Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965) was one of the most prominent leaders of the 20th century, best known as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War 2.
Born at Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill was a descendant of the first famous member of the Churchill family: John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (whose father was also a “Sir Winston Churchill”). Winston’s politician father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough: Winston’s mother was Jennie Jerome (née Jeanette Jerome) of Brooklyn, New York, a daughter of American millionaire Leonard Jerome.
In 1895, he went to Cuba as a military observer with the Spanish army in its fight against the independentists. He also reported for the Saturday Review.
The first notable appearance of Winston Churchill was as a war-correspondent in the second Anglo-Boer war between Britain and self-proclaimed Afrikaaners in South Africa. He was captured in a Boer ambush of a British Army train convoy, but managed a high profile escape and eventually crossed the South African border to Lorenzo Marques (now Maputo in Mozambique).
Churchill used the status achieved to begin a political career which would last a total of sixty-one years, serving as an MP in the House of Commons from 1901 to 1922 and from 1924 to 1964. At first a member of the Conservative Party, he soon ‘crossed the floor’ to the Liberals and entered the Cabinet in his early thirties.
He was one of the political and military engineers of the disastrous Gallipoli landings on the Dardanelles during World War I, which led to his description as “the butcher of Gallipoli”. He was a signatory of the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 which established the Irish Free State. The Liberal Party was now beset by internal division.
After losing his seat in the 1922 General Election to Edwin Scrymgeour he rejoined the Conservative Party. Two years later in the General Election of 1924 he was elected to represent Epping (where there is now a statue of him) as a Conservative. He was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 under Stanley Baldwin and was responsible for returning Britain to the Gold Standard. During the General Strike of 1926, Churchill was reported to have suggested that machine guns should be used on the striking miners. Churchill edited the Government’s newspaper, the British Gazette, and during the dispute he argued that “either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country.”.
The Conservative government was defeated in the 1929 General Election. When Ramsay MacDonald formed the National Government in 1931 Churchill was not invited to join the Cabinet. He was now at the lowest point in his career in a period known as ‘the wilderness years’. He spent much of next few years concentrating on his writing, including the History of the English Speaking Peoples (which was not published until well after WWII).
He became most notable for his outspoken opposition towards the granting of independence to India. Soon though, his attention was drawn to the rise of Adolf Hitler and Germany’s rearmament. For a time he was a lone voice calling on Britain to re-arm itself and counter the belligerence of Germany. Churchill was a fierce critic of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.
Role as Wartime Prime Minister
At the outbreak of the Second World War Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty On Chamberlain’s resignation in May, 1940, Churchill was appointed Prime Minister and formed an all-party government. He immediately made his friend and confidant, industrialist and newspaper baron, Max Aitken, (Lord Beaverbrook) in charge of aircraft production. It was Aitken’s astounding business acumen that allowed Britain to quickly gear up aircraft production and engineering that eventually made the difference in the war.
His speeches at that time were a great inspiration to the embattled United Kingdom. His famous “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech was his first as Prime Minister. He followed that closely, before the Battle of Britain, with “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.”
(It has been suggested that some of Churchill’s radio speeches, including “We shall fight on the beaches”, were actually spoken by soundalike actors because Churchill was too busy to make them himself, but this has not been conclusively proven.)
His good relationship with U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt secured the United Kingdom vital supplies via the North Atlantic Ocean shipping routes. Churchill initiated the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a branch of MI6, which established, conducted and fostered covert, subversive and partisan operations in occupied territories with notable success; and also the Commandos which establish the pattern for most of the world’s current Special Forces.
Churchill was one of the driving forces behind the treaties that would re-draw post-WWII European and Asian boundaries. The boundary between North Korea and South Korea were proposed at the Yalta Conference, as well as the expulsion of Japanese from those countries. Proposals for European boundaries and settlements were discussed as early as 1943 by Roosevelt and Churchill; the settlement was officially agreed to by Truman, Churchill, and Stalin at Potsdam (Article XIII of the Potsdam protocol).
One of these settlements was the boundary between the future East Germany and Poland at the Oder-Neisse line, which was rationalized as compensation for Soviet gains in Ukraine. As part of the settlement was an agreement to continue the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the area. The exact numbers and movement of ethnic populations over the Polish-German and Polish-USSR borders in the period at the end of World War II is vastly difficult to determine.
This is not least because, under the Nazi regime, many Poles were replaced in their homes by the conquering Germans in an attempt to consolidate Nazi power. In the case of the post-WWII settlement, Churchill was convinced that the only way to alleviate tensions between the two populations was the expulsion of the Germans, despite the fact that many of these Germans had lived in these areas since the middle ages and had absorbed the native population, which lived there before.
As Churchill expounded in the House of Commons in 1944, “Expulsion is the method which, in so far 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…” Even though made in “modern conditions” some 500,000 to 1,500.000 people died in these “transferences”. Today these transferences would be named “ethnic cleansing”.
Although the importance of Churchill’s role in World War II was undeniable, he produced many enemies in his own country. His expressed contempt for ideas such as public health care and for better education for the majority of the population in particular produced much dissatisfaction amongst the population, particularly those who had fought in the war. Immediately following the close of the war in Europe Churchill was heavily defeated at election by Clement Attlee and the Labour Party.
Winston Churchill was an early supporter of the pan-Europism that eventually lead to the formation of the European Common market and later the European Union (for which one of the three main buildings of the European Parliament is named in his honor). Churchill was also instrumental in giving France a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (which he supported in order to have another European power to counter-balance the Soviet Union’s permanent seat).
At the beginning of the Cold War he coined the term the “Iron Curtain,” a phrase that entered the public consciousness after a 1946 speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri when he famously declared “From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on 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.”
Following Labour’s defeat in the General Election of 1951, Churchill again became Prime Minister. In 1953 he was awarded two major honours. He was knighted and became Sir Winston Churchill and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values”. A stroke in June of that year led to him being paralysed down his left side. He retired because of his health on April 5, 1955 but retained his post as Chancellor of the University of Bristol.
On September 2, 1908, at the socially desirable church of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, Churchill married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier (1885-1977), a dazzling but largely penniless beauty. They had five children: Sarah Millicent Hermione Churchill (who became a movie actress of some renown, costarring with Fred Astaire in the film “Royal Wedding”), Randolph Frederick Edward Churchill, Marigold Frances Churchill (who died as a child), Diana Churchill, and Mary Churchill.
Clementine Churchill’s mother was Lady (Henrietta) Blanche Ogilvy (1852-1925), the second wife of Sir Henry Montague Hozier and a daughter of the 7th Earl of Airlie. The identity of her father, however, is open to healthy debate. Lady Blanche was well known for sharing her sexual favors and was eventually divorced as a result. She maintained that Clementine’s father was Capt. William George “Bay” Middleton, a noted horseman. But Clementine Churchill’s biographer Joan Hardwick has surmised that all Lady Blanche’s “Hozier” children were actually fathered by her sister Clementine’s husband, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford (1837-1916, better known as a grandfather of the infamous Mitford girls of the 1920s).
On January 15, 1965 Churchill suffered another stroke – a severe cerebral thrombosis – that left him gravely ill. He died nine days later on January 24, 1965. His body lay in State in Westminster Hall for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral. This was the first state funeral for a commoner since that of the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington over 100 years earlier. It was Churchill’s wish that, if de Gaulle survived him, that his (Churchill’s) funeral procession should pass through Waterloo Station. As his coffin passed down the Thames on a boat, the cranes of London’s docklands bowed in salute. At Churchill’s request, he was buried in the family plot at Saint Martin’s Churchyard, Bladon, Woodstock, England.