Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, FRS, PC, PC (Can) (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British politician known chiefly for his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II. He served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. A noted statesman and orator, Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a Nobel Prize-winning writer, and an artist.
During his army career, Churchill saw combat in India, in the Sudan and the Second Boer War. He gained fame and notoriety as a war correspondent and through contemporary books he wrote describing the campaigns. He also served briefly in the British Army on the Western Front in World War I, commanding the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
At the forefront of the political scene for almost sixty years, he held many political and cabinet positions. Before the First World War, he served as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty as part of the Asquith Liberal government. During the war he continued as First Lord of the Admiralty until the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli caused his departure from government. He returned as Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air. In the interwar years, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative government.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Churchill was again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. Following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain on 10 May 1940, he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and led Britain to victory against the Axis powers. Churchill was always noted for his speeches, which became a great inspiration to the British people and embattled Allied forces.
After losing the 1945 election, he became Leader of the Opposition. In 1951, he again became Prime Minister before finally retiring in 1955. Upon his death the Queen granted him the honour of a state funeral, which saw one of the largest assemblies of statesmen in the world.
A descendant of the famous Spencer family, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, like his father, used the surname Churchill in public life. His ancestor George Spencer had changed his surname to Spencer-Churchill in 1817 when he became Duke of Marlborough, to highlight his descent from John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Winston's father, Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, was a politician, while his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (née Jennie Jerome) was the daughter of American millionaire, Leonard Jerome. Born two months premature on 30 November 1874 in a bedroom in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire; he arrived eight months after his parents' hasty marriage. Churchill had one brother, John Strange Spencer-Churchill.
Independent and rebellious by nature, Churchill generally did poorly in school, for which he was punished. He entered Harrow School on 17 April 1888, where his military career began. Within weeks of his arrival, he had joined the Harrow Rifle Corps. He earned high marks in English and history and was also the school's fencing champion.
He was rarely visited by his mother (then known as Lady Randolph), and wrote letters begging her to either come to the school or to allow him to come home. He had a distant relationship with his father and once remarked that they barely spoke to each other. Due to his lack of parental contact he became very close to his nanny, Elizabeth Anne Everest, whom he used to call "Woomany". His father died on 24 January 1895, leaving Churchill with the conviction that he too would die young, so should be quick about making his mark on the world.
Churchill described himself as having a "speech impediment" which he consistently worked to overcome. After many years, he finally stated, "My impediment is no hindrance." Trainee speech therapists are often shown videotapes of Churchill's mannerisms while making speeches and the Stuttering Foundation of America uses Churchill, pictured on its home page, as one of its role models of successful stutterers. This diagnosis is confirmed by contemporaries writing in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The Churchill Centre, however, flatly refutes the claim that Churchill stuttered while confirming that he did have difficulty pronouncing the letter 'S' and spoke with a lisp. His father also spoke with a lisp.
Their first child, Diana, was born in London on 11 July 1909. After the pregnancy, Clementine moved to Sussex to recover, while Diana stayed in London with her nanny. On 28 May 1911, their second child, Randolph, was born at 33 Eccleston Square. Their third child, Sarah, was born on 7 October 1914 at Admiralty House. The birth was marked with anxiety for Clementine, as Winston had been sent to Antwerp by the Cabinet to "stiffen the resistance of the beleaguered city" after news that the Belgians intended to surrender the town.
Clementine gave birth to her fourth child, Marigold Frances Churchill, on 15 November 1918, four days after the official end of World War I. In the early months of August, the Churchills' children were entrusted to a French nursery governess in Kent named Mlle Rose. Clementine, meanwhile, travelled to Eaton Hall to play tennis with Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster and his family. While still under the care of Mlle Rose, Marigold had a cold, but was reported to have recovered from the illness. As the illness progressed with hardly any notice, it turned into septicaemia. Following advice from a landlady, Rose sent for Clementine. However the illness turned fatal on 23 August 1921, and Marigold was buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery three days later. On 15 September 1922, the Churchills' last child was born, Mary. Later that month, the Churchills bought Chartwell, which would be Winston's home until his death in 1965.
After Churchill left Harrow in 1893, he applied to attend the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. It took three attempts before he passed the admittance exam; he applied for cavalry rather than infantry because the entrance requirement was lower and did not require him to learn mathematics, which he disliked. He graduated eighth out of a class of 150 in December 1894, and was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars on 20 February 1895. In 1941, he received the honour of Colonel of the Hussars.
Churchill's pay as a second lieutenant in the 4th Hussars was £300. However, he believed that he needed at least a further £500 (equivalent to £25,000 in 2001 terms) to support a style of life equal to other officers of the regiment. His mother provided an allowance of £400 per year, but this was repeatedly overspent. According to biographer Roy Jenkins, this is one reason he took an interest in war correspondence. He did not intend to follow a conventional career of promotion through army ranks, but to seek out all possible chances of military action and used his mother's and family influence in high society to arrange postings to active campaigns. His writings both brought him to the attention of the public, and earned him significant additional income. He acted as a war correspondent for several London newspapers and wrote his own books about the campaigns.
He soon received word that his nanny, Mrs Everest, was dying; he then returned to England and stayed with her for a week until she died. He wrote in his journal "She was my favourite friend." In My Early Life he wrote: "She had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole of the twenty years I had lived.
About this time Churchill read William Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man, a classic of Victorian atheism, which completed his loss of faith in Christianity and left him with a sombre vision of a godless universe in which humanity was destined, nevertheless, to progress through the conflict between the more advanced and the more backward races. When he was posted to India, and began to read avidly to make up for lost time, he was profoundly impressed by Darwinism. He lost whatever religious faith he may have had through reading Edward Gibbon, he stated, and took a particular dislike to the Catholic Church, as well as Christian missions. He became, in his own words, "a materialist to the tips of my fingers," and he fervently upheld the worldview that human life is a struggle for existence, with the outcome the survival of the fittest. He expressed this philosophy of life and history in his first and only novel, Savrola.
Before he left he asked for a note so he would not be charged with desertion. He received the note, quickly signed, and headed up the hill and alerted the other brigade, whereupon they then engaged the army. The fighting in the region dragged on for another two weeks before the dead could be recovered. He wrote in his journal: "Whether it was worth it I cannot tell." An account of the Siege of Malakand was published in December 1900 as The Story of the Malakand Field Force. He received £600 for his account. During the campaign, he also wrote articles for the newspapers The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph. His account of the battle was one of his first published stories, for which he received £5 per column from The Daily Telegraph.
Churchill was transferred to Egypt in 1898 where he visited Luxor before joining an attachment of the 21st Lancers serving in the Sudan under the command of General Herbert Kitchener. During his time he encountered two future military officers, whom he would later work with, during the First World War: Douglas Haig, then a captain and John Jellicoe, then a gunboat lieutenant. While in the Sudan, he participated in what has been described as the last meaningful British cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898. He also worked as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. By October 1898, he had returned to Britain and begun his two-volume work; The River War, an account of the reconquest of the Sudan published the following year. Churchill resigned from the British Army effective from May 5th, 1899.
I have had, in the last four years, the advantage, if it be an advantage, of many strange and varied experiences, from which the student of realities might draw profit and instruction. But nothing was so thrilling as this: to wait and struggle among these clanging, rending iron boxes, with the repeated explosions of the shells and the artillery, the noise of the projectiles striking the cars, the hiss as they passed in the air, the grunting and puffing of the engine--poor, tortured thing, hammered by at least a dozen shells, any one of which, by penetrating the boiler, might have made an end of all--the expectation of destruction as a matter of course, the realization of powerlessness, and the alternations of hope and despair--all this for seventy minutes by the clock with only four inches of twisted iron work to make the difference between danger, captivity, and shame on the one hand--safety, freedom, and triumph on the other.
He escaped from the prison camp and travelled almost 300 miles (480 km) to Portuguese Lourenço Marques in Delagoa Bay, with the assistance of an English mine manager. His escape made him a minor national hero for a time in Britain, though instead of returning home, he rejoined General Buller's army on its march to relieve the British at the Siege of Ladysmith and take Pretoria. This time, although continuing as a war correspondent, he gained a commission in the South African Light Horse. He was among the first British troops into Ladysmith and Pretoria. He and his cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, were able to get ahead of the rest of the troops in Pretoria, where they demanded and received the surrender of 52 Boer prison camp guards.
In 1900, Churchill returned to England on the RMS Dunottar Castle, the same ship on which he set sail for South Africa eight months earlier. He there published London to Ladysmith and a second volume of Boer war experiences, Ian Hamilton's March. After standing again and winning in Oldham in the 1900 general election he embarked on a speaking tour of Britain, followed by tours of the United States and Canada, earning in excess of £5,000.
Lord Deedes explained to a gathering of the Royal Historical Society in 2001 why Churchill went to the front line: "He was with Grenadier Guards, who were dry [without alcohol] at battalion headquarters. They very much liked tea and condensed milk, which had no great appeal to Winston, but alcohol was permitted in the front line, in the trenches. So he suggested to the colonel that he really ought to see more of the war and get into the front line. This was highly commended by the colonel, who thought it was a very good thing to do.
Churchill stood again for the seat of Oldham at the 1900 general election. After winning the seat, he went on a speaking tour throughout Britain and the United States, raising £10,000 for himself. In Parliament, he became associated with a faction of the Conservative Party led by Lord Hugh Cecil; the Hughligans. During his first parliamentary session, he opposed the government's military expenditure and Joseph Chamberlain's proposal of extensive tariffs, which were intended to protect Britain's economic dominance. His own constituency effectively deselected him, although he continued to sit for Oldham until the next general election. After the Whitsun recess in 1904 he crossed the floor to sit as a member of the Liberal Party. As a Liberal, he continued to campaign for free trade. When the Liberals took office with Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister, in December 1905, Churchill became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies dealing mainly with South Africa after the Boer War. From 1903 until 1905, Churchill was also engaged in writing Lord Randolph Churchill, a two-volume biography of his father which was published in 1906 and received much critical acclaim.
Following his deselection in the seat of Oldham, Churchill was invited to stand for Manchester North West. He won the seat at the 1906 general election with a majority of 1,214 and represented the seat for two years, until 1908. When Campbell-Bannerman was succeeded by Herbert Henry Asquith in 1908, Churchill was promoted to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. Under the law at the time, a newly appointed Cabinet Minister was obliged to seek re-election at a by-election; Churchill lost his seat but was soon back as a member for Dundee constituency. As President of the Board of Trade he joined newly appointed Chancellor Lloyd George in opposing First Lord of the Admiralty, Reginald McKenna's proposed huge expenditure for the construction of Navy dreadnought warships, and in supporting the Liberal reforms. In 1908, he introduced the Trade Boards Bill setting up the first minimum wages in Britain, In 1909, he set up Labour Exchanges to help unemployed people find work. He helped draft the first unemployment pension legislation, the National Insurance Act of 1911.
Churchill also assisted in passing the People's Budget becoming President of the Budget League, an organisation set up in response to the opposition's "Budget Protest League". The budget included the introduction of new taxes on the wealthy to allow for the creation of new social welfare programmes. After the budget bill was sent to the Commons in 1909 and passed, it went to the House of Lords, where it was vetoed. The Liberals then fought and won two general elections in January and December of 1910 to gain a mandate for their reforms. The budget was then passed following the Parliament Act of 1911 for which he also campaigned. In 1910, he was promoted to Home Secretary. His term was controversial, after his responses to the Siege of Sidney Street and the dispute at the Cambrian Colliery and the suffragettes.
In 1910, a number of coal miners in the Rhondda Valley began what has come to be known as the Tonypandy Riot. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan requested troops be sent in to help police quell the rioting. Churchill, learning that the troops were already travelling, allowed them to go as far as Swindon and Cardiff but blocked their deployment. On 9 November, the Times criticized this decision. In spite of this, the rumour persists that Churchill had ordered troops to attack, and his reputation in Wales and in Labour circles never recovered.
In early January 1911, Churchill made a controversial visit to the Siege of Sidney Street in London. There is some uncertainty as to whether he attempted to give operational commands, and his presence attracted much criticism. After an inquest, Arthur Balfour remarked, "he [Churchill] and a photographer were both risking valuable lives. I understand what the photographer was doing, but what was the right honourable gentleman doing? A biographer, Roy Jenkins, suggests that he went simply because "he could not resist going to see the fun himself" and that he did not issue commands.
Churchill's proposed solution to the suffragette issue was a referendum on the issue, but this found no favour with Herbert Henry Asquith and women's suffrage remained unresolved until after the First World War.
In 1911, Churchill was transferred to the office of the First Lord of the Admiralty, a post he held into World War I. He gave impetus to several reform efforts, including development of naval aviation (he undertook flying lessons himself), the construction of new and larger warships, the development of tanks, and the switch from coal to oil in the Royal Navy.
Churchill was involved with the development of the tank, which was financed from naval research funds. He then headed the Landships Committee which was responsible for creating the first tank corps and, although a decade later development of the battle tank would be seen as a tactical victory, at the time it was seen as misappropriation of funds. In 1915, he was one of the political and military engineers of the disastrous Gallipoli landings on the Dardanelles during World War I. He took much of the blame for the fiasco, and when Prime Minister Asquith formed an all-party coalition government, the Conservatives demanded his demotion as the price for entry.
For several months Churchill served in the sinecure of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However on 15 November 1915 he resigned from the government, feeling his energies were not being used. and, though remaining an MP, served for several months on the Western Front commanding the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, under the rank of Colonel. In March 1916, Churchill returned to England after he had become restless in France and wished to speak again in the House of Commons. In July 1917, Churchill was appointed Minister of Munitions, and in January 1919, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air. He was the main architect of the Ten Year Rule, a principle that allows the Treasury to dominate and control strategic, foreign and financial policies under the assumption that "there would be no great European war for the next five or ten years".
A major preoccupation of his tenure in the War Office was the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. Churchill was a staunch advocate of foreign intervention, declaring that Bolshevism must be "strangled in its cradle". He secured, from a divided and loosely organised Cabinet, intensification and prolongation of the British involvement beyond the wishes of any major group in Parliament or the nation—and in the face of the bitter hostility of Labour. In 1920, after the last British forces had been withdrawn, Churchill was instrumental in having arms sent to the Poles when they invaded Ukraine. He became Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1921 and was a signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State. Churchill was involved in the length negotiations of the treaty and to protect British maritime interests, he engineered part of the Irish Free State agreement to include three Treaty Ports—Queenstown (Cobh), Berehaven and Lough Swilly—which could be used as Atlantic bases by the Royal Navy. Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement the bases were returned to the newly renamed "Ireland" in 1938.
Churchill was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 under Stanley Baldwin and oversaw Britain's disastrous return to the Gold Standard, which resulted in deflation, unemployment, and the miners' strike that led to the General Strike of 1926. His decision, announced in the 1924 Budget, came after long consultation with various economists including John Maynard Keynes, the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Otto Niemeyer and the board of the Bank of England. This decision prompted Keynes to write The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill, arguing that the return to the gold standard at the pre-war parity in 1925 (£1=$4.86) would lead to a world depression. However, the decision was generally popular and seen as 'sound economics' although it was opposed by Lord Beaverbrook and the Federation of British Industries.
Churchill later regarded this as the greatest mistake of his life. However in discussions at the time with former Chancellor McKenna, Churchill acknowledged that the return to the gold standard and the resulting 'dear money' policy was economically bad. In those discussions he maintained the policy as fundamentally political - a return to the pre-war conditions in which he believed. In his speech on the Bill he said "I will tell you what it [the return to the Gold Standard] will shackle us to. It will shackle us to reality.
The return to the pre-war exchange rate and to the Gold Standard depressed industries. The most affected was the coal industry. Already suffering from declining output as shipping switched to oil, as basic British industries like cotton came under more competition in export markets, the return to the pre-war exchange was estimated to add up to 10% in costs to the industry. In July 1925, a Commission of Inquiry reported generally favouring the miners, rather than the mine owners' position. Baldwin, with Churchill's support proposed a subsidy to the industry while a Royal Commission prepared a further report.
That Commission solved nothing and the miners dispute led to the General Strike of 1926, Churchill was reported to have suggested that machine guns be used on the striking miners. Churchill edited the Government's newspaper, the British Gazette, and, during the dispute, he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country" and claimed that the fascism of Benito Mussolini had "rendered a service to the whole world," showing, as it had, "a way to combat subversive forces"—that is, he considered the regime to be a bulwark against the perceived threat of Communist revolution. At one point, Churchill went as far as to call Mussolini the "Roman genius… the greatest lawgiver among men.
Later economists, as well as people at the time, also criticised Churchill's budget measures. These were seen as assisting the generally prosperous rentier banking and salaried classes (to which Churchill and his associates generally belonged) at the expense of manufacturers and exporters which were known then to be suffering from imports and from competition in traditional export markets, and as paring the Armed Forces too heavily.
The Conservative government was defeated in the 1929 General Election. Churchill did not seek election to the Conservative Business Committee, the official leadership of the Conservative MPs. Over the next two years, Churchill became estranged from the Conservative leadership over the issues of protective tariffs and Indian Home Rule and by his political views and by his friendships with press barons, financiers and people whose characters were seen as dubious. When Ramsay MacDonald formed the National Government in 1931, Churchill was not invited to join the Cabinet. He was at the low point in his career, in a period known as "the wilderness years".
He spent much of the next few years concentrating on his writing, including Marlborough: His Life and Times—a biography of his ancestor John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough—and A History of the English Speaking Peoples (though the latter was not published until well after World War II), Great Contemporaries and many newspaper articles and collections of speeches. He was one of the best paid writers of his time. His political views, set forth in his 1930 Romanes Election and published as Parliamentary Government and the Economic Problem (republished in 1932 in his collection of essays "Thoughts and Adventures") involved abandoning universal suffrage, a return to a property franchise, proportional representation for the major cities and an economic 'sub parliament'.
At a meeting of the West Essex Conservative Association specially convened so Churchill could explain his position he said, "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle-Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace...to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor. He called the Indian Congress leaders "Brahmins who mouth and patter principles of Western Liberalism.
There were two incidents which damaged Churchill's reputation greatly within the Conservative Party in the period. Both were taken as attacks on the Conservative front bench. The first was his speech on the eve of the St George by-election in April 1931. In a secure Conservative seat, the official Conservative candidate Duff Cooper was opposed by an independent Conservative. The independent was supported by Lord Rothermere, Lord Beaverbrook and their respective newspapers. Although arranged before the by election was set, Churchill's speech was seen as supporting the independent candidate and as a part of the Press Baron's campaign against Baldwin. Baldwin's position was strengthened when Duff Cooper won and when the civil disobedience campaign in India ceased with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. The second issue was a claim that Sir Samuel Hoare and Lord Derby had pressured the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to change evidence it had given to the Joint Select Committee considering the Government of India Bill and in doing so had breached Parliamentary privilege. He had the matter referred to the House of Commons Privilege Committee which after investigations, in which Churchill gave evidence reported to the House that there had been no breach. The report was debated on 13 June. Churchill was unable to find a single supporter in the House and the debate ended without a division.
Churchill permanently broke with Stanley Baldwin over Indian independence and never held any office while Baldwin was Prime Minister. Some historians see his basic attitude to India as being set out in his book My Early Life (1930). Historians also dispute his motives in maintaining his opposition. Some see him as trying to destabilise the National Government. Some also draw a parallel between Churchill's attitudes to India and those towards the Nazis.
Speaking in the House of Commons in 1937, Churchill said "I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between communism and Nazism, I would choose communism". In a 1935 essay, entitled "Hitler and his Choice" as republished in Churchill's 1937 book Great Contemporaries, Churchill expressed a hope that Hitler, if he so chose, and despite his rise to power through dictatorial action, hatred, and cruelty, he might yet "go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the great Germanic nation and brought it back serene, helpful and strong, to the forefront of the European family circle. Churchill's first major speech on defence on 7 February 1934 stressed the need to rebuild the Royal Air Force and to create a Ministry of Defence; his second, on 13 July urged a renewed role for the League of Nations. These three topics remained his themes until early 1936. In 1935, he was one of the founding members of Focus which brought together people of differing political backgrounds and occupations who were united in seeking 'the defence of freedom and peace'. Focus led to the formation of the much wider Arms and the Covenant Movement in 1936.
Churchill was holidaying in Spain when the Germans reoccupied the Rhineland in February 1936, and returned to a divided England—Labour opposition was adamant in opposing sanctions and the National Government was divided between advocates of economic sanctions and those who said that even these would lead to a humiliating backdown by Britain as France would not support any intervention. Churchill's speech on 9 March was measured and praised by Neville Chamberlain as constructive. But within weeks Churchill was passed over for the post of Minister for Co-ordination of Defence in favour of the Attorney General Sir Thomas Inskip. Alan Taylor called this; 'An appointment rightly described as the most extraordinary since Caligula made his horse a consul.' In June 1936, Churchill organised a deputation of senior Conservatives who shared his concern to see Baldwin, Chamberlain and Halifax. He had tried to have delegates from the other two parties and later wrote "If the leaders of the Labour and Liberal oppositions had come with us there might have been a political situation so intense as to enforce remedial action". As it was the meeting achieved little, Baldwin arguing that the Government was doing all it could given the anti-war feeling of the electorate.
On 12 November Churchill returned to the topic. Speaking in the Address in Reply debate after giving some specific instances of Germany’s war preparedness he said ‘’'The Government simply cannot make up their mind or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful for impotency. And so we go on preparing more months more years precious perhaps vital for the greatness of Britain for the locusts to eat.'’’
R.R. James called this one of Churchill’s most brilliant speeches in this period, Baldwin's reply sounding weak and disturbing the House. The exchange gave new encouragement to the Arms and the Covenant Movement.
In June 1936, Walter Monckton told Churchill that the rumours that King Edward VIII intended to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson were true. Churchill then advised against the marriage and said he regarded Mrs Simpson's existing marriage as a 'safeguard'. In November, he declined Lord Salisbury's invitation to be part of a delegation of senior Conservative backbenchers who met with Baldwin to discuss the matter. On 25 November he, Attlee and Sinclair met with Baldwin and were told officially of the King's intention and asked whether they would form an administration if Baldwin and the National Government resigned should the King not take the Ministry's advice. Both Attlee and Sinclair said they would not take office if invited to do so. Churchill's reply was that his attitude was a little different but he would support the government.
The Abdication crisis became public, coming to head in the first fortnight of December 1936. At this time Churchill publicly gave his support to the King. The first public meeting of the Arms and the Covenant Movement was on 3 December. Churchill was a major speaker and later wrote that in replying to the Vote of Thanks he made a declaration 'on the spur of the moment' asking for delay before any decision was made by either the King or his Cabinet. Later that night Churchill saw the draft of the King's proposed wireless broadcast and spoke with Beaverbrook and the King's solicitor about it. On 4 December, he met with the King and again urged delay in any decision about abdication. On 5 December, he issued a lengthy statement implying that the Ministry was applying unconstitutional pressure on the King to force him to make a hasty decision. On 7 December he tried to address the Commons to plead for delay. He was shouted down. Seemingly staggered by the unanimous hostility of all Members he left.
Churchill's reputation in Parliament and England as a whole was badly damaged. Some such as Alistair Cooke saw him as trying to build a King's Party. Others like Harold Macmillan were dismayed by the damage Churchill's support for the King had done to the Arms and the Covenant Movement. Churchill himself later wrote "I was myself smitten in public opinion that it was the almost universal view that my political life was ended. Historians are divided about Churchill's motives in his support for Edward VIII. Some such as A J P Taylor see it as being an attempt to 'overthrow the government of feeble men'. Others such as Rhode James see Churchill's motives as entirely honourable and disinterested, that he felt deeply for the King.
Even during the time Churchill was campaigning against Indian independence, he received official and otherwise secret information. From 1932, Churchill’s neighbour, Major Desmond Morton with Ramsay MacDonald's approval, gave Churchill information on German air power. From 1930 onwards Morton headed a department of the Committee of Imperial Defence charged with researching the defence preparedness of other nations. Lord Swinton as Secretary of State for Air, and with Baldwin’s approval, in 1934 gave Churchill access to official and otherwise secret information.
Swinton did so, knowing Churchill would remain a critic of the government but believing that an informed critic was better than one relying on rumour and hearsay. Churchill was a fierce critic of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler and in a speech to the House of Commons, he bluntly and prophetically stated, "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.
On 10 May 1940, hours before the German invasion of France by a lightning advance through the Low Countries, it became clear that, following failure in Norway, the country had no confidence in Chamberlain's prosecution of the war and so Chamberlain resigned. The commonly accepted version of events states that Lord Halifax turned down the post of Prime Minister because he believed he could not govern effectively as a member of the House of Lords instead of the House of Commons. Although the Prime Minister does not traditionally advise the King on the former's successor, Chamberlain wanted someone who would command the support of all three major parties in the House of Commons. A meeting between Chamberlain, Halifax, Churchill and David Margesson, the government Chief Whip, led to the recommendation of Churchill, and, as a constitutional monarch, George VI asked Churchill to be Prime Minister and to form an all-party government. Churchill's first act was to write to Chamberlain to thank him for his support.
Churchill had been among the first to recognize the growing threat of Hitler long before the outset of the Second World War, and his warnings had gone largely unheeded. Although there was an element of British public and political sentiment favouring negotiated peace with a clearly ascendant Germany, among them the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, Churchill nonetheless refused to consider an armistice with Hitler's Germany. His use of rhetoric hardened public opinion against a peaceful resolution and prepared the British for a long war. Coining the general term for the upcoming battle, Churchill stated in his "finest hour" speech to the House of Commons on 18 June 1940, "I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. By refusing an armistice with Germany, Churchill kept resistance alive in the British Empire and created the basis for the later Allied counter-attacks of 1942-45, with Britain serving as a platform for the supply of Soviet Union and the liberation of Western Europe.
In response to previous criticisms that there had been no clear single minister in charge of the prosecution of the war, Churchill created and took the additional position of Minister of Defence. He immediately put his friend and confidant, the industrialist and newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook, in charge of aircraft production. It was Beaverbrook's business acumen that allowed Britain to quickly gear up aircraft production and engineering that eventually made the difference in the war.
Churchill's speeches were a great inspiration to the embattled British. His first speech as Prime Minister was the famous "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat". He followed that closely with two other equally famous ones, given just before the Battle of Britain. One included the words:
we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, 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.The other:
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 still say, 'This was their finest hour'.
At the height of the Battle of Britain, his bracing survey of the situation included the memorable line "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", which engendered the enduring nickname "The Few" for the Allied fighter pilots who won it. One of his most memorable war speeches came on 10 November 1942 at the Lord Mayor's Luncheon at Mansion House in London, in response to the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein. Churchill stated:
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
"Rhetorical power," wrote Churchill, "is neither wholly bestowed, nor wholly acquired, but cultivated." Not all were impressed by his oratory. Robert Menzies, who was the Prime Minister of Australia, said during World War II of Churchill: "His real tyrant is the glittering phrase so attractive to his mind that awkward facts have to give way. Another associate wrote: "He is . . . the slave of the words which his mind forms about ideas. . . . And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery.
Churchill's good relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt secured vital food, oil and munitions via the North Atlantic shipping routes. It was for this reason that Churchill was relieved when Roosevelt was re-elected in 1940. Upon re-election, Roosevelt immediately set about implementing a new method of providing military hardware and shipping to Britain without the need for monetary payment. Put simply, Roosevelt persuaded Congress that repayment for this immensely costly service would take the form of defending the US; and so Lend-lease was born. Churchill had 12 strategic conferences with Roosevelt which covered the Atlantic Charter, Europe first strategy, the Declaration by the United Nations and other war policies. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Churchill's first thought in anticipation of US help was, "We have won the war! On 26 December 1941, Churchill addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress, asking of Germany and Japan, "What kind of people do they think we are? Churchill initiated the Special Operations Executive (SOE) under Hugh Dalton's Ministry of Economic Warfare, which established, conducted and fostered covert, subversive and partisan operations in occupied territories with notable success; and also the Commandos which established the pattern for most of the world's current Special Forces. The Russians referred to him as the "British Bulldog".
Churchill's health was fragile, as shown by a mild heart attack he suffered in December 1941 at the White House and also in December 1943 when he contracted pneumonia. Despite this, he travelled over throughout the war to meet other national leaders. For security, he usually travelled using the alias Colonel Warden. Churchill was party to treaties that would redraw post-World War II European and Asian boundaries. These were discussed as early as 1943. Proposals for European boundaries and settlements were officially agreed to by Harry S Truman, Churchill, and Stalin at Potsdam. At the second Quebec Conference in 1944 he drafted and, together with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signed a toned-down version of the original Morgenthau Plan, in which they pledged to convert Germany after its unconditional surrender "into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character. Churchill's strong relationship with Harry Truman was also of great significance to both countries. While he clearly regretted the loss of his close friend and counterpart Roosevelt, Churchill was enormously supportive of Truman in his first days in office, calling him, "the type of leader the world needs when it needs him most.
The settlement concerning the borders of Poland, that is, the boundary between Poland and the Soviet Union and between Germany and Poland, was viewed as a betrayal in Poland during the post-war years, as it was established against the views of the Polish government in exile. It was Winston Churchill, who tried to motivate Mikołajczyk, who was Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile, to accept Stalin's wishes, but Mikołajczyk refused. Churchill was convinced that the only way to alleviate tensions between the two populations was the transfer of people, to match the national borders.
As he expounded in the House of Commons on 15 December 1944, "Expulsion is the method which, insofar as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble... A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by these transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions. However the resulting expulsions of Germans was carried out by the Soviet Union in a way which resulted in much hardship and, according to a 1966 report by the West German Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons, the death of over 2.1 million. Churchill opposed the effective annexation of Poland by the Soviet Union and wrote bitterly about it in his books, but he was unable to prevent it at the conferences.
During October 1944, he and Eden were in Moscow to meet with the Russian leadership. At this point, Russian forces were beginning to advance into various eastern European countries. Churchill held the view that until everything was formally and properly worked out at the Yalta conference, there had to be a temporary, war-time, working agreement with regard to who would run what. The most significant of these meetings were held on 9 October 1944 in the Kremlin between Churchill and Stalin. During the meeting, Poland and the Balkan problems were discussed. Churchill recounted his speech to Stalin on the day:
Stalin agreed to this Percentages Agreement, ticking a piece of paper as he heard the translation. In 1958, five years after the recount of this meeting was published (in The Second World War), authorities of the Soviet denied that Stalin accepted the "imperialist proposal".
On reflection, under pressure from the Chiefs of Staff and in response to the views expressed by Sir Charles Portal (Chief of the Air Staff,) and Arthur Harris (AOC-in-C of Bomber Command,) among others, Churchill withdrew his memo and issued a new one. This final version of the memo completed on 1 April 1945, stated:
Ultimately, responsibility for the British part of the attack lay with Churchill, which is why he has been criticised for allowing the bombings to happen. The German historian Jörg Friedrich, claims that "Winston Churchill's decision to [[Area bombing|[area] bomb]] a shattered Germany between January and May 1945 was a war crime and writing in 2006 the philosopher A. C. Grayling questioned the whole strategic bombing campaign by the RAF presenting the argument that although it was not a war crime it was a moral crime and undermines the Allies contention that they fought a just war.
On the other hand, it has also been asserted that Churchill's involvement in the bombing of Dresden was based on the strategic and tactical aspects of winning the war. The destruction of Dresden, while immense, was designed to expedite the defeat of Germany. As the historian Max Hastings said in an article subtitled, "the Allied Bombing of Dresden": "I believe it is wrong to describe strategic bombing as a war crime, for this might be held to suggest some moral equivalence with the deeds of the Nazis. Bombing represented a sincere, albeit mistaken, attempt to bring about Germany's military defeat." Furthermore British historian, Frederick Taylor asserts that "All sides bombed each other's cities during the war. Half a million Soviet citizens, for example, died from German bombing during the invasion and occupation of Russia. That's roughly equivalent to the number of German citizens who died from Allied raids. But the Allied bombing campaign was attached to military operations and ceased as soon as military operations ceased.
As Europe celebrated peace at the end of six years of war, Churchill was concerning on the possibility that the celebrations would soon be brutally interrupted. He concluded that the UK and the US must prepare for the Red Army ignoring previously-agreed frontiers and agreements in Europe "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire." According to the Operation Unthinkable plan ordered by Churchill and developed by the British Armed Forces, the Third World War could have started on 1 July 1945 with a sudden attack against the allied Soviet troops. The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible. However this decision didn't stop the further development of the war plans: with the beginning Arms race the militarily unfeasible Third World War was developed into the Cold War doctrine.
Although Churchill's role in World War II had generated him much support from the British population, he was defeated in the 1945 election. Many reasons for this have been given, key among them being that a desire for post-war reform was widespread amongst the population and that the man who had led Britain in war was not seen as the man to lead the nation in peace.
For six years he was to serve as the Leader of the Opposition. During these years Churchill continued to have an impact on world affairs. In 1946, he gave his Iron Curtain speech which spoke of the USSR and the creation of the Eastern Bloc. He declared:
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. 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.
Churchill also argued strongly for British independence from the European Coal and Steel Community, which he saw as a Franco-German project. He saw Britain's place as separate from the continent, much more in-line with the countries of the Commonwealth and the Empire and with the United States, the so-called Anglosphere.
After leaving the premiership, Churchill spent less time in parliament until he stood down at the 1964 General Election. As a mere "back-bencher," Churchill spent most of his retirement at Chartwell and at his home in Hyde Park Gate, in London. As his mental and physical faculties decayed, he began to lose the battle he had fought for so long against the "black dog" of depression. In 1963, US President John F. Kennedy, acting under authorisation granted by an Act of Congress, proclaimed him an Honorary Citizen of the United States, but he was unable to attend the White House ceremony. On 15 January 1965, Churchill suffered a severe stroke that left him gravely ill. He died at his home nine days later, at age 90, on the morning of Sunday 24 January 1965, coincidentally 70 years to the day after his father's death.
Despite his lifelong fame and upper-class origins Churchill always struggled to keep his income at a level that would fund his extravagant lifestyle. MPs before 1946 received only a nominal salary (and in fact did not receive anything at all until the Parliament Act of 1911) so many had secondary professions from which to earn a living. From his first book in 1898 until his second stint as Prime Minister, Churchill's income was almost entirely made from writing books and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines. The most famous of his newspaper articles are those that appeared in the Evening Standard from 1936 warning of the rise of Hitler and the danger of the policy of appeasement.
Churchill was also a prolific writer of books, writing a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs, and several histories in addition to his many newspaper articles. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values". Two of his most famous works, published after his first premiereship brought his international fame to new heights, were his six-volume memoir The Second World War and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples; a four-volume history covering the period from Caesar's invasions of Britain (55 BC) to the beginning of the First World War (1914).
It is sometimes claimed that Churchill advocated the use of poison gas on Kurdish tribesmen in Mesopotamia. This accusation is based almost entirely on a War Office minute of 12 May 1919, in which Churchill argued for the use of tear gas:
I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.If British forces did consider the use of poison gas in putting down Kurdish rebellions, there is no evidence that it was ever used.