As seen in The News-Herald

By Paris Wolfe

In 1946, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke at tiny Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a simple reason: Because the college president — with a nudge from then-President Harry S Truman — asked him to. Sometimes that’s all you must do: ask. (And have powerful friends.)

Sometimes you get more than you asked for.

That was the case with Westminster College in south-central Missouri. A long-time statesman who governed Britain through World War II, Churchill gave one of the most significant speeches of his career on a cool, cloudy day in March at this small-town college. More than 25,000 came to the 8,000-person town to hear him.

Among many things, the “Sinews of Peace” speech introduced two significant political terms to the common lexicon: “the iron curtain” and “a special relationship.”

The first term, “iron curtain,” came as a warning about the spread of communism. Churchill said, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

The second term, “a special relationship,” described a British-American alliance that runs broad and deep. And, in Churchill’s estimation, would “require not only the growing friendship and mutual understanding between our two vast but kindred Systems of society, but the continuance of the intimate relationship between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers, the similarity of weapons and manuals of instructions, and to the interchange of officers and cadets at technical colleges.”

Today, visitors to the National Churchill Museum learn about this speech in context of his life and times. The museum’s 13 exhibit rooms detail life with Churchill’s nanny, his education and journalism career. They include experiences in World War I and leadership during World War II

The museum is housed in the bottom level of a centuries-old British church — St. Mary the Virgin of Aldermanbury. Originally built in 12th-century London, the church burned in 1666 during the city’s Great Fire. It was rebuilt by acclaimed English architect Christopher Wren. The interior was destroyed by German bombing in World War II. The remaining limestone façade was slated for destruction in the early 1960s.

Serendipitously, a committee at Westminster College was researching an appropriate memorial to honor the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s visit. During a break, a committee member flipped through Life magazine and saw news of the church’s destruction.

College President Robert Davidson asked London leaders if Westminster College could bring the building to Fulton. The answer, after approval by British church and state, was “yes.”

With much determination, 7,000 blocks then were disassembled, packed in shipping crates and sent to the United States. Shipping, fortuitously, was free, as the blocks were used for ballast. From October 1966 to May 1967, the blocks were reassembled. Missing or damaged blocks were replaced by others from the original British quarry.

Church visitors can touch the limestone blocks and Corinthian interior columns that may have been touched by notable figures such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Wren.

The influence of the “Sinews of Peace” speech doesn’t end with relocating the church. Over the decades, significant figures in American and international history, including former President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, have given foreign policy speeches at the small college.

A circle that started when Churchill told of an iron curtain, aka communism, falling across Eastern Europe ends with the falling of one of communism’s most visible symbols — the wall that separated East and West Berlin.

Who knew all this history lives in a small Midwestern town?