It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that few historical events have been the subject of as much speculation and controversy as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, 50 years ago today.
By one recent estimate, there have been as many as 40,000 books on the subject, in addition to several lengthy official investigations. Our counterparts at the US National Archives have a dedicated collection of assassination-related material which contains more than 5 million pages of records as well as photos, motion pictures, sound recordings and artefacts. All but a tiny proportion (around one per cent) are open to the public and even these should be released by 2017.
Our own collection of JFK-related records does not approach anything like that scale, but we do have an interesting selection of documents including PREM 11/4582 which is now available to view online for the first time.
The documents in the file vividly illustrate the sense of shock experienced by the political establishment on this side of the Atlantic. A draft of the Prime Minister’s address to the nation begins: ‘You have heard the dreadful news. I find it almost impossible…to accept the fact that President Kennedy is dead’. Harold and Dorothy Macmillan’s personal message to Mrs Kennedy is equally stark: ‘We are numbed by the shock of Jack’s death. Nothing we can say can console you’. The file also contains Foreign Office reports of reaction from around the world and arrangements for British representation at the President’s funeral in Washington DC and the memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral.