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Churchill, Sir Winston (Leonard Spencer) 1874-1965


Statesman, historian, and biographer, whose five years of war leadership (1940-45) secured him a central place in modern British history. Churchill is widely considered the greatest political figure in 20th-century Britain. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. In was an open secret that he would have preferred the Nobel Peace Prize. Churchill's career was anything but predictable: he supported the Zionist movement in Palestine (1921-22), during the Abdication crisis (1926) he was loyal to Edward VIII, and during the 1945 election campaign he tried to brand Labour as a totalitarian party.

'Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, the whole world, including the Unites States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. 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."' (Churchill in his speech on June 18, 1940)

Winston Churchill was the son of conservative politician Lord Randolph Churchill and his American wife, Jennie Jerome, and a direct descendant from the first Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722). Lady Randolph's second son, Jack, was born in 1880, and rumors circulated that he had a different father from Winston Churchill. "George Moore, the Anglo-Irish novelist, said she had 200 lovers, but apart from anything else the number is suspiciously round," Roy Jenkins wrote in his biography on Churchill. "I loved her dearly — but at a distance," Churchill later wrote of his mother in My Early Life (1930).

In school Churchill was at the bottom of his class, though had an excellent memory. From early on, the career and life of Lord Byron fascinated him, and in old age he could recite from memory long passages of Byron's verse. Between the two world wars, he was a member of the Byron society.

Nothing showed that  Churchill would became "the largest human being of our time" (Isaiah Berlin). Physically he was not a big man — at 5-foot-8 he was shorter than Harry Truman but about the same height than Lenin or Stalin. Churchill attended Harrow and Sandhurst, from which he graduated twentieth in a class of 130. Shortly after his father's death in 1895, he was commissioned in the Fourth Hussars. He soon obtained a leave, and worked during the Cuban war as a reporter for the London Daily Graphic.

"It is better to be making the news than taking it; to be an actor rather than a critic." (in The Malakand Field Force)

From 1896 to 1897 Churchill served as a soldier and journalist in India, and wrote the basis for The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898). "Writing is an adventure," Churchill once said. "To begin with, it is a toy and amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase it that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public."

In 1898 Churchill fought at the battle of Omdurman in Sudan, depicting his experiences in The River War (1899). Defending imperialist aggression, he later boasted of having shot at least three “savages.” Churchill's several books dealing with his early career include My African Journey (1908) and My Early Life. Churchill resigned his commission in 1899, and was assigned to cover the Boer War for the London Morning Post. His adventures, capture by the Boers, and a daring escape, made Churchill celebrity and hero on his return to England in 1900.

In 1900 Churchill was first elected to Parliament. He switched from conservatives to Liberal Party in 1904. In 1908 he married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, with whom he had one son and three daughters. This relationship brought much happiness and security throughout Churchill's lifetime. Occasionally she read his speeches beforehand.  Between 1906 and 1911 Churchill served in various governmental posts, and was appointed lord of the admiralty in 1911. As home secretary (1910-11) he used troops against strikers in South Wales.

After the outbreak of First World War he supported the Dardannelles Campaign, an operation against the Turks. He had encouraged the development of such materiel as tank, and was generally credited with the British Fleet's preparedness in August 1914. But abortive expeditions to Antwerp and Gallipoli and the failed action at the Dardanelles did great harm to Churchill reputation and career. Reduced in 1915 to minor office as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he resigned. Churchill rejoined the Army, and rose to the rank of colonel. In 1917 he was appointed Lloyd George's minister of munition, subsequently becoming the state secretary for war and air (1918-21), and colonial secretary (1921-22). During the postwar years he was active in support of the Whites (anti-Bolsheviks) in Russia.

At the election of 1922 Churchill was defeated as an Anti-Socialist. A rabid anti-Bolshevik, he further alienated critics by a third abortive military expedition — to help the White Russians on the Murman Coast. He left Parliament in 1922, and returned to the House as a Conservative. From this period he is remembered for his role as chancellor of the exchequer (1924-29) for the part he played in defeating the General strike of 1926 as an opponent of organized labour when the latter came into direct conflict with the principle of public order and government. In 1923 Lord Alfred Douglas accused Churchill of having arranged the wartime death of Lord Kitchener. Douglas's source was a bogus captain who had been certified as a lunatic. Much later he addressed a sonnet to Winston Churchill. False news annoyed Churchill but also BBC  — he saw it as a rival to his own British Gazette, edited from his official address at Downing Street.

Out of office, Churchill began writing The World Crisis, which appeared in 6 volumes (1923-31). The work was attacked by the eminent poet and critic Herbert Read in English Prose Style (1928). He described Churchill prose as being high-sounding, redundant, falsely eloquent and declamatory, sharing his view with the younger post-war generation of writers who praised the virtues of simplicity. In 1924 Churchill was elected to Parliament, and appointed chancellor of the Exchequer. Churchill's defense of the gold was criticized by the economist John Maynard Keynes, who foresaw that such policy would drop coal prices significantly. It lead to conditions which eventually provoked the general strike of 1926. Later, during World War II, Keynes was one of Churchill's economic advisers.

"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." (in a radio broadcast, October 1, 1939)

After Conservative defeat in 1929, Churchill was again out of office. His absence from government lasted a decade. During this time he wrote a four-volume biography of his ancestor, Marlborough: His Life and Times (1933-1938). In 1931 he refused to see Gandhi, who had traveled to London to participate in the Second Round table Conference. Committed to the British Raj, he regarded Gandhi as a "malignant subversive fanatic" and "a thoroughly evil force." While on a lecture tour in the Unites States Churchill  was knocked down by a car on Fifth Avenue in New York. A few years after the Nazis had seized power in Germany, he wrote in an article entitled 'Hitler and His Choice,' "We have only to read Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, to see . . . against whom the anger of rearmed Germany may be turned."

With the outbreak of World War II Churchill was appointed first lord of the Admiralty. On May 10, 1940, he became Prime Minister. When addressing the Parliament and the nation, he promised nothing but "blood, toil, tears and sweat." From July 1940, he held a number of his cabinet meetings in the war rooms deep under Whitehall, occasionally sleeping there. However, it was not until 1943 when a direct telephone link was established in the bunker connecting it to the White House. In a letter from 1940, Clementine adviced her husband to use his power wisely, kindly, and calmly: "Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. . . ." Churchill had difficulties to tolerate Charles de Gaulle, and he told to a friend: "Of all the crosses I have to bear, the heaviest is the Cross of Lorraine."

Churchill's radio speeches from Room 60 strenghtened the nation's determination to win the war. "We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. . . . We shall fight on the beaches . . . we shall fight in the fields and in the streets . . . we shall never surrender." In 2001, some sixty years later, President George W. Bush used an adaptation of these words in his speeches after a terrorist attack against World Trade Center on September 11.

Churchill's strategic misjudgment was blamed for the wartime success of Germany in Africa, Norway, and the Aegean. Moreover, his indifference toward India led to the Great Bengal famine of 1943, which killed millions of people. In November 1943 Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met in Teheran. At the meeting Churchill presented Stalin with a sword of honor for the people of Stalingrad. The Yalta meeting with Roosevelt and Stalin resulted in the dissection of Europe into opposing political jurisdictions and Stalin  became the real winner of the war.

In between his pressing duties Churchill also had time to support the idea of C.K. Ogden for an international language, Basic English. "Basic English is a carefully wrought plan for transactions of practical business and interchange of ideas, a medium of understanding to many races and an aid to the building of a new structure for preserving peace." (Churchill at Harvard, 1943) Churchill, who never nursed his physique, was relatively healthy in the early period of the war, in spite of his smoking and drinking, but in 1943 and 1944 he suffered pneumonia; also his long, official meals with Stalin, which could take four-five hours, gave him stomach pains.

On 8 May Churchill announced the unconditional surrender of Germany. Though he emerged from WW II as a national hero, he was out of the office for several years. His Conservative party was defeated by the Labour party in the 1945 election. Churchill contributed to his downfall with his notorious 'Gestapo speech,' in which he said that no Socialist government could afford to allow "free, sharp or violently worded expression of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance." Churchill himself believed that the army voted him out of power.

Churchill  continued as Opposition leader in the House of Commons: against Indian independence, and in favor of the United Nations, a unified Europe, and manufacture of the hydrogen bomb. He also remained active as a political thinker. A sign of the beginning of the Cold War was Churchill's famous 'Iron Curtain' speech in Fulton, Missouri, in spring 1946.

Churchill  once predicted (tongue-in-cheek) that history would treat him kindly because he himself would write it. His history, The Second World War, appeared in six volumes (1948-54). This work, written with the help of researchers and ghostwriters, was received with mixed critics, praised for its grandeur, but Volume 2 (the period through 1941) was considered poorly arranged, and Volume 5 (through 1944) seemed to most critics a falling-off from earlier volumes.

"The quality of Churchill's volumes on the Second World War is that of his whole life. His world in built upon the primacy of public over private relationships, upon the supreme value of action, of the battle between simple good and simple evil, between life and death; but, above all, battle." (Isaiah Berlin in The Proper Study of Mankind, 1998)

In 1951 Churchill became prime minister, and was knighted in 1953. Next year he was acclaimed by the Queen and Parliament as "the greatest living Briton". Churchill's efforts to bring an end to the first phase of the Cold War by a summit conference between himself, Eisenhower and Stalin (1952-55) turned out to be fruitless. He resigned from the prime minister's office in 1955 and was succeeded by Anthony Eden. A few year earlier, he had suffered a paralytic stroke, and Lord Moran, his physician, gave him some stimulant, perhaps amphetamine. It is possible that Churchill took drugs, "Dr. Moran's green pills", before important political meetings. In general, his diet was not healthy – he was overweight, he avoided any physical exercise whatsoever, and his servants helped him to dress and undress. After retirement  Churchill  published the monumental A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-58), which mostly dealt with politics and war. At Westerham, Kent, Churchill concentrated in painting, masonry, and horse racing. He frequently dictated letters to his secretaries half-dressed and often roamed around his rooms at Chartwell nude when he awoke. During this last period of his life, when he was not in the center of political power, he had bouts of  depression.

"I am ready to meet my Maker," Churchill said on his 75th birthday. "Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter." Churchill died on January 24, 1965, after suffering cerebral thrombosis. Later historians have been critical of Churchill's actions and relationships with world leaders. The opening of British government files in the 1980s  brought new material into daylight, but t he conviction that Churchill was among the most important men in modern history have remained unchanged.

For further reading: Winston Churchill as I Knew Him by V. Bonham-Carter (1965); Winston S. Churchill by R.S. Churchill and M. Gilbert (1966-1988, 8 vol. biography and 16 companion volumes); Churchill by M. Gilbert (1967); Winston Churchill by M.Pelling (1974); Churchill: A Photographic Portrait by Martin Gilbert (1988); The Last Lion by William Manchester (1983-84); Winston Churchill: A Reference Guide by E. Steinbaugh (1985); Winston S. Churchill by Martin Gilbert (1973-88); Churchill: The End of Glory: A Political Biography by John Charmley (1993); Churchill and Roosevelt at War by Keith Sainsbury (1994); Churchill: The Unruly Giant by Norman Rose (1995); In Search of Churchill: A Historian's Journey by Martin Gilbert (1995); Churchill and Hitler: In Victory and Defeat by John Strawson (1998); Churchill and the Soviet Union by David Carlton (2000); Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive by Celia Sandys (2000); Churchill: A Biography by Roy Jenkins (2001); Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee (2011); Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden (2013).  Phrases and slogans made well-known by Churchill: "I have nothing to offer but blood, tears, and sweat" (May 13, 1940) - "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." (August 20, 1940) - "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent". (Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, U.S., on March 5, 1946).  About the Nobel Prize for Literature: "He got the Nobel Prize for those passionate utterances which were the very stuff of human courage and defiance." William Golding, in Nobel Prize Winners, ed.  Tyler Wasson (1987).  Painting, fiction: Churchill was also talented amateur painter. Among his publications is the beautifully written introduction Paintig as a Pastime from 1948. His only work of fiction was Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania, which came out in 1900. Suom.: Churchillilta on suomennettu myös puhekokoelma Sotakronikka.

Selected works:

  • The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War, 1898
  • The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, 1899 (edited by F. Rhodes; illustrated by Angus McNeill)
  • Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania, 1900
    - Kansa nousee (suom. Toivo Vallenius, 1916)
  • London to Ladysmith via Pretoria, 1900
  • Ian Hamilton's March: Together with Extracts from the Diary of Lieutenant H. Frankland, 1900
  • Mr. Brodrick’s Army, 1903
  • Lord Randolph Churchill, 1906
  • For Free Trade, 1906
  • My African Journey, 1908
  • Liberalism and the Social Problem, 1909
  • The People’s Rights, 1909
  • Irish Home Rule , 1912 (A speech delivered at Belfast on February 8th, 1912)
  • The World Crisis 1911-1918, 1923-31 (6 vols.)
  • Shall We Commit Suicide?, 1924
  • The World Crisis: The Aftermath (Volume 5), 1929
    - Maailmansodan jälkisato (suom. Uuno Kahma, 1916)
  • My Early Life: A Roving Commission, 1930
    - Nuoruuteni (suom. Erkki Arni, 1954)
  • India, 1931
  • The Unknown War: The Eastern Front, 1931
  • Thoughts and Adventures, 1932 (US title: Amid These Storms: Thoughts and Adventures, 1932)
  • The Great War, 1933-34 (3 vols.)
  • Great Contemporaries, 1937
  • Arms and the Covenant: Speeches by Winston S. Churchill, 1938 (compiled by Randolph S. Churchill)
  • While England Slept; a Survey of World Affairs, 1932-1938, 1938 (with a preface and notes by Randolph S. Churchill)
  • Marlborough: His Life and Times, 1933-38
  • Step by Step 1936-1939, 1939
  • Britain's Strength, 1940 (Speech by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons, August 20, 1940)
  • Into Battle, 1941 (US title: Blood Sweat and Tears, 1941; with a preface and notes by Randolph S. Churchill, M.P.)
  • On Human Rights, 1941
  • The Unrelenting Struggle, 1942
  • The End of the Beginning: War Speeches by the Right Hon. Winston S. Churchill, 1943 (compiled by Charles Eade) 
  • Onwards to Victory: War Speeches, 1943, 1944 (compiled by Charles Eade) 
  • The Dawn of Liberation: War Speeches, 1945 (compiled by Charles Eade) 
  • Into Battle, 1945
  • Winston Churchill’s Secret Sessions Speeches, 1946  (compiled by Charles Eade) 
  • Victory: War Speeches, 1946 (compiled by Charles Eade)
  • War Speeches 1940-1945, 1946
  • Painting as a Pastime, 1948
    - Maalaus ajanvietteenä (suom. Leena-Kaisa Laitakari, 1950)
  • The Sinews of Peace, 1948 (ed. by Randolph S. Churchill)
  • Maxims and Reflections, 1948 (arranged and provided with an introd. by Colin Coote, and selected by him in collaboration with Denzil Batchelor)
  • The Second World War, 1948-53 (6 vols.)
  • Europe Unite, 1950 (speeches; edited by Randolph S. Churchill)
  • In the Balance: Speeches 1949 and 1950, 1951 (edited by Randolph S. Churchill)
  • The War Speeches 1939-1945, 1952
  • Stemming the Tide, 1953
  • A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, 1956-58 (4 vols.)
  • The Unwritten Alliance: Speeches 1953-1959, 1961 (edited by Randolph S. Churchill)
  • Heroes of History, 1968
  • The Roar of the Lion, 1969
  • Young Winston's Wars: The Original Despatches of Winston S. Churchill War Correspondent, 1897-1900, 1972 (ed. Frederick Woods)
  • Immortal Jester: A Treasury of the Great Good Humour of Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, 1973 (compiled by Leslie Frewin)
  • The Collected Works of Sir Winston Churchill, 1973-74 (34 vols.;Centenary limited ed.)
  • If I Live My Life Again, 1974
  • Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963, 1974 (8 vols., ed. Robert Rhodes James)
  • The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill, 1976 (4 vols., ed. Michael Wolff)
  • Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, 1984 (3 vols., edited with commentary by Warren F. Kimball)
  • The Churchill-Eisenhower Correspondence 1953-1955, 1990 (ed. Peter G. Boyle)
  • The Churchill War Papers: At the Admiralty, September 1939 - May 1940, 1993 (ed. Martin Gilbert)
  • The Churchill War Papers: Never Surrender, Volume 2 May 1940-December 1940, 1995 (ed. Martin Gilbert)
  • The Churchill War Papers: The Ever Widening War Vol 3: 1941,  2001  (ed. Martin Gilbert)
  • Winston and Archie: The Letters of Sir Archibald Sinclair and Winston S. Churchill 1915-1960, 2005 (edited by Ian Hunter)
  • Thoughts and Adventures: Churchill Reflects on Spies, Cartoons, Fying, and the Future, 2009 (edited by James W. Muller with Paul H. Courtenay and Alana L. Barton)
  • The Quotable Winston Churchill, 2009 (compiled and edited by Carol Lea Mueller)
  • The Definitive Wit of Winston Churchill, 2009 (edited by Richard M. Langworth)
  • The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill, 2011 (rev. ed., compiled, edited, and introduced by Dominique Enright)
  • Great Contemporaries: Churchill Reflects on FDR, Hitler, Kipling, Chaplin, Balfour, and Other Giants of His Age, 2012 (edited by James W. Muller with Paul H. Courtenay and Erica L. Chenoweth)
  • Churchill: The Power of Words: His Remarkable Life Recounted Through His Writings and Speeches: 200 Readings, 2012 (selected, edited and introduced by Martin Gilbert)

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