Churchill, Sir Winston (1874-1965), became one of the greatest statesmen in world history. Churchill reached the height of his fame as the heroic prime minister of Great Britain during World War II (1939-1945). He offered his people only "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" as they struggled to keep their freedom. Churchill was also a noted speaker, author, painter, soldier, and war reporter.
Early in World War II, Great Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. The British people refused to give in despite the tremendous odds against them. Churchill's personal courage and his faith in victory inspired the British to "their finest hour." The mere sight of this stocky, determined man--a cigar in his mouth and two fingers raised high in a "V for victory" salute--cheered the people. Churchill seemed to be John Bull, the symbol of the British people, come to life.
Churchill not only made history, he also wrote it. As a historian, war reporter, and biographer, he showed a matchless command of the English language. In 1953, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. Yet as a schoolboy, he had been the worst student in his class. Churchill spoke as he wrote--clearly, vividly, majestically. Yet he had stuttered as a boy.
Churchill joined the armed forces in 1895 as an army lieutenant under Queen Victoria. He ended his career in 1964 as a member of the House of Commons under Queen Elizabeth II, the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Few men ever served their country so long or so well.
Boyhood and education. Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on Nov. 30, 1874, in Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England. He was the elder of the two sons of Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895) and Lady Churchill (1854-1921).
Young Winston, a chunky lad with a mop of red hair, had an unhappy boyhood. He talked with a stutter and lisp, and did poorly in his schoolwork. His stubbornness and high spirits annoyed everyone. In addition, his parents had little time for him.
When Winston was 6 years old, his brother, John, was born. The difference in their ages prevented any real companionship. At the age of 12, Winston entered Harrow School, a leading British independent school. Throughout his school career, Winston was bottom of his class. At Harrow, however, his love of the English language began to grow. There, he said later, he "got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary English sentence ..."
In 1893, at the age of 18, Winston entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He had failed the entrance examinations twice before passing them. But he soon led his class in tactics and fortifications, the most important subjects. He graduated eighth in a class of 150. In 1895, Churchill was appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th Hussars, a proud cavalry regiment.
Soldier and reporter. Twenty-year-old Lieutenant Churchill ached for adventure. For a soldier, adventure meant fighting. But the only fighting at that moment was in Cuba, where the people had revolted against their Spanish rulers. Churchill was on leave from the army, and used his family's influence to go to Cuba as an observer with the Spanish. While there, he wrote five colourful articles on the revolt for a London newspaper. Churchill returned to London with a love for Havana cigars that lasted the rest of his life.
In 1896, Churchill's regiment was sent to Bangalore, in southern India. There he read many books he had neglected in school. The works of Edward Gibbon and Thomas B. Macaulay interested him the most.
In 1897, Churchill learned that fighting had broken out in northwestern India between British forces and Pushtun warriors. He obtained a leave from his regiment, and persuaded two newspapers to hire him as a reporter. Churchill joined the advance guard of the Malakand Field Force and took part in bloody hand-to-hand fighting. After returning to Bangalore, Churchill wrote about the campaign in his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).
A British force was being built up in Egypt to invade the Sudan. Churchill got himself transferred to the force, and again obtained a newspaper assignment. In 1898, he took part in the last great cavalry charge of the British army, in the Battle of Omdurman. Churchill returned to England and wrote a book about the Sudanese campaign, The River War (1899).
In 1899, while working on his book, Churchill resigned from the army and ran for Parliament as a Conservative from Oldham, a town in Lancashire, England. But he did not impress the voters of Oldham, most of whom were labourers and belonged to the Liberal party. He lost his first election.
The Boer War in South Africa began in October 1899. A London newspaper hired Churchill to report the war between the Boers (Dutch settlers) and the British. Soon after Churchill arrived in South Africa, the Boers ambushed an armoured train on which he was riding. He was captured and imprisoned, but made a daring escape. He scaled the prison wall one night, and slipped past the sentries. Then, travelling on freight trains, he crossed 480 kilometres of enemy territory to safety. He became a famous hero overnight.
Early political career
First public offices. In 1900, Churchill returned to England and to politics. Oldham gave him a hero's welcome, and the voters elected him to Parliament.
In January 1901, Churchill took his seat in the House of Commons for the first time. He soon began to criticize many Conservative policies openly and sharply. In 1904, Churchill broke with his party completely. He dramatically crossed the floor of Commons, amid the howls of Conservatives and the cheers of Liberals, to sit with the Liberals. In the next election, in 1906, Churchill ran as a Liberal and won.
During the next few years, Churchill served as undersecretary of state for the colonies (1906-1908), president of the board of trade (1908-1910), and home secretary (1910-1911). His appointment to the board of trade was his first cabinet position.
Churchill's family. In the spring of 1908, Churchill met Clementine Hozier (1885-1977), the daughter of a retired army officer. Clementine and Churchill were married on Sept. 12, 1908. Churchill became a devoted parent to his four children: Diana (1909-1963), Randolph (1911-1968), Sarah (1914-1982), and Mary (1922-...). Another daughter, Marigold, died in 1921 at the age of 3.
World War I. In 1911, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith appointed Churchill first lord of the admiralty. The build-up of German military and naval forces had convinced Asquith that the admiralty needed a strong leader. Churchill was one of the few people in England who realized that war with Germany would probably come. He reorganized the navy, developed antisubmarine tactics, and modernized the fleet. He also created the navy's first air service. When Britain entered World War I, on Aug. 4, 1914, the fleet was ready.
In 1915, Churchill urged an attack on the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula, both controlled by Turkey. If successful, the attack would have opened a route to the Black Sea. Aid could then have been sent to Russia, Britain's ally. But the campaign failed disastrously, and Churchill was blamed. He resigned from the admiralty, although he kept his seat in Parliament. Churchill regarded himself as a political failure. "I am finished," he told a friend. In November 1915, Churchill joined the British army in France. He served briefly as a major in the 2nd Grenadier Guards.
David Lloyd George became prime minister in December 1916. He appointed Churchill minister of munitions in July 1917. While in the admiralty, Churchill had promoted the development of the tank. Now he began large-scale tank production. Churchill visited the battlefields frequently. He watched every important engagement in France, often from the air.
World War I ended in November 1918. The next January, Churchill became secretary of state for war and for air. As war secretary, he supervised the demobilization (release of men) of the British army. In 1921, Lloyd George named him colonial secretary.
Three days before the 1922 election campaign began, Churchill had to have his appendix removed. He was able to campaign only briefly, and lost the election. He said he found himself "without office, without a seat, without a party, and without an appendix."
In 1924, Churchill was returned to Parliament from Epping after he rejoined the Conservative Party. He was later named chancellor of the exchequer under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Churchill's father had held this office almost 40 years earlier. The Conservatives lost the 1929 election, and Churchill left office. He did not hold a Cabinet position again until 1939. He kept his seat in Parliament throughout this period.
During the years between World Wars I and II, Churchill spent much of his spare time painting and writing. He did not begin painting until in his 40's, and surprised critics with his talent. He liked to use bold, brilliant colours. Many of Churchill's paintings have hung in the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Painting provided relaxation and pleasure, but Churchill considered writing his chief occupation after politics. In his four-volume World Crisis (1923-1929), he brilliantly recorded the history of World War I. In Marlborough, His Life and Times (1933-1938), he wrote a monumental six-volume study of his ancestor.
In speaking and in writing after 1932, Churchill tried to rouse his nation and the world to the danger of Nazi Germany. The build-up of the German armed forces alarmed him, and he pleaded for a powerful British air force. But he was called a warmonger.
Wartime prime minister
World War II begins. German troops marched into Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. The war that Churchill had so clearly foreseen had begun. On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at once named Churchill first lord of the admiralty, the same post he had held in World War I. The British fleet was notified with a simple message: "Winston is back."
In April 1940, Germany attacked Denmark and Norway. Britain quickly sent troops to Norway, but they had to retreat because they lacked air support. In the parliamentary debate that followed, Chamberlain's government fell. On May 10, King George VI asked Churchill to form a new government. That same day, Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
At the age of 66, Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain. He wrote later: "I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial."
Rarely, if ever, had a national leader taken over in such a desperate hour. Said Churchill: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."
The Battle of Britain. After Belgium and France surrendered to Germany, Britain stood alone. A German invasion seemed certain. In a speech to the House of Commons on the day after France asked Germany for an armistice, Churchill declared: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, 'This was their finest hour. ' "
The Germans had to defeat the Royal Air Force (RAF) before they could invade across the English Channel. In July, the German Luftwaffe (air force) began to bomb British shipping and ports. In September, the Luftwaffe began nightly raids on London. The RAF, though outnumbered, fought bravely and finally defeated the Luftwaffe. Churchill expressed the nation's gratitude to its airmen: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
While the battle raged, Churchill turned up everywhere. He defied air-raid alarms and went into the streets as the bombs fell. He toured RAF headquarters, inspected coastal defences, and visited victims of the air raids. Everywhere he went he held up two fingers in a "V for victory" salute. To the people of all the Allied nations, this simple gesture became an inspiring symbol of faith in eventual victory.
Churchill had a strong grasp of military reality. He had denied the pleas of the French for RAF planes, knowing that Britain needed them for its own defence. He decided that the French fleet at Oran in Algeria had to be destroyed. Otherwise, French warships might be surrendered and used to strengthen the German navy. He boldly sent the only fully equipped armoured division in England to Egypt. Churchill reasoned that, if a German invasion of England could not be prevented, one armoured division could not save the country. But that division could fight the Germans in Egypt.
Meetings with Roosevelt. In August 1941, Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met aboard a ship off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. They drew up the Atlantic Charter, which set forth the common postwar aims of the United States and Britain. Churchill and Roosevelt exchanged more than 1,700 messages and met nine times before Roosevelt's death in 1945.
The United States entered the war after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Later that month, Churchill and Roosevelt conferred in Washington, D.C. On December 26, Churchill addressed Congress. He stirred all Americans with his faith "... that in the days to come the British and American peoples will ... walk together side by side in majesty, in justice, and in peace."
In August 1942, Churchill met with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. The Soviet Union had entered the war in June 1941, after being invaded by Germany. Almost immediately, Stalin had demanded that the British open a second fighting front in western Europe to relieve the strain on the Soviet Union. Churchill explained to Stalin that it would be disastrous to open a second front in 1942 because the Allies were unprepared.
In January 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt met in Casablanca, Morocco. They announced that the Allies would accept only unconditional (complete) surrender from Germany, Italy, and Japan. After returning to England, Churchill fell ill with pneumonia. But he recovered with incredible vigour.
The Big Three. The first meeting of Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt took place in Teheran, Iran, in November 1943. The Big Three, as they were called, set the British-American invasion of France for the following spring. On his way home from Teheran, the 69-year-old Churchill was again struck down by pneumonia. Again he recovered rapidly.
In February 1945, the Big Three met in Yalta in the Soviet Union. The end of the war in Europe was in sight. The three leaders agreed on plans to occupy defeated Germany. Churchill distrusted Stalin. He feared the Soviet Union might keep the territories in eastern Europe that its troops occupied. Roosevelt, a close friend of Churchill's as well as an ally, died two months after the conference, and Harry S. Truman became President.
Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, almost five years to the day after Churchill became prime minister. In July, Churchill met with Truman and Stalin in Potsdam, Germany, to discuss the administration of Germany. But Churchill's presence at the meeting was cut short. He had lost his post as prime minister.
An election had been held in Britain. The Conservatives suffered an overwhelming defeat by the Labour party. The Labour party's promise of sweeping socialistic reforms appealed to the voters. In addition, the people were voting against the Conservative party. Many blamed the Conservatives, who had been in office before the war, for failing to prepare Britain for World War II. The defeat hurt Churchill deeply.
Leader of the opposition. Churchill took his place as leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. He urged Parliament to plan for national defence, and warned the western world against the dangers of communism. On March 5, 1946, speaking at Fulton, Missouri, U.S.A. Churchill declared: "Beware ... time may be short ... From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent." Many people in the United States and Britain called the speech warmongering.
Politics, lecturing, painting, and writing kept Churchill busy. But these activities did not completely satisfy his great energy. He found much to do around Chartwell Manor, his country estate in Kent, England. He took pride in his cattle and his race horses. In 1948, the first volume of Churchill's Second World War was published. The sixth and last volume of these magnificent memoirs appeared in 1953.
Return to power. The Conservatives returned to power in 1951. Churchill, now almost 77 years old, again became prime minister. As usual, he concentrated most of his energy on foreign affairs. He worked especially hard to encourage British-American unity. He visited Washington in 1952, 1953, and 1954.
In April 1953, Churchill was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The queen made him a knight of the Order of the Garter, Britain's highest order of knighthood. Churchill had been offered this honour in 1945. He had refused it because of his party's defeat in the election. He had also refused an earldom and a dukedom. As an earl or a duke, he could not have served in the Commons. In June 1953, Sir Winston suffered a severe stroke that paralysed his left side. He made a remarkable recovery.
Late in 1953, Sir Winston won the Nobel Prize for literature. He was honoured for "... his mastery of historical and biographical presentation and for his brilliant oratory. ..."
On Nov. 30, 1954, Churchill celebrated his 80th birthday. Members of all political parties gathered to honour him. Gifts and congratulations poured in from all corners of the world. The show of affection and respect touched Churchill deeply. His eyes bright with tears, he denied having inspired Britain during World War II. "It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion's heart," he said. "I had the luck to be called on to give the roar."
For some time it had been rumoured that Churchill would retire because of his advanced age. But he showed no intention of doing so, and seemed to enjoy keeping people guessing. However, in April 1955, Churchill retired.
End of an era. Churchill went back to his painting and writing. He worked on his four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-1958). He had begun this study 20 years earlier. He still took his seat in the Commons, his body now bent with age. Here, where his voice once rang eloquently, he now sat silently.
In 1963, Congress made Churchill an honorary U.S. citizen. The action reflected the American people's affection for the man who had done so much for the cause of freedom. Churchill's remarkable career ended in 1964. He did not run in the general election that year. Churchill had served in Parliament from 1901 to 1922, then from 1924 until his retirement 40 years later.
Churchill suffered a stroke on Jan. 15, 1965. He died nine days later, at the age of 90. He was buried in St. Martin's Churchyard at Bladon, Oxfordshire, near his birthplace, Blenheim Palace.
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