Monday Nov 30, 1874 to Sunday Jan 24, 1965
United KingdomSir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British statesman, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, during the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Apart from two years between 1922 and 1924, Churchill was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1900 to 1964 and represented a total of five constituencies. Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, he was for most of his career a member of the Conservative Party, as leader from 1940 to 1955. He was a member of the Liberal Party from 1904 to 1924.
Churchill was born on 30 November 1874 at his family's ancestral home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. As direct descendants of the Dukes of Marlborough, his family were among the highest levels of the British aristocracy. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had been elected Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873. His mother, Jennie, was daughter of Leonard Jerome, a wealthy American businessman.
Throughout much of the 1880s, Randolph and Jennie were effectively estranged, and the brothers were mostly cared for by their nanny, Elizabeth Everest. Churchill later wrote that "she had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole of the twenty years I had lived".
In April 1888, aged 13, Churchill narrowly passed the entrance exam for Harrow School. His father wanted him to prepare for a military career and so his last three years at Harrow were in the army form. After two unsuccessful attempts to gain admittance to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he succeeded on his third.
His father wanted him to prepare for a military career and so his last three years at Harrow were in the army form. After two unsuccessful attempts to gain admittance to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he succeeded on his third. Churchill was accepted as a cadet in the cavalry, starting in September 1893.
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. Eager to witness military action, he used his mother's influence to get himself posted to a war zone.
Churchill proceeded to New York City and, in admiration of the United States, wrote to his mother about "what an extraordinary people the Americans are!" With the Hussars, he went to Bombay in October 1896. Based in Bangalore, he was in India for 19 months, visiting Calcutta three times and joining expeditions to Hyderabad and the Northwest Frontier.
Churchill volunteered to join Bindon Blood's Malakand Field Force in its campaign against Mohmand rebels in the Swat Valley of north-west India. Blood accepted him on condition that he was assigned as a journalist, the beginning of Churchill's writing career.
Churchill returned to Bangalore in October 1897 and there wrote his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, which received positive reviews. He also wrote his only work of fiction, Savrola, a Ruritanian romance. To keep himself fully occupied, Churchill embraced writing as what Roy Jenkins calls his "whole habit", especially through his political career when he was out of office. It was his main safeguard against recurring depression, which he termed his "black dog".
On 2 December 1898, Churchill embarked for India to settle his military business and complete his resignation from the 4th Hussars. He spent a lot of his time there playing polo, the only ball sport in which he was ever interested.
In one 1898 letter to his mother, Churchill referred to his religious beliefs, saying: "I do not accept the Christian or any other form of religious belief". Churchill had been christened in the Church of England but, as he related later, he underwent a virulently anti-Christian phase in his youth, and as an adult was an agnostic. In another letter to one of his cousins, 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".
In October, Churchill returned to England and began writing The River War, an account of the campaign which was published in November 1899; it was at this time that he decided to leave the army. He was critical of Kitchener's actions during the war, particularly the latter's unmerciful treatment of the enemy wounded and his desecration of Muhammad Ahmad's tomb in Omdurman.
After his train was derailed by Boer artillery shelling, he was captured as a prisoner of war (POW) and interned in a Boer POW camp in Pretoria. In December, Churchill escaped from the prison and evaded his captors by stowing away aboard freight trains and hiding in a mine. He eventually made it to safety in Portuguese East Africa. His escape attracted much publicity.
In January 1900, Churchill briefly rejoined the army as a lieutenant in the South African Light Horse regiment, joining Redvers Buller's fight to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith and take Pretoria. He was among the first British troops in both places. He and his cousin, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, demanded and received the surrender of 52 Boer prison camp guards. Throughout the war, he had publicly chastised anti-Boer prejudices, calling for them to be treated with "generosity and tolerance", and after the war, he urged the British to be magnanimous in victory.
In the same month, Churchill published Ian Hamilton's March, a book about his South African experiences, which became the focus of a lecture tour in November through Britain, America, and Canada. MPs were unpaid and the tour was a financial necessity. In America, Churchill met Mark Twain, President McKinley, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt; he did not get on well with Roosevelt. Later, in spring 1901, he gave more lectures in Paris, Madrid, and Gibraltar.
By 1903, there was a real division between Churchill and the Conservatives, largely because he opposed their promotion of economic protectionism, but also because he sensed that the animosity of many party members would prevent him from gaining a Cabinet position under a Conservative government.
Two months later, incensed by Churchill's criticism of the government, the Oldham Conservative Association informed him that it would not support his candidature at the next general election.
In May 1904, Churchill opposed the government's proposed Aliens Bill, 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 labor prejudice against competition" and expressed himself in favor 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".
In the new government, Churchill became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonial Office, a junior ministerial 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; Marsh remained Churchill's secretary for 25 years.
In private life, Churchill proposed marriage to Clementine Hozier; they were married in September at St Margaret's, Westminster and honeymooned in Baveno, Venice, and Veverí Castle in Moravia. They lived at 33 Eccleston Square, London, and their first daughter, Diana, was born in July 1909.
One of Churchill's first tasks as a minister was to arbitrate in an industrial dispute among ship-workers and employers on the River Tyne. He afterward established a Standing Court of Arbitration to deal with future industrial disputes, establishing a reputation as a conciliator. In Cabinet, he worked with David Lloyd George to champion social reform. He promoted what he called a "network of State intervention and regulation" akin to that in Germany.
To ensure funding for their reforms, Lloyd George and Churchill denounced Reginald McKenna's policy of naval expansion, refusing to believe that war with Germany was inevitable. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George presented his "People's Budget" on 29 April 1909, calling it a war budget to eliminate poverty. He proposed unprecedented taxes on the rich to fund the Liberal welfare programs. The budget was vetoed by the Conservative peers who dominated the House of Lords. His social reforms under threat, Churchill warned that upper-class obstruction could anger working-class Britons and lead to class war.
The government called the 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 February 1910, Churchill was promoted to Home Secretary, giving him control over the police and prison services, and he implemented a prison reform program. Measures included a distinction between criminal and political prisoners, with prison rules for the latter being relaxed.
In the summer of 1910, Churchill had to deal 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 traveling, 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 police, who were not equipped with firearms, to assist their Welsh counterparts.
During the Agadir Crisis of April 1911, when there was a threat of war between France and Germany, Churchill suggested an alliance with France and Russia to safeguard the independence of Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands to counter possible German expansionism.
Churchill 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. 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 authorize 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.
In October, Churchill visited Antwerp to observe Belgian defenses against the besieging Germans and promised British reinforcements for the city. Soon afterwards, however, Antwerp fell to the Germans and Churchill was criticized in the press. He maintained that his actions had prolonged resistance and enabled 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 put forward some proposals including the development of the tank and offered to finance its creation with Admiralty funds.
Churchill was interested in the Middle Eastern theatre and wanted to relieve Turkish pressure on the Russians in the Caucasus by staging attacks against Turkey in the Dardanelles. He hoped that, if successful, the British could even seize Constantinople. Approval was given and, in March 1915, an Anglo-French task force attempted a naval bombardment of Turkish defenses in the Dardanelles.
In April, the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, including the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), began its assault at Gallipoli. Both of these campaigns failed and Churchill was held by many MPs, particularly Conservatives, to be personally responsible.
In May, Asquith agreed under parliamentary pressure to form an all-party coalition government, but the Conservatives' one condition of entry was that Churchill must be removed from the Admiralty. Churchill pleaded his case with both Asquith and Conservative leader Bonar Law, but had to accept a demotion and became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
On 25 November 1915, Churchill resigned from the government, although he remained an MP. Asquith rejected his request to be appointed Governor-General of British East Africa.
Churchill decided to join the Army and was attached to the 2nd Grenadier Guards, on the Western Front. In January 1916, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and given command of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers. After a period of training, the battalion was moved to a sector of the Belgian Front near Ploegsteert. For over three months, they faced continual shelling although no German offensive. Churchill narrowly escaped death when, during a visit by his staff officer cousin the 9th Duke of Marlborough, a large piece of shrapnel fell between them.
Churchill spent much of the next six months at the Villa Rêve d'Or near Cannes, where he devoted himself to painting and writing his memoirs. He wrote an autobiographical history of the war, The World Crisis. The first volume was published in April 1923 and the rest over the next ten years.
After the 1923 general election was called, seven Liberal associations asked Churchill to stand as their candidate, and he selected Leicester West, but he did not win the seat. A Labour government led by Ramsay MacDonald took power. Churchill had hoped they would be defeated by a Conservative-Liberal coalition. He strongly opposed the MacDonald government's decision to loan money to Soviet Russia and feared the signing of an Anglo-Soviet Treaty.
On 19 March 1924, alienated by Liberal support for Labour, Churchill stood as an independent anti-socialist candidate in the Westminster Abbey by-election but was defeated.
In May, Churchill addressed a Conservative meeting in Liverpool and declared that there was no longer a place for the Liberal Party in British politics. He said that Liberals must back the Conservatives to stop Labour and ensure "the successful defeat of socialism".
In July, Churchill agreed with Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin that he would be selected as a Conservative candidate in the next general election, which was held on 29 October. Churchill stood at Epping, but he described himself as a "Constitutionalist".
In April 1925, Churchill controversially albeit reluctantly restored the gold standard in his first budget at its 1914 parity against the advice of some leading economists including John Maynard Keynes. The return to gold is held to have caused deflation and resultant unemployment with a devastating impact on the coal industry.
During the General Strike of 1926, Churchill edited the British Gazette, the government's anti-strike propaganda newspaper. After the strike ended, he acted as an intermediary between striking miners and their employers. He later called for the introduction of a legally binding minimum wage.
The October 1931 general election was a landslide victory for the Conservatives Churchill nearly doubled his majority in Epping, but he was not given a ministerial position.
The Commons debated Dominion Status for India on 3 December and Churchill insisted on dividing the House, but this backfired as only 43 MPs supported him. He embarked on a lecture tour of North America, hoping to recoup financial losses sustained in the Wall Street Crash.
In Munich, Churchill met Ernst Hanfstaengl, a friend of Hitler, who was then rising in prominence. Talking to Hanfstaengl, Churchill raised concerns about Hitler's anti-Semitism and, probably because of that, missed the opportunity to meet his future enemy. Soon after visiting Blenheim, he was afflicted with paratyphoid fever and spent two weeks at a sanatorium in Salzburg.
Churchill returned to Chartwell on 25 September, still working on Marlborough. Two days later, he collapsed while walking on the grounds after a recurrence of paratyphoid which caused an ulcer to hemorrhage. He was taken to a London nursing home and remained there until late October.
After Hitler came to power on 30 January 1933, Churchill was quick to recognize the menace to the civilization of such a regime and expressed alarm that the British government had reduced air force spending and warned that Germany would soon overtake Britain in air force production.
In January 1936, Edward VIII succeeded his father, George V, as monarch. His desire to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, caused the abdication crisis. Churchill supported Edward and clashed with Baldwin on the issue.
At first, Churchill welcomed Chamberlain's appointment but, in February 1938, matters came to a head after Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden resigned over Chamberlain's appeasement of Mussolini, a policy which Chamberlain was extending towards Hitler.
In 1938, Churchill warned the government against appeasement and called for collective action to deter German aggression. In March, the Evening Standard ceased publication of his fortnightly articles, but the Daily Telegraph published them instead.
On 3 September 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany, Chamberlain reappointed Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and he joined Chamberlain's war cabinet. Churchill later claimed that the Board of the Admiralty sent a signal to the Fleet: "Winston is back".
On 16 February 1940, Churchill personally ordered Captain Philip Vian of the destroyer HMS Cossack to board the German supply ship Altmark in Norwegian waters and liberate some 300 British prisoners who had been captured by the Admiral Graf Spee. These actions, supplemented by his speeches, considerably enhanced Churchill's reputation.
Churchill was concerned about German naval activity in the Baltic Sea and initially wanted 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 German invasion of Norway was launched.
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.
In May, Churchill was still generally unpopular with many Conservatives and probably most of the Labour Party. Chamberlain remained Conservative Party leader until October when ill health forced his resignation. By that time, Churchill had won the doubters over and his successor as party leader was a formality.
His first speech as Prime Minister delivered to the Commons on 13 May was the "blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech. It was little more than a short statement but, Jenkins says, "it included phrases which have reverberated down the decades". Churchill made it plain to the nation that a long, hard road lay ahead and that victory was the final goal: I would say to the House... that I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: it is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: it is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
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 the still-neutral Mussolini as an intermediary. There were several high-level meetings from 26 to 28 May, including two with the French premier Paul Reynaud.