"Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat"
"Be Ye Men of Valour"
"Their Finest Hour"
Excerpts from selected speeches delivered in the spring of 1940 Printed in NEVER GIVE IN! The Best of Winston Churchill's Speeches Published in 2003
After Adolf Hitler was named chancellor (chief officer) of Germany in 1933, the German government stepped up efforts to expand its territory in Europe. An extremely dangerous leader who seemed to have a spellbinding grasp on his followers, Hitler had spent the previous decade building up the National Socialist German Workers' Party (or Nazi Party for short). The Nazis encouraged the growing nationalist movement in Germany—a movement that glorified all things German and demanded blind devotion to the party's beliefs.
British prime minister Neville Chamberlain (the chief officer of the British government) sought to avoid war between Germany and Britain. To appease Hitler, he gave in to his demands to add the German-speaking sections of Czechoslovakia to his territory. As it turned out, this alone did not satisfy the cunning German leader's appetite for power and land. By March 1939 Germany claimed the rest of Czechoslovakia. It became clear that Hitler could not be trusted. Chamberlain resigned his post and Winston Churchill, unyielding and bold, was appointed prime minister of Britain on May 10, 1940.
Churchill's first job was to form a new British government, called a coalition government. Members of all political parties—the tradition-minded Conservatives, the reform-seeking Liberals, and the workers' Labour Party—would play a role in the new government under Churchill.
World War II had already begun. In September 1939 Germany had invaded Poland. Great Britain and France responded to this aggression by declaring war on Germany. Eventually, the leading powers of the world would align (take sides) with Germany or with England. Germany, Italy, and Japan became known as the Axis Powers, and the forces that fought against Germany—France, Britain, and later the Soviet Union and the United States—were called the Allied Powers.
The Nazis' rise to power was tied directly to the staggering defeat suffered by Germany in World War I (1914-18). The First World War, sometimes referred to as the Great War, was a fight for power and influence. Germany tried to stake its claim as a leading European power through warfare. The long and bloody conflict concluded in 1918 with a full German retreat. World War I came to an official end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (named for the French palace where peace negotiations were conducted; pronounced "ver-SIGH") in 1919. The agreement stripped Germany of much of its territory, severely limited the size of its army and navy, demanded that Germany admit responsibility for starting the war, and required the defeated nation to make payments, or "reparations," to the opposing forces—especially to France— for the damage it had caused.
These penalties caused a serious economic decline, unemployment, and political turmoil in Germany. The Great Depression—a period of extreme economic slowdown that began in the United States in 1929 and spread to Europe in the early 1930s—only compounded problems.
Hitler took advantage of this chaos and suffering. He promised the German people that their nation would rise up from disgrace and become all-powerful. World War II can be viewed as another struggle for power, an attempt by the Germans to shake off past defeats and achieve European—and eventually world—domination.
In August 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, an agreement that the two countries would not fight each other. On September 1, 1939, only a week after the pact went into effect, Hitler launched a German attack on Poland. (Under the terms of the nonaggression pact, the Soviet Union would not interfere with Germany's actions in Poland.) Obligated by earlier guarantees to assist various Eastern and Central European nations in case of a German invasion, Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. It was already too late to save Poland—Germany conquered it by September 24. The stunning victory was called blitzkrieg (pronounced "BLITS-kreeg," meaning "lightning war" in German).
On May 10, 1940, Germany attacked Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (a very small territory surrounded by France to the south, Belgium to the west, and Germany to the north and east). According to a special British press cable published in the New York Times, it was "generally believed" that the German "objective [was] to take the Netherlands and Belgium, solidify their positions there and then concentrate their entire attack against Britain."
Germany also invaded France on May 10, and conquered it in another blitzkrieg. The first bombing in France occurred in May at Bron Airdrom, an airport near the city of Lyon. German troops entered the capital city of Paris on June 14, 1940. Shortly thereafter, all of northern and western France was occupied by Germany (taken over by German troops and controlled by the German government). As reported in the New York Times, French government officials felt there was "no longer … any possibility for a nation within striking range of Germany to remain neutral." In the coming months more nations would be forced to join the war against Hitler.
Three speeches written by British prime minister Winston Churchill in the spring of 1940 embody the nation's fierce determination to fight Hitler to the very end. These speeches—titled "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat," "Be Ye Men of Valour," and "Their Finest Hour"—were delivered in a five-week period between May 13 and June 18, 1940. Together, they chronicle England's early role in the war, document the escalation of the conflict, and reflect the spirit of pride, purpose, and confidence that Churchill inspired in the British people.
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Things to remember while reading the excerpts of Churchill's speeches:,
- Note that each speech was named for a key line that best captured Churchill's point.
- Churchill was appointed prime minister of Britain on May 10, 1940, just three days before delivering the first of these speeches to the House of Commons. (The elected House of Commons and the nonelected House of Lords make up the British Parliament—the supreme legislative, or law-making, body in Britain. The more powerful House of Commons is considered the ruling chamber of the king-dom's legislature.)
- Churchill became prime minister of Britain when he was sixty-five years old—an age when most of his colleagues were retiring.
- The "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" speech is considered a classic—a model of Churchill's gift for public speaking and a testament to his tireless pursuit of victory.
- A few days before Churchill gave this speech, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. Churchill was working to shape a unified Parliament that would best lead the nation through this perilous time. He wanted to prepare British citizens for the long ordeal ahead and used "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat" to convey a message of urgency and commitment to the war effort.
- In his "Be Ye Men of Valour" speech—his first speech to be broadcast to the whole nation since his appointment as prime minister—Churchill calls on the British people to rally around the cause of freedom. He assures them that Germany will be conquered.
- Prime Minister Churchill's "Their Finest Hour" speech is set against the realization that France had indeed been devastated by the Germans' violent and forceful attacks. After France fell (surrendered) to the Germans in late June of 1940, England was Hitler's next target in a larger scheme to dominate all of Europe. Recognizing England's need for support in the war, Churchill would forge close ties with U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Most observers rank "Their Finest Hour" among Churchill's best-remembered wartime speeches.
- Churchill was known for his fiery temper, caustic wit, and astounding sense of self-confidence. He used all of these qualities to his advantage as England's prime minister, denouncing Hitler as a "crocodile" and motivating crowds with his rousing speeches and two-fingered "V-for-victory" sign.
"Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat"
Delivered to the House of Commons, May 13, 1940
… It must be remembered that we are in thepreliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history, that we are in action at many points in Norway and in Holland, that we have to be prepared in theMediterranean, that the air battle is continuous and that many preparations have to be made here at home… I would say to the House, as I said to those [ministers] who have joined the Government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'
We have before us an ordeal of the mostgrievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstroustyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be… '
"Be Ye Men of Valour"
Broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), May 19, 1940
I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hour for the life of our country, of our Empire, of our Allies, and, above all, of the cause of Freedom. A tremendous battle is raging in France andFlanders . The Germans, by a remarkable combination of air bombing and heavily armoured tanks, have broken through the French defences north of theMaginot Line, and strong columns of their armoured vehicles areravaging the open country, which for the first day or two was without defenders… The regroupment of the French armies to make head against, and also to strike at, this intruding wedge has been proceeding for several days, largely assisted by the magnificent efforts of the Royal Air Force.
We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the presence of these armoured vehicles in unexpected places behind our lines.…
It would be foolish, however, to disguise thegravity of the hour. It would be still more foolish to lose heart or courage or to suppose that well-trained, well-equipped armies numbering three or four millions of men can be overcome in the space of a few weeks, or even months.…
In the air—often at serious odds—often at oddshitherto thought overwhelming—we have been clawing down three or four to one of our enemies; and the relative balance of the British and German Air Forces is now considerably more favourable to us than at the beginning of the battle. In cutting down the German bombers, we are fighting our own battle as well as that of France.…
We must expect that as soon as stability is reached on theWestern Front, the bulk of thathideous apparatus of aggression which gashed Holland into ruin and slavery in a few days, will be turned upon us. I am sure I speak for all when I say we are ready to face it; to endure it; and toretaliate against it—to any extent that the unwritten laws of war permit… If the battle is to be won, we must provide our men with ever-increasing quantities of the weapons and ammunition they need.…
Our task is not only to win the battle—but to win the War. After this battle in Franceabates its force, there will come the battle for our island—for all that Britain is, and all that Britain means. That will be the struggle… The interests of property, the hours of labour, are nothing compared with the struggle for life and honour, for right and freedom, to which we have vowed ourselves.
I have received from the Chiefs of the French Republic, and in particular from itsindomitable Prime Minister, M. Reynaud, the most sacred pledges that whatever happens they will fight to the end, be it bitter or be it glorious. Nay, if we fight to the end, it can only be glorious.
Having receivedhis Majesty 'scommission, I have found an administration of men and women of every party and of almost every point of view. We have differed and quarrelled in the past; but now one bond unites us all—to wage war until victory is won, and never to surrender ourselves toservitude and shame, whatever the cost and the agony may be. This is one of the most awe—striking periods in the long history of France and Britain. It is also beyond doubt the mostsublime . Side by side, … the British and French peoples have advanced to rescue not only Europe but mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened and stained the pages of history. Behind them—behind us—behind the armies and fleets of Britain and France—gather a group of shattered States andbludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians—upon all of whom the long night ofbarbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.
Today isTrinity Sunday . Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: 'Arm yourselves, and be ye men ofvalour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.'
"Their Finest Hour"
Delivered to the House of Commons, June 18, 1940
… I made it perfectly clear [afortnight ago] that whatever happened in France would make no difference to theresolve of Britain and the British Empire to fight on, 'if necessary for years, if necessary alone.' …
During the great battle in France, we gave very powerful and continuous aid to the French army, both by fighters and bombers; but in spite of every kind of pressure we never would allow the entire metropolitan fighter strength of the Air Force to be consumed. This decision was painful, but it was also right, because thefortunes of the battle in France could not have been decisively affected even if we had thrown in our entire fighter force . That battle was lost by the unfortunatestrategical opening, by the extraordinary and unforeseen power of the armoured columns and by the greatpreponderance of the German army in numbers. Our fighter Air Force might easily have been exhausted as a mere accident in that great struggle, and then we should have found ourselves at the present time in a very serious plight. But as it is … our fighter strength is stronger at the present time relatively to the Germans, who have suffered terrible losses, than it has ever been; and consequently we believe ourselves possessed of the capacity to continue the war in the air under better conditions than we have ever experienced before.…
There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the bomber forces of the enemy. It is true that the German bomber force is superior in numbers to ours; but we have a very large bomber force also, which we shall use to strike at military targets in Germanywithout intermission . I do not at allunderrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show themselves capable of standing up to it.…
In what way has our position worsened since the beginning of the war? It has worsened by the fact that the Germans have conquereda large part of the coastline of Western Europe, and many small countries have been overrun by them. Thisaggravates the possibilities of air attack andadds to our naval preoccupations . It in no way diminishes, but on the contrary definitely increases, the power of our long-distance blockade… If [Germany's] invasion [of Great Britain] hasbecome moreimminent, as no doubt it has, we, being relieved from the task of maintaining a large enemy in France, have far larger and more efficient forces to meet it.
If Hitler can bring under hisdespotic control the industries of the countries he has conquered, this will add greatly to his already vast armament output. On the other hand, this will not happen immedi ately, and we are now assured of immense, continuous and increas ing support in supplies and munitions of all kinds from the United States; and especially of airplanes and pilots from theDominions and across the oceans, coming from regions which are beyond the reach of enemy bombers.…
WhatGeneral Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the longcontinuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this islandor lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free… But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age… Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and sobear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.' (Churchill, pp. 149, 151-54, 168, 172-78)
What happened next …
The German air force (called the Luftwaffe) and England's Royal Air Force (RAF) engaged in a string of air battles during the summer and fall of 1940, a period of the war nowknown as the Battle of Britain. The Germans tried to conquer England with waves of heavy bombing over the English Channel, but British forces held firm. Germany's efforts to gain control of the air were foiled.
On September 27, 1940, the governments of Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, also known as the Axis or Three-Power Pact. Each nation pledged full cooperation and support—politically, economically, and militarily—tothe others in case of attack by another power (namely, the United States) that might enter the war. The terms of the pact were to remain in effect for ten years.
Meanwhile, tensions were mounting between Germany and the Soviet Union. Hitler could not possibly achieve his goal of creating a vast European empire unless Stalin and the Soviet Union were defeated. It was inevitable that the nonaggression pact between the two countries would be broken. (See Adolf Hitler entry in chapter one for more information about the relationship between Hitler and Stalin.) The Soviets joined the Allied forces in 1941, after Germany invaded Russia. The United States entered the war that same year, following Japan's surprise attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor.
Did you know …
- Churchill had a weakness for champagne, brandy, whiskey, and Cuban cigars. He acquired the cigar habit during his stint as a correspondent in Cuba back in 1895. (At the time the Cubans were seeking freedom from Spain; England, an ally of Spain, supported the Spanish effort to crush the Cuban rebellion.)
- During particularly stressful periods in his life, Churchill suffered severe and recurring bouts of melancholy (gloom and sorrow) and depression, a condition he referred to as his "Black Dog."
- Churchill was a night owl. He started his serious wartime planning each night at about 11:00 PM and continued working until dawn. A fanatic for cleanliness and comfort, he bathed twice daily and is said to have held many important meetings while wearing his bathrobe.
For More Information
Churchill, Winston. The Second World War. 6 volumes. New York:Houghton, 1948-54. Reprinted, 1986.
Drieman, J.E., ed. Winston Churchill: An Unbreakable Spirit. Minneapolis, MN: Dillon Press, 1990.
Harris, Nathaniel. Hitler. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar, 1989.
Kimball, Warren F. Forged in War: Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Second World War. New York: Morrow, 1998.
Rose, Norman. Churchill: The Unruly Giant. New York: The Free Press, 1994.
Sainsbury, Keith. Churchill and Roosevelt at War: The War They Fought and the
Peace They Hoped to Make. New York: New York University Press, 1994.
Shirer, William L. Berlin Diary. New York: Knopf, 1941.
Churchill and the Generals. BBC/LeVien International, 1981.
The Nazi Strike. Fusion Video, 1984.
The Churchill Center. The Winston Churchill Home Page. [Online] http://www.winstonchurchill.org (accessed on September 5, 1999).
Allen, Peter. The Origins of World War II. New York: Bookwright Press, 1992.
"Chamberlain Resigns, Churchill Premier." New York Times, May 11, 1940, pp. 1, 9.
Churchill, Winston. NEVER GIVE IN! The Best of Winston Churchill's Speeches. Selected by his grandson Winston S. Churchill. New York: Hyperion, 2003.
"German Army Attacks Poland." New York Times, September 1, 1939, p. 1.
Hills, Ken. Wars That Changed the World: World War II. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1988.
Keller, Mollie. Winston Churchill. New York: F. Watts, 1984.
"Nazis Invade Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg by Land and Air." New York Times, May 10, 1940, p. 1.
Ross, Stewart. World Leaders. New York: Thomson Learning, 1993.
Severance, John B. Winston Churchill: Soldier, Statesman, Artist. New York:Clarion Books, 1996.
Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) was born in 1874 in Blenheim Palace near London, England. His parents, Lord Randolph Churchill and American Jennie Jerome, later known as Lady Randolph, lived the extravagant existence of the upper-class and had little time for their son. Young Churchill felt alienated from his mother and father but developed a special bond with the doting nanny who loved and raised him as her own.
Young Churchill had a gift for writing, but his general lack of ambition and inability to pass Latin and mathematics courses almost ruined his chances for admission to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. With the help of a tutor he finally passed the entrance exams—on his third try. After graduating from Sandhurst in 1894, he became a second lieutenant in the Fourth Hussars (elaborately clad soldiers on horseback). Churchill distinguished himself as a courageous soldier and a keen-eyed war correspondent, serving in Britain's army in India and Egypt and covering the Boer War (1899-1902; a war fought between the British and the Dutch for control of South Africa) for England's Morning Post. (While in South Africa, Churchill was taken prisoner by the Boers, then escaped and made his way back to England.)
After an unsuccessful bid for a seat in Parliament in 1899, Churchill won election the following year as the Conservative Party's candidate from Oldham. He held a number of important government positions over the next decade, married Clementine Hozier in 1908, and became First Lord of the Admiralty (commander of the British navy) in 1911.
World War I (1914-18; a war in which Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey fought against twenty-eight other countries including Britain, France, Russia, and the United States) erupted in Europe in 1914. England joined the war effort in August, following Germany's assault on Belgium. When a risky British naval attack against Turkish forces ended in defeat, Churchill—as head of the navy—was held largely responsible. He resigned his post as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915. Around the same time he took up a new hobby: painting. Originally serving as a diversionfrom his career troubles, it became a lifelong love.
The war ended in 1918, and over the next two decades Churchill held various political offices, heading the war department, then the treasury, and switching political parties several times as Britain tried to recover politically and economically from four years of fighting. Except for one lost election in the early 1920s, Churchill maintained a seat in Parliament throughout the late 1930s.
Churchill's fiery personality led to frequent opposition in Parliament. He was spirited, brash, quarrelsome, and, as a result, rather unpopular with his colleagues. Early on, Churchill recognized Hitler as a threat to European peace and cautioned against the German program of arms buildup throughout the 1930s. (The Germans had been stripped of most of their weapons after World War I.) His demands for British rearmament (the buildup of forces in anticipation of war) were largely ignored until Germany invaded Poland in 1939.
At the dawn of World War II, Churchill was again named First Lord of the Admiralty, serving this time under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The failure of Chamberlain's appeasement strategy—yielding to many of Hitler's demands—prompted Chamberlain to resign his post in 1940. Churchill took over just as the fighting intensified, and he inspired the British nation with his strength and fearlessness throughout the war. Nicknamed the "defiant lion" for pledging "never to surrender," he was often quoted as saying, "In war you don't have to be nice, you only have to be right."
Churchill's Conservative Party was soundly defeated in Britain's general elections of 1945. The Conservative Party was the party in power during the war; by the mid-1940s the British nation was war-weary, sick of foreign policy, and more interested in domestic issues (focusing on matters within the country such as rebuilding the British economy). Shortly before the close of World War II, Churchill announced his resignation, but he served another term from 1951 to 1955. He died on January 24, 1965—seventy years to the day after his father's death.
BORN: 1874, Oxfordshire, England
DIED: 1965, London, England
Lord Randolph Churchill (1906)
The World Crisis (1923–1931)
Marlborough: His Life and Times (1933–1938)
The Second World War (1948–1953)
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956–1958)
Winston Churchill is best remembered as Britain's prime minister during World War II. He was also one of the century's outstanding historians, and received the Nobel Prize for Literature. In several multivolume works, including monumental histories of the two world wars, he revealed his vast knowledge of British history and intimate understanding of European political and military affairs.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Born into Privilege Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire—the home of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough—on November 30, 1874. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a prominent parliamentarian, while his mother, born Jennie Jerome, was the daughter of an American millionaire.
Soldier and War Correspondent As a boy, Churchill was an undistinguished student with a speech impediment. Lord Randolph decided his son was destined for a military career. On his third attempt, Churchill passed the admission exam and entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he graduated with honors in 1894. He was then appointed to the Fourth (Queen's Own) Hussars as a sub-lieutenant.
Assigned to observe Spanish forces trying to contain a revolt in Cuba in 1895, he supplemented his military income by writing dispatches from the battle. Cuba was then a Spanish territory but had been fighting for independence for several decades. Cubans also resented the harsh policies Spain had put in place. The ongoing hostilities eventually resulted in the Spanish-American War of 1898, which won Cuba its freedom from Spain.
Churchill then participated in, and reported on, military campaigns in India and the Sudan. In India, then still a colony of Great Britain, Churchill was part of Sir Bindon Blood's punitive expedition to deal with the siege of a British garrison in the Malakand region by the local Pashtun tribal army. The Pashtun were upset by the division of their lands. In the Sudan, Churchill took part in the Sudan campaign of 1898, which saw numerous British, Egyptian, and Sudanese forces march together into the Sudan to again occupy and control the country for strategic purposes. His first two books—The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899)—consist of revised reports from these expeditions.
Captivity Results in Popular Book and Political Career In a similar capacity, Churchill went to South Africa after the outbreak of the Boer War. The war was a conflict between the British Empire and the independent Boer countries of the Orange Free State and the South Africa Republic in which the British won control of the Boer territories. He was captured during the conflict in November 1899. His dramatic escape from a Pretoria prison gained him a great deal of attention in England, as did his account of the event in his book London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900). His fame helped him secure election to Parliament in 1900, as a member of the Conservative Party. Since members of Parliament were not paid, Churchill's writing income facilitated his entrance into politics, beginning a career in public service that would last more than six decades.
His first major literary undertaking began in 1902, when the family trustees gave him his father's papers. The result was a two-volume biography, Lord Randolph Churchill (1906). An act of homage to a somewhat estranged parent, the biography is also a penetrating political study. Lord Randolph had tried, and failed, to move the Tories (Conservatives) toward social reform. Churchill decided to adopt his father's principles and in 1904 defected to the Liberal Party.
Successful Politician to Failed Military Leader From 1905 to 1915, Churchill held government positions, rising from undersecretary for the colonies to president of the board of trade, a cabinet office, then to home secretary. In the reform government of Lord Asquith between 1908 and 1912, Churchill sponsored progressive legislation such as old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, and national health insurance. His book Liberalism and the Social Problem (1909) provides the intellectual foundation for these domestic policies.
Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, and brilliantly retooled the British armed forces for the looming war. However, his career suffered a blow once World War I broke out after the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in 1914. Because of entangling alliances, nearly the whole of Europe became involved in the conflict, which saw massive devastation and heavy causalities where the war was fought. During the war, Churchill advocated for Britain and its allies to attack Turkey through the Dardanelles strait in an attempt to gain control of the strait and western Turkey. This strategy failed and produced many casualties in the battle, which took place at Gallipoli. As a result, Churchill was demoted and lost favor with his party. Resigning from the government in 1916, he spent several months commanding troops in the trenches of the Western Front in France. The prime minister, David Lloyd George, soon recalled him to become minister of munitions.
Churchill in The World Crisis After the war, Churchill returned to high office as secretary of state for war and secretary of state for air. He lost his seat in the House of Commons in 1922, but in 1924, he rejoined the Conservatives and was immediately named chancellor of the exchequer. Meanwhile, he had begun work on his first large-scale historical study, The World Crisis: 1911–1918, which examined World War I in six volumes (1923–1931). In the books, Churchill analyzes bloody battles in
the military sphere and tense struggles in the political, writing in the vivid, if somewhat overblown, style of a master storyteller. As in his subsequent works, he is an active participant in the events he records, lending an element of personal narrative to his sweeping world history. Through his writing, he attempted to vindicate himself for his disgrace over the Dardanelles campaign.
From the Wilderness to the Summit The Conservative government went down to defeat in 1929. Churchill again became estranged from his party, and in the 1930s his political career reached a low point that he later called his “wilderness years.” Out of office, he concentrated on writing, devoting five years of study to Marlborough (1933–1938), a four-volume biography of his distinguished forebear, an eighteenth-century military commander. He also drafted A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956–1958), for which he had received a large advance but which would not see publication until years later. Its four volumes chronicle the rise of the British Empire and the English-speaking world from the time of Julius Caesar to the First World War.
In The Gathering Storm, the first of his six volumes on the Second World War, Churchill describes himself as something of a lone voice calling for Britain to counter the growing threat of Nazi Germany. (After World War I, Germany had suffered an economic and identity crisis caused in part by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles. In the early 1930s, Adolf Hitler gained power in part because he promoted the idea of a new, stronger Germany that sought to control much of Europe.) The truth is more ambiguous—Churchill praised some of Nazi leader Hitler's qualities in print and in the House of Commons—but then his predictions were vindicated. When war broke out in September 1939 after Germany invaded Poland and Great Britain and other countries declared war on Germany, Churchill returned to the war cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. The following May, Neville Chamberlain resigned as prime minister, and King George VI asked Churchill to lead a new administration.
In the early 1940s, it became clear that Churchill was the right leader for this dark moment in his nation's history as Nazi Germany gained control over more of Europe and began pounding Great Britain with bombs by air with the intent of taking it over as well. With steely resolve, while the nation was under attack, he declared that Britain's only objective was complete victory. His speeches in Parliament and on the radio offered the inspiration the country needed in the anxious months of the Blitz. He secured the aid—first economic, then military—of the United States and embraced the Soviet Union as a powerful European ally.
Later Career To end World War II in Europe, Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin orchestrated the Allied victory in Europe over Germany and Italy, which came in 1945. When the Russians marched into Berlin ahead of the Americans and British, Churchill had to face the reality of a great Communist power controlling part of Europe. He proposed to divide the continent into spheres of influence: Eastern Europe to the Soviets, Western Europe to Great Britain and America. The “Iron Curtain,” as Churchill dubbed it, had fallen, and his decisions were largely responsible for the Cold War that followed.
While Churchill himself was extremely popular, the British public had not forgiven his party for supporting a policy of appeasement with Hitler. After a landslide victory for the Labour Party, Clement Attlee replaced Churchill as prime minister in July 1945, days before the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war in the Pacific. For the next six years, reduced to the minor roles of opposition leader and elder statesman, Churchill returned to the other part of his life's work. He wrote his six-volume history, The Second World War, which became a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic. The series interweaves a general history of the war with Churchill's recollections and analysis of military and diplomatic events he personally witnessed and directly influenced.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Churchill's famous contemporaries include:
Adolf Hitler (1889–1945): Austrian-born dictator of Nazi Germany, 1933–1945.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945): American president elected four times and serving from 1933 to 1945.
Bertrand Russell (1872–1970): British historian, philosopher, Nobel Prize–winning author, and political activist whose books include Principles of Mathematics (1903).
Charles A. Beard (1874–1948): American historian, known for his progressive interpretation of U.S. history in books such as The Rise of American Civilization (1927).
Albert Einstein (1879–1955): German-born physicist known for his theory of relativity, but who also wrote on humanitarian and political issues.
George Orwell (1903–1950): British novelist and essayist; author of the influential novel 1984.
In 1951, Churchill returned to the prime minister's seat and served a relatively uneventful four-year term. In June 1953, he suffered a severe stroke, news of which was kept from the public. Later in 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Essentially retired from the mid-1950s on, he only gave up his parliamentary seat in 1964. He died the following year at his home in London days after suffering another severe stroke.
Works in Literary Context
Winston Churchill's career as a historian coincided with his military and political roles. While his military education was formal, his historical training was self-acquired. He immersed himself in historical study while in India, reading steadily through the books his mother sent him. First came the volumes of Edward Gibbon and Thomas Babington Macaulay, which had an impact on his speeches and writing, followed by Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Plato's Republic, and Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. The influence of Darwin can be seen in Churchill's belief that life is a struggle in which the fit and courageous are most likely to survive.
The Personal Element A great deal of what Churchill wrote contains his personal views and interests. This includes not only his histories of the two world wars but also the biographies of his father and the Duke of Marl-borough as well as his autobiographical writings, such as My African Journey (1908) and My Early Life (1930). His books of essays, Thoughts and Adventures (1942) and Great Contemporaries (1937), concern his adventures and the men he had known who made an impact upon him. Even A History of the English-Speaking Peoples serves as a vehicle for Churchill's ideas about politics, history, and tradition. His type of history is based on the personal element of his life.
Storytelling Churchill was mainly a storyteller. In his military histories, he uses short, breathless sentences to suggest the feeling of combat. His histories emphasize politics and wars because these were the subjects that interested him most and were most conducive to his penchant for lively narrative. He wrote in a conversational manner, creating the impression that he was talking to the reader—often because that was actually what he was doing, since he tended to dictate his work to others rather than write or type it himself.
Orality and Morality While Churchill's historical tomes are of lasting value, his achievements in political oratory have been still more influential. Many of his most memorable phrases—“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”; “Never … was so much owed by so many to so few” “the iron curtain”—have assumed a permanent place in our language and culture.
Another major legacy of Churchillian rhetoric is his vision of politics as a matter of morality, a struggle between right and wrong, between freedom and tyranny. He insisted that Hitler had to be confronted, not appeased; political leaders have been citing this lesson ever since as a justification for aggressive foreign policies.
Works in Critical Context
Churchill's early books, based on his war dispatches, brought him critical and financial success in England. The vigorous and colorful descriptions of military actions and the emphasis on the courage of British troops became the hallmarks of his military books. Once he had established himself as a statesman, the success of his literary endeavors was assured. His six-volume Second World War sold in numbers unprecedented for a nonfiction work. Critics, however, have had a more mixed reaction to his work. Critics attribute some of the success of his writing to his habit of dictating his work. Many argue this helped to infuse his writing with the spirit of “fireside chats,” thereby easily garnering public interest and sympathy.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Winston Churchill's histories of the First and Second World Wars are universally regarded as classic works of literature. Here are some other important historical accounts of the two world conflicts.
The Struggle for Europe (1952), by Chester Wilmot. An important military history of the Second World War in Europe, it was written by one of the principal reporters present at the D-Day landing.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), by William Shirer. The first major history of Nazi Germany written in English, it is based largely on documents captured from German archives at the end of the war.
The Guns of August (1962), by Barbara Tuchman. An enormously influential and popular account of the origins and fateful first days of World War I by a popular American historian.
The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), by Paul Fussell. This brilliant work of intellectual history probes the ways that writers and artists responded to the First World War and thus shaped the modern understanding of that earth-shattering event.
A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (1994), by Gerhard L Weinberg. A comprehensive history of the Second World War in a single volume, it illuminates the connections between far-flung events in the war's many theaters.
Weaknesses as a Historian Churchill's histories have not been without their critics, both immediately after they were published and up to the present. He was an amateur historian, not academically trained. He tended to overdramatize events, and his works contained factual errors and questionable interpretations. His works were chockablock with primary documents, which made them longer than many felt was justified. Perhaps the most damning criticism made of his historical works is that they were self-serving—intended to justify his policy failures, such as the Dardanelles attack, or in the case of his biographies, to whitewash the reputations of his father and the Duke of Marlborough.
It is unlikely that many of Churchill's readers have been or are bothered by the shortcomings perceived by his critics. Many readers appreciate his remarkable ability to amass and organize huge quantities of information and to communicate it with eloquence and excitement. His writings remain highly popular, and their critical prestige has only grown with time. The Second World War has appeared on numerous lists of the greatest nonfiction works of the twentieth century. Even Churchill's detractors concede the immense historical value of this series, because of its author's proximity to the momentous events described.
The World Crisis Critics had a similar reaction to The World Crisis. Reviewing the book in 1927, John Freeman wrote in the London Mercury, “A petty scrutiny of his prose style would be inept and it is necessary to take a larger view, truly identifying the style with the whole man …. Mr. Churchill's narrative is told in a way which satisfies the most exorbitant appetite. Every page is full of himself ….”
Responses to Literature
- How does Winston Churchill's biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, prefigure his own political career?
- Write about the storytelling aspect of Churchill's prose, citing several examples.
- In what ways do Churchill's political speeches and his historical narratives serve similar purposes? Write a paper in which you explain your views.
- Churchill's history of the Second World War is both a memoir and a comprehensive narrative of a major world event. Evaluate how Churchill handles these dual purposes and how the author's personal voice affects the overall success of the work.
- Write about literary and persuasive elements in one or two of Winston Churchill's classic speeches.
Ashley, Maurice. Churchill as Historian. London: Seeker & Warburg, 1968.
Churchill, Randolph S., and Martin Gilbert. Winston S. Churchill. 24 vols. London: Heinemann, 1966–2000.
Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. New York: Holt, 1991.
Jenkins, Roy. Churchill: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001.
Langworth, Richard M. A Connoisseur's Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill. London: Brassey's, 1998.
Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill; Visions of Glory, 1874-1932. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.
Prior, Robin. Churchill's “World Crisis” as History. London: Croom Helm, 1983.
Taylor, A. J. P. et al. Churchill Revised: A Critical Assessment. New York: Dial, 1969.
Weidhorn, Manfred. A Harmony of Interests: Explorations in the Mind of Sir Winston Churchill. Rutherford, N.J: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1992.
Woods, Frederick. Artillery of Words: The Writings of Sir Winston Churchill. London: L. Cooper, 1992.
Freeman, John. “Mr. Winston Churchill as a Prose-Writer.” London Mercury 15, no. 90: 626–34.
Born November 30, 1874
Died January 24, 1965
British prime minister
W inston Churchill was one of the greatest political figures of the twentieth century. He led Britain from the brink of defeat to ultimate victory in World War II (1939–45). Churchill later became the first of the major Western leaders to warn of the communist threat, and he was the first to use the term "Iron Curtain" to describe the growing division or barrier between the communist East and the democratic West. Communism is a system of government in which a single political party, the Communist Party, controls almost all aspects of people's lives. In a communist economy, private ownership of property and business is prohibited so that goods produced and wealth accumulated can be shared equally by all.
Churchill's courage and independence of mind often created difficulties for him in his early career, but they served him well during the critical moments of World War II, when he demonstrated rare qualities of leadership and outstanding gifts as a public speaker. He was a soldier, writer, artist, and statesman. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (1926–) conferred on Churchill the dignity of knighthood and invested him with the insignia of a special honor called the Order of the Garter in 1953. That year, Churchill also received the Nobel Prize in literature. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63; see entry) made Churchill an honorary U.S. citizen.
A prestigious inheritance
English on his father's side, American on his mother's, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, England, in 1874. He was the eldest son of Jennie Jerome and Lord Randolph Churchill (1849–1895). Young Winston was born into a long, distinguished family history. He was named Winston after the Royalist (supporter of the British monarchy) family the Churchills married into before the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century. He was given the name Leonard in honor of his maternal grandfather, a wealthy American financier from New York named Leonard Jerome. The name Spencer was the married name of the daughter of the first duke of Marlborough, from whom the family descended. And lastly, he received the Churchill surname. It was the original family name of the first duke of Marlborough (John Churchill [1650–1722]), a great soldier and the family patriarch.
Young Winston's talents were not apparent during his unremarkable schooldays at Harrow, an exclusive English private school. On his third attempt to gain admittance, he was accepted for army training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He graduated from the academy in 1894. Winston entered the army as a cavalry officer. He took to soldiering, including regimental polo playing, with great enthusiasm.
Churchill made his mark as a journalist and writer, not as a soldier, though he did participate in three major military campaigns. He was a war correspondent in 1895 with the Spanish forces fighting the guerrillas, or irregular and independent fighters, in Cuba. He served as both a war correspondent and an officer in two later campaigns: In 1897, Churchill fought in India, and in 1898 he took part in the Sudan campaign in Africa. While in Sudan, he participated in the British army's last cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman.
In 1899, Churchill went to South Africa to report on the Boer War (1899–1902) for the London Morning Post and was captured within a month of his arrival. Taken to a prison camp in Pretoria, Churchill made a dramatic escape and traveled by way of Portuguese East Africa back to the fighting front in Natal. His escape made him world-famous overnight. He returned to Britain as a national hero, and in 1900 he capitalized on his popularity by running for political office and winning a seat as a Conservative member of Parliament for Oldham, a city in northwest England. He would remain a member of Parliament for sixty-four years.
In 1904, Churchill left the Conservative Party to join the Liberals. He spent a considerable amount of his time and energy working on his father's biography, which was published in 1905. In 1908, his book My African Journey was published. It recounted his experiences—both for work and for pleasure—while touring East Africa. That same year, Churchill married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier. Together, they had five children and, in his own words, "lived happily ever afterwards."
Churchill held many high government posts during the first three decades of the century. From 1911 to 1915, he was first lord of the admiralty, which is the political head of the Royal Navy. In 1915, when he became embroiled in a heated dispute over Britain's tactics in World War I (1914–18), he resigned from the government and joined the fighting in France as a lieutenant colonel. In 1916, Churchill returned to Parliament as minister of munitions. While holding that job, he helped develop the world's first tanks. Churchill abandoned the Liberals and rejoined the Conservative Party in the early 1920s but found he was now being personally excluded from elections by officials of all major parties because of his repeated switching of party affiliation and because of military decisions he made during World War I that did not work out. Excluded from office, Churchill spent the 1930s as a private citizen and continued his writing.
Throughout the 1930s, Churchill spoke out publicly to warn the world about the threat posed by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), the leader of Germany's Nazi Party (known primarily for its brutal policies of racism). When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, thereby starting World War II, the moment of confrontation between Britain and Hitler had finally arrived. Churchill found himself uniquely positioned as a symbol for action and national resolve because of his longstanding strong stance against Hitler's aggression, unlike Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940) and other contemporary leaders. This gave Chamberlain no choice but to return Churchill to the cabinet as head of the navy. Chamberlain's efforts to appease Hitler failed, as Germany continued to expand. Chamberlain soon lost his position as prime minister to Churchill, who also became minister of defense in 1940.
After Germany defeated France, Britain's major ally in the war, Britain stood alone against the Germans for much of
1940. Churchill had inherited a grim situation: Great Britain was under constant air attack and lay under the threat of German invasion. Churchill nevertheless stood firm, refusing Hitler's offers to join his side, and requested help from other world leaders.
Churchill's genius lay in his ability to communicate his conviction that the war could and must be won. By the autumn of 1940, he became confident that the Germans could not succeed if they attempted to invade Britain. Britain had successfully withstood the first few months of German bombing of London and its other cities and had garnered support from the United States in terms of war materials to fend off potential efforts of German forces to try to cross the English Channel in a sea invasion. From the earliest days of the war, Churchill had sought an alliance with both the United States and the Soviet Union; he knew he would need their aid in the fight against Hitler's forces. When Hitler launched his surprise attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Churchill immediately pledged Britain's aid to the Soviet people. On December 7 of that year, the United States entered the war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval base in Hawaii. By May 1942, Churchill had his formal alliance with the United States and the Soviet Union. The leaders of the Allied nations—Churchill, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin (1879–1953; see entry)—were thereafter referred to as the Big Three.
Churchill's years as Hitler's only opposition had earned him prestige equal to that of Roosevelt and Stalin, the world's two superpower leaders. Working closely with Roosevelt and keeping on equal terms with Stalin, Churchill traveled widely throughout the war and was present at the three great Allied summit meetings. The first of these was held in Tehran, Iran's capital city; the second was in Yalta in the Soviet Crimean region; and the third took place in Potsdam, Germany.
When the Big Three met at the Tehran Conference in early December 1943, the beginnings of victory were visible. The leaders began discussing strategy for the final stages of the war and plans for the postwar world. The historic Yalta Conference was held in February 1945. The postwar division of Germany was the first and most important item on the agenda. The boundaries of the occupation zones of Germany became controversial, and the exact divisions were left to later discussions.
The second item on the agenda was the formation of the United Nations (UN), an international organization, composed of most of the nations of the world, created to preserve world peace and security. It was proposed that the UN would have a Security Council and that Britain, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union—the four permanent members of the council—would each have a veto. This meant that these nations would always have the power to block any proposed UN actions that might be detrimental to their own well-being and goals.
The third item on the agenda was German war reparations, or payments for war damages. The three leaders could only agree to refer the issue to a reparations commission. The final and most difficult subject on the Yalta agenda was the future of Poland, which was occupied by Soviet forces. This subject dominated the discussions, yet no agreement or resolution was forthcoming. Poland would become a major point of conflict between the East (the Soviet Union) and the West (the other Allies).
The Potsdam Conference took place during the British general election in July 1945. It was the first major diplomatic forum at which it became apparent that the wartime alliance might not survive into peacetime. The East-West differences came to the forefront, especially over the issue of Poland. The world had changed dramatically since the Yalta Conference five months earlier. Germany had surrendered, and the Soviet Union was preparing to enter the war against Japan. Roosevelt had died, and Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53; see entry) was the new U.S. president. The day before the conference started, the United States had successfully tested the world's first atomic bomb.
Midway through the conference, Churchill was replaced by a newly elected prime minister, Clement R. Attlee (1883–1967; see entry). A general election in Great Britain was being held as the meetings began. Conservative Party candidate Churchill and Labour Party candidate Attlee had both traveled to Germany and awaited the results. The Labour Party was victorious, meaning Attlee became prime minister, replacing Churchill in the Big Three. The only easy decision to come out of the conference was an agreement regarding the eventual peace conference. The leaders agreed that foreign ministers representing the members of the UN Security Council would form another council to prepare for the peace conference.
At the Potsdam Conference, the key issues that became grounds for the Cold War began to emerge. The Cold War was an intense political and economic rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from 1945 to 1991. At Yalta, the Big Three leaders had agreed that Germany would be divided into four occupation zones. Each of the Allied countries—Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union—would occupy one zone. Berlin, Germany's capital city, was to be similarly divided. The Soviets had rejected an earlier proposal that would have left Germany as a unified and democratic nation; still hurting from the German attack on their country during the war, the Soviets wanted a weak Germany. The United States, on the other hand, believed that a unified Germany would help keep Europe politically stable and strengthen the postwar European economy. This fundamental U.S.-Soviet disagreement remained one of the central points of contention throughout the Cold War. The leaders failed to reach a compromise on several issues, and the Potsdam Conference ended in deadlock.
Churchill was deeply affected by his loss of position in world politics. He felt frustrated because his wartime government was broken up before he had seen the war come to an end. However, it was clear that the British people had not voted against Churchill but rather against the twenty-year reign of Conservatives in Parliament. In Britain, citizens vote for parties, and the leader of the victorious party becomes the prime minister. Churchill continued to enjoy esteem as leader of the Opposition (in Britain, the "Opposition" means the political party that, at any given time, does not hold power in Parliament). He used this position as a platform for criticizing Stalin's policies in the early Cold War years.
Churchill had begun to fear that the Soviets would spread communism throughout Europe as early as the Yalta Conference. In a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, he warned of an "iron curtain" that was descending across the European continent—that is, the strict communist policies that were shutting democracy and free trade out of the Soviet Union. A phrasemaker all his life, Churchill had provided a memorable symbol for the world's next great conflict, the Cold War. An actual "iron curtain" came fifteen years later in the cement and barbed wire of the Berlin Wall, which acted as a physical barrier between East Berlin and West Berlin.
Churchill was elected prime minister once again in October 1951. U.S. relations remained at the center of his foreign policy because of his long-standing friendship with the United States; he also wanted to strengthen those ties as the Cold War continued escalating. Churchill sought U.S. cooperation in nuclear weapons research but could not be helped by President Truman because Congress had passed the McMahon Act in 1946, which prohibited the sharing of nuclear weapons research with foreign powers. Undeterred, Churchill pursued an independent atomic research program. In October 1952, Britain exploded its first atomic bomb. Churchill later authorized production of a British hydrogen bomb, which he considered a deterrent to war. Following Stalin's death in March 1953, Churchill proposed trying to improve relations with the Soviet Union.
Churchill retired as prime minister on April 5, 1955, at the age of eighty. He remained a member of Parliament until 1964, at which point he chose not to seek reelection. By this time, he no longer played a significant role in shaping world affairs. Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965, at the age of ninety. He received a hero's funeral and was buried in St. Martin's Churchyard at Bladon, Oxfordshire, near the place of his birth.
For More Information
Edmonds, Robin. The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in Peace and War. New York: Norton, 1991.
Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. London: Heinemann, 1991.
Harbutt, Fraser J. The Iron Curtain: Churchill, America, and the Origins of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Jenkins, Roy. Churchill: A Biography. New York: Straus and Giroux, 2001.
Keegan, John. Winston Churchill. New York: Viking, 2002.
"Winston Churchill—Biography." Nobel e-Museum.http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1953/churchill-bio.html (accessed August 29,2003).
Writings and Honors
Winston Churchill's literary career began in 1898 with military campaign reports. His first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898), recounted his experiences fighting the tribesmen of the North-West Frontier in India. Churchill next wrote about his experiences in the Battle of Omdurman in The River War (1899).
In 1900, Churchill published his only novel, Savrola, and six years later he published his first major work, a biography of his father, titled Lord Randolph Churchill. He later wrote another famous biography, Marlborough, which tells of the life of his great ancestor, the first duke of Marlborough. It was published in four volumes between 1933 and 1938. In the 1930s, while he was out of public office, Churchill wrote My Early Life (1930), Thoughts and Adventures (1932), and the first draft of History of the English-Speaking Peoples, a multivolume work that was published in the 1950s. During the 1930s, he also took up painting as a hobby, and he remained devoted to it for the rest of his life. A collection of his portrait sketches, Great Contemporaries, came out in 1937, and he published Painting as a Pastime in 1948.
Churchill's history of World War I appeared in four volumes under the title The World Crisis (1923–29). His memoirs of World War II, titled The Second World War, were published in six volumes between 1948 and 1954. Churchill published the four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956–58) after he retired from his position as prime minister. In 1958, the Royal Academy in London devoted its galleries to a show of Churchill's paintings.
Excerpt from the "Iron Curtain Speech" (also known as the "Sinews of Peace speech"), March 5, 1946
Reprinted from 'Iron Curtain' Speech Fifty Years Later,
published in 1999
"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.… All these famous cities and the populations around them lie in … the Soviet sphere, and all are subject … to Soviet influence … and … [an] increasing measure of control from Moscow."
O n March 5, 1946, wearing his top hat and cape and smoking a cigar, former British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) traveled with U.S. president Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) to the American Midwest to Fulton, Missouri. In Fulton, he visited the campus of small Westminster College and delivered his famous "Iron Curtain Speech," also known as the "Sinews of Peace" speech.
Having led Great Britain through its dark days during World War II (1939–45), in July 1945, Churchill was defeated in a general election by British Labor Party candidate Clement Attlee (1883–1967). Attlee had proposed a planned economy and nationalization (in which the government takes ownership) of several British industries. The British approved of these proposals as a correct approach to rebuild Britain, and Churchill lost the election and found himself retired at seventy-one years of age. In his book The Gathering Storm, Churchill bluntly stated that having successfully brought Britain through World War II, he "was immediately dismissed by the British electorate from all further conduct of their affairs." Churchill could have become disheartened and sullen, simply fading from view. However, Churchill's brilliant international insightfulness continued to influence the world. He immediately set about writing his massive five-volume history of World War II.
By early 1946, he was greatly troubled by the refusal of Soviet troops to leave the Eastern European countries they had occupied after driving out the German army. He saw Soviet influence beginning to control the people and governments of Eastern Europe. Churchill believed that only with the pulling together of the United States, Britain, and Western European nations could the Soviets be stopped from overrunning all of Europe. To warn the world, Churchill delivered his "Iron Curtain Speech."
First, Churchill greeted his audience. He told them the thoughts he would express in his speech were his alone and did not represent any official stance. In the 1940s, war and tyranny were the two most disturbing menaces in the world. (Tyranny means unrestrained, oppressive rule by a government over a people.) Churchill said that while the United States and Britain enjoyed liberties, other countries were suddenly being over-whelmed with tyranny. Eloquently, Churchill lamented, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent [over Central and Eastern Europe]." The word iron brought to mind something that could not be penetrated. So a curtain of iron had closed and trapped millions behind it.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from the "Iron Curtain Speech":
- By early 1945, European leaders, rather than praising the Soviet army and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) for their hard-won victories against Nazi Germany in World War II, were feeling increasingly threatened by the growing Soviet presence in Eastern Europe.
- The Soviets so far had failed to hold free elections in Eastern European countries they had freed from Nazi Germany's control. Yet at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Stalin had agreed with U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) and Britain's Churchill to allow the elections so that the countries could establish new governments.
- The "Iron Curtain Speech" was delivered only a couple of weeks after George F. Kennan (1904–) had startled Washington officials with the "Long Telegram." Kennan's telegram stated that the United States had best wake up and confront the Soviets from a position of power.
Excerpt from the "Iron Curtain Speech"
President McCluer, ladies and gentlemen, and last, but certainly not least, President of the United States of America,
I am very glad, indeed, to come to Westminster College this afternoon.…
It is also an honour, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps almost unique, for a private visitor to be introduced to an academic audience by the President of the United States. Amid his heavy burdens, duties, and responsibilities … the President has traveled a thousand miles to dignify and magnify our meeting here to-day and to give me an opportunity of addressing this kindred nation, as well as my own countrymen across the ocean, and perhaps some other countries too. The President has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom, and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. Let me, however, make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind. I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see.
I can therefore allow my mind, with the experience of a lifetime, to play over the problems which beset us on the morrow of our absolute victory in arms, and to try to make sure with what strength I have what has been gained with so much sacrifice and suffering shall be preserved for the future glory and safety of mankind.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American democracy. For with primacy in power is also joined an aweinspiring accountability to the future.…
A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization [Comintern] intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies. I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian people and for my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin. There is deep sympathy and goodwill in Britain—and I doubt not here also—towards the people of all the Russiansand a resolve to persevere through many differences and rebuffs in establishing lasting friendships. We understand the Russian need to be secure on her western frontiers by the removal of all possibility of German aggression. We welcome Russia to her rightful place among the leading nations of the world. We welcome her flag upon the seas. Above all, we welcome, or should welcome, constant, frequent and growing contacts between the Russian people and our own peoples on both sides of the Atlantic. It is my duty however, for I am sure you would wish me to state the facts as I see them to you, to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe.
From Stettin [a Polish port city on the Baltic Sea] in the Baltic to Trieste [a city at the northeasternmost point of the Adriatic Sea] 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 some cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. Athens alone—Greece with its … glories—is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation. The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany [move the Polish western boundary into Germany], and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place. The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy.…
I have, however, felt bound to portray the shadow which, alike in the west and in the east, falls upon the world. I was a minister at the time of the Versailles Treaty.… In those days there were high hopes and unbounded confidence that the wars were over and that the League of Nations would become all-powerful. I do not see or feel that same confidence or even the same hopes in the haggard world at the present time.…
From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so muchas strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.… If the Western Democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter, their influence for furthering those principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them. If, however, they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away, then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.
Last time [in the 1930s as Hitler came to power in Germany] I saw it all coming and I cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933, or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely, ladies and gentlemen: I put it to you, surely, we must not let that happen again. This can only be achieved by reaching now, in 1946—this year, 1946—by reaching a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organization, and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the world instrument, supported by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections. There is the solution which I respectfully offer to you in this Address to which I have given the title "The Sinews of Peace."
Let no man underrate the abiding power of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Because you see the 46 millions in our island harassed about their food supply, of which they only grow one half, even in wartime, or because we have difficulty in restarting our industries and export trade after six years of passionate war effort, do not suppose we shall not come through these dark years of privation as we have come through the glorious years of agony [World War II], do not suppose that half a century from now, you will not see 70 or 80 millions of Britons spread about the world, united in defence of our traditions and our way of life, and of the world causes which you and we espouse. If the population of the English-speaking Commonwealths be added to that of the United States, with all that such co-operation implies in the air, on the sea, all over the globe, and in science and in industry, and in moral force, there
will be no quivering, precarious balance of power to offer its temptation to ambition or adventure. On the contrary, there will be an overwhelming assurance of security. If we adhere faithfully to the Charter of the United Nations and walk forward in sedate and sober strength, seeking no one's land or treasure, seeking to lay no arbitrary control upon the thoughts of men, if all British moral and material forces and convictions are joined with your own in fraternal association, the highroads of the future will be clear, not only for us but for all, not only for our time, but for a century to come.
What happened next …
Joseph Stalin denounced the "Iron Curtain Speech" as baseless. He said it only proved that hostility was building in Western Europe and the United States against the Soviets and communism. He charged Churchill with "warmongering," or stirring up emotions in favor of war. Nevertheless, with the "Long Telegram" and now the "Iron Curtain Speech" fresh in everyone's mind, the U.S. State Department applied exceedingly strong pressure on the Soviets to move their occupying troops out of oil-rich Iran in the Middle East. The Soviets responded by pulling out their troops by May in exchange for the U.S. promise to allow them access to Iranian oil. In actuality, that promise was never fulfilled. Iran was the first test of wills between the United States and the Soviet Union as the Cold War began.
Through the summer of 1946, the Soviet Union pulled back significantly from interaction with the West. Stalin halted efforts to secure a $1 billion loan from the United States, rejected Soviet membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and purged any pro-Western sympathizers from the Soviet government. In June 1946, the Soviets totally rejected a U.S. plan for international control of atomic energy.
During the summer, White House aides continually impressed upon President Truman the need to exhibit American strength before the Soviets and to not compromise or make any concessions. The White House now spoke of Stalin's ultimate goal as world domination. The U.S. anti-Soviet policy solidified. Truman said he was "tired of babying the Soviets." Even Truman's mother, in an infamous message, told her Harry it was time to get tough on the Soviets.
Did you know …
- Churchill was a skilled, productive writer. His words captured readers' full attention. Likewise, when he rose to deliver a speech, audiences were riveted to every word.
- In the days immediately following Churchill's speech, most of the U.S. press considered the speech too extreme and reported on it in that perspective. The American public had not yet come to the conclusion that their wartime ally, the Soviet Union, posed any problems. Realizing this and ever mindful of public opinion, President Truman declined to comment on the speech to the press.
- The term "Iron Curtain" came into the general U.S. vocabulary. It was used extensively throughout the rest of the twentieth century to refer to the ruthless Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
Consider the following …
- In the speech, whom did Churchill compare Stalin to in the pre–World War II days of the 1930s? What similarities caused him to make the comparison?
- What did Churchill predict the Western powers needed to do to stop Soviet aggression?
- Comparing Churchill's "Iron Curtain Speech" and George Kennan's "Long Telegram," look for similarities of how to halt the aggression between the Western and Eastern powers.
For More Information
Bialer, Seweryn, and Michael Mandelbaum. The Global Rivals. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1988.
Edmonds, Robin. The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in Peace and War. New York: Norton, 1991.
Harbutt, Fraser J. The Iron Curtain: Churchill, America, and the Origins of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Keegan, John. Winston Churchill. New York: Viking, 2002.
Muller, James W., ed. 'Iron Curtain' Speech Fifty Years Later. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.
Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer
In 1900 he entered the House of Commons as a Conservative but crossed the floor within four years to join the Liberals on the issue of free trade. Returned as a Liberal at the next election, he gained his first ministerial experience under Campbell-Bannerman as under-secretary for the colonies. Asquith brought him into the cabinet at the age of 33 as president of the Board of Trade (1908) and moved him to the Home Office before he had reached the age of 35 (1910). By now Churchill had married Clementine Hozier (1908)—to whom he proposed four times before he won acceptance. She provided him with a stable emotional base for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, along with Lloyd George, he played a major part in laying the foundations of the welfare state by establishing labour exchanges and social insurance. His tenure of the Home Office, on the other hand, is remembered for the myth that he sent troops to Wales to crush the striking miners of Tonypandy (1910) and for his appearance at the siege of Sidney Street (1911).
In 1911 he became 1st lord of the Admiralty and a historical figure of significance for the first time. Completing the work of the recently retired Admiral Fisher, he replaced dreadnoughts with super-dreadnoughts, established a naval air service, and began the conversion of the fleet from coal to oil. In the words of historian M. D. R. Foot, ‘the outbreak of war in 1914 found much the world's strongest fleet fully mobilised at its war stations, and able to exercise an international impact, which, over four and a quarter years proved decisive. It was as much Fisher's achievement as Churchill's, but neither could have achieved as much as he did without the other.’
Having the fleet ready was one of Churchill's contributions to the British war effort between 1914 and 1918. Another was the part he played in the development of the tank. However, he was remembered most of all for conceiving the 1915 Dardanelles campaign, designed to shorten the war by removing Turkey and allowing the western allies to link up with Russia. Approved by the war cabinet and given the half-hearted support of Fisher (who had been recalled in 1914 but who in Churchill's own words ‘went mad’ the following year), the attack on Gallipoli failed due to naval delays and the lack of troops to effect a surprise landing. In its wake, Asquith was forced to form a coalition with the Conservatives, who loathed Churchill as a renegade, and had him transferred to become chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. Lacking any influence over the course of the war, Churchill resigned and took command of a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers in France. A few months later he was recalled by Lloyd George to become minister of munitions, although his influence on events remained minimal. Between 1918 and 1920 he was secretary of state for war and air, in which capacity he was responsible for running down the planned post-war Royal Air Force from 154 squadrons to 24, with only two for home defence. He was also responsible for ensuring that demobilization proceeded peacefully, a task which he fulfilled successfully. His attempts, on the other hand, to persuade his colleagues to overthrow the Bolsheviks in Russia were unsuccessful. Intervention did take place—to prevent allied stores falling into German hands—but Churchill had to organize the withdrawal of British troops. His true instincts, however, became well known and played their part in building up his image as an arch-enemy of the organized working class. The Tonypandy myth, plus his role during the 1926 General Strike, helped consolidate this reputation.
In 1921 he became colonial secretary and made a treaty with the Irish Free State. He also negotiated a peace settlement with the Arabs, advised by T. E. Lawrence. Although he opposed Lloyd George's policy towards the Turks, he gave his prime minister vociferous support over the Chanak crisis of 1922. When the coalition fell a few months later, he was defeated in the 1922 election and began work on his history of the First World War, the first volume of which was published in 1923 (it was completed in 1931). A friend quipped: ‘Winston has written an enormous book about himself and called it The World Crisis.’
Returning to the Commons in October 1924, he was offered the chancellorship of the Exchequer by Baldwin and rejoined the Conservative Party. In 1925 he put Great Britain back on the gold standard, unfortunately at the pre-war parity of £1 = $1, which was of little help to British exporters. Three years later he introduced the ‘ten-year rule’, whereby the service estimates would be prepared on the assumption that no war was likely for the next ten years. Meanwhile, he was only prevented from running down the navy as he had already run down the RAF by the threatened resignation of the entire Board of Admiralty. Even so, much of the grand fleet he had controlled before 1914 was broken up. In the General Strike of 1926, he took overall command of the government newspaper the British Gazette. This reinforced the hostility of organized labour towards him, but in fact he was not as bellicose against the miners as people assumed. Churchill's star, however, was set to wane. With the fall of Baldwin's government in 1929, he was out of office for the next ten years.
Churchill himself turned the 1930s into his wilderness years by choosing to wander in the political desert. His attacks on constitutional progress in India, inspired by a romantic vision of the India of his youth, and his defence of Edward VIII found little response among a British public used to the idea of independent dominions and determined not to have an American divorcee as queen at any price. Nor was Churchill able to capture the public imagination as the ideological foe of fascism. He admired Mussolini and sympathized with Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Finally, on the great economic questions of the day—unemployment, protection, recovery—he had little to say, unlike Lloyd George, who in the words of A. J. P. Taylor ‘produced a rich stock of creative ideas’.
In the 1930s, however, Churchill did take up the cause of resistance to Nazi Germany. There were many obstacles to this and British governments were all too well aware of them: pacifist sentiment after the First World War; belief in the League of Nations; sympathy for Germany's desire to rewrite the treaty of Versailles; not least, fear of the bomber. The Treasury in particular opposed rearmament, also with good cause: America's refusal to provide loans; war debts from the First World War; fear of inflation and the crowding-out of civilian investment; difficulties with management and labour if the economy had to be directed; a possible taxpayers' revolt; the lack of sufficient gold and foreign currency reserves to import both food and raw materials in wartime. After a year of war, Britain, it predicted, would be bankrupt. The chiefs of staff, for their part, advised that it would be impossible to fight a war on three fronts simultaneously against Germany, Italy, and Japan around the globe. Britain would simply lose. The Foreign Office, finally, asked just who our allies were going to be. America was neutral, the dominions unpredictable, and even if the Soviets could be brought in, an alliance with them might push Franco into the arms of the axis and close off the Mediterranean. The appeasers, therefore, had a good case. Churchill, on the other hand, was a sort of appeaser too. He did not believe that war was inevitable and knew that Hitler wanted Britain as an ally. However, he believed that a grand alliance against the dictator would make him moderate his plans, at which stage his grievances could be considered. If not, perhaps he could be overthrown before it came to war. But if Germany would not see reason, then war it would be. He envisaged that war, however, as one in which Britain would make her contribution with sea and air power. He thought a continental army a mistake.
When war came, Churchill returned to the Admiralty, although he acted as if he were already prime minister. Almost immediately he became involved in a madcap scheme to send an expeditionary force to Norway, ostensibly to help save Finland from the Russians, but in practice to cut off Swedish iron ore from the Germans. The lack of air cover, however, meant that the whole campaign was a disaster. Ironically, Chamberlain was blamed and Churchill became prime minister at the head of a national government.
As leader, Churchill was a mixture of ruthlessness and impetuosity. Concerned to do everything possible to win the war, in practice he had few means of doing so. Still, he did what he could, which meant the bombing offensive, plus the Mediterranean campaign. Determined to have action, he prodded and sacked his generals and made many mistakes—sinking the French fleet at Oran, invading Greece, defending Crete, neglecting the Far East. Yet his position as prime minister was secure, since he had become in the summer of 1940 the spirit of British resistance incarnate, defying the Nazis with speeches of supreme eloquence that reflected the emotional mood of the nation precisely. His real hope of victory depended on the entry of the USA, and when that happened, Churchill persuaded the Americans both to make Europe the primary theatre of the war and to participate in the north African campaign. When Hitler attacked Stalin, he immediately offered aid to the Soviets, his only war aim being the destruction of Nazi Germany. Towards the end of the war, in October 1944, aware of US plans to send their troops home once the war was over, he signed the Percentages agreement with Stalin, dividing the Balkans into spheres of influence and saving Greece from communism.
As war leader, Churchill had little time for the home front. Nor was he much interested in post-war planning. When the Beveridge Report was published in 1942, he doubted whether a bankrupt Britain would be able to afford the welfare state which it envisaged. In any case, he had left domestic affairs to Attlee and his Labour colleagues, which proved a mistake. For it was to them that the electorate turned in July 1945 once victory had been secured over Germany. Churchill was still adored and respected, but the voters guessed that he was not the man for post-war reconstruction. As leader of the Conservative Party and of the opposition, on the other hand, he was more politically secure than he had ever been before in peacetime. His voice continued to be heard in international affairs and, just as he had warned against the rising threat from Hitler, he now warned against the ‘iron curtain’ which was descending over Europe. He also spoke out in favour of a united Europe, although he never meant that Britain should be part of it.
In 1951 he returned as prime minister. He was now 77 years old, had suffered two strokes, and would suffer two more. Yet his government was highly successful. Eden shone as foreign secretary, Macmillan built a record number of council houses, and nothing was done to undermine the welfare state, inherited from Labour. Churchill attempted to arrange a summit conference with the Soviets after the death of Stalin in 1953, but Eisenhower would hear none of it. He in turn rejected Eisenhower's request the following year to involve the British in Vietnam to save the French. In April 1955 he agreed to retire as prime minister, completing a career without equal among democratic politicians. He was Father of the House of Commons when he gave up his seat in 1964 and died the following year. Churchill was given a state funeral, and buried in Bladon churchyard on the Blenheim estate. No attempts to revise or belittle his reputation have yet proved successful.
Gilbert, M. , Churchill: A Life (New York, 1991);
Sked, A., and and Cook, C. , Post-War Britain: A Political History, 1945–1992 (Harmondsworth, 1993).
Born November 30, 1874
Died January 24, 1965
British statesman, soldier, and writer
One of the greatest British leaders of all time, Winston Churchill became a figure of monumental importance during World War II, when he led his country through some of its darkest days. Churchill's career was long and rich and featured many ups and downs—times when many of his fellow politicians scorned him as well as times when he was considered a hero. Some of his varied accomplishments include helping to establish a welfare system in Britain, preparing the British navy for World War I (1914-18; a war that started as a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia and escalated into a global war involving thirty-two nations), and earning the Nobel Prize for literature. But it is for his role in World War II that he is most remembered and admired. His powerfulspeeches, his two-fingered "V for Victory" wave, his ever-present cigar, and his tenacious refusal to give in to tyranny inspired hope and courage in people around the world.
An aristocratic background
Churchill was the son of an English aristocrat, Lord Randolph Churchill, and a descendant of John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough, who led a great military victory against the French in 1702. His mother was Jennie Jerome, an American from New York whose own mother was one-quarter Iroquois. Although Lord Randolph Churchill had once been a respected political figure, his career eventually collapsed and he died a failure at forty-six. Some observers have speculated that the younger Churchill was determined to succeed where his father had failed—or perhaps he wanted to prove his worth to his father, who once wrote that Winston lacked "cleverness, knowledge, and any capacity for settled work."
Indeed, Churchill's younger years do not reflect the achievements of his later life. He entered Harrow (a famous private school), but was not admitted to the upper (secondary) school because he refused to study Greek and Latin, preferring to read and write in English. Churchill got into the Royal Military College at Sandhurst only on his third attempt.
Enjoying life as a soldier
After leaving Sandhurst, Churchill joined the British army as a cavalry officer, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy life as a soldier. In 1895, he took a break from his military duties to travel to Cuba, where he served as a correspondent for London's Daily Graphic, reporting on the clash between the island's Spanish colonizers and guerrilla soldiers fighting for independence.
Rejoining his army regiment, Churchill was sent to India, which was then a British colony. In 1897, he served with the Indian army on the Malakand expedition, in which they put down a rebellion of people living in the northwestern part of the country; he also wrote a book about this experience: The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).
The next year, Churchill went to Sudan in northern Africa and took part as both an army officer and a reporter in the Battle of Omdurman, which featured what was probably the British army's last cavalry charge. About this experience he wrote to his mother that he "never felt the slightest nervousness. [I] felt as cool as I do now." Again, Churchill recorded his adventures in a book, The River War (2 vols., 1899).
A South African adventure
In 1899, Churchill traveled to South Africa to report for the London Morning Post on the war between that country's English colonizers and the Boers, Dutch settlers who had arrived in South Africa several centuries earlier. Caught up in some fighting near the town of Ladysmith, Churchill was captured by a Boer officer named Louis Botha, who many years later would become South Africa's prime minister and Churchill's good friend. Churchill made a daring escape from a prison camp and returned to the front, an experience he chronicled in London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (1900). This book made Churchill world famous.
Political career begins
Churchill's political career began when he was only twenty-six years old. On January 23, 1901, he became a member of Parliament for Oldham (located in England's Lancashire region). At that time he belonged to the Conservative Party, but by 1904 he had joined the Liberals and become undersecretary of state for the colonies. Churchill also found time to write a biography of his father, which was published in 1906.
Churchill claimed that following his 1908 marriage to Clementine Hozier the couple "lived happily ever afterwards." They had four children: a son named Randolph and daughters Diana, Sarah, and Mary (as well as one child who died in infancy). Meanwhile, his political career was thriving.
From 1908 to 1910 he served as president of the Board of Trade, then from 1910 to 1911 as home secretary. In this position he oversaw the early legislation setting up a welfare system. He also helped to create innovative labor exchanges, and introduced benefits for workers such as old-age pension acts.
In charge of the navy
In 1911, Churchill was named First Lord of the Admiralty, which put him at the head of Britain's navy. Concerned about Germany's rapid buildup of naval power and convinced that peace could only be maintained by preparing for war, Churchill resolved to improve the British navy through such measures as switching from coal-burning to fuel-burning ships and setting up a naval air service.
During the early years of World War I (1914-18), Churchill planned aggressive military campaigns. But when these attacks failed, Churchill lost his job. For a few years he took up painting (a hobby he pursued for the rest of his life), but in 1916, he volunteered to serve in the army. He went to the western front as commander of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers. This didn't last long, though, because Prime Minister (the chief executive or top leader of the government) Lloyd George soon called on Churchill to rejoin the government.
Some frustrating years
As secretary of state for war and air (and later for air and colonies), Churchill spent the first few years after World War I working to reform the army and develop Britain's air power—he even became a pilot himself. He also spoke out against the Bolshevik revolution in Russia (in which Russia's traditional monarchy was toppled by a Communist regime) and participated in the establishment of the Irish Free State.
Churchill failed to be elected to Parliament in 1922, and he turned to writing for a few years. He returned briefly to government service when he became chancellor of the exchequer (in charge of deciding how the government spends its money) for a short, unhappy stint, but by the beginning of the 1930s he had gone back to private life.
This was a difficult decade for Churchill. He warily watched Germany rebuild its power and worried about the danger posed by Adolf Hitler. He strongly opposed the policy of appeasement (to compromise or conciliate in order to avoid a conflict) pushed by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940; see entry). In 1935, Churchill made a speech to the House of Commons warning against the "ever-advancing sources of authority and despotism."
World War II changes Churchill's fortunes
When war with Germany began in 1939, Churchill was made First Lord of the Admiralty—more than twenty-five years after he had first held this post. Meanwhile, Chamberlain's government was quickly losing favor. By now, everyone realized that it had been wrong to go along with Hitler for so long, and that Churchill was one of the few who had warned against it. Now the Germans had overrun Poland, northwestern Europe, and France. They were attacking Britain by air and could invade at any time.
It was under these frightening circumstances that Churchill was chosen to lead his country. He became prime minister on May 10, 1940, and he immediately expressed his determination to keep Britain safe and, eventually, to free the rest of the world from Nazi tyranny. In a fiery speech to the House of Commons on May 13, he said, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat, and tears. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: it is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory."
Waging war from Britain and abroad
Churchill planned war strategy from the cabinet war rooms, seated in front of a huge map of the world, with his aides and advisors around him. He spoke often before Parliament and on the radio, urging the British people to stand firm, and he traveled around the world trying to gain support for the war effort and visiting battle fronts. Two of the trips he made were to the United States, where he addressed Congress in December of 1941 and May of 1942, and met with U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945; see entry).
Churchill considered his ties with Roosevelt crucial to England's success in beating Hitler. Although the United States did not initially want to enter the war, Churchill and Roosevelt worked out deals allowing Britain to borrow weapons, destroyers, and personnel. (This agreement was called the Lend-Lease Program.) With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) and America's entrance into the war, Churchill's hopes of a closer alliance were fulfilled.
Churchill gained another unlikely ally when the Soviet Union got into the war. The Soviets were unexpected allies because Churchill had always been strongly opposed to communism and the Soviet Union was a Communist country. But he recognized the value of having such a powerful friend, and he told the House of Commons, "If Hitler were to launch an attack on Hell itself, I would at least continue to make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."
The Allies on the road to victory
So now the "Grand Alliance" was in place—Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union were united in their efforts to defeat Germany, Italy, and Japan—the Axis powers. The first joint British-U.S. campaigns were the "Operation Torch" landings in North Africa and the invasion of Italy and Sicily, which forced the Nazis to fight on two fronts instead of one. As a result, the Nazi forces were spread too thin to attack England. The Americans were also eager to regain France and the rest of northwestern Europe, but it was too risky to try this until the armies were better prepared.
That time finally came on D-Day in June 1944 when the Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy in France. Churchill was so enthusiastic about this campaign that he wanted to land with the troops, and only a special order from King George VI prevented him from doing so. D-Day was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe, as hundreds of thousands of Allied troops moved into France and swept their way east, pushing the Germans back into their pre-World War II borders and finally reaching the Nazi capital of Berlin. The Germans surrendered to the Allies in May 1945. The Americans were still fighting the Japanese in the Pacific region.
Voted out of office
During the last year of the war, Churchill had played a less prominent role. First, his strong relationship with Roosevelt began to weaken due to their difference of opinion about Joseph Stalin (1879-1953; see entry), the leader of Russia: Churchill felt that the United States and England should be suspicious of Stalin; Roosevelt thought they could work cooperatively with the Soviet leader. In addition, the focus of the war had shifted away from Britain as the Russians drove back the Germans on the eastern front and the Americans concentrated on defeating the Japanese.
When the war was over, Churchill took part in the victory celebrations, but he did so with a sense of anxiety about the future. In the election of 1945, he was voted out of office. This was a sign not that the people did not respect him, but that they considered him a prime minister for war time and wanted someone else to lead them through their postwar reconstruction.
In the years following the end of World War II, Churchill turned to his favorite pursuits: writing (his book The Second World War was published in six volumes between 1948 and 1953), painting (he exhibited his works at the Royal Academy of Art), and public speaking. Churchill continued to warn against the spread of communism and urged all English-speaking people to band together to defeat it. In a famous speech delivered at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, he used the words "Iron Curtain" to describe the secrecy behind which the Soviet Union operated, and that term that would be used by many others for years to come.
In 1951, when he was seventy-seven years old, Churchill again became prime minister of Britain. He was made a Knight of the Garter (a high honor granted by the Queen of England which meant that he gained the title " Sir" in front of his name) a few weeks before the 1953 coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth. That year he also received the Nobel Prize for literature, in recognition of his many accomplished works of history, biography, politics, and memoirs. Churchill resigned as prime minister in 1955, although he continued to hold his seat in the House of Commons until 1964. He received the unusual honor of being made an honorary American citizen in 1963.
Honoring a world hero
Churchill died in January 1965. His impressive state funeral service at St. Paul's Cathedral in London reflected his stature as a hero to the people of Britain and much of the rest of the world. A man of incredible vitality, intellect, courage, and wit, he was admired for his ability to inspire greatness in those who heard his words, such as these he delivered at his old school, Harrow, in 1941: "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
Where to Learn More
Bradley, John. Churchill. New York: Gloucester Press, 1990.
Charmley, John. Churchill, The End of Glory: A Political Biography. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
Driemen, J. E. Winston Churchill: An Unbreakable Spirit. Minneapolis, MN:Dillon Press, 1990.
Lace, William W. Winston Churchill. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1995.
Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill. Boston:Little, Brown 1988.
Robbins, Keith. Churchill. Longman, 1992.
Rodgers, Judith. Winston Churchill. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.
Severance, John B. Winston Churchill: Soldier, Statesman, Artist. New York:Clarion Books, 1996.
Keegan, John. Time (April 13, 1998): 114.
"Winston Churchill" in Grolier's World War II Commemoration [Online]Available http://www.grolier.com/wwii/wwii_churchill.html (November 16, 1998).
Prime Minister Winston Churchill led his country to victory in World War II and inspired others to fight tyranny.
Churchill, Winston 1874-1965
Winston Churchill was a British politician, writer, and orator. He is best remembered for his opposition to the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, for his inspirational leadership of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, and for his warnings about the dangers of Soviet expansionism in 1946.
Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire on November 30, 1874, the eldest son of the Conservative politician Lord Randolph Churchill and his American wife, Jennie. His grandfather was the Seventh Duke of Marlborough and, despite his half American parentage, he had a very traditional British aristocratic upbringing, attending boarding schools from the age of seven at Ascot, Brighton, and Harrow. His behavior was often willful and rebellious and although his academic performance was not exceptional, when engaged he could show considerable ability. His passion was for the army, and in 1893 he was admitted to the officer training school at Sandhurst. The death of Lord Randolph in January 1895 had an enormous effect on the young Churchill, motivating him to prove himself as a worthy son.
Between 1895 and 1899 Churchill saw active military service in Cuba, India, and the Sudan. He used the periods between campaigns to improve his general education, and wrote up his military experiences as newspaper articles and books in order to earn fame and fortune. He was determined to enter politics and left the army to unsuccessfully contest the seat of Oldham in 1899. A few months later he became a war correspondent, covering the conflict between the British and the Boer republics in South Africa. He was captured, but managed to escape. This adventure made him an international celebrity and ensured his election to Parliament in 1900.
Churchill began his political life as a Conservative. Yet when the Conservative Party began to move away from the policy of free trade toward one of tariff protection, Churchill refused to move with them and dramatically crossed the floor of the House of Commons to become a Liberal. He rose rapidly within his new party, becoming a government minister in 1908. The Liberal government introduced social change at home, while wrestling with increasing international tension abroad. Churchill was responsible for basic unemployment insurance and oversaw improvements in prison conditions. There were always clear limits to his radicalism. He was a strong opponent of socialism, took a tough line against industrial unrest, and opposed the campaign of the female suffrage movement.
By the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Churchill was the minister with responsibility for the British navy, a role he clearly relished. Unfortunately, his determination to bring the fleet into action led to his support for the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, during which attempts were made by British submarines to pass through the Dardanelles and disrupt Ottoman Empire shipping in the Sea of Marmara. Churchill lost his job, but after a brief spell in the trenches on the western front, was brought back as a member of Lloyd George’s national government, serving in a succession of government posts until the fall of the administration in 1921.
Churchill became increasingly concerned with the spread of communism abroad and socialism at home. He broke with the Liberal Party and rejoined the Conservatives, serving as chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 until 1929. He was undoubtedly a great public figure but many regarded him as past his prime. A lifelong defender of the British Empire, Churchill was out of sympathy with mainstream political thinking over his opposition to greater independence for India. He found himself excluded from the national governments of the 1930s and was forced to spend time at Chartwell, his beloved home, writing history. From 1933 onward he became increasingly concerned by the threat posed to Europe by a revived militaristic Germany under Adolf Hitler’s national socialist regime, and was a vocal opponent of the Western powers’ policy of appeasement toward the fascist dictator. In the aftermath of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, public opinion shifted decisively behind Churchill and when Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had no choice but to bring him back into the government as First Lord of the Admiralty.
Churchill became prime minister of a national government on May 10, 1940, the day that Hitler launched his blitzkrieg offensive against France and the Low Countries. The next few months saw him lead Britain during a period of crisis, when, following the collapse of France, Britain faced the threat of invasion and was subjected to the full onslaught of the German air force. Churchill’s great achievement was to imbue his administration and, through the power of his oratory, the wider British public with the will to resist. He turned himself into an iconic figure, with his trademark cigar, bow tie, and two-fingered “Victory” salute. Behind the scenes, he worked hard to win increasing support from the United States. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he engaged in difficult shuttle diplomacy to build and sustain the Grand Alliance with Soviet political leader Joseph Stalin and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His stature remained high, even as Britain’s war contribution paled beside that of the United States and Soviet Union. Put simply, his policy was to take the offensive and to strive for victory.
There is no doubt that Churchill expected to win the general election of 1945, but the Conservatives were defeated by the Labour Party, and he found himself out of office. He remained a major figure on the international stage, and in March 1946 he used his stature to warn of the dangers of Soviet expansionism in his famous “Iron Curtain” speech delivered at Fulton, Missouri. He also called for European reconciliation and spoke in support of the nascent United Europe movement. Not yet ready to retire from public life, he published his account of The Second World War (1948-1954) before winning a further term as prime minister in 1951. His policy was to call for summit discussions with the Soviet Union while building up Britain’s nuclear force and strengthening relations with the United States. Ill health finally forced his retirement in 1955. His reputation now secure, he published his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-1958). In the last two decades of his life he received many honors, including knighthood, the Nobel Prize in Literature, and honorary American citizenship.
Sir Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965, seventy years to the day after the death of his father. He was given a state funeral and is buried in Bladon parish churchyard, within sight of his birthplace at Blenheim.
Churchill, Randolph S., and Sir Martin Gilbert. 1966-88. Winston S. Churchill. 8 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Jenkins, Roy. 2001. Churchill: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Reynolds, David. 2004. In Command of History. London: Allen Lane.
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill
The English statesman and author Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) led Britain during World War II and is often described as the "savior of his country."
Sir Winston Churchill's exact place in the political history of the 20th century is, and will continue to be, a subject of debate and polemical writing. Where he succeeded, and how much he personally had to do with that success, and where he failed, and why, remain to be established. That he was a political figure of enormous influence and importance, belonging in many ways to an age earlier than the 20th century, and that he fitted uneasily into the constraints of British party politics until his moment came in 1940 are not in doubt. Until recently his reputation during the years from 1940 onward was scarcely questioned. But now historians are beginning to reassess his career in just the same way as Churchill himself tried to revise T. B. Macaulay's account of the Duke of Marlborough by writing a multivolumed Life of his distinguished ancestor (completed in 1938).
Churchill's record both before 1939 and after 1945 was for the most part undistinguished. But as Anthony Storr writes: "In 1940 Churchill became the hero that he had always dreamed of being. … In that dark time, what England needed was not a shrewd, equable, balanced leader. She needed a prophet, a heroic visionary, a man who could dream dreams of victory when all seemed lost. Winston Churchill was such a man; and his inspirational quality owed its dynamic force to the romantic world of phantasy in which he had his true being."
Winston Churchill was born on Nov. 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace—the home given by Queen Anne to his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough. He was the eldest son of Lord Randolph Churchill, a Tory Democrat who achieved early success as a rebel in his party but who later failed and was cruelly described as "a man with a brilliant future behind him." His mother was Jenny Jerome, the beautiful and talented daughter of Leonard Jerome, a New York businessman.
Winston was conventionally educated following the norms of his class. He went to preparatory school, then to Harrow (1888), then to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He was neither happy nor successful at school. Winston idolized his mother, but his relations with his father, who died in 1895, were cold and distant. It is generally agreed that as a child Winston was deprived of openly expressed warmth and affection.
Churchill very early exhibited the physical courage and love of adventure and action that he was to keep throughout his political career. His first role was that of a soldier-journalist. Having joined the 4th Hussars in 1895, he immediately went to Cuba to write about the Spanish army for the Daily Graphic. He took part in the repulse of the insurgents who tried to cross the Spanish line at Trochem. In 1896 he was in India, and while on the North-West Frontier with the Malakand Field Force he began work on a novel, Savrola, a Tale of the Revolution in Laurania, which was published in 1900. More important, however, were his accounts of the military campaigns in which he participated. A book about the North-West Frontier and the Malakand Field Force was followed by a book about the reconquest of the Sudan (1899), in which he had also taken part. He went to Africa during the Boer War as a journalist for the Morning Post, and the most romantic of his escapades as a youth was his escape from a South African prison during this conflict.
In 1899 Churchill lost in his first attempt at election to the House of Commons. This was to be the first of many defeats in elections and by-elections during his career—he lost more elections than any other political figure in recent British history. But in 1900 he entered the House of Commons, in which he served intermittently until 1964. Throughout this long span his presence and oratory exercised a magnetic attraction in an institution he always refused to leave for the House of Lords.
Churchill's early years in politics were characterized by an interest in the radical reform of social problems. In 1905 he completed a biography of his father, which is perhaps his best book. Lord Randolph had tried to give coherence and organization to a popular socially oriented Toryism; Churchill carried that effort into the Liberal party, which he had joined in 1904 because of his disagreement with the revived demands for protectionism by the Chamberlain section of the Tory party. The major intellectual achievement of this period of Churchill's life was his Liberalism and the Social Problem (1909). In this work he stated his creed: "Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. … Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely by reconciling them with public right." Churchill was very active in the great reforming government of Lord Asquith between 1908 and 1912, and his work in palliating unemployment was especially significant.
In 1912 Churchill became first lord of the Admiralty—the range of offices which he held was as remarkable as the number of elections which he lost. He switched his enthusiasm away from butter toward guns, and his goal was the preparation of Britain's fleet for impending war. While at the Admiralty, Churchill suffered a major setback. He became committed to the view that the navy could best make an impact on the 1914-1918 war in Europe by way of a swift strike through the Dardanelles. This strategy proved unsuccessful, however, and Churchill lost his Admiralty post. In 1916 he was back in the army and served for a time on the front lines in France.
Churchill soon reentered political life. Kept out of the Lloyd George War Cabinet by conservative hostility to his style and philosophy, by 1921 Churchill held a post in the Colonial Office. A clash with Mustapha Kemal in Turkey, however, did not help his reputation, and in 1922 he lost his seat in the House of Commons. The Conservative party gained power for the first time since 1905, and Churchill now began long-term isolation, with few friends in any part of the political spectrum.
In 1924 Churchill severed his ties with liberalism and became chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's government. His decision to put Britain back on the gold standard was a controversial one, attacked by the economist John Maynard Keynes, among others. Although he held office under Baldwin, Churchill did not agree with the Conservative position either on defense or on imperialism. In 1931 he resigned from the Conservative "shadow cabinet" as a protest against its Indian policy. Ever the romantic imperialist, he did not want to cast away "that most truly bright and precious jewel in the crown of the King." Baldwin and he also disagreed on how to react to the crisis caused by the abdication of King Edward VIII.
Churchill's interwar years were characterized by political isolation, and during this period he made many errors and misjudgments, among them his bellicosity over the general strike of 1926. Thus he cannot be viewed simply as a popular leader who was kept waiting in the wings through no fault of his own. In fact, it is not completely evident that he was aware of the nature of the fascist threat during the 1930s.
The major period of Churchill's political career began when he became prime minister and head of the Ministry of Defense early in World War II. "I felt as if I was walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour," he wrote in the first volume of his account of the war. (This account was later published in six volumes from 1948 to 1953). His finest hour and that of the British people coincided. His leadership, which was expressed in noble speeches and ceaseless personal activity, stated precisely what Britain needed to survive through the years before United States entry into the war.
The evacuation of Dunkirk and the air defense of the Battle of Britain have become legend, but there were and are controversies over Churchill's policies. It has been argued that Churchill's oversensitivity to the Mediterranean as a theater of war led to mistakes in Crete and North Africa. The value of his resistance to the idea of a second front as the Germans advanced into Russia has also been questioned. And there has been considerable debate over the wisdom of the course he pursued at international conferences (such as those at Yalta in February 1945) which reached agreements responsible in large part for the "cold war" of the 1950s and 1960s. But although criticisms may be made of Churchill's policies, his importance as a symbol of resistance and as an inspiration to victory cannot be challenged.
The final period of Churchill's career began with his rejection by the British people at the general election of 1945. At that election 393 Labour candidates were elected members of Parliament as against 213 Conservatives and their allies. It was one of the most striking reversals of fortune in democratic history. It may perhaps be explained by Churchill's aggressive vituperation during the campaign combined with the electorate's desire for patient social reconstruction rather than for a return to prewar economic mismanagement.
In 1951, however, Churchill again became prime minister. He resigned in April 1955 after an uneventful term in office. For many of the later years of his life, even his iron constitution was not strong enough to resist the persistent cerebral arteriosclerosis from which he suffered. He died on Jan. 24, 1965, and was given a state funeral, the details of which had been largely dictated by himself before his death.
Churchill's own works, combining a very personal perspective with grand historical themes, are written with great style and lucidity. They include The World Crisis (6 vols., 1923-1931), an account of World War I; The Second World War (6 vols., 1948-1953); and the less satisfactory but sometimes elegant History of the English Speaking Peoples (4 vols., 1956-1958).
An official multivolume biography of vast scope, with separate companion volumes of documents, was started by Churchill's son, Randolph S. Churchill: Winston S. Churchill, vol. 1: Youth, 1874-1900 (1966); Winston S. Churchill: Companion Volume I, pts. 1 and 2 (1967); Winston S. Churchill, vol. 2: Young Statesman, 1901-1914 (1967). The best introductory assessment of Churchill is A. J. P. Taylor and others, eds., Churchill Revised: A Critical Assessment (1969), a volume of essays. For the best example of what will be a growing industry of revisionism on Churchill's reputation see Robert Rhodes James, Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-1939 (1970).
There are many other studies of Churchill: Alan Moorehead, Winston Churchill in Trial and Triumph (1955); Alfred L. Rowse, The Churchills (2 vols., 1956-1958; 1 vol., 1966); Herbert Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought (1957; rev. ed. 1966); American Heritage, Churchill: The Life Triumphant; the Historical Record of Ninety Years (1965); Malcolm Thomson, Churchill: His Life and Times (rev. ed. 1965; published 1949 as Life and Times of Winston Churchill); Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Churchill: The Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran (1966); Kenneth Young, Churchill and Beaverbrook: A Study in Friendship and Politics (1966); Brian Gardner, Churchill in His Time: A Study in Reputation, 1939-1945 (1968); Dennis Bardens, Churchill in Parliament (1969); and John Wheeler-Bennett, Action This Day: Working with Churchill (1969). Harold MacMillan's memoirs have much material on Churchill: Winds of Change, 1914-1939 (1966); The Blast of War, 1939-1945 (1967); and Tides of Fortune, 1945-1955 (1969).
Charmley, John, Churchill, the end of glory: a political biography, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
Churchill, Winston S. (Winston Spencer), Memories and adventures, New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.
Churchill, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Gilbert, Martin, Churchill: a life, London: Heinemann, 1991.
Pelling, Henry, Winston Churchill, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1989.
Robbins, Keith, Churchill, London; New York: Longman, 1992.
Rose, Norman, Churchill: the unruly giant, New York: Free Press, 1995.
Sandys, Celia, The young Churchill: the early years of Winston Churchill, New York: Dutton, 1995.
Soames, Mary, Winston Churchill: his life as a painter: a memoir by his daughter, London: Collins, 1990.
Winston Churchill: resolution, defiance, magnanimity, good will, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996. □
The English statesman and author Sir Winston Churchill led Britain during World War II (1939–45) and is often described as the "savior of his country." Sir Winston Churchill's exact place in the political history of the twentieth century is, and will continue to be, a subject of debate. But his strong personality and forceful determination made him a popular figure during the war years.
Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace—a home given by Queen Anne to Churchill's ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. He was the eldest son of Lord Randolph Churchill, a Tory Democrat (a British political party) who achieved early success as a rebel in his party. Later, after Randolph Churchill failed, he was cruelly described as "a man with a brilliant future behind him." His mother was Jenny Jerome, the beautiful and talented daughter of Leonard Jerome, a New York businessman. Winston idolized his mother, but his relations with his father, who died in 1895, were cold and distant. It is generally agreed that as a child Winston was not shown warmth and affection by his family.
As a child Churchill was sensitive and suffered from a minor speech impediment. He was educated following the norms of his class. He first went to preparatory school, then to Harrow in 1888 when he was twelve years old. Winston was not especially interested in studying Latin or mathematics and spent much time studying in the lowest level courses until he passed the tests and was able to advance. He received a good education in English, however, and won a prize for reading aloud a portion of Thomas Macaulay's (1800–1859) Lays of Ancient Rome (1842). After finishing at Harrow, Winston failed the entrance test for the Royal Military College at Sandhurst three times before finally passing and being allowed to attend the school. His academic record improved a great deal once he began at the college. When he graduated in 1894 he was eighth in his class.
Very early on Churchill demonstrated the physical courage and love of adventure and action that he kept throughout his political career. His first role was that of a soldier-journalist. In 1895 he went to Cuba to write about the Spanish army for the Daily Graphic. In 1896 he was in India, and while on the North-West Frontier with the Malakand Field Force he began work on a novel, Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania. The book was published in 1900.
More important, however, were Churchill's accounts of the military campaigns in which he participated. Savrola was followed by a book about the reconquest of the Sudan (1899), in which he had also taken part. As a journalist for the Morning Post, he went to Africa during the Boer War (1899–1902), where British forces fought against Dutch forces in South Africa. The most romantic of his adventures as a youth was his escape from a South African prison during this conflict.
In 1899 Churchill lost in his first attempt at election to the House of Commons, one of two bodies controlling Parliament in England. This was to be the first of many defeats in elections, as Churchill lost more elections than any other political figure in recent British history. But in 1900 he entered the House of Commons, in which he served off and on until 1964.
Churchill's early years in politics were characterized by an interest in the radical reform (improvement) of social problems. The major intellectual achievement of this period of Churchill's life was his Liberalism and the Social Problem (1909). In this work he stated his belief in liberalism, or political views that stress civil rights and the use of government to promote social progress. Churchill was very active in the great reforming government of Lord Asquith between 1908 and 1912, and his work fighting unemployment was especially significant.
In 1912 Churchill became first lord of the Admiralty, the department of British government that controls the naval fleet. He switched his enthusiasm away from social reform to prepare Britain's fleet for a war that threatened Europe. While at the Admiralty, Churchill suffered a major setback. He became committed to the view that the navy could best make an impact on the war in Europe (1914–18) by way of a swift strike through the Dardanelles, a key waterway in central Europe. This strategy proved unsuccessful, however, and Churchill lost his Admiralty post. In 1916 he was back in the army, serving for a time on the front lines in France.
Churchill soon reentered political life. He was kept out of the Lloyd George War Cabinet by conservative hostility toward his style and philosophy. But by 1921 Churchill held a post as a colonial secretary. A clash with Turkish president Kemal Atatürk, however, did not help his reputation, and in 1922 he lost his seat in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party gained power for the first time since 1905, and Churchill began a long-term isolation, with few political allies.
In 1924 Churchill severed his ties with liberalism and became chancellor of the Exchequer (British treasury) in Stanley Baldwin's (1867–1947) government. Churchill raised controversy when he decided to put Britain back on the gold standard, a system where currency equals the value of a specified amount of gold. Although he held office under Baldwin, Churchill did not agree with his position either on defense or on imperialism, Britain's policy of ruling over its colonies. In 1931 he resigned from the conservative "shadow cabinet" in protest against its Indian policy.
Churchill's years between world wars were characterized by political isolation. During this period he made many errors and misjudgments. Chief among these was his warlike approach to the general strike of 1926. Thus, he cannot be viewed simply as a popular leader who was kept waiting in the wings through no fault of his own.
The major period of Churchill's political career began when he became prime minister and head of the Ministry of Defense early in World War II, when British and American Allies fought against the Axis of Germany, Italy, and Japan.
"I felt as if I was walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour," Churchill wrote in the first volume of his account of the war. (This account was later published in six volumes from 1948 to 1953.) His finest hour and that of the British people came at the same time. His leadership, which was expressed in noble speeches and constant personal activity, stated precisely what Britain needed to survive through the years before the United States entered the war.
The evacuation of Dunkirk and the air defense of the Battle of Britain became legend, but there were and are controversies over Churchill's policies. It has been argued that Churchill was too sensitive to the Mediterranean as a theater of war, which led to mistakes in Crete and North Africa. The value of his resistance to the idea of a second front as the Germans advanced into Russia has also been questioned. And there has been considerable debate over the courses he pursued at international conferences, such as those at Yalta in February 1945.
Many believed some of Churchill's policies were responsible for the "cold war" of the 1950s and 1960s, where relations between Eastern Communist powers and Western powers came to a standstill over, among other things, nuclear arms. Although criticisms may be made of Churchill's policies, his importance as a symbol of resistance and as an inspiration to victory cannot be challenged.
The final period of Churchill's career began with the British people rejecting him in the general election of 1945. In that election 393 Labour candidates were elected members of Parliament against 213 Conservatives and their allies. It was one of the most striking reversals of fortune in democratic history. It may perhaps be explained by Churchill's aggressive campaign combined with the British voters' desire for social reconstruction.
In 1951, however, Churchill again became prime minister. He resigned in April 1955 after an uneventful term in office. For many of the later years of his life, even his personal strength was not enough to resist the persistent cerebral arteriosclerosis, a brain disorder, from which he suffered. He died on January 24, 1965, and was given a state funeral, the details of which had been largely dictated by himself before his death.
There is little doubt that Winston Churchill was a political figure of enormous influence and importance. His record, both before 1939 and after 1945, was for the most part undistinguished. But as Anthony Storr writes: "In 1940 Churchill became the hero that he had always dreamed of being.… In that dark time, what England needed was not a shrewd, equable, balanced leader. She needed a prophet, a heroic visionary, a man who could dream dreams of victory when all seemed lost. Winston Churchill was such a man."
For More Information
Charmley, John. Churchill, The End of Glory: A Political Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
Churchill, Winston S. Memories and Adventures. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.
Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. London: Heinemann, 1991.
Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932–1940. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.
Manchester, William. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 1874–1932. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988.
Churchill, Winston S.
As prime minister, Churchill's rousing oratory and determination embodied Britain's will to win, but he could also be impatient and arrogant, overworking himself and others. He believed it vital to work closely with the United States, to forge a personal link to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and to create a long‐term “special relationship” between the two countries. Taking an active part in military planning with U.S. and British commanders, he especially advocated a “Mediterranean Strategy,” designed to attack Germany through what he called the “soft underbelly” of Europe while preserving British Imperial interests. Defeated by the Labour Party in the July 1945 election, and replaced at the Potsdam Conference by Clement Attlee, Churchill nonetheless urged resistance to Soviet communism with the 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, Missouri. As prime minister once more in 1951–55, he visited America three times and took a great interest in nuclear developments, reaching an agreement in January 1952 on the use of British air bases by American nuclear bombers. His aim was always to maintain Britain as a great power.
[See also D‐Day Landing, World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Martin Gilbert , Churchill: A Life, 1991.
Norman Rose , Churchill: An Unruly Life, 1994.
Warren Kimball , Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Second World War, 1997.
John W. Young