Winston Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert dies

Sir Martin Gilbert Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Martin Gilbert was described as an "extraordinarily eminent historian" by Sir John Chilcot

Sir Martin Gilbert, historian and biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, has died after a battle with cancer.

The death was announced by Sir John Chilcot, head of the Iraq War inquiry Sir Martin was also a panel member of.

Sir John described Sir Martin, 78, as an "extraordinarily eminent historian" and said the inquiry had benefited from his "wisdoms and insights".

Sir John told MPs of Sir Martin's death as he appeared at a Commons committee to discuss the Chilcot inquiry.

He had been called to the Foreign Affairs Committee to explain delays in publishing the inquiry's official report.

Sir John said he wanted to pass on his "personal condolences" to Sir Martin's family.

Leading historian

In addition to being the official biographer of Winston Churchill, Sir Martin wrote books on the Holocaust, the first and second world wars and Jewish history.

He was born in London in 1936 but was evacuated to Canada as a toddler when the Second World War took hold, returning to live near Oxford as the war drew to a end.

It was in 1962 as a research fellow at Oxford University that he began his work on the life of the war-time leader.

A year after being elected a junior research fellow at Merton College, Oxford, Churchill's son Randolph, who was working on the biography of his father, asked Sir Martin to join his research team.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Martin was asked by Winston Churchill's son, Randolph, to join a team researching his father's life

Following Churchill's death in 1965, and with approval from Randolph, Sir Martin wrote his first book on the former prime minister, a single-volume entitled Winston Churchill that was released in 1966.

After Randolph Churchill died in 1968, Sir Martin was asked to take over his work to complete the Churchill biography, including the main and document volumes.

He would end up publishing numerous volumes of Churchill's biography over the next 20 years.

But it was his book The Holocaust, rather than his writings on Churchill, that generated "by far the most correspondence and contact with individuals whom I would never otherwise have met", Sir Martin said.

This gave him material and ideas he would incorporate into subsequent Holocaust-related books, he said.

Following his death, numerous tributes have been paid to Sir Martin, who was an honorary fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a distinguished fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan.

Michael Wegier, chief executive of Jewish charity United Jewish Israel Appeal, said: "Sir Martin had an extraordinary capacity to command vast amounts of material and take the reader on a journey that created coherence through the detail.

"As we say in Jewish tradition - may his memory be a blessing."

The Holocaust Education Trust said in a tweet: "Very sad to hear of the passing of Sir Martin Gilbert, leading Holocaust historian and our great friend.

"Our thoughts are with his family."

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