On this day, le 30 novembre,
Winston Churchill was born.
On this day, le 30 novembre in 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born to his beautiful American mother, Jennie Jerome, and Lord Randolph Churchill in the women's cloakroom during a dance at Blenheim Palace, the Duke of Marlborough's (Churchill) family estate. The Duke of Marlborough had descended from John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough, a British Army officer who defeated Napoléon at Blenheim in Austria, stopping Napoléon's advance through Europe and restoring glory to the tattered and demoralized British Army. The Spencer side of the family is now most famous for its daughter, Princess Diana.
Blenheim Palace is near Woodstock in Oxfordshire. Winston's politician father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough; Winston's mother, Lady Randolph Churchill was the daughter of New York millionaire Leonard Jerome.
Typical of British upper class parents, Lord Randolph and Lady Jennie paid little attention to young Winston. In fact, Lord Randolph seemed actively to dislike his son. Winston craved the attention of his parents. Churchill later wrote of his mother: "She shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly - but at a distance." Despite the distant relationship with his father, young Winston keenly followed his father's career. Once, in 1886, he proclaimed "My daddy is Chancellor of the Exchequer and one day that's what I'm going to be." His desolate, lonely childhood stayed with him throughout his life.
He was very close to his nurse, Elizabeth Ann Everest (nicknamed "Woom" by Churchill), and was deeply saddened when she died on 3 July 1895. Churchill paid for her gravestone at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium.
He was a poor student and struggled in school. He talked with a stutter and a lisp. After the lower grades, Winston entered Harrow as the lowest boy in the lowest class, and in that unhappy position he stayed. 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 ..." He also became the school's fencing champion.
After being educated at Harrow he went in 1893 at the age of 18 to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, the only school Lord Randolph would send him to. Lord Randolph had noticed that Winston spent many hours playing with toy soldiers. He decided that soldiering was the only career for a boy of "limited intelligence." (Sandhurst is the British equivalent of West Point.) Churchill blossomed at Sandhurst, excelling in tactics and fortifications (the two most important subjects at the time), and finished eighth in a class of 150.
With Victoria as Queen, Churchill joined the Fourth (Queen's Own) Hussars, a proud cavalry regiment in 1895 and saw action on the Indian north-west frontier. In India he read many books he had neglected in school. The works of Edward Gibbon and Thomas B. Macaulay interested him the most. Twenty-year-old Lieutenant Churchill ached for adventure. For a soldier, adventure meant fighting. After the action in India, the only fighting at the 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 colorful 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. While in India, Churchill supplied military reports for the Daily Telegraph and wrote The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) about his experiences in India. Then he went to the Sudan where he took part in the Battle of Omdurman (1898). In 1899, he wrote a book about his experiences in the Sudan and the Battle of Omdurman, The River War. In it, the 25 year-old Winston Churchill gives a chillingly prophetic look at Islam and the danger it poses to Western culture.
The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 began in South Africa in October 1899. A London newspaper, The Morning Post, hired Churchill to report the war between the Boers - most of whom were Dutch settlers - and the British. Soon after Churchill arrived in South Africa, the Boers ambushed an armored 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 by the sentries. Then, traveling on freight trains, he crossed 300 miles (480 kilometers) of enemy territory to safety. He became a famous hero overnight. On returning to England he wrote about his experiences in the book, London to Ladysmith (1900).
In the 1900 General Election Churchill was elected as the Conservative MP for Oldham. As a result of reading Poverty, A Study of Town Life by Seebohm Rowntree he became a supporter of social reform. In 1904, unconvinced that his party leaders desired change, Churchill decided to join the Liberal Party.
In the 1906 General Election Churchill won North West Manchester and immediately became a member of the new Liberal government as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. When Herbert Asquith replaced Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908 he promoted Churchill to his cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. While in this post he carried through important social legislation including the establishment of employment exchanges.
In the spring of 1908, Churchill met Clementine Hozier (1885-1977), the daughter of a retired Army officer. Clementine and Churchill were married on 12 September 1908. Years later, Churchill wrote that he "lived happily ever afterwards." He also wrote: "My most brilliant achievement was my ability to persuade my wife to marry me." 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. Despite the ten year difference in their ages, Winston and Clementine had a storied love for each other that lasted until death took him from her.
In 1911, Prime Minister Herbert H. Asquith appointed Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty, the equivalent of Secretary of the Navy in the U.S. 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 who realized that war with Germany would probably come. He reorganized the Navy, developed antisubmarine tactics, and modernized the fleet. He converted the fleet from coal to oil and secured reserve oil deposits in the middle east in order to assure the Royal Navy of a continuing supply of fuel. He also created the Navy's first air service. When the United Kingdom entered World War I, on 4 August 1914, the fleet was ready. During his tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was once confronted by a group of Admirals protesting that his modernization of the fleet was bringing changes "against the traditions of the Royal Navy." This gave rise to one of Churchill's most famous quotes. He replied, "The traditions of the Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash. Good day, gentlemen," and he turned and walked away from the shocked Admirals.
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, the United Kingdom's ally. But the campaign failed disastrously, due largely to the commanders on the scene not following through on their initial success but also due to political infighting in the Admiralty and War Department that sabotaged the effort. Unjustly, 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. Then he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command of a battalion of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers.
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 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. Thus Churchill's childhood prediction that he would one day hold this office came true. 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 colors. Many of Churchill's paintings have hung in the Royal Academy of Arts.
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.
German troops marched into Poland on 1 September 1939. The war that Churchill had so clearly foreseen had begun. On 3 September the United Kingdom 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. The United Kingdom 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 10 May King George VI asked Churchill to form a new government. That same day, Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
At the age of 65, Churchill became Prime Minister. 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 months that followed brought a full measure of blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Belgium surrendered to Germany on 28 May and the defeat of France appeared likely at any moment. On 4 June, Churchill told Commons that even though all of Europe might fall, "... we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end ... we shall fight in the seas and oceans ... we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. ..." On 22 June, France surrendered to Germany.
The United Kingdom now 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 defenses, 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 additional support from RAF planes, knowing that the United Kingdom needed them for its own defense. 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 armored division in England to Egypt. Churchill reasoned that, if a German invasion of England could not be prevented, one armored division could not save the country. But that division could fight the Germans in Egypt.
In August 1941, Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met aboard ship off the coast of Newfoundland. They drew up the Atlantic Charter, which set forth the common postwar aims of the United States and the United Kingdom. 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 7 December 1941. Later that month, Churchill and Roosevelt conferred in Washington, D.C. On December 26, Churchill addressed the United States 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."
Relations between Churchill and Roosevelt always remained friendly even though differences arose between them. Churchill gloried in the British Empire, but Roosevelt was suspicious of British colonial policies. Churchill distrusted the Soviet Union, but Roosevelt, under the influence of many Communist sympathizers in his cabinet such as Harry Hopkins, did not.
In August 1942, Churchill journeyed to Moscow to meet 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 surrender from Germany, Italy, and Japan. The first meeting of Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt took place in Tehran, Iran, in November 1943. The Big Three, as they were called, set the British-American invasion of France for the following spring. On 6 June 1944, the Allies landed troops on the beaches of Normandie and the Allied drive into Germany began.
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, sided with Stalin at Yalta, and the fate of Eastern Europe was sealed. Roosevelt died two months after the conference, and Harry Truman became President.
Germany surrendered on 7 May 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 the United Kingdom. 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 the United Kingdom for World War II. The defeat hurt Churchill deeply. Clement R. Attlee succeeded him as Prime Minister.
Another famous Churchill quote arose from the socialist-leaning Attlee having replaced Churchill as Prime Minister. Churchill had retained his seat in Commons. One day Churchill walked in to the Men's Room off the House of Commons to find Attlee already standing at the trough. Churchill deliberately stood at a distance from the trough while relieving himself. Attlee asked, "Feeling a little stand-offish today, Winston?" Churchill replied, "Clement, every time you see something big, you want to nationalise it."
Churchill took his place as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. He urged Parliament to plan for national defense, and warned the western world against the dangers of Communism. On March 5, 1946, speaking at Fulton, Mo., with President Truman in the audience, 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 the United Kingdom 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. He took pride in his cattle and his race horses. In 1948, the first volume of Churchill's History of the Second World War was published. The sixth and last volume of these magnificent memoirs appeared in 1953.
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, the United Kingdom's highest order of knighthood. Churchill had been offered this honor 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 Commons. In June 1953, Sir Winston suffered a severe stroke that paralyzed his left side. He made a remarkable recovery.
Late in 1953, Sir Winston won the Nobel Prize for literature. He was honored for "... his mastery of historical and biographical presentation and for his brilliant oratory. ..."
On 30 November 1954, Churchill celebrated his 80th birthday. Members of all political parties gathered to honor 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 the United Kingdom 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 rumored 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, the years and two world wars had taken a toll. Aware that he was slowing down both physically and mentally, Churchill retired as Prime Minister in 1955 and was succeeded by Anthony Eden, who had long been his ambitious protégé. (Three years earlier, Eden had married Churchill's niece Anna Clarissa Churchill, his second marriage.)
Churchill spent most of his retirement at his country home, Chartwell, and in the south of France 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 Commons, his body now bent with age. Here, where his voice once rang eloquently, he now sat silently.
In 1963, Congress named Churchill the first Honorary Citizen of the United States. The action reflected the American people's affection for the man who had done so much for the cause of freedom. Churchill was too ill to attend the White House ceremony, so his son Randolph and grandson Winston accepted the award for him. 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.
On 15 January 1965 Churchill suffered a stroke that left him gravely ill. He died nine days later on 24 January 1965, 70 years to the day of his father's death. His body lay in State in Westminster Abbey for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul's Cathedral. This was the first state funeral for a non-royal family member since that of Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar in 1914. As his coffin passed down the Thames on a boat from Westiminster heading to St. Paul's Cathedral*, the cranes of London's docklands bowed in salute. The Royal Artillery fired a 19-gun salute (as head of government), and the RAF staged a fly-by of sixteen English Electric Lightning fighters. The state funeral was the largest gathering of dignitaries in Britain as representatives from over 100 countries attended, including French President Charles de Gaulle, Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, other heads of state and government, and members of royalty. It also saw largest assemblage of statesmen in the world until the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.
* Click at "St. Paul's" for an exterior view. Click at "Cathedral" for an interior view.
From St. Paul's Cathedral, Churchill's casket was taken to Waterloo Station and was sent by a special train to where he was buried in the family plot at Saint Martin's Churchyard, Bladon, near Woodstock, and not far from his birthplace at Blenheim.
The struggling schoolboy Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill became one of the greatest statesmen in world history. Born during the reign of Queen Victoria, he is often considered to be "the last Victorian" in no small part because of his respect for the British Empire and the monarchy. Historian William Manchester called him "The Last Lion." Despite having one foot planted firmly in the glory of Victorian Britain, Churchill was also a step ahead of many others in many ways. He was a forward-looking visionary. He was the father of mechanized infantry - the tank essentially was his idea. He was the proponent of the armored car to transport infantry. He pioneered the concept in World War I of synchronizing the guns on an airplane to the propeller, and thus advanced air warfare. He forsaw the dangers posed by radical Islam, Fascism and Communism. He was one of the pioneers of the concept of the European common market. Had he not become a statesman, Churchill could have made his way quite well either as a writer or a painter. Winston Churchill was a giant of the twentieth century.
There are many surprising parallels between Churchill and Reagan as expounded in this book:
Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders
Churchill's son Randolph began the official biography of his father. Martin Gilbert completed the work. This book is condensed from the efforts of Randolph Churchill and Martin Gilbert:
Churchill: A Life
Roy Jenkins served as a Labour MP and cabinet minister. He is also a historian and biographer, having written a biograhpy of four-time 19th century Prime Minister William Gladstone followed by this Churchill biography:
Churchill: A Biography
William Manchester planned a three-volume biography of Churchill, "The Last Lion," but only completed two. This is our loss as what he finished is written in a lively style and gives not only a view of Churchill, but of the times in which the events took place better than any Churchill biography I've read. The first volume is "Visions of Glory."
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932
"Alone" is the second of Manchester's "The Last Lion" series:
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone 1932-1940