by Jenni Frazer
Gordon Brown has revealed plans were in place to elevate historian Sir Martin Gilbert to the House of Lords before his untimely death, as he led tributes to the revered historian at a memorial service in London.
Large numbers of the Churchill family, diplomats, Jewish community leaders and former colleagues of Sir Martin’s on the Chilcot Inquiry into the causes of the Iraq War were among 600 guests at Western Marble Arch Synagogue on Tuesday night.
The service paid tribute to the many facets of Sir Martin’s life: as the master biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, as a supremely gifted academic scholar, as a lucid chronicler of Holocaust stories, as the author of a record 88 books, and above all as a family man.
The former prime minister and his wife Sarah were close friends of Sir Martin, described by his widow, Esther, as “a man of passion and compassion”. He spoke in heartfelt terms about the aurthor, who had, he said, “helped me again and again,” and was “the most prolific scholar of our time”. He had helped Mr Brown to write the speech he made to the Knesset in 2008, and it was no coincidence, said the politician, that both he and the then Israeli premier Ehud Olmert had chosen a Martin Gilbert book to present to each other.
His next book, said Brown, was due to have been “a chronicle of our period in government”, and pondered on what such a book might have contained.
Like others paying tribute – former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, said, “He gave a voice to the voiceless.” Historian Sir Richard Evans, who had been Sir Martin’s last undergraduate student at Oxford, and Winston Churchill’s great-grandson, Randolph Churchill – Mr Brown spoke of Sir Martin’s meticulous attention to detail, his love of maps and his insistence on going to archive sources.
Holocaust survivors in the congregation recalled his signature work on re-telling their stories, while it fell to Randolph Churchill to brandish one of Sir Martin’s characteristic postcards, sent to friends and family far and wide on a regular basis.
The singer Richard Winch provided a reminder of Sir Martin’s pride in his identity with three songs which he had previously performed at Sir Martin’s 70th birthday celebrations – London Pride, There’ll Always be an England, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s For He’s An Englishman.
Rabbi Nicky Liss, minister of Highgate Synagogue, was a close family friend and had helped organise his burial in Israel. He chaired the proceedings and said that plans were in place to make a permanent memorial at the synagogue which is being rebuilt. Western Marble Arch’s Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld sang “El Maale Rachamim” to close the service.