Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was a member of the Liberal Party.
Of mixed English and American parentage, Churchill was born in Oxfordshire to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He joined the British Army in 1895, and saw action in British India, the Anglo-Sudan War, and the Second Boer War, gaining fame as a war correspondent and writing books about his campaigns. Elected an MP in 1900, initially as a Conservative, he defected to the Liberals in 1904. In H. H. Asquith‘s Liberal government, Churchill served as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, and First Lord of the Admiralty, championing prison reform and workers’ social security. During the First World War, he oversaw the Gallipoli Campaign; after it proved a disaster, he resigned from government and served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. In 1917, he returned to government under David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions, then as Secretary of State for War and Air, and finally for the Colonies, overseeing the Anglo-Irish Treaty and Britain’s Middle East policy. After two years out of Parliament, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin‘s Conservative government, returning the pound sterling in 1925 to the gold standard at its pre-war parity, a move widely seen as creating deflationary pressure and depressing the UK economy.
Out of office during the 1930s, Churchill took the lead in calling for British rearmament to counter the growing threat from Nazi Germany. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was re-appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1940 he became prime minister, replacing Neville Chamberlain. Churchill oversaw British involvement in the Allied war effort against Germany and the Axis powers, resulting in victory in 1945. His wartime leadership was widely praised, although acts like the Bombing of Dresden and his wartime response to the Bengal famine generated controversy. After the Conservatives’ defeat in the 1945 general election, he became Leader of the Opposition. Amid the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union, he publicly warned of an “iron curtain” of Soviet influence in Europe and promoted European unity. Re-elected Prime Minister in 1951, his second term was preoccupied with foreign affairs, including the Malayan Emergency, Mau Mau Uprising, Korean War, and a UK-backed Iranian coup. Domestically his government emphasised house-building and developed a nuclear weapon. In declining health, Churchill resigned as prime minister in 1955, although he remained an MP until 1964. Upon his death in 1965, he was given a state funeral.
Widely considered one of the 20th century’s most significant figures, Churchill remains popular in Britain and throughout the West, where he is seen as a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending Europe’s liberal democracy from the spread of fascism. Praised as a social reformer and accomplished writer, among his many awards was the Nobel Prize in Literature. Conversely, his imperialist views and comments on race, as well as his sanctioning of human rights abuses in the suppression of anti-imperialist movements seeking independence from the British Empire, have generated considerable controversy.
Childhood and schooling: 1874-1895
Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s ancestral home and his birthplace
Churchill was born at the family’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, on 30 November 1874, at which time the United Kingdom was the dominant world power. Direct descendants of the Dukes of Marlborough, his family were among the highest levels of the British aristocracy, and thus he was born into the country’s governing elite. His paternal grandfather, John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, had been a Member of Parliament (MP) for ten years, a member of the Conservative Party who served in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. His own father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had been elected Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873. His mother, Jennie Churchill (ne Jerome), was from an American family whose substantial wealth derived from finance. The couple had met in August 1873, and were engaged three days later, marrying at the British Embassy in Paris in April 1874. The couple lived beyond their income and were frequently in debt; according to the biographer Sebastian Haffner, the family were “rich by normal standards but poor by those of the rich”.
In 1876 John Spencer-Churchill was appointed Viceroy of Ireland, with Randolph as his private secretary, resulting in the Churchill family’s relocation to Dublin, when the entirety of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It was here that Jennie’s second son, Jack, was born in 1880; there has been speculation that Randolph was not his biological father. Throughout much of the 1880s Randolph and Jennie were effectively estranged, and during this time she had many suitors. Churchill had virtually no relationship with his father; referring to his mother, Churchill later stated that “I loved her dearlybut at a distance.” His relationship with Jack was warm. In Dublin, the brothers were cared for primarily by their nanny, Elizabeth Everest. Churchill nicknamed her “Woomany”, and later wrote that “She had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole of the twenty years I had lived.”
Aged seven, he began boarding at St. George’s School in Ascot, Berkshire; he hated it, did poorly academically, and regularly misbehaved. Visits home were to Connaught Place in London, where his parents had settled, while they also took him on his first foreign holiday, to Gastein in Austria-Hungary. As a result of poor health, in September 1884 he moved to Brunswick School in Hove; there, his academic performance improved but he continued to misbehave. He narrowly passed the entrance exam which allowed him to begin studies at the elite Harrow School in April 1888. There, his academics remained highhe excelled particularly in historybut teachers complained that he was unpunctual and careless. He wrote poetry and letters which were published in the school magazine, Harrovian, and won a fencing competition. His father insisted that he be prepared for a career in the military, and so Churchill’s last three years at Harrow were spent in the army form. He performed poorly in most of his exams.
On a holiday to Bournemouth in January 1893, Churchill fell and was knocked unconscious for three days. In March he took a job at a cram school in Lexham Gardens, South Kensington, before holidaying in Switzerland and Italy that summer. After two unsuccessful attempts to gain admittance to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he succeeded on his third attempt. There, he was accepted as a cadet in the cavalry, starting his education in September 1893. In August 1894 he and his brother holidayed in Belgium, and he spent free time in London, joining protests at the closing of the Empire Theatre, which he had frequented. His Sandhurst education lasted for 15 months; he graduated in December 1894. Shortly after Churchill finished at Sandhurst, in January 1895, his father died; this led Churchill to adopt the belief that members of his family inevitably died young.
Cuba, India, and Sudan: 1895-1899
In February 1895, Churchill was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars regiment of the British Army, based at Aldershot. In July, he rushed to Crouch Hill, North London to sit with Everest as she lay dying, subsequently organising her funeral. Churchill was eager to witness military action and used his mother’s influence to try to get himself posted to a war zone. In the autumn of 1895, he and Reginald Barnes traveled to Cuba to observe its war of independence; they joined Spanish troops attempting to suppress independence fighters and were caught up in several skirmishes. He also spent time in New York City, staying with the wealthy politician Bourke Cockran, who profoundly influenced the young Churchill. Churchill admired the United States, writing to his brother that it was “a very great country” and telling his mother “what an extraordinary people the Americans are!”
With the Hussars, Churchill arrived in Bombay, British India, in October 1896. They were soon transferred to Bangalore, where he shared a bungalow with Barnes. Describing India as a “godless land of snobs and bores”, Churchill remained there for 19 months, during the course of which he made three visits to Calcutta, expeditions to Hyderabad and the North West Frontier, and two visits back to Britain. Believing himself poorly educated, he began a project of self-education, reading the work of Plato, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, and Henry Hallam. Most influential for him were Edward Gibbon‘s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Winwood Reade‘s The Martyrdom of Man, and the writings of Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Interested in British parliamentary affairs, in one letter he declared himself “a Liberal in all but name”, but added that he could never endorse the Liberal Party‘s support for Irish home rule. Instead, he allied himself to the Tory democracy wing of the Conservative Party, and on a visit home gave his first public speech for the Conservative’s Primrose League in Bath. Reflecting a mix of reformist and conservative perspectives, he supported the promotion of secular, non-denominational education while opposing women’s suffrage, referring to the Suffragettes as “a ridiculous movement”.
Churchill decided to join Bindon Blood‘s Malakand Field Force in its campaign against Mohmand rebels in the Swat Valley of Northwest India. Blood agreed on the condition that Churchill be assigned as a journalist; to ensure this, he gained accreditation from The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph, for whom he wrote regular updates. In letters to family, he described how both sides in the conflict slaughtered each other’s wounded, although he omitted any reference to such actions by British troops in his published reports. He remained with the British troops for six weeks before returning to Bangalore in October 1897. There, he wrote his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, which was published by Longman to largely positive reviews. He also wrote his only work of fiction, Savrola, a roman clef set in an imagined Balkan kingdom. It was serialised in Macmillan’s Magazine between May-December 1899 before appearing in book form.
While in Bangalore in the first half of 1898, Churchill explored the possibility of joining Herbert Kitchener‘s military campaign in the Sudan. Kitchener was initially reluctant, claiming that Churchill was simply seeking publicity and medals. After spending time in Calcutta, Meerut, and Peshawar, Churchill sailed back to England from Bombay in June. There, he used his contactsincluding a visit to the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury at 10 Downing Streetto get himself assigned to Kitchener’s campaign. He agreed that he would write a column describing the events for The Morning Post. Arriving in Egypt, he joined the 21st Lancers at Cairo before they headed south along the River Nile to take part in the Battle of Omdurman against the army of Sudanese leader Abdallahi ibn Muhammad. Churchill was critical of Kitchener’s actions during the war, particularly the latter’s unmerciful treatment of enemy wounded and his desecration of Muhammad Ahmad‘s tomb in Omdurman. Following the battle, Churchill gave skin from his chest for a graft for an injured officer. Back in England by October, Churchill wrote an account of the campaign, published as The River War in November 1899.
Attempts at a parliamentary career and South Africa: 1899-1900
Seeking a parliamentary career, Churchill pursued political contacts and gave addresses at three Conservative Party meetings. At this point he courted Pamela Plowden; although a relationship did not ensue, they remained lifelong friends. In December he returned to India for three months, largely to indulge his love of the game polo. While in Calcutta, he stayed in the home of Viceroy George Nathaniel Curzon. On the journey home, he spent two weeks in Cairo, where he was introduced to the Khedive Abbas II, before arriving in England in April. He refocused his attention on politics, addressing further Conservative meetings and networking at events such as a Rothschild‘s dinner party. He was selected as one of the two Conservative parliamentary candidates at the June 1899 by-election in Oldham, Lancashire. Although the Oldham seats had previously been held by the Conservatives, the election was a narrow Liberal victory.
Anticipating the outbreak of the Second Boer War between Britain and the Boer Republics, Churchill sailed from Southampton to South Africa as a journalist writing for the Daily Mail and Morning Post. From Cape Town, in October he travelled to the conflict zone near Ladysmith, then besieged by Boer troops, before spending time at Estcourt and then heading for Colenso. After his train was derailed by Boer artillery shelling, he was captured as a prisoner of war and interned in a Boer POW camp in Pretoria. In December, Churchill and two other inmates escaped the prison over the latrine wall. Churchill stowed aboard a freight train and later hid within a mine, shielded by the sympathetic English mine owner. Wanted by the Boer authorities, he again hid aboard a freight train and travelled to safety in Portuguese East Africa.
Sailing to Durban, Churchill found that his escape had attracted much publicity in Britain. In January 1900 he was appointed a lieutenant in the South African Light Horse regiment, joining Redvers Buller‘s fight to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith and take Pretoria. In his writings during the campaign, he chastised British hatred for the Boer, calling for them to be treated with “generosity and tolerance” and urging a “speedy peace”; after the war he called for the British to be magnanimous in victory. 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. After the victory in Pretoria, he returned to Cape Town and sailed for Britain in July. In May, while he had still been in South Africa, his Morning Post despatches had been published as London to Ladysmith via Pretoria, which sold well.
Early political career: 1900-1908″]
Early years in Parliament: 1900-1905
Arriving in Southampton in July 1900, Churchill rented a flat in London’s Mayfair, using it as his base for the next six years. He stood again as a Conservative candidate for the seat of Oldham at the 1900 general election, securing a narrow victory. At age 25, he was now an MP. MPs were not then paid a wage and, to earn money, Churchill embarked on a speaking tour focusing on his South African experiences; after touring Britain in late October and November he proceeded to the US, where his first lecture was introduced by the writer Mark Twain. In the US, he met President William McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt; the latter invited Churchill to dinner, but took a dislike to him. Churchill gave further lectures in Canada, and in spring 1901 gave talks in Paris, Madrid, and Gibraltar. In October 1900, he published Ian Hamilton’s March, a book about his South African experiences.
In February 1901, Churchill took his seat in the House of Commons, where his maiden speech gained widespread press coverage. He associated with a group of Conservatives known as the Hughligans, although was critical of the Conservative government on various issues. He condemned the British execution of a Boer military commandant, and voiced concerns about the levels of public expenditure; in response, Prime Minister Arthur Balfour asked him to join a parliamentary select committee on the topic. He opposed increases to army funding, suggesting that any additional military expenditure should go to the navy. This upset the Conservative front bench but gained support from Liberals. He increasingly socialised with senior Liberals, particularly Liberal Imperialists like H. H. Asquith. In this context, he later wrote, he “drifted steadily to the left” of British parliamentary politics. He privately considered “the gradual creation by an evolutionary process of a Democratic or Progressive wing to the Conservative Party”, or alternately a “Central Party” to unite the Conservatives and Liberals.
In the House of Commons, Churchill increasingly voted with the Liberal opposition against the government. In February 1903, he was among 18 Conservative MPs who voted against the government’s increase in military expenditure. He backed the Liberal vote of censure against the use of Chinese indentured labourers in South Africa, and in favour of a Liberal bill to restore legal rights to trade unions. His April 1904 parliamentary speech upholding the rights of trade unions was described by the pro-Conservative Daily Mail as “Radicalism of the reddest type”. In May 1903, Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, called for the introduction of tariffs on goods imported into the British Empire from outside; Churchill became a leading Conservative voice against such economic protectionism. Describing himself as a “sober admirer” of “the principles of Free Trade”, in July he was a founding member of the anti-protectionist Free Food League. In October, Balfour’s government sided with Chamberlain and announced protectionist legislation.
Churchill’s outspoken criticism of Balfour’s government and imperial protectionism, coupled with a letter of support he sent to a Liberal candidate in Ludlow, angered many Conservatives. In December 1903, the Oldham Conservative Association informed him that it would not support his candidature in the next general election. In March 1904, Balfour and the Conservative front bench walked out of the House of Commons during one of his speeches. In May he expressed opposition to the government’s proposed Aliens Bill, which was designed to curb Jewish migration into Britain. He stated that the bill would “appeal to insular prejudice against foreigners, to racial prejudice against Jews, and to labour prejudice against competition” and expressed himself in favour of “the old tolerant and generous practice of free entry and asylum to which this country has so long adhered and from which it has so greatly gained.” On 31 May 1904, he crossed the floor, defecting from the Conservatives to sit as a member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons.
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies: 1905-1908
In December 1905, Balfour resigned as Prime Minister and King Edward VII invited the Liberal leader Henry Campbell-Bannerman to take his place. Hoping to secure a working majority in the House of Commons, Campbell-Bannerman called a general election for January 1906, which the Liberals won. Having had a previous invitation from the Manchester Liberals to stand in their constituency, Churchill did so, winning the Manchester North West seat. January also saw the publication of Churchill’s biography of his father; he received an advance payment of 8000 for the book, the highest ever paid for a political biography in Britain to that point. It was generally well received. It was also at this time that the first biography of Churchill himself, written by the Liberal Alexander MacCallum Scott, was published.
In the new government, Churchill became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonial Office, a position that he had requested. He worked beneath the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Victor Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin, and took Edward Marsh as his secretary; the latter remained Churchill’s secretary for 25 years. In this junior ministerial position, Churchill was first tasked with helping to draft a constitution for the Transvaal. In 1906, he helped oversee the granting of a government to the Orange Free State. In dealing with southern Africa, he sought to ensure equality between the British and Boer. He also announced a gradual phasing out of the use of Chinese indentured labourers in South Africa; he and the government decided that a sudden ban would cause too much upset in the colony and might damage the economy. He expressed concerns about the relations between European settlers and the black African population; after Zulu launched the Bambatha Rebellion in Natal, he complained of Europeans’ “disgusting butchery of the natives”.
In August 1906, Churchill holidayed on a yacht in Deauville, France, spending much of his time playing polo or gambling. From there he proceeded to Paris and then Switzerlandwhere he climbed the Eggishornand then to Berlin and Silesia, where he was a guest of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He went then to Venice, and from there toured Italy by motorcar with his friend, Lionel Rothschild. In May 1907, he holidayed at the home of another friend, Maurice de Forest, in Biarritz. In the autumn, he embarked on a tour of Europe and Africa. He travelled through France, Italy, Malta, and Cyprus, before moving through the Suez Canal to Aden and Berbera. Sailing to Mombasa, he travelled by rail through the Kenya Colonystopping for big game hunting in Simbabefore heading through the Uganda Protectorate and then sailing up the River Nile. He wrote about his experiences for Strand Magazine and later published them in book form as My African Journey.
Asquith government: 1908-1915″]
President of the Board of Trade: 1908-1910
When Asquith succeeded Campbell-Bannerman in 1908, Churchill was promoted to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. Aged 33, he was the youngest Cabinet member since 1866. Newly appointed Cabinet ministers were legally obliged to seek re-election at a by-election; in April, Churchill lost the Manchester North West by-election to the Conservative candidate by 429 votes. The Liberals then stood him in a by-election in the Scottish safe seat of Dundee, where he won comfortably. In his Cabinet role, Churchill worked with Liberal politician David Lloyd George to champion social reform. In one speech Churchill stated that although the “vanguard” of the British people “enjoys all the delights of all the ages, our rearguard struggles out into conditions which are crueller than barbarism”. To deal with this, he promoted what he called a “network of State intervention and regulation” akin to that in Germany. His speeches on these issues were published in the volumes Liberalism and the Social Problem and The People’s Rights.
One of the first tasks he faced was in arbitrating an industrial dispute among ship-workers and their employers on the River Tyne. He then established a Standing Court of Arbitration to deal with future industrial disputes, establishing a reputation as a conciliator. Arguing that workers should have their working hours reduced, Churchill promoted the Mines Eight Hours Billwhich legally prohibited miners working more than an eight-hour dayintroducing its second reading in the House of Commons. In 1908, he introduced the Trade Boards Bill to parliament, which would establish a Board of Trade which could prosecute exploitative employers, establish the principle of minimum wage, and the right of workers to have meal breaks. The bill passed with a large majority. In May, he proposed the Labour Exchanges Bill which sought to establish over 200 Labour Exchanges through which the unemployed would be assisted in finding employment. He also promoted the idea of an unemployment insurance scheme, which would be part-funded by the state.
To ensure funding for these social reforms, he and Lloyd George denounced Reginald McKennas‘ expansion of warship production. Churchill openly ridiculed those who thought war with Germany was inevitableaccording to biographer Roy Jenkins he was going through “a pro-German phase”and in autumn 1909 he visited Germany, spending time with the Kaiser and observing German Army manoeuvres. In his personal life, Churchill proposed marriage to Clementine Hozier; they were married in September at St Margaret’s, Westminster. They honeymooned in Baveno, Venice, and Moravia; before settling into a London home at 33 Eccleston Square. The following July they had a daughter, Diana.
To pass its social reforms into law, Asquith’s Liberal government presented them in the form of the People’s Budget. Conservative opponents of the reform set up the Budget Protest League; supporters of it established the Budget League, of which Churchill became president. The budget passed in the House of Commons but was rejected by the Conservative peers who dominated the House of Lords; this threatened Churchill’s social reforms. Churchill warned that such upper-class obstruction would anger working-class Britons and could lead to class war. To deal with the deadlock, the government called a January 1910 general election, which resulted in a narrow Liberal victory; Churchill retained his seat at Dundee. After the election, he proposed the abolition of the House of Lords in a cabinet memorandum, suggesting that it be replaced either by a unicameral system or by a new, smaller second chamber that lacked an in-built advantage for the Conservatives. In April, the Lords relented and the budget was passed.
Home Secretary: 1910-1911
In February 1910, Churchill was promoted to Home Secretary, giving him control over the police and prison services, and he implemented a prison reform programme. He introduced a distinction between criminal and political prisoners, with prison rules for the latter being relaxed. He tried to establish libraries for prisoners, and introduced a measure ensuring that each prison must put on either a lecture or a concert for the entertainment of prisoners four times a year. He reduced the length of solitary confinement for first offenders to one month and for recidivists to three months, and spoke out against what he regarded as the excessively lengthy sentences meted out to perpetrators of certain crimes. He proposed the abolition of automatic imprisonment of those who failed to pay fines, and put a stop to the imprisonment of those aged between 16 and 21 except in cases where they had committed the most serious offences. Of the 43 capital sentences passed while he was Home Secretary, he commuted 21 of them.
One of the major domestic issues in Britain was that of women’s suffrage. By this point, Churchill supported giving women the vote, although would only back a bill to that effect if it had majority support from the (male) electorate. His proposed solution was a referendum on the issue, but this found no favour with Asquith and women’s suffrage remained unresolved until 1918. Many Suffragettes took Churchill for a committed opponent of women’s suffrage, and targeted his meetings for protest. In November 1910, the suffragist Hugh Franklin attacked Churchill with a whip; Franklin was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks.
In the summer of 1910, Churchill spent two months on de Forest’s yacht in the Mediterranean. Back in Britain, he was tasked with dealing with the Tonypandy Riot, in which coal miners in the Rhondda Valley violently protested against their working conditions. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan requested troops 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; he was concerned that the use of troops could lead to bloodshed. Instead he sent 270 London policewho were not equipped with firearmsto assist their Welsh counterparts. As the riots continued, he offered the protesters an interview with the government’s chief industrial arbitrator, which they accepted. Privately, Churchill regarded both the mine owners and striking miners as being “very unreasonable”.The Times and other media outlets accused him of being too soft on the rioters; conversely, many in the Labour Party, which was linked to the trade unions, regarded him as having been too heavy-handed.
Asquith called a general election for December 1910, in which the Liberals were re-elected and Churchill again secured his Dundee seat. In January 1911, Churchill became involved with the Siege of Sidney Street; three Latvian burglars had killed several police officers and hidden in a house in London’s East End, which was surrounded by police. Churchill joined the police although did not direct their operation. After the house caught on fire, he told the fire brigade not to proceed into the house because of the threat that the armed Latvians posed to them. After the event, two of the burglars were found dead. Although he faced criticism for his decision, he stated that he “thought it better to let the house burn down rather than spend good British lives in rescuing those ferocious rascals.”
In March 1911, he introduced the second reading of the Coal Mines Bill to parliament, whichwhen implemented into lawintroduced stricter safety standards to coal mines. He also formulated the Shops Bill to improve the working conditions of shop workers; it faced opposition from shop owners and only passed into law in a much emasculated form. To maintain pressure on this issue, he became president of the Early Closing Association and remained in that position until the early 1940s. In April, Lloyd George introduced the first health and unemployment insurance legislation, the National Insurance Act 1911; Churchill had been instrumental in drafting it. In May, his wife gave birth to their second child, Randolph, named after Churchill’s father. In 1911, he was tasked with dealing with escalating civil strife, sending troops into Liverpool to quell protesting dockers and rallying against a national railway strike. As the Agadir Crisis emerged, which threatened the outbreak of war between Germany and France, Churchill suggested thatshould negotiations failthe UK should form an alliance with France and Russia and safeguard the independence of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark in the face of possible German expansionism. The Agadir Crisis had a dramatic effect on Churchill and his views about the need for naval expansion.
First Lord of the Admiralty: 1911-1915
In October 1911, Asquith appointed Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty. He settled into his official London residence at Admiralty House, and established his new office aboard the admiralty yacht, the Enchantress. Over the next two and a half years he focused on naval preparation, visiting naval stations and dockyards, seeking to improve naval morale, and scrutinising German naval developments. After the German government passed the German Navy Law to increase warship production, Churchill vowed that Britain would do the same and that for every new battleship built by the Germans, Britain would build two. Believing an oligarchy of “the landlord ascendancy” had taken over Germany, he hoped that war would be averted if Germany’s “democratic forces” could re-assert control of its government. To discourage conflict, he invited Germany to engage in a mutual de-escalation of the two country’s naval building projects, but his offer was rebuffed.
As part of his naval reforms, he pushed for higher pay and greater recreational facilities for naval staff, an increase in the building of submarines, and a renewed focus on the Royal Naval Air Service, encouraging them to experiment with how aircraft could be used for military purposes. He coined the term “seaplane” and ordered 100 to be constructed. In 1913 he began taking flying lessons at Eastchurch air station, although close friends urged him to stop given the dangers involved. Some Liberals objected to his levels of naval expenditure; in December 1913 he threatened to resign if his proposal for four new battleships in 1914-15 was rejected. In June 1914, he convinced the House of Commons to authorise the government purchase of a 51 percent share in the profits of oil produced by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, to secure continued oil access for the Royal Navy.As a supporter of eugenics, he participated in the drafting of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913; however, the Act, in the form eventually passed, rejected his preferred method of sterilisation of the feeble-minded in favour of their confinement in institutions.
Taking centre stage was the issue of how Britain’s government should respond to the Irish home rule movement. In 1912, Asquith’s government forwarded the Home Rule Bill, which if passed into law would grant Irish home rule. Churchill supported the bill and urged Ulster Unionistsa largely Protestant community who desired continued political unity with Britainto accept it. He opposed partition of Ireland, and in 1913 suggested that Ulster have some autonomy from an independent Irish government. Many Ulster Unionists rejected any option that left them under the jurisdiction of a Dublin-based government and the Ulster Volunteers threatened an uprising to establish an independent Protestant state in Ulster. Churchill was the Cabinet minister tasked with giving an ultimatum to those threatening violence, doing so in a Bradford speech in March 1914. Following a Cabinet decision, he boosted the naval presence in Ireland to deal with any Unionist uprising; Conservatives accused him of trying to initiate an “Ulster Pogrom”. Seeking further compromise to calm the Ulster Volunteers, Churchill suggested that Ireland remain part of a federal United Kingdom; this in turn angered Liberals and Irish nationalists.
Outbreak of the First World War
Following the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria there was growing talk of war in Europe. Churchill began readying the navy for conflict. Although there was strong opposition within the Liberal Party to involvement in the conflict, the British Cabinet declared war when Germany invaded Belgium. Churchill was tasked with overseeing Britain’s naval warfare effort. In two weeks, the navy transported 120,000 British troops across the English Channel to France. In August, he oversaw a naval blockade of German North Sea ports to prevent them from transporting food by sea; he also sent submarines to the Baltic Sea to assist the Russian Navy against German warships. Also in August, he sent the Marine Brigade to Ostend to force the Germans to reallocate some of their troops away from their main southward thrust.
In September, Churchill took over full responsibility for Britain’s aerial defence, making several visits to France to oversee the war effort. While in Britain, he spoke at all-party recruiting rallies in London and Liverpool, and his wife gave birth to their third child, Sarah. In October he visited Antwerp to observe Belgian defences against the besieging Germans; he promised Belgian Prime Minister Charles de Broqueville that Britain would provide reinforcements for the city. The German assault continued, and shortly after Churchill left the city he agreed to a British retreat, allowing the Germans to take Antwerp; many in the press criticised Churchill for this. Churchill maintained that his actions prolonged the resistance, thus enabling the Allies to secure Calais and Dunkirk.
In November, Asquith called a War Council, consisting of himself, Lloyd George, Edward Grey, Kitchener, and Churchill. Churchill proposed a plan to seize the island of Borkum and use it as a post from which to attack Germany’s northern coastline, believing that this strategy should shorten the war. Churchill also encouraged the development of the tank, which he believed would be useful in overcoming the problems of trench warfare, and financed its creation with admiralty funds. To relieve Turkish pressure on the Russians in the Caucasus, Churchill was part of a plan to distract the Turkish Army by attacking in the Dardanelles, with the hope that if successful the British could seize Constantinople. In March, a fleet of 13 battleships attacked in the Dardanelles but faced severe problems from submerged mines; in April, the 29th Division began its assault at Gallipoli. Many MPs, particularly Conservatives, blamed Churchill for the failure of these campaigns. Amid growing Conservative pressure, in May, Asquith agreed to form an all-party coalition government; the Conservatives’ one condition of entry was that Churchill be demoted from his position at the Admiralty. Churchill pleaded his case with both Asquith and Conservative leader Bonar Law, but ultimately accepted his demotion to the position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Military service, 1915-1916″] Churchill commanding the 6th Battalion, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1916. His second-in-command, Archibald Sinclair, sits to the left.
In November 1915 Churchill resigned from government, although remained an MP; Asquith rejected his requested appointment as Governor-General of British East Africa. Moving into his brother’s home in South Kensington, he and his family spent weekends at a Tudor farmhouse near Godalming, Surrey where he took up painting, which became a lifelong hobby.
In November Churchill joined the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, on the Western Front. After a brief trip back to London for Christmas, in January 1916 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and placed in command of the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. After a period of training, the Battalion was moved to a sector of the Front near Ploegsteert in Belgium. Churchill spent three and a half months at the Front; his Battalion faced continual shelling although no German offensive. In March he returned home briefly, making a speech on naval issues to the House of Commons. In May, the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers were merged into the 15th Division. Churchill did not request a new command, instead securing permission to leave active service.
Back in the House of Commons, Churchill spoke out on war issues, calling for conscription to be extended to the Irish, greater recognition of soldiers’ bravery, and for the introduction of steel helmets for troops. He nevertheless was frustrated that there was little for him to do. The failure of the Dardanelles hung over him, with the issue repeatedly being raised by the Conservatives and pro-Conservative press. He argued his case before the Dardanelles Commission, whose published report placed no blame on him for the campaign’s failure.
Lloyd George government: 1916-1922″]
Minister of Munitions: 1917-1919
Asquith resigned and Lloyd George became Prime Minister in October 1916; in May 1917, the latter sent Churchill to inspect the French war effort. In July, Lloyd George appointed Churchill Minister of Munitions. In this position, Churchill made a commitment to increase munitions production, streamlined the organisation of the department, and soon negotiated an end to a strike in munitions factories along the Clyde. He ended a second strike, in June 1918, by threatening to conscript strikers into the army. He made repeated trips to France, visiting the Front and meeting with French political leaders, including its Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau. In the House of Commons, he voted in support of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which first gave some British women the right to vote. Following British military gains, in November, Germany surrendered. Four days later, Churchill’s fourth child, Marigold, was born.
Secretary of State for War and Air: 1918-1921
After the war, Lloyd George called a new election. During the election campaign, Churchill called for the nationalisation of the railways, a control on monopolies, tax reform, and the creation of a League of Nations to prevent future wars. In the election, Churchill was returned as MP for Dundee and Lloyd George retained as Prime Minister. In January 1919, Lloyd George then moved Churchill to the War Office as both Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air.
Churchill was responsible for demobilising the British Army, although he convinced Lloyd George to keep a million men conscripted to use as a British Army of the Rhine. Churchill was one of the few government figures who opposed harsh measures against the defeated Germany. He stated that he opposed any punitive measures that would reduce “the mass of the working-class population of Germany to a condition of sweated labour and servitude”. He also cautioned against demobilising the German Army, warning that they may be needed as a bulwark against threats from the newly established Soviet Russia.
Churchill was an outspoken opponent of Vladimir Lenin‘s new Communist Party government in Russia, stating that “of all the tyrannies in history, the Bolshevik tyranny is the worst”. British troops were already in parts of the former Russian Empire, assisting the anti-Communist White forces amid the ongoing Russian Civil War. Although initially committed to British involvement, Churchill concluded there was insufficient British desire for another war, and convinced Lloyd George to bring the British troops home, albeit continuing to provide the Whites with arms and supplies. In his words, “if Russia is to be saved , as I pray she may be saved, she must be saved by Russians”, not by foreign troops. He took responsibility for evacuating the 14,000 British troops from Russia. After the Soviets won the civil war, Churchill proposed a cordon sanitaire around the country.
Churchill’s attentions were also turned to the Irish War of Independence, where he supported the use of the para-military Black and Tans to combat Irish revolutionaries. After British troops in Iraq clashed with Kurdish rebels, Churchill authorised two squadrons to the area, proposing that they be equipped with mustard gas to use against the rebels. More broadly, he saw the occupation of Iraq as a drain on Britain and proposed, unsuccessfully, that the government should hand control of central and northern Iraq back to Turkey.
Secretary of State for the Colonies: 1921-1922
Churchill became Secretary of State for the Colonies in February 1921. The following month, the first exhibit of his paintings was held; it took place in Paris, with Churchill exhibiting under a pseudonym. In May, his mother died, followed in August by his daughter Marigold. A key issue that year was the ongoing Irish War of Independence. To end it, Churchill pushed for a truce, which came into effect in July. In October, he was among the seven British negotiators who met Sinn Fein leaders in Downing Street. He suggested Ireland be given home rule within the Empire but with the six Protestant-majority counties of Ulster having some autonomy from a Dublin government: the Ulster Unionists rejected this. It was then agreed that Ireland would be partitioned; most of the country would form the Irish Free State, while the Protestant-majority areas would form Northern Ireland and remain part of the UK. This was written into the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which Churchill helped draft. After the treaty, Churchill successfully called for Sinn Fein members who were guilty of murder to have their death penalties waived. As Ireland descended into civil war between supporters and republican opponents of the treaty, Churchill supplied weapons to the forces of Michael Collins‘ pro-treaty government.
Churchill was responsible for reducing the cost of occupying the Middle East. He urged removing most British troops from Iraq and installing an Arab government. In March he met British officials responsible for governing Iraq in Cairo. They agreed to install Faisal as King of Iraq and his brother, Abdullah, as King of Transjordan. From there he travelled to Mandatory Palestine, where Arab Palestinians petitioned him not to allow further Jewish migration. A supporter of Zionism, he dismissed this. Churchill believed that he could encourage Jewish migration to Palestine while allaying Arab fears that they would become a dominated minority. Only following the 1921 Jaffa riots did he agree to temporary restrictions on Jewish migration to Palestine. With Turkey seeking to expand into areas lost during the First World War, Churchill backed Lloyd George in holding British control of Constantinople. Turkish troops advanced towards the British, leading to the Chanak Crisis, with Churchill calling on British troops to stay firm.
In late 1921, Lloyd George made Churchill chair of a Cabinet Committee on Defence Estimates, which met in January 1922 to determine how much military expenditure could be cut without jeopardizing national security. In December 1921, he holidayed in the south of France, where he began writing a book about his experiences during the First World War. In September 1922, his fifth child, Mary, was born, and that month he purchased a new house, Chartwell in Kent. In October 1922, Churchill underwent an operation for appendicitis. While this was occurring, the Conservatives withdrew from Lloyd George’s coalition government, precipitating the November 1922 general election. In that, Churchill lost his Dundee seat to prohibitionist Edwin Scrymgeour, coming fourth in terms of vote share.
Out of Parliament: 1922-1924″]
Churchill spent the next six months largely at the Villa Rve d’Or near Cannes, where he devoted himself to painting and writing his memoires. He produced a five-volume series of books about the war, its build-up, and its aftermath, titled The World Crisis; the first volume appeared in April 1923 and the others over the course of ten years. After a 1923 general election election was called, seven Liberal associations asked Churchill to stand as their candidate, and he selected that at Leicester West. He did not win the seat. A Labour government led by Ramsay MacDonald took power, although Churchill had hoped they would be kept out of office by a coalition of the Conservatives and Liberals. He strongly opposed the MacDonald government’s decision to loan money to Soviet Russia and feared the signing of an Anglo-Soviet Treaty.
In 1924, Churchill stood as an independent candidate in the Westminster Abbey by-election but was defeated. In May he then addressed a Conservative meeting in Liverpoolthe first time he had spoken to a Conservative group for twenty yearsin which he declared that there was no longer a place for the Liberal Party in British politics and that Liberals must therefore back the Conservatives to stop Labour and ensure “the successful defeat of Socialism”. In July, he agreed with Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin that he would be selected as the Conservative candidate for a seatin September he was chosen for Eppingbut that he did not have to stand under the Conservative banner, instead describing himself as a “Constitutionalist“. The general election occurred in October, with Churchill winning in Epping. The Conservatives were victorious, with Baldwin forming the new government. Although Churchill had no background in finance or economics, Baldwin appointed him as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in November 1924, Churchill moved into 11 Downing Street. He formally rejoined the Conservative Party. In this position, he sought to push what he described as “the same sort of measures” that he had pursued under the Liberal social reforms. In January 1925, he negotiated a series of war repayments, both from the UK to the US, and from other countries to the UK.The Bank of England and others were calling for the UK to return to the Gold Standard, an idea Churchill initially opposed. He consulted various economists, the majority of whom endorsed the change; among the few who opposed it was John Maynard Keynes. Churchill ultimately relented and agreed to the measure, after which he became its supporter.
Churchill announced the return to the gold standard in his first budget, published in April 1925. Churchill’s first budget included measures to reduce the pension age from 70 to 65, and for widows to begin receiving their pension as soon as their husband died. His budget also announced a ten percent decrease in income tax for the lowest earners; he hoped that this would stimulate small business. To account for such expenditure, Churchill called for a decline in naval expenditure, arguing that there was no need for it in peacetime. That year, he also convinced the government to introduce a subsidy for the mining industry so as to prevent mining bosses from reducing their worker’s wages in response to declining earnings. His second budget, announced in April 1926, included a tax on petrol, on heavy lorries, and on the purchase of luxury cars.
Amid the General Strike of 1926, Churchill was responsible for overseeing publication of the British Gazette, the government’s anti-strike propaganda publication. After the General Strike ended, he was tasked with serving as an intermediary between the striking minerswhose initial strike against pay cuts had sparked the General Strikeand the mine owners. Churchill proposed that any lowering of wages should be paralleled with a reduction in the owners’ profits. A compromise between the two was not reached. Following the strike he became an advocate of the miners’ calls for the introduction of a legally binding minimum wage.
In early 1927, Churchill travelled through Europe, visiting Malta, Athens, Rome, and Paris. In Athens, he praised the restoration of parliamentary democracy and in Rome met with Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. He told the Italian press that “Had I been an Italian, I am sure I would have been wholeheartedly with you from start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. But in England we have not yet had to face this danger in the same deadly form. We have our own way of doing things.” Back in London, in April he put forward his third budget: this announced new taxes on imported car tyres and wines, as well as increased taxation on matches and tobacco. Later that year he began devising the idea of abolishing local rates to relieve taxation on British industry and agriculture; amid some Cabinet criticism he agreed only to reduce local rates by two-thirds. This derating scheme was included in his fourth budget, presented in April 1928. In April 1929 he presented his fifth budget, which included abolishing the duty on tea.
The “Wilderness Years”: 1929-1939″]
Marlborough and the India Question: 1929-1932
In the 1929 general election, Churchill retained his Epping seat but the Conservatives were defeated and MacDonald formed his second Labour government. Out of office, Churchill began work on Marlborough: His Life and Times, a four-volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Hoping that the Labour government could be ousted, he gained Baldwin’s approval to work towards establishing a Conservative-Liberal coalition, although many Liberals were reticent. In August he travelled to Canada with his brother and son, giving speeches in Ottawa and Toronto, before traveling through the United States. In San Francisco he met with William Randolph Hearst, who convinced Churchill to write for his newspapers; in Hollywood he dined with the film star Charlie Chaplin. From there he travelled through the Mojave Desert to the Grand Canyon and then to Chicago and finally New York City.
Back in London, Churchill was angered by the Labour government’s decisionbacked by the Conservative Shadow Cabinetto grant Dominion status to India. He argued that giving India enhanced levels of home rule would hasten calls for full independence from the British Empire. In December 1930 he was the main speaker at the first public meeting of the Indian Empire Society, set up to oppose the granting of Dominion status. In his view, India was not ready for home rule, believing that permitting it would leave the Hindu Brahmin caste in control and lead to the further oppression of both the “untouchables” and religious minorities. When riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out in Cawnpore in March 1931, he cited it in support of his argument.
Churchill called for swift action against any Indian independence activists engaged in illegal activity; he called for the Indian National Congress party to be disbanded and its leaders deported. In 1930, he stated that “Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be grappled with and crushed”. He thought it “alarming and nauseating” that the Viceroy of India agreed to meet with independence activist Mohandas Gandhi, whom Churchill considered “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir“. These views enraged Labour and Liberal opinion although were supported by much of the Conservative grassroots. Angered that Baldwin was supporting the reform, Churchill resigned from the Shadow Cabinet.
In October 1930, Churchill published his autobiography, My Early Life, which sold well and was translated into multiple languages. In the October 1931 general election, Churchill nearly doubled his majority in Epping. The following month saw the publication of the final volume of The World Crisis. In December he travelled to the US; in New York City he was hit by a car and hospitalised. After he published an article about the experience in the Daily Mail, he received thousands of letters and telegrams from well-wishers. After a brief visit to the Bahamas, he embarked on a lucrative lecture tour of the US.
In August 1932, he visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. In the latter he met Ernst Hanfstaengel, a friend of the politician Adolf Hitlerwho was then rising in prominenceand with whom he raised concerns about Hitler’s anti-Semitism. In September, when back in England, he became seriously ill after a paratyphoid ulcer haemorrhaged. While he was recovering, the German Chancellor Franz von Papen requested that the other Western powers accept Germany’s right to re-arm, something they had been forbidden from doing following the First World War. Churchill backed John Simon‘s calls to reject the request, believing that if Germany re-armed it would soon pursue the re-conquest of territories lost in the previous conflict. He regarded Mussolini’s regime as a bulwark against the perceived threat of communist revolution. However, he stressed that the UK must stick with its tradition of Parliamentary democracy, not adopt fascism, and opposed the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.
Warnings about Germany and the Abdication Crisis: 1933-1936
With the emergence of Nazi Germany in 1933, Churchill grew concerned about increasingly militaristic sentiment among the German population. He openly opposed the British government’s decision to reduce air force spending, contrasting MacDonald’s pursuit of disarmament with Hitler’s desire for rearmament. He warned that Germany might invade Poland and initiate “another persecution and pogrom of Jews” in Europe. He called on the League of Nations to unify in preventing German rearmament, regarding the latter as a prelude to another war. He also urged a heavy expansion of air force production, warning that Britain’s air capabilities would otherwise be outstripped by Germany’s. His warnings about the extent of German military developments were often accused of being alarmist but would later be vindicated.
In October 1933 the first volume of Churchill’s Marlborough: His Life and Times was published. In August 1934 he travelled to southern France, and in September embarked on a Mediterranean cruise aboard Lord Moyne‘s yacht. On the trip, they travelled through Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Transjordan, and Egypt, before returning home. The second volume of Marlborough appeared while he was away. In November, he gave a speech that was broadcast on the radio in which he warned of Nazi Germany and called on Britain to prepare itself for conflict. This was the first time that his concerns were heard by such a large audience. In December, the India Bill entered parliament, and in February 1935 was passed, although Churchill and 83 other Conservative MPs voted against it. Churchill continued to maintain that giving India more self-government would lead to the persecution of Indian minorities. After it passed he continued to express misgivings although passed on a message to Gandhi that “you have got the thing now; make it a success and if you do I will advocate your getting much more”.
In June 1935, MacDonald resigned and was replaced as prime minister by Baldwin. Baldwin then led the Conservatives to victory in the 1935 general election; Churchill retained his seat with an increased majority. Although there had been speculation that Baldwin would bring Churchill into his new Cabinet, he did not. Upset, Churchill embarked on a holiday in Majorca and then Morocco. Churchill continued warning about German expansionism and involved himself with the Anti-Nazi Council, a group established primarily with leftists concerned about Labour opposition to British re-armament. Both in public and in private meetings with government ministers he called for rapid improvements to the training of troops and airmen as well as the preparedness of industry for wartime production. Although continuing to warn of Germany, he urged Britain not to follow Germany’s example by taking a side in the Spanish Civil War. In October, the third volume of Marlborough then appeared.
In January 1936, Edward VIII became King following the death of his father, George V. Churchill had known the new monarch for 25 years and liked him; he was aware that Edward wished to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, but disapproved of this choice. After the King announced his intention of marrying Simpson, something which would necessitate his abdication, a constitutional crises occurred. Churchill met with the King and urged him not to make a hasty decision, but Baldwin pressured Edward to decide swiftly. In the House of Commons, Churchill and Baldwin clashed on the issue. After the king abdicated in favour of his brother, George VI, Churchill wrote that he thought “the Abdication to have been altogether premature and probably quite unnecessary.”
In May 1937, Baldwin resigned and Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister. He and Churchill had rarely agreed on policy issues, and Chamberlain also rejected Churchill’s views about Germany, instead pursuing appeasement with the Nazi government. Churchill had continued writing fortnightly articles for the Evening Standard, and these began being reprinted in various newspapers across Europe through the efforts of Emery Reves‘ Paris-based press service. In September, Churchill wrote an Evening Standard piece in which he directly appealed to Hitler, asking the latter to cease his persecution of Jews and religious organisations. The following month, a selection of his articles were published in a collected volume Great Contemporaries.
In January 1938 Churchill again holidayed in France. As Chamberlain further pursued appeasement towards Germany and Italy that year, Churchill warned against this, calling for collective action to deter German aggression. In response, the Evening Standard ceased publication of Churchill’s fortnightly articles, which were instead picked up by the Daily Telegraph. Following the German annexation of Austria, Churchill spoke in the House of Commons, declaring that “the gravity of the events cannot be exaggerated.” He began calling for a mutual defence pact among European states threatened by German expansionism, arguing that this was the only way to halt Hitler. In March, Churchill travelled to Paris to discuss the proposal with French politicians. In September the fourth volume of Marlborough, His Life and Times was published. On that same day, Germany mobilised to invade the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Churchill visited Chamberlain at Downing Street and urged him to tell Germany that Britain would declare war if the Germans invaded Czechoslovak territory; Chamberlain was not willing to do this. Chamberlain subsequently signed up to the Munich Agreement, agreeing to allow German annexation of the Sudetenland. In the House of Commons, Churchill called the Agreement a “total and unmitigated defeat”.
First Lord of the Admiralty: September 1939 to May 1940
On 3 September 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany following the outbreak of the Second World War, Chamberlain appointed Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, the same position he had held at the beginning of the First World War. As such he was a member of Chamberlain’s small War Cabinet. Churchill later claimed that, on learning of his appointment, the Board of the Admiralty sent a signal to the Fleet: “Winston is back”. Although this story was repeated by Lord Mountbatten in a speech at Edmonton in 1966, Richard Langworth notes that neither he nor Churchill’s official biographer Martin Gilbert have found contemporary evidence to confirm it, suggesting that it may well be a later invention.
As First Lord, Churchill proved to be one of the highest-profile ministers during the so-called “Phoney War“, when the only significant action was at sea and in the USSR’s attack on Finland. He was concerned about German naval activity in the Baltic Sea and initially planned to send a naval force there but this was soon changed to a plan, codenamed Operation Wilfred, to mine Norwegian waters and stop iron ore shipments from Narvik to Germany. There were disagreements about mining, both in the war cabinet and with the French government. As a result, Wilfred was delayed until 8 April 1940, the day before the successful German invasion of Norway was launched.
Prime Minister: 1940-1945″]For a chronological guide to this subject, see Timeline of the first premiership of Winston Churchill.See also: Military history of the United Kingdom during World War II and British Empire in World War II
The Norway Debate and Chamberlain’s resignation
After the allies failed to prevent the German occupation of Norway, the Commons held an open debate from 7 to 9 May on the government’s conduct of the war. This has come to be known as the Norway Debate and is renowned as one of the most significant events in parliamentary history. On the second day (Wednesday, 8 May), the Labour opposition called for a division which was in effect a vote of no confidence in Chamberlain’s government. There was considerable support for Churchill on both sides of the House but, as a member of the government, he was obliged to speak on its behalf. He was called upon to wind up the debate, which placed him in the difficult position of having to defend the government without damaging his own prestige. Although the government won the vote, its majority was drastically reduced amid calls for a national government to be formed.
In the early hours of 10 May, German forces invaded Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands as a prelude to their assault on France. Since the division vote, Chamberlain had been trying to form a coalition but Labour declared on the Friday afternoon that they would not serve under his leadership, although they would accept another Conservative. The only two candidates were Churchill and Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary. The matter had already been decided at a meeting on the 9th between Chamberlain, Halifax, Churchill, and David Margesson, the government Chief Whip. Halifax had admitted that he could not govern effectively as a member of the House of Lords and so Chamberlain advised the King to send for Churchill, who became prime minister. His first act was to write to Chamberlain and thank him for his support.
Churchill later wrote of feeling a profound sense of relief in that he now had authority over the whole scene. He believed himself to be walking with destiny and that his life so far had been “a preparation for this hour and for this trial”.
Churchill was still unpopular with many Conservatives and the Establishment, who opposed his replacing Chamberlain; the former prime minister remained party leader until dying in November. Churchill probably could not have won a majority in any of the political parties in the House of Commons, and the House of Lords was completely silent when it learned of his appointment.Ralph Ingersoll reported in late 1940 that, “Everywhere I went in London people admired energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose. People said they didn’t know what Britain would do without him. He was obviously respected. But no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the war. He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time. The time being the time of a desperate war with Britain’s enemies”.
Dunkirk to Pearl Harbor: May 1940 to December 1941
War ministry created
Churchill began his premiership by forming a five-man War Cabinet which included Chamberlain as Lord President of the Council, Labour leader Clement Attlee as Lord Privy Seal (later as Deputy Prime Minister), Halifax as Foreign Secretary and Labour’s Arthur Greenwood as a minister without portfolio. In practice, these five were augmented by the service chiefs and ministers who attended the majority of meetings. The cabinet changed in size and membership as the war progressed and there were significant additions later in 1940 when it was increased to eight after Churchill, Attlee and Greenwood were joined by Ernest Bevin as Minister of Labour and National Service; Anthony Eden as Foreign Secretary – replacing Halifax, who was sent to Washington D.C. as ambassador to the United States; Lord Beaverbrook as Minister of Aircraft Production; Sir Kingsley Wood as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Sir John Anderson as Lord President of the Council – replacing Chamberlain who died in November (Anderson later became Chancellor after Kingsley Wood’s death in September 1943). 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, making him the most powerful wartime prime minister in British history.
Churchill wanted people he knew and trusted to take part in government. Among these were personal friends like Beaverbrook and Frederick Lindemann, who became the government’s scientific advisor. Lindemann was one of several outside exports drafted in and these “technocrats” fulfilled vital functions, especially on the Home Front. Churchill would proudly proclaim that his government, in the interests of national unity, was the most broadly based in British political history as it spanned far right to far left by including such figures as Lord Lloyd on the right and Ellen Wilkinson on the left.
Resolve to fight on
At the end of May, with the British Expeditionary Force in retreat to Dunkirk and the Fall of France seemingly imminent, Halifax proposed that the government should explore the possibility of a negotiated peace settlement using Mussolini as an intermediary given that Italy was still neutral. There were several high-level meetings from 26 to 28 May, including two with the French premier Paul Reynaud. Churchill’s resolve was to fight on, even if France capitulated, but his position remained precarious until Chamberlain resolved to support him. Churchill had the full support of the two Labour members but knew he could not survive as prime minister if both Chamberlain and Halifax were against him. In the end, by gaining the support of his outer cabinet, Churchill outmanoeuvred Halifax and won Chamberlain over. The essence of Churchill’s argument was that, as he said, “it was idle to think that, if we tried to make peace now, we should get better terms than if we fought it out”. He therefore concluded that the only option was to fight on though, at times, he personally was pessimistic about the chances of a British victory, as on 12 June 1940 when he told General Hastings Ismay that “ou and I will be dead in three months’ time”. Nonetheless, his use of rhetoric hardened public opinion against a peaceful resolution and prepared the British people for a long war.
Importance of Churchill’s speeches
Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of 338,226 Allied servicemen from Dunkirk, ended on Tuesday, 4 June when the French rearguard surrendered. The total was far in excess of expectations and it gave rise to a popular view that Dunkirk had been a miracle, and even a victory. Churchill himself referred to “a miracle of deliverance” in his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech to the Commons that afternoon, though he shortly reminded everyone that: “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations”. Germany initiated Fall Rot the following day and Italy joining them on the 10th. The Wehrmacht occupied Paris on the 14th and completed their conquest of France on 25 June. It was now inevitable that Hitler would attack and probably try to invade Great Britain. Churchill said in his “finest hour” speech to the Commons on 18 June: “I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin”.
Churchill’s speeches were a great inspiration to the embattled British. His first as prime minister was the famous “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech. One historian has called its effect on Parliament “electrifying”. The House of Commons that had ignored him during the 1930s “was now listening, and cheering”. Churchill followed that closely with two other equally famous speeches, 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.
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 RAF fighter pilots who won it. He first spoke these famous words upon his exit from No. 11 Group’s underground bunker at RAF Uxbridge, now known as the Battle of Britain Bunker on 16 August 1940. Without having much in the way of sustenance or good news to offer the British people, he took a risk in deliberately choosing to emphasise the dangers instead. “Rhetorical power”, wrote Churchill, “is neither wholly bestowed, nor wholly acquired, but cultivated.” Not all were impressed by his oratory. Robert Menzies, Australian Prime Minister, said of Churchill during the Second World War: “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.”
Pearl Harbor to D-Day: December 1941 to June 1944
The tide of war began to turn in 1942 with Allied victory in the key battles of El Alamein and Stalingrad. Churchill delivered one of his most memorable war speeches on 10 November 1942 to the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon at Mansion House in London, in response to the Allied victory at El Alamein:
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
In January 1943, Churchill attended the Casablanca Conference with Roosevelt. They met again later in the year, most importantly for the Tehran Conference in November which was also attended by Stalin and was the first of the “Big Three” meetings.
Final defeat of Germany: June 1944 to May 1945
In June 1944, the Allied Forces invaded Normandy and pushed the Nazi forces back into Germany on a broad front over the coming year. After being attacked on three fronts by the Allies, and in spite of Allied failures, such as Operation Market Garden, and German counter-attacks, including the Battle of the Bulge, Germany was eventually defeated. On 7 May 1945 at the SHAEF headquarters in Rheims the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender. On the same day in a BBC news flash John Snagge announced that 8 May would be Victory in Europe Day. On Victory in Europe Day, Churchill broadcast to the nation that Germany had surrendered and that a final ceasefire on all fronts in Europe would come into effect at one minute past midnight that night.
Afterward, Churchill told a huge crowd in Whitehall: “This is your victory.” The people shouted: “No, it is yours”, and Churchill then conducted them in the singing of “Land of Hope and Glory“. In the evening he made another broadcast to the nation asserting the defeat of Japan in the coming months. The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. As Europe celebrated peace at the end of six years of war, Churchill was concerned with the possibility that the celebrations would soon be brutally interrupted.[clarification needed] He concluded the UK and the US must anticipate the Red Army ignoring previously agreed frontiers and agreements in Europe, and prepare 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.
Caretaker government: May 1945 to July 1945
With a general election looming (there had been none for almost a decade), and with the Labour Ministers refusing to continue the wartime coalition, Churchill resigned as Prime Minister on 23 May 1945. Later that day, he accepted the King’s invitation to form a new government, known officially as the National Government, like the Conservative-dominated coalition of the 1930s, but in practice known as the Churchill caretaker ministry. The government contained Conservatives, National Liberals and a few non-party figures such as Sir John Anderson and Lord Woolton, but not Labour or Archibald Sinclair‘s Official Liberals. Although Churchill continued to carry out the functions of Prime Minister, including exchanging messages with the US administration about the upcoming Potsdam Conference, he was not formally reappointed until 28 May.
Although polling day was 5 July, the results of the 1945 election did not become known until 26 July, owing to the need to collect the votes of those serving overseas. Clementine, who together with their daughter Mary had been at the count at Churchill’s constituency in Essex (although unopposed by the major parties, Churchill had been returned with a much-reduced majority against an independent candidate), returned to meet her husband for lunch. To her suggestion that election defeat might be “a blessing in disguise” he retorted that “at the moment it seems very effectively disguised”. That afternoon Churchill’s doctor Lord Moran (so he later recorded in his book The Struggle for Survival) commiserated with him on the “ingratitude” of the British public, to which Churchill replied “I wouldn’t call it that. They have had a very hard time.” Having lost the election, despite enjoying much support amongst the British population, he resigned as Prime Minister that evening, this time handing over to a Labour Government. Many reasons for his defeat 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. Although the Conservative Party was unpopular, many electors appear to have wanted Churchill to continue as Prime Minister whatever the outcome, or to have wrongly believed that this would be possible.
On the morning of 27 July, Churchill held a farewell Cabinet. On the way out of the Cabinet Room he told Eden: “Thirty years of my life have been passed in this room. I shall never sit in it again. You will, but I shall not”. Gilbert points out that up to this point he had in fact served for approximately 28.5 years as a Cabinet Minister. However, contrary to expectations, Churchill did not hand over the Conservative leadership to Anthony Eden, who became his deputy but was disinclined to challenge his leadership. It would be another decade before Churchill finally did hand over the reins.
Relations with the United States
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Churchill at the Cairo Conference in 1943. Churchill fires an American M1 carbine during a visit to the US 2nd Armored Division on Salisbury Plain, 23 March 1944.
Churchill’s good relations with United States President Franklin D. Rooseveltbetween 1939 and 1945 they exchanged an estimated 1700 letters and telegrams and met 11 times; Churchill estimated that they had 120 days of close personal contacthelped secure 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. 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 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 was party to treaties that would redraw post-Second World War European and Asian boundaries. These were discussed as early as 1943. At the Second Quebec Conference in 1944 he drafted and, together with Roosevelt, signed a less-harsh 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.” Proposals for European boundaries and settlements were officially agreed to by President Harry S. Truman, Churchill, and Joseph Stalin at Potsdam. Churchill’s strong relationship with Harry Truman was 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”.
Relations with the Soviet Union
When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Churchill, a vehement anti-communist, famously stated “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons”, regarding his policy towards Stalin. Soon, British supplies and tanks were being sent to help the Soviet Union.
The Casablanca Conference, a meeting of Allied powers held in Casablanca, Morocco, on 14 January through 23 January 1943, produced what was to be known as the “Casablanca Declaration“. In attendance were Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle. Joseph Stalin had bowed out, citing the need for his presence in the Soviet Union to attend to the Stalingrad crisis. It was in Casablanca that the Allies made a unified commitment to continue the war through to the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers. In private, however, Churchill did not fully subscribe to the doctrine of “unconditional surrender”, and was taken by surprise when Franklin Roosevelt announced this to the world as Allied consensus.
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 Churchill who tried to motivate Mikoajczyk, who was prime minister of the Polish government in exile, to accept Stalin’s wishes, but Mikoajczyk 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.
The idea to expel the ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia was also supported by Churchill. 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 from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania were carried out in a way which resulted in much hardship and, according to a 1966 report by the West German Ministry of Refugees and Displaced Persons, over 2.1 million Germans dead or missing. Churchill opposed the Soviet domination of Poland and wrote bitterly about it in his books, but was unable to prevent it at the conferences.
During October 1944, he and Eden were in Moscow to meet with the Soviet leadership. At this point, Soviet 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 was held on 9 October 1944 in the Kremlin between Churchill and Stalin. During the meeting, Poland and the Balkan problems were discussed. Churchill told Stalin:
Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?
Stalin agreed to this Percentages agreement, ticking a piece of paper as he heard the translation. In 1958, five years after the account of this meeting was published (in The Second World War), authorities of the Soviet Union denied that Stalin accepted the “imperialist proposal”.
One of the conclusions of the Yalta Conference was that the Allies would return all Soviet citizens that found themselves in the Allied zone to the Soviet Union. This immediately affected the Soviet prisoners of war liberated by the Allies, but was also extended to all Eastern European refugees.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called the Operation Keelhaul “the last secret” of the Second World War. The operation decided the fate of up to two million post-war refugees fleeing eastern Europe.
Role in Bengal famine
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There has been debate over Churchill’s culpability in the deaths of millions of Indians during the Bengal famine of 1943. Some commentators point to the disruption of the traditional marketing system and maladministration at the provincial level as a cause, with Churchill saying that the “starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious” than that of “sturdy Greeks” and that the famine was the Indians’ own fault for “breeding like rabbits”.Adam Jones, editor of the Journal of Genocide Research, calls Churchill “a genuine genocidaire“, noting that the British leader called Indian Hindus a “foul race” in this period and said that the British air force chief should “send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.” Churchill wrote to the Commander-in-Chief, India that he must, “rely as much as possible on the martial races”. Churchill believed that the white race was superior to other races, and he was a supporter of the growing pseudo-science of eugenics and Social Darwinism.
Arthur L. Herman, author of Churchill and Gandhi, contends, ‘The real cause was the fall of Burma to the Japanese, which cut off India’s main supply of rice imports when domestic sources fell short … it is true that Churchill opposed diverting food supplies and transports from other theatres to India to cover the shortfall: this was wartime.’
In response to an urgent request by the Secretary of State for India (Leo Amery) and the Viceroy of India (Wavell), to release food stocks for India, Churchill responded with a telegram to Wavell asking, if food was so scarce, “why Gandhi hadn’t died yet”. In July 1940, newly in office, he reportedly welcomed reports of the emerging conflict between the Muslim League and the Indian Congress, hoping “it would be bitter and bloody”.
Writer Madhusree Mukerjee argued the famine was exacerbated by Churchill’s and the War Cabinet‘s decisions, partly through exports of food, but also through indifference at a time when the United Kingdom’s storing of food and raw materials “reached 18.5 million tons, the highest ever. Sugar and oilseeds overflowed warehouses and had to be stored outdoors, under tarpaulins.” In Drought and Famine in India, 1870-2016, a study of soil moisture by Indian and American researchers has confirmed that the Bengal famine, unlike other famines, was a result of British policies, not drought. The study also said another cause that exacerbated the death count of the 1943 famine was the Japanese capture of Burma which had previously been a source of food imports into India 
Dresden bombings controversy
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Between 13-15 February 1945, British and US bombers attacked the German city of Dresden, which was crowded with German wounded and refugees. There were unknown numbers of refugees in Dresden, so historians Matthias Neutzner, Gtz Bergander and Frederick Taylor have used historical sources and deductive reasoning to estimate that the number of refugees in the city and surrounding suburbs was around 200,000 or less on the first night of the bombing. Because of the cultural importance of the city, and of the number of civilian casualties close to the end of the war, this remains one of the most controversial Western Allied actions of the war. Following the bombing Churchill stated in a secret telegram:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed … I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.
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 Sir Arthur Harris (AOC-in-C of RAF 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:
It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so called ‘area-bombing’ of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our allies … We must see to it that our attacks do no more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy’s war effort.
Ultimately, responsibility for the British part of the attack lay with Churchill, which is why he has been criticised for allowing the bombings to occur. German historian Jrg Friedrich claims that Churchill’s decision was a “war crime”, and, writing in 2006, 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 that undermines the Allies’ contention that they fought a just war.
British historian Frederick Taylor points out 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.”
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Soon after VE day there came a dispute with Britain over French mandates Syria and Lebanon, known as the Levant, which quickly developed into a major diplomatic incident. In May, de Gaulle sent more French troops to re-establish their presence, provoking an outbreak of nationalism. On 20 May, French troops opened fire on demonstrators in Damascus with artillery and dropped bombs from the air. Finally, on 31 May, with the death toll exceeding a thousand Syrians, Churchill decided to act and sent de Gaulle an ultimatum saying, “In order to avoid a collision between British and French forces, we request you immediately to order French troops to cease fire and withdraw to their barracks”. This was ignored by both de Gaulle and the French forces, and thus Churchill ordered British troops and armoured cars under General Bernard Paget to invade Syria from nearby Transjordan. The invasion went ahead, and the British swiftly moved in cutting the French General Fernand Oliva-Roget’s telephone line with his base at Beirut. Eventually, heavily outnumbered, Oliva-Roget ordered his men back to their bases near the coast, and they were escorted by the British. A furious row then broke out between Britain and France.
Churchill’s relationship with de Gaulle was at this time rock bottom in spite of his efforts to preserve French interests at Yalta and a visit to Paris the previous year. In January he told a colleague that he believed that de Gaulle was “a great danger to peace and for Great Britain. After five years of experience, I am convinced that he is the worst enemy of France in her troubles … he is one of the greatest dangers to European peace … I am sure that in the long run no understanding will be reached with General de Gaulle”. In France, there were accusations that Britain had armed the demonstrators, and de Gaulle raged against ‘Churchill’s ultimatum’, saying that “the whole thing stank of oil”.
Leader of the Opposition: 1945-1951″]
“Iron Curtain” speech
Churchill with American General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery at a meeting of NATO in October 1951, shortly before Churchill was to become prime minister for a second time
For six years Churchill was to serve as the Leader of the Opposition. During these years he continued to influence world affairs. During his 1946 trip to the US he gave his Iron Curtain speech about the USSR and the creation of the Eastern Bloc. Speaking on 5 March 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, 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’s doctor Lord Moran later (in his book The Struggle for Survival) recalled Churchill suggesting in 1946the year before he put the idea (unsuccessfully) in a memo to President Trumanthat the United States make a pre-emptive atomic bomb attack on Moscow while the Soviet Union did not yet possess nuclear weapons.
In parliament on 5 June 1946, three days before the London Victory Parade, Churchill said he ‘deeply’ regretted that:
none of the Polish troops, and I must say this, who fought with us on a score of battlefields, who poured out their blood in the common cause, are not to be allowed to march in the Victory Parade … The fate of Poland seems to be unending tragedy and we who went to war all ill-prepared on her behalf watch with sorrow the strange outcome of our endeavours.
Views on Ireland
Churchill told the Irish Ambassador to London in 1946, “I said a few words in parliament the other day about your country because I still hope for a united Ireland. You must get those fellows in the north in, though; you can’t do it by force. There is not, and never was, any bitterness in my heart towards your country.” He later said “You know I have had many invitations to visit Ulster but I have refused them all. I don’t want to go there at all, I would much rather go to southern Ireland. Maybe I’ll buy another horse with an entry in the Irish Derby.”
Views on European unity
In the summer of 1930, Churchill wrote an article calling for a “United States of Europe“, although wrote that Britain was “with Europe but not of it”. At a September 1946 speech in Zurich, Churchill called for “a kind of United States of Europe” centred around a Franco-German partnership, with Britain and the Commonwealth, and perhaps the US, as “friends and sponsors of the new Europe”. Churchill expressed similar sentiments at a meeting of the Primrose League at the Albert Hall on 18 May 1947. He declared “let Europe arise” but was “absolutely clear” that “we shall allow no wedge to be driven between Britain and the United States”. Churchill’s speeches helped to encourage the foundation of the Council of Europe.
In June 1950, Churchill was strongly critical of the Attlee Government’s failure to send British representatives to Paris to discuss the Schuman Plan for setting up the European Coal and Steel Community. He declared that les absents ont toujours tort (“the absent are always wrong”) and called it “a squalid attitude” which “derange(d) the balance of Europe” and risked Germany dominating the new grouping. He called for world unity through the UN (against the backdrop of the communist invasion of South Korea), while stressing that Britain was uniquely placed to exert leadership through her links to the Commonwealth, the US and Europe. However, Churchill did not want Britain to actually join any federal grouping. In September 1951, a declaration of the American, French and British foreign ministers welcomed the Schuman Plan, stressing that it would revive economic growth and encourage the development of a democratic Germany, part of the Atlantic community.
After returning as Prime Minister, Churchill issued a note for the Cabinet on 29 November 1951. He listed British Foreign Policy priorities as Commonwealth unity and consolidation, “fraternal association” of the English-speaking world (i.e. the Commonwealth and the US), and “United Europe, to which we are a closelyand specially-related ally and friend (it is) only when plans for uniting Europe take a federal form that we cannot take part, because we cannot subordinate ourselves or the control of British policy to federal authorities”.Churchill is today listed as one of the “Founding fathers of the European Union“.
In July 1962, Field-Marshal Montgomery told the press that the aged Churchill, whom he had just visited in hospital where he was being treated for a broken hip, was opposed to Macmillan‘s negotiations for Britain to enter the EEC (which would, in the event, be vetoed by the French President, Charles de Gaulle, the following January). Churchill told his granddaughter, Edwina, that Montgomery’s behaviour in leaking a private conversation was “monstrous”.
Prime Minister: 1951-1955″]
Return to government
After the general election of October 1951, Churchill again became prime minister, and his second government lasted until his resignation in April 1955. He also held the office of Minister of Defence from October 1951 until 1 March 1952, when he handed the portfolio to Field Marshal Alexander.
In domestic affairs, various reforms were introduced such as the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and the Housing Repairs and Rents Act 1954. The former measure consolidated legislation dealing with the employment of young persons and women in mines and quarries, together with safety, health, and welfare. The latter measure extended previous housing Acts, and set out details in defining housing units as “unfit for human habitation.”Tax allowances were raised, as well, construction of council housing accelerated, and pensions and national assistance benefits were increased. Controversially, however, charges for prescription medicines were introduced.
Churchill tried in vain to manoeuvre the cabinet into restricting West Indian immigration. “Keep England White” was a good slogan, he told the cabinet in January 1955.Ian Gilmour records Churchill saying to him, in 1955, about immigration: “I think it is the most important subject facing this country, but I cannot get any of my ministers to take any notice”.
Housing was an issue the Conservatives were widely recognised to have made their own, after the Churchill government of the early 1950s, with Harold Macmillan as Minister for Housing, giving housing construction far higher political priority than it had received under the Attlee administration (where housing had been attached to the portfolio of Health Minister Aneurin Bevan, whose attention was concentrated on his responsibilities for the National Health Service). Macmillan had accepted Churchill’s challenge to meet the latter’s ambitious public commitment to build 300,000 new homes a year, and achieved the target a year ahead of schedule.
Crowd demonstrates against Britain in Cairo on 23 October 1951 as tension continued to mount in the dispute between Egypt and Britain over control of the Suez Canal and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.Main articles: Mau Mau Uprising and Malayan Emergency
Churchill’s domestic priorities in his last government were overshadowed by a series of foreign policy crises, which were partly the result of the continued decline of British military and imperial prestige and power. Being a strong proponent of Britain as an international power, Churchill would often meet such moments with direct action. One example was his dispatch of British troops to Kenya to deal with the Mau Mau rebellion. Trying to retain what he could of the Empire, he once stated that, “I will not preside over a dismemberment”.
This was followed by events which became known as the Malayan Emergency which had been in progress since 1948. Once again, Churchill’s government inherited a crisis, and Churchill chose to use direct military action against those in rebellion while attempting to build an alliance with those who were not. While the rebellion was slowly being defeated, it was equally clear that colonial rule from Britain was no longer sustainable.
Relations with the US and the quest for a summit
In the early 1950s, Britain was still attempting to remain a third major power on the world stage. This was “the time when Britain stood up to the United States as strongly as she was ever to do in the postwar world”. However, Churchill devoted much of his time in office to Anglo-American relations and attempted to maintain the Special Relationship. He made four official transatlantic visits to America during his second term as prime minister.
Churchill and Eden visited Washington in January 1952. The Truman Administration was supporting the plans for a European Defence Community (EDC), hoping that this would allow controlled West German rearmament and enable American troop reductions. Churchill affected to believe that the proposed EDC would not work, scoffing at the supposed difficulties of language. Churchill asked in vain for a US military commitment to support Britain’s position in Egypt and the Middle East (where the Truman Administration had recently pressured Attlee not to intervene against Mossadeq in Iran); this did not meet with American approvalthe US expected British support to fight communism in Korea, but saw any US commitment to the Middle East as supporting British imperialism, and were unpersuaded that this would help prevent pro-Soviet regimes from coming to power.
By early 1953, the Cabinet’s foreign policy priority was Egypt and the nationalist, anti-imperialist Egyptian Revolution. In July 1952 the pro-British King Farouk was ousted by a junta of army officers led by General Naguib, who was himself soon ousted by Colonel Nasser. Egypt had been a British client state, under varying degrees of control and military occupation, since 1883. In 1953 Britain, keen to restore friendly relations, agreed to terminate her rule in the Sudan by 1956 in return for Egypt’s abandoning of her own claim over the region. In October 1954, Britain and Egypt would conclude an agreement on the phased evacuation of British troops from the Suez base, to the dismayprivately shared by Churchillof the “Suez Group” of Conservative backbenchers.
After Stalin’s death, Churchill, the last of the wartime Big Three, wrote to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had just assumed office as US President, on 11 March proposing a summit meeting with the Soviets; Eisenhower wrote back pouring cold water on the suggestions as the Soviets might use it for propaganda.
Some of Churchill’s colleagues hoped that he might retire after the Queen’s Coronation in May 1953. Eden wrote to his son on 10 April “W gets daily older & is apt to … waste a great deal of time … the outside world has little idea how difficult that becomes. Please make me retire before I am 80!” However, Eden’s serious illness (he nearly died after a series of botched operations on his bile duct) allowed Churchill to take control of foreign affairs from April 1953.
After further discouragement from President Eisenhower (this was the McCarthy era in the US, in which Secretary of State Dulles took a Manichean view of the Cold War), Churchill announced his plans in the House of Commons on 11 May. The US Embassy in London noted that this was a rare occasion on which Churchill did not mention Anglo-American solidarity in a speech. Ministers like Lord Salisbury (acting Foreign Secretary) and Nutting were concerned at the irritation caused to the Americans and the French, although Selwyn Lloyd supported Churchill’s initiative, as did most Conservatives. In his diary a year later, Eden wrote of Churchill’s actions with fury.
Stroke and resignation
Churchill had suffered a mild stroke while on holiday in the south of France in the summer of 1949. By the time he formed his next government he was slowing down noticeably enough for George VI, as early as December 1951, to consider inviting Churchill to retire in the following year in favour of Anthony Eden, but it is not recorded if the King made that approach before his own death in February 1952.
The strain of carrying the Premiership and Foreign Office contributed to his second stroke at 10 Downing Street after dinner on the evening of 23 June 1953. Despite being partially paralysed down one side, he presided over a Cabinet meeting the next morning without anybody noticing his incapacity. Thereafter his condition deteriorated, and it was thought that he might not survive the weekend. Had Eden been fit, Churchill’s premiership would most likely have been over. News of this was kept from the public and from Parliament, who were told that Churchill was suffering from exhaustion. He went to his country home, Chartwell, to recuperate, and by the end of June he astonished his doctors by being able, dripping with perspiration, to lift himself upright from his chair. He joked that news of his illness had chased the trial of the serial killer John Christie off the front pages.
Churchill was still keen to pursue a meeting with the Soviets and was open to the idea of a reunified Germany. He refused to condemn the Soviet crushing of East Germany, commenting on 10 July 1953 that “The Russians were surprisingly patient about the disturbances in East Germany“. He thought this might have been the reason for the removal of Beria. Churchill returned to public life in October 1953 to make a speech at the Conservative Party conference at Margate. In December 1953, Churchill met Eisenhower in Bermuda.
Churchill was annoyed about friction between Eden and Dulles (June 1954). On the trip home from another Anglo-American conference, the diplomat Pierson Dixon compared US actions in Guatemala to Soviet policy in Korea and Greece, causing Churchill to retort that Guatemala was a “bloody place” he’d “never heard of”. Churchill was still keen for a trip to Moscow, and threatened to resign, provoking a crisis in the Cabinet when Lord Salisbury threatened to resign if Churchill had his way. In the end the Soviets proposed a five-power conference, which did not meet until after Churchill had retired. By the autumn Churchill was again postponing his resignation.
Eden, now partially recovered from his operations, became a major figure on the world stage in 1954, helping to negotiate peace in Indo-China, an agreement with Egypt and to broker an agreement between the countries of Western Europe after the French rejection of the EDC. Aware that he was slowing down both physically and mentally, Churchill at last retired as prime minister in 1955 and was succeeded by Anthony Eden. At the time of his departure, he was considered to have had the longest ministerial career in modern British politics.
Later life: 1955-1965″]
Churchill spent much of his retirement at his home Chartwell in Kent. He purchased it in 1922 after his daughter Mary was born.
Elizabeth II offered to create Churchill Duke of London, but this was declined as a result of the objections of his son Randolph, who would have inherited the title on his father’s death. He did, however, accept a knighthood as Garter Knight. After leaving the premiership, Churchill spent less time in parliament until he stood down at the 1964 general election.Churchill spent most of his retirement at Chartwell and at his home in Hyde Park Gate, in London, and became a habitu of high society on the French Riviera.
Although publicly supportive, Churchill was privately scathing about Eden’s Suez Invasion. His wife believed that he had made a number of visits to the US in the following years in an attempt to help repair Anglo-American relations.
By the time of the 1959 general election Churchill seldom attended the House of Commons. Despite the Conservative landslide, his own majority fell by more than a thousand. It is widely believed that as his mental and physical faculties decayed, he began to lose a battle he had supposedly long fought against depression. However, the nature, incidence and severity of Churchill’s depression is uncertain. Anthony Montague Browne, Personal Secretary to Churchill during the latter’s final ten years of life, wrote that he never heard Churchill refer to depression, and he disputed that the former prime minister suffered from depression.
There was speculation that Churchill may have had Alzheimer’s disease in his last years, although others maintain that his reduced mental capacity was simply the cumulative result of the ten strokes and the increasing deafness he suffered from during the period 1949-1963. 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.
Despite poor health, Churchill still tried to remain active in public life, and on St George’s Day 1964, sent a message of congratulations to the surviving veterans of the 1918 Zeebrugge Raid who were attending a service of commemoration in Deal, Kent, where two casualties of the raid were buried in the Hamilton Road Cemetery.
Death and funeral, January 1965
On 15 January 1965, Churchill suffered a severe stroke and died at his London home nine days later, aged 90, on the morning of Sunday, 24 January 1965, 70 years to the day after his father’s death.
His funeral plan had been initiated in 1953 under the name Operation Hope Not. The largest state funeral in history, it featured representatives from 112 nations. In Europe, 350 million people, including 25 million in Britain, watched the funeral on television.Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 30 January 1965. One of the largest assemblages of statesmen in the world was gathered for the service. Unusually, the Queen attended the funeral because Churchill was the first commoner since William Gladstone to lie-in-State. As Churchill’s lead-lined coffin passed up the River Thames from Tower Pier to Festival Pier on the MV Havengore, dockers lowered their crane jibs in a salute.
The Royal Artillery fired the 19-gun salute due a head of government, and the RAF staged a fly-by of 16 English Electric Lightning fighters. The coffin was then taken the short distance to Waterloo station where it was loaded onto a specially prepared and painted carriage as part of the funeral train for its rail journey to Hanborough, seven miles northwest of Oxford.
The funeral train of Pullman coaches carrying his family mourners was hauled by Battle of Britain class steam locomotive No. 34051 Winston Churchill. In the fields along the route, and at the stations through which the train passed, thousands stood in silence to pay their last respects. At Churchill’s request, he was buried in the family plot at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, near Woodstock, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace. Churchill’s funeral vanformer Southern Railway van S2464Sis now part of a preservation project with the Swanage Railway, having been repatriated to the UK in 2007 from the US, to where it had been exported in 1965.
Churchill was an accomplished amateur artist and took great pleasure in painting, especially after his resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915. He found a haven in art to overcome the spells of depression which some say he suffered throughout his life. William Rees-Mogg wrote “In his own life, he had to suffer the ‘black dog’ of depression. In his landscapes and still lifes there is no sign of depression.” Churchill was persuaded and taught to paint by his artist friend, Paul Maze, whom he met during the First World War. Maze was a great influence on Churchill’s painting and became a lifelong painting companion.
Churchill’s best known paintings are impressionist landscapes, many of which were painted while on holiday in the South of France, Egypt or Morocco. Using the pseudonym “Charles Morin”, he continued his hobby throughout his life and painted hundreds of paintings, many of which are on show in the studio at Chartwell as well as private collections. Most of his paintings are oil-based and feature landscapes, but he also did a number of interior scenes and portraits. In 1925 Lord Duveen, Kenneth Clark, and Oswald Birley selected his Winter Sunshine as the prize winner in a contest for anonymous amateur artists. Due to obvious time constraints, Churchill attempted only one painting during the Second World War. He completed the painting from the tower of the Villa Taylor in Marrakesh.
During 1934, for example, Churchill was commissioned by Collier’s, the News of the World, the Daily Mailand, added that year, the Sunday Dispatch, for which the newspaper’s editor, William Blackwood, employed Adam Marshall Diston to rework Churchill’s old material (Churchill himself would write one new piece in every four published by the Dispatch). Later in the year, when Churchill had less time to write, at the recommendation of Blackwood he employed Diston directly as his ghostwriter. Diston wrote, for example, Churchill’s remaining Collier’s articles for the year, being paid 15 from the 350 commission Churchill received for each article. Blackwood considered Diston a ‘splendid journalist’ and his first article written for Churchill went to print without changethis, according to David Lough, ‘was the start of a partnership that would flourish for the rest of the decade’. By the end of the following year, Diston had already prepared most of Churchill’s ‘The Great Men I Have Known’ series for the News of the World in Britain and Collier’s in the US, due to appear from January 1936. Sir Emsley Carr, the British newspaper’s chairman, enjoyed them so much he immediately signed up Churchill for a series in 1937.
Churchill was a prolific writer, often under the pen name “Winston S. Churchill”, which he used to avoid confusion with the American novelist of the same name. His output included a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs, and several histories. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 “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 premiership 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). A number of volumes of Churchill’s speeches were also published, the first of which, Into Battle, was published in the United States under the title Blood, Sweat and Tears, and was included in Life Magazine‘s list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924-1944.
Churchill was an amateur bricklayer, constructing buildings and garden walls at his country home at Chartwell, where he also bred butterflies. As part of this hobby Churchill joined the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, but was expelled due to his revived membership in the Conservative Party.
Churchill was a career politician, with biographer Robert Rhodes James describing him as a man “who was to devote himself for his entire adult life to the profession of politics”. His switching between different parties and the perception that he was largely motivated by personal ambition rather than principle led to the belief in the House of Commons that there was a “vacuum in his beliefs”.
Conservatism and liberalism
In Rhodes James’ view, Churchill was “fundamentally a very conservative man”, and that this “basic conservatism was a conspicuous feature of his political attitudes”.Paul Addison thought that through his readings as a young man, Churchill combined ideas from Social Darwinism, Whig history, and Tory democracy in his mind. Other biographers and historians have characterised Churchill as a liberal. Martin Gilbert described Churchill as being “liberal in outlook” throughout his life, although Jenkins thought that “there is room for argument about whether he was ever an engrained philosophical Liberal”. Churchill believed in the liberty of the individual and of free markets and was opposed to what he regarded as socialist tendencies toward state planning and bureaucracy.
Gilbert described Churchill as “a radical” who believed that the state was needed to ensure “minimum standards of life, labour and social well-being for all citizens”.  Many Liberals doubted the conviction of his radicalism when it came to social reform.Churchill’s speeches on liberalism emphasised the retention of Britain’s existing social structure and the need for “gradualness” rather than revolutionary change; he accepted and endorsed the existence of class divisions in British society. Churchill sought social reform not out of a desire to challenge the existing social structure but out of an attempt to preserve it.Charles Masterman, a Liberal reformer who knew Churchill, stated that the latter “desired in England a state of things where a benign upper class dispensed benefits to an industrious, bien pensant, and grateful working class”. In Jenkins’ view, Churchill’s privileged background prevented him from empathising with the poor, and instead he “sympathize with them from on high”, displaying what Addison called the attitude of a “benevolent paternalist”.
Churchill was vocally anti-socialist. In 1924 he wrote that the “existing capitalist system is the foundation of civilisation and the only means by which great modern populations can be supplied with vital necessities.” He sought to clearly differentiate socialism from liberalism, putting him at odds with the New Liberals and Fabians then trying to bridge the gap between the two ideologies. He also tried to distinguish trade unionismof which he was supportivefrom socialism, insisting that “Trade Unions are not Socialistic. They are the antithesis of Socialism” and claiming that “The ordinary trade unionist working man has a great deal of natural conservatism about him. He is a strong individualist in all his personal affairs. He is a sturdy patriot and nationalist”. For this reason, he placed faith in organised labour in both the Second World War and Cold War.
British Empire at its territorial peak in 1921
Churchill was an imperialist, with the historian Edward Adams characterising him as an adherent of “liberal imperialism”. Churchill exhibited a romanticised view of the British Empire, and believed British imperialism was a form of altruism that benefitted its subject peoples; early in his parliamentary career he expressed concern for the welfare of various African groups. According to Addison, Churchill believed “that by conquering and dominating other peoples, the British were also elevating and protecting them”, holding to the conviction that “civilization must necessarily triumph over barbarism, however tragic the process” of conquest might be for the conquered. According to Adams, Churchill’s writings display a “cavalier tone and militarist ideology” in defence of “imperial war”. The idea of dismantling the Empire by transferring power to subject peoples was anathema to Churchill.
During Churchill’s lifetime, belief in the racial superiority of the British was widespread, including among liberals and socialists, and Churchill also subscribed to such ideas. In 1952 he told Lord Moran that: “When you learn to think of a race as inferior beings it is difficult to get rid of that way of thinking; when I was a subaltern in India the Indians did not seem to be equal to the white man.” However, noting that “Churchill had no theory of race as a biological entity”, Addison considered it misleading to describe Churchill as a racialist, arguing that that term “has many connotations which were alien to Churchill.” He believed that Churchill would have never tried “to stoke up racial animosity against immigrants, or to persecute minorities”. Churchill opposed anti-Semitism, and was well disposed to Zionism throughout his career: in 1920, he called it an “inspiring movement”.
Although Churchill upset both Edward VII and George V during his political career, he was a firm monarchist, displaying a romanticised view of the British monarchy. Jenkins described Churchill’s opposition to protectionism as being based on a “profound conviction”, although during his political career many questioned the sincerity of Churchill’s anti-protectionist beliefs. Although as Home Secretary he found sanctioning executions to be one of his most emotionally taxing tasks, he did not endorse the abolition of the death penalty. Around 1912 he became briefly enthusiastic regarding the eugenicist idea of sterilising the disabled, but it was not a recurring interest of his.
Links to political parties
James described Churchill as having “no permanent commitment to any” party, and that his “shifts of allegiance were never unconnected with his personal interests”. When campaigning for his Oldham seat in 1899, Churchill referred to himself as a Conservative and a Tory Democrat; the following year, he referred to Liberals as “prigs, prudes, and faddists”. He was always comfortable with the idea of governing coalitions. In a 1902 letter to a fellow Conservative, Churchill stated that he had “broad, tolerant, moderate viewsa longing for compromise and agreementa disdain for cant of all kindsa hatred for extremists whether they be Jingos or Pro-Boers; and I confess the idea of a central party, fresher, freer, more efficient, yet, above all, loyal and patriotic, is very pleasing to my heart.” This dream of a “Centre Party” uniting moderate elements of the main British partiesand thus remaining permanently in officewas a recurring one for Churchill. In 1924, with Labour supplanting the Liberals as the Conservatives’ main rival, Churchill contemplated forming a new party called the “Liberal-Conservatives”.
By 1903, he was increasingly dissatisfied with the Conservatives, in part due to their promotion of economic protectionism, but also because he had attracted the animosity of many party members and was likely aware that this might have prevented him gaining a Cabinet position under a Conservative government. The Liberal Party was then attracting growing support, and so his defection may have also have been influenced by personal ambition. In a 1903 letter, he referred to himself as an “English Liberal … I hate the Tory party, their men, their words and their methods”. Jenkins noted that, with Lloyd George, Churchill formed “a partnership of constructive radicalism, two social reforming New Liberals who had turned their backs on the old Gladstonian tradition of concentrating on libertarian political issues and leaving social conditions to look after themselves”.
Throughout his political career, Churchill’s relationship with the Conservative Party was stormy; his loyalty to the party was “never absolute”. The historian Stuart Ball noted that Churchill retained three key traits of Conservative ideology: his commitment to the British Empire, his affection for ideas of “Tory democracy”, and his belief in the balance of class forces in Britain. Ball argued that Churchill was “much closer to mainstream Conservative opinion than is generally recognised” on most issues.
Churchill firmly believed himself a man of destiny. His biographers have described him as egocentric, brash, self-confident, flamboyant, excitable, self-absorbed, and self-centred. He lacked self-restraint, and could be reckless. Describing Churchill’s “ebullient personality”, Jenkins noted that in his youth, Churchill displayed “impetuous self-centredness” and “rash courage”. Jenkins added that Churchill displayed a “self-confidence and determination always to go straight to the top” when dealing with a situation, approaching the highest-ranking official he could, while Rhodes James described him as “a career politician, profoundly ambitious and eager for prominence”. He had a good memory, and according to Addison had “the capacity to combine a highly personal vision with command of the smallest detail”.
Jenkins stated that in his early parliamentary years, Churchill was “often deliberately provocative”, and “argumentatively dexterous to an unusual degree”; Rhodes James called it “deliberately aggressive”. Rhodes James was of the view that, when speaking in the House of Commons, Churchill gave the impression of having a chip on his shoulder. His barbed rhetorical style earned him many enemies in parliament, and many Conservatives disliked him for his open criticism of Balfour and subsequent defection to the Liberals. Gilbert stated that in his early parliamentary career, Churchill reflected “zeal, intelligence, and eagerness to learn”. Churchill developed a reputation for being a heavy drinker of alcoholic beverages, although this was often exaggerated. In India, he enjoyed playing polo, and throughout much of his life went hunting, whether for grouse and stag in Scotland or boar in northern France. Gilbert noted that Churchill’s literary style was “outspoken, vigorous, with the written equivalent of a mischievous grin”. Jenkins thought that Churchill was excited and exhilarated by war, but that he was never indifferent to the suffering that it caused.
From childhood, Churchill had been unable to pronounce the letter s, verbalising it with a slur. This lateral lisp continued throughout his career, reported consistently by journalists of the time and later. Authors writing in the 1920s and 1930s, before sound recording became common, also mentioned Churchill having a stutter, describing it in terms such as “severe” or “agonising”. The Churchill Centre and Museum says the majority of records show his impediment was a lateral lisp, while Churchill’s stutter is a myth. After many years of public speeches carefully prepared not only to inspire, but also to avoid hesitations, he could finally state, “My impediment is no hindrance”.
Rhodes James thought that, in part because of his speech impediment, Churchill was “not a natural impromptu speaker”. Churchill therefore memorised speeches before he gave them. Gilbert believed that during the early 1900s, when Churchill worked as a professional speech giver, he mastered “every aspect of the art of speech-making”. Jenkins noted that “Churchill lived by phrase-making. He thought rhetorically, and was constantly in danger of his policy being made by his phrases rather than vice versa.” For Rhodes James, Churchill was “particularly effective” at “invective and raillery” and that he was “at his most effective when he made deliberate use of humour and sarcasm”.
For Jenkins, Churchill was “singularly lacking in inhibition or concealment”, and for Rhodes James he “lacked any capacity for intrigue and was refreshingly innocent and straightforward”. Jenkins stated that Churchill “naturally had a lively sympathy for the underdog, particularly against the middle-dog, provided, and it was quite a big proviso, that his own position as a top-dog was unchallenged”. He was a particular fan of polo, a sport that he played while stationed in India.
Churchill displayed particular loyalty to his family and close friends. For instance, when Lloyd George was going through the Marconi scandal, one of the lowest points of his career, Churchill supported him. One of his closest friends, even when he was a Liberal, was the Conservative MP F. E. Smith. In 1911, he became close with Grey, and another longstanding friend was Violet Asquith.Like his father, Churchill faced jibes that all of his friends were Jewish. Churchill was an animal lover and owned a wide range of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, pigs, fish, and black swans, many of which were kept at Chartwell.
Haffner believed that Churchill had an “affinity with war”, exhibiting “a profound and innate understanding of it.” He believed himself a military genius and his failure at Gallipoli was “the greatest blow Churchill’s self-image was ever to sustain”, according to Addison. In his later career, Churchill gained a reputation as being the last Victorian in British politics; Jenkins thought that this was not a fair assessment, stating that he remained “essentially an Edwardian rather than a Victorian” in his attitudes.
Churchill was christened in the Church of England, however he related going through a virulently anti-Christian phase in his youth, and as an adult was an agnostic. In an 1898 letter to his mother, Churchill related: “I do not accept the Christian or any other form of religious belief”. In a letter to his cousin he referred to religion as “a delicious narcotic” and expressed a preference for Protestantism over Roman Catholicism because he felt it “a step nearer Reason”. According to the scholars David Reagles and Timothy Larsen, Churchill was nevertheless “sympathetic to religious belief” and retained “an emotional and spiritual connection with the Church of Englandalbeit one that stood at arms’ length to its teachings.” He viewed Christianity as being linked to civilisation, thought Christian ethics provided a good grounding for children, and encouraged the religion’s promotion through the British Empire. On 24 May 1901 he was initiated into Freemasonry at Studholme Lodge No.1591, which at the time met in the Regent Masonic Hall at the Caf Royal, London, passed to the Second Degree on 19 July, and raised to the Third Degree on 25 March 1902.
Marriage and children
Churchill married Clementine Hozier in September 1908. They remained married for 57 years. Churchill was aware of the strain that his political career placed on his marriage, and according to his private secretary Jock Colville, in the 1930s he had a brief affair with Doris Castlerosse.
The Churchills’ first child, Diana, was born in July 1909; the second, Randolph, in May 1911. Their third, Sarah, was born in October 1914, and their fourth, Marigold, in November 1918. The latter died in August 1921, from sepsis of the throat and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.On 15 September 1922, the Churchills’ last child, Mary, was born. Later that month, the Churchills bought Chartwell, which would be their home until Winston’s death in 1965. According to Jenkins, Churchill was an “enthusiastic and loving father” but one who expected too much of his children.
Ancestors of Winston Churchill 8. George Spencer-Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough 4. John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough 9. Lady Jane Stewart 2. Lord Randolph Churchill 10. Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry 5. Lady Frances Anne Vane 11. Frances Anne Vane-Tempest 1. Winston Churchill 12. Issac Jerome 6. Leonard Jerome 13. Aurora Murray 3. Jennie Jerome 14. Ambrose Hall 7. Clarissa Hall 15. Clarissa Willcox
The historian Robert Rhodes James stated that Churchill had lived an “exceptionally long, complex, and controversial life”, one whichin the realm of British parliamentary politicswas comparable only to Gladstone’s in its “length, drama and incident”. According to Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre, even during his own lifetime Churchill was an “incredibly complex, contradictory and larger-than-life human being”.
Addison noted that Churchill had become a “great historic figure”. Churchill was rated as one of the most influential leaders in history by TIME. The later British Prime Minister Boris Johnson related that Churchill “saved this country and the whole of Europe from a barbaric fascist and racist tyranny, and our debt to him is incalculable”. Churchill’s reputation among the general British public remains high: he was voted number one in a 2002 BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons of all time. He is also held in respect in the United States; in 1963 he was made an Honorary U.S. Citizen, and in 1995 the U.S. named a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer the USS Winston S. Churchill.
Throughout his career, Churchill’s outspokenness earned him enemies. By the time he entered the House of Commons, he was already controversial, perceived by many as “an adventurer and a medal-hunter”, someone who was egotistical and self-absorbed, and whose choices reflected poor judgement. According to Addison, Churchill was seen as “a politician obsessed by personal interest, pushing himself relentlessly forward in a blaze of publicity at the expense of worthier men.” Up until 1939, his approach to politics generated widespread “mistrust and dislike”, an attitude exacerbated by his repeated party defections. For some High Tories in the Conservative Party, Churchill wasaccording to Addison”little short of a traitor to his class” for switching to the Liberals. When First Lord of the Admiralty, many “critics denigrated him” as being “reckless, ignorant, and unprincipled, a political upstart with no understanding of the glorious traditions and methods of work of the Royal Navy”.
Churchill’s response to the Rhonda Valley unrest and his anti-socialist rhetoric also brought condemnation from the left, with many British leftists regarding him as a reactionary who represented imperialism, militarism, and the interests of the upper classes in the class war. His role in opposing the General Strike earned the enmity of many strikers and those in the labour movement more broadly. When Churchill joined Britain’s left in warning against Nazi Germany, many leftists saw him as doing it purely because he feared a German threat to the British Empire. The historian Edward Moritz Jr. noted that while some on the left presented Churchill as “a vicious reactionary and a hater of the working class”, this did not take Churchill’s domestic reforms into account. Jenkins remarked that Churchill had “a substantial record as a social reformer” for his work in the first part of his parliamentary career; similarly, Rhodes James thought that as a social reformer “his achievements were considerable”. In Rhodes James’ view, this had been achieved because “as a minister had three outstanding qualities. He worked hard; he put his proposals efficiently through the Cabinet and Parliament; he carried his Department with him. These ministerial merits are not as common as might be thought.”
Churchill’s belief in the superiority of white Europeans, a widespread view among his contemporaries, has generated accusations of racism. His role in the Bengal Famine has been one source of particular criticism; the historian Walter Reid has stated Churchill was “very wrong in relation to India, where his conduct fell far below his usual level.”
Between 1966 and 1988, an eight-volume biography of Churchill was published, started by Randolph Churchill but completed largely by Martin Gilbert after the former’s death in 1968. Rhodes James suggested that this official biography was a “labour of love” for Randolph Churchill, and that “what was so admirable in the son, was … less desirable in the biographer.” By 1980, there was already a very extensive published array of material on Churchill.
Churchill’s legacy continues to stir intense debate among writers and historians. In 1980, Addison noted that there are many people “so prejudiced for or against Churchill” that they had no interest in critically assessing him as a historical figure. In 2018, the broadcaster Afua Hirsch described encounters with two historians who were concerned that researching more controversial elements of Churchill’s life would hinder their academic career.