Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill 1874 – 1965
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill KG OM CH TD PCc DL FRS RA was a British politician, statesman, army officer, journalist, writer and painter who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. Over the course of his career as a Member of Parliament (MP), he represented five constituencies in both England and Scotland, but his crowning achievement was Prime Minister, leading Britain to an allied victory against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the Second World War. He was Conservative Party leader from 1940 to 1955. In 1953, Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his lifetime body of work; the prize cited ‘his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values’.
Born on 30 November 1874 into the family of the seventh Duke of Blenheim, at Blenheim Palace, his family home, in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, his father was Lord Randolph Churchill, a British statesman and his mother, Jennie Jerome, a New York socialite. His parents spent little time with him and left him in the care of a nanny Mrs Everest, whom he called ‘Old Woom’. In 1888 he was sent to Harrow School, in preparation for a military career. He was miserable at school and eventually passed the entrance exam for the British Royal Military College. He joined the Fourth Hussars, serving in India and the Sudan and saw action in the Battle of Omdurman. He chronicled these early adventures in two books: ‘The Story of the Malakand Field Force’ and ‘The River War’. In the first book he wrote, “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” He also reported for ‘The Pioneer’ and the ‘Daily Telegraph’ while in the army.
In 1899 Churchill left the army and signed on as a war correspondent for the ‘Morning Post’. While reporting on the Boer War in South Africa, his train was ambushed and he was taken prisoner. Churchill gained fame when he escaped and travelled nearly 300 miles to safety in Mozambique. He would later work with his Boer captor – Louis Botha to help South Africa become a British Dominion.
Churchill first entered the political arena in 1900, as a member of the Conservative Party, but he soon switched to the Liberal Party to better promote social justice. He helped introduce reforms to the British prison system, introduced Britain’s first minimum wage, and set up labour exchanges for the unemployed. He helped pass the ‘People’s Budget’, imposing taxes on the wealthy to pay for social welfare.
In 1911 he became the First Lord of the Admiralty. He helped modernize warships with oil-fired engines rather than coal, promoted military aircraft, and helped create the Royal Navy Air Service. He helped develop the tank, which was first used in battle in 1916.
To help him understand the military potential for aircraft, Churchill took flying lessons. After he crashed a plane at Croydon Aerodrome, however, his wife convinced him to stop. In 1908 Churchill had married Clementine Hozier, “My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me,” he said. They had five children – Diana, was born in July 1909, their second child, Randolph, was born in May 1911 and their third child, Sarah, was born in October 1914.
Clementine gave birth to her fourth child, Marigold Frances Churchill, on 15 November 1918, four days after the official end of the First World War. In 1921 Marigold had a cold which turned into septicaemia and the illness proved fatal on 23 August 1921. 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.
The Churchills were married for 56 years. Clementine survived Winston, dying on 12 December 1977.
In 1922 Churchill lost his place as an MP and spent a number of years out of the political arena, writing, among other things, ‘A History of English Speaking Peoples’.
As the Nazis rose to power in Germany, Churchill became an advocate for British rearmament. On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. That very day, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and became a member of the War Cabinet. Despite the disaster of his plan to invade Norway before the Germans could take control, in 1940 the Prime minister Neville Chamberlain was deposed and in May, King George VI appointed Churchill as both Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. Within hours, Germany began its Western Offensive, invading the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Two days later, Germany invaded France.
In a famous 1940 speech, Churchill said, “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.”
Churchill formed a coalition cabinet with members from the Labour, Liberal, and Conservative parties, then created a foundation for an alliance with the U.S. and later the Soviet Union. In June 1941, Hitler launched an invasion of the Soviet Union thus reversing the non- aggression pact which had split the domination of eastern European countries between Germany and Russia . The U.S. entered World War II in December of 1941.
Churchill knew that public speaking was a powerful skill. Radio broadcasts were an important part of his war strategy, rallying the British people to remain staunch in the face of German military victories, the bombing of major British cities and the shortages of food throughout the U boat war on American and Canadian supplies arriving in convoys across the Atlantic.
Churchill attended meetings with U.S. and Soviet officials to develop a united military strategy and also to formulate a post-war world with oversight from the United Nations. World War II came to an end in 1945 with Germany’s surrender on 7th May and the war in the far east against Japan ending on 2nd September.
In 1945 Churchill was defeated in Britain’s general election, as people thought of him purely as a wartime Prime Minister and were hungry for change to a Labour government. He became the new leader of the Opposition Conservative Party and eventually served another term as Prime Minister, from 1951 until he retired in 1955. He remained a Member of Parliament until 1964.
Churchill was an accomplished painter, oil-based, often impressionistic, mostly landscapes, but also some interiors and portraits. He created nearly 600 paintings, using the pseudonyms Charles Morin and Mr. Winter. For Churchill, painting eased his depression, a malady he referred to as his “Black Dog.”
Also a prolific writer, Churchill used the pen name ‘Winston S. Churchill’ to distinguish himself from the American novelist by the same name. In 1953 he received the Pulitzer Prize in Literature.
Queen Elizabeth II knighted Churchill in 1953. She once offered to make him the Duke of London, but he declined.
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.
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 habitué of high society on the French Riviera. Churchill suffered another mild stroke in December 1956.
Despite poor health, Churchill still tried to remain active in public life. He was the first person to be named an Honorary Citizen of the United States, in 1963, by President John F. Kennedy, but he was too frail to attend the ceremony at the White House.
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 own father’s death. The funeral was the largest state funeral in world history up to that time, with representatives from 112 nations; only China did not send an emissary. In Europe, 350 million people, including 25 million in Britain, watched the funeral on television and only the Republic of Ireland did not broadcast it live. By decree of the Queen, his 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
He was buried in the family plot at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, near Woodstock, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace. In 1965 a memorial to Churchill, cut by the engraver Reynolds Stone, was placed in Westminster Abbey.