said Timothy Riley, the Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum.
“After all, it’s the only structure in North America that was bombed during the ‘Blitz’ in London. So, there is a natural, highly symbolic connection between our magnificent church and museum and Darkest Hour, which reflects the challenges Churchill faced in rallying the people of Great Britain to defend their country against Hitler and the Nazis at all cost.”
Riley said after the church was hit with an incendiary bomb on Dec. 29, 1940, it sat in ruins until the early 1960s, when Westminster College acquired the building, disassembled it, and moved it – all 7,000 stones – by ship and rail to the Westminster campus, where it was carefully reconstructed just as it stood from 1677 to the bombing in 1940 at Aldermanbury and Love Lane in Central London.
It was reconstructed at Westminster to commemorate Winston Churchill’s famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech there in 1946, Riley said.
Before the movie began, Air Force Col. Christopher Sage, Commander of the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Goldsboro, N.C., and Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. William Lane Callaway, historian for the 8th Air Force, Joint Global Strike Operations Center, Barksdale Air Force Base, in Shreveport, LA, addressed the audience, and saluted the Eagle Squadrons’ 75th anniversary of joining the U.S. Army Air Corp (later renamed the U.S. Air Force) in 1942.
The three Eagle Squadrons – a legendary band of rogue American flyers — consisted of 244 Americans who volunteered to fly with Britain’s Royal Air Force to fight the Nazi’s before the U.S. entered WWII. At the time, they risked losing their American citizenship for fighting with a foreign entity.
One of those pilots honored by Col. Sage and retired Lt. Col. Callaway Thursday night was Lt. John Lutz, of Fulton, MO, who was killed in action over the North Sea.
When the U.S. did enter the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, most of the members of the Eagle Squadrons joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, and were assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, now a part of the 8th Air Force.
In 1992, surviving members of the Eagle Squadrons designated St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury church as their official chapel.
A brief video of Churchill’s great-grandson, Randolph Churchill, was shown before the movie. Churchill offered a salute to the Eagle Squadrons on behalf of his family. Watch the video and view photos of the event below.