This month’s spotlight is inspired by the release of the film Darkest Hour about the weeks following Churchill being made Prime Minister. The film was absolutely fabulous and it made me realise that i knew little about the man who was our famous war time Prime Minister
Winston Church was born on 30th November 1874 in Blenheim Palace. His full name is Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill.
His father, Lord Randolf Churchill, was a Tory politician, while his mother Jenny Jerome was the daughter of a New York financier.
He saw little of his parents during his childhood, raised by his nurse Mrs Everest. At school, Harrow, he scraped by in the lowest classes. His father, believing him to be unsuited for academic achievement, enrolled him into the army class.
Years as a soldier
After three attempts at the entrance exam Churchill entered Sandhurst as an officer cadet in 1893.
Here he did well and proved himself competent. He graduated 20th in his class of 130.
Unfortunately his father died in 1895 at aged 45. The same year Winston enrolled into the 4th Hussars and went to Cuba to report on the Cuban war of independence.
In 1896 Winston sailed to India with his regiment and fought in the Sudan in 1898. Here he turned his pen to writing and his dispatches expanded in several stories including The Story of the Malakand Field Force, Savrola and The River War.
While in India Winston had already decided to pursue a career of politics. Worried about his deficiencies in his education he set himself to study reading a great many books and papers in this time.
In 1899 the Boer War broke out in South Africa and Churchill travelled there to report on the war. He was captured shortly after and sent to a prison of war camp. Here he escaped, arriving back to the British forces a hero.
Returning to Britain in 1900 Winston Churchill used his new found fame to win a seat as an MP for Oldham as a Conservative.
Using his income from his writings he entered parliament. At this stage Winston Churchill had a speech impediment that he overcame by excelling at the set speech.
Churchill was unafraid to challenge his party leader. He even formed a group of young MPs dedicated to just that. He was always different to the standard Tory MP. At the end of the Boer War he advocated for a fair deal and treatment of the Boers and spoke against military mismanagement.
By 1904 he had become alienated from his party and defected to the Liberals. He was known for his challenges on the Tory leaders and wasn’t afraid to confront them in parliament.
In his change in loyalties paid off when he was made undersecretary of state for the colonies. Churchill worked diligently towards social reform. He picked up the bill from Lloyd-George to curbed miners working days to 8 hours and supported the set up of trade boards with the powers to fix minimum wages.
As the House of Lords opposed the higher taxation needed up support these and many more social enterprises Churchill was heavily involved in the drive to curb the power of the House of Lords. This culminated in the Parliament Act of 1911, which removed the House of Lords power to veto legislation.
In 1911 Churchill became the First Lord of the Admiralty. He saw the mounting tensions with Germany and knew that Britain would have to stand by France’s side in any upcoming conflict. Noting British inferiority in Naval powers he petition the government for the largest naval expenditure in British history. He spent the following years building up the British Navy.
World War One
When the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June 1914 Churchill mobilised the British fleet. He argued strongly against wavering to the Germans. On 4 August 1914 Germany invade Belgium. By 11pm that day Britain was at war.
In August 1914 when Antwerp was at risk of falling Churchill rushed in to organise the defence. In the end Antwerp fell to the Germans but Churchill gained enough time to evacuate the majority of the Belgium forces and enable crucial channel ports to be saved. Back home, however, this was only seen as a defeat and Churchill’s reputation was damaged for the first time during this war.
in 1915 Churchill supported the Dardenelles campaign to attack Turkish forces and draw them away from the Russians. The sustained campaign in Galipoli did draw away Turkish forces but at heavy cost for the Allied Forces. Through a series of bad military leadership, poor tactics and unprepared troops the campaign was considered a failure.
This was a stain on Churchill’s reputation that would never be forgotten.
Churchill resigned after the failure of the campaign and went to western front to fight in France. In 1916 he returned to parliament and to the ruins of his political career.
in 1917 he was appointed minister of munitions despite heavy opposition from the Tory’s. Out of cabinet he dedicated his time to administration. Building on a project he started in the Admiralty Churchill concentrated on the design and building of the tank.
In January 1919 Churchill became the secretary of war. His preoccupation following the war was with the Russians and he was anti-Bolshevik.
In 1921 he was moved to the Colonial Office where his focus was switched to the Middle East. In 1922 he penned the White Paper which recognised Palestine as the Jewish national home, recognising continuing Arab rights.
In the 1922 general election Churchill was struck down by appendicitis. He was defeated by 10,000 and found himself out of office.
Churchill turned once again to writing and wrote a book an autobiographical view of the war called the World Crisis. This secured him £20,000 income. He used this to buy his country home in Kent, Chartwell.
In 1924 he won a seat in Epping and was offer the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. His first move was to re-instate the Gold Standard, which set the value of the British pound against a set weight of gold. This was an utter disaster and eventually led to the general strike of 1926.
By 1929 Churchill was once again out of office and a Labour government installed in parliament.
He once again turned to his pen and wrote several more books. He campaigned vehemently against ignoring the German threat. He was furious when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain travelled to Munich and conceded Czechoslovakia to the Germans. In parliament he attacked Chamberlain with the words:
“You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You have chosen dishonour and you shall have war.”
In 1939 he supported King Edward VIII’s abdication to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, further alienating him from the government.
World War Two
On the day Britain declared war Chamberlain appointed Churchill to his previous position of First Lord of the Admiralty.
In April 1940 the Germans took Norway and Britain suffered two failed attacks. Chamberlain took the blame and after the Germans invaded the Low Countries in May he resigned.
Churchill was the only candidate for the position. He had the support of the opposition and at this time is was a coalition government. He was only dedicated in his opposition of the Nazi threat. Chamberlain wanted Lord Halifax but Churchill took the position of Prime Minister.
Churchill took over leadership of a war that was going badly for Britain. . With the British forces cut off in Dunkirk Churchill organised their evacuation with civilian boats, rescuing the majority of the forces. Lord Halifax and other members of the government promoted negotiation with Hitler. Churchill refused leading his is inspiring speech to parliament “We shall on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.. We will never surrender”.
Churchill kept British defiance and spirit strong during those difficult years with the threat of invasion imminent, while holding off an invasion of France not wanting to repeat the failures of Galipoli.
When Nazi attentions turned to Russia Churchill, refusing to unsay his previous comments on communism, forged an alliance with the Soviets in the face of a mutual enemy. In 1941, with the attack of Pearl Harbour, Churchill went immediately to Washington to hammer out an American-British alliance.
On 6 June 1944 D-Day had arrived. Nazi occupied France was invaded by a combined British and Canadian allied force.
On 7 May 1945 Germany surrendered. Churchill had successfully led the British Nation to victory.
Post War Years
In July 1945 the country elected a new Prime Minister and the Labour Party took power under Clement Atley.
Churchill remained the leader of the Conservative Party, although he was not as focused on parliament.
In 1946 Churchill delivered a speak to parliament, one of the opening volleys of the Cold War, famously stating an iron curtain had fallen across Europe. He advocated for the created of a council of Europe during this time.
Churchill returned to the office of Prime Minister in 1951 after defeating the Labour party in the General Elections.
1953 saw the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and Churchill was honoured with the Order of the Garter. In the same year he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Unfortunately in June 1953 Churchill suffered a stroke and partially paralysed.
In 1954 Churchill authorised Britain’s nuclear weapons programme. By 1955 Churchill would retired from politics following his 80th birthday. Although he continue as an MP until 1964
Churchill died in January 1965. He was honoured by a State funeral. Huge crowds came out to see his funeral procession in London and millions more watched on television.
Do you know any interesting facts about Winston Churchill? Let me know below!
Don’t forget to tune in for next month’s spotlight!
Check out last month’s spotlight here: Spolight: History of Christmas