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Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

It is impossible to understand the first half of the 20th Century without understanding Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill was a politician, radical, soldier, artist, and the twentieth century's most famous and celebrated PM.

Churchill was half American. His mother was American -- he was never really a true Englishman. His father was Lord Randolph Churchill, a nineteenth century Tory politician. He was educated at Harrow and at Sandhurst Royal Military College, after which he saw service in India and the Sudan, and acted off-duty as a war correspondent.

Churchill left the army in 1899 to take up politics, but first travelled to South Africa as a journalist. Although taken prisoner by the Boers, he made a daring escape and returned to safety despite the price on his head. His consequent fame no doubt aided his success as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Oldham in 1900.

Churchill was instinctively independent, willing to work with any side agreeing with his goals. His stand against protectionism led him to join the Liberals in 1904. As President of the Board of Trade in Asquith's Liberal government he set up labour exchanges and unemployment insurance. As Home Secretary in 1910 he improved safety in the mines and prevented the employment of child miners, though disappointed radicals by deploying troops in Wales during a miners strike. Churchill learned how to fly a plane before the First World War, and was also involved in the development of both the tank and anti-aircraft defense.

In 1911 he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, and ensured the Navy was ready for the outbreak of war in 1914. However, he was blamed for the failed Dardanelles Campaign in 1915, and was demoted in the coalition government.

In 1916 Lloyd George appointed him Minister for Munitions, where he developed the use of the tank in warfare.

He returned to the Conservative Party in the 1920s and spent five years as Stanley Baldwin's Chancellor, but again fell out with his party. Unpopular and ostracised for a decade, his warnings from the backbenches of Fascist imperialism went unheeded. His influence, it was said, had 'fallen to zero.' His numerous falls from power were caused mainly by his uncanny ability to alienate nearly all his political colleagues.

Winston Churchill supported the Kings proposal to marry Mrs. Simpson. But Sir Winston never forgave Edward VIII [Duke of Windsor] for giving up the British throne, according to papers that were kept secret at the request of the Royal Family. Letters in which Churchill attacked Edward VIII for his abdication and subsequent marriage to Wallis Simpson were excluded from an archive of the wartime Prime Minister's correspondence and only in October 2001 were reclassified as top secret until 2011. Churchill remained loyal during the abdication crisis and fought tirelessly for a compromise that might have let Edward keep the throne. His lobbying surprised many colleagues and threatened his political career more than once. Disappointed by Edward's decision to stand down, he was steadfast until the end. During a Commons speech he declared that "no Sovereign has ever conformed more strictly to the letter and spirit of the Constitution than his present Majesty".

Both the King and the Queen were firm supporters of Chamberlain, and hoped that if he did have to go, he would recommend that the King send for Lord Halifax. After his initial sympathy for appeasement the King became just as determined to defeat the Germans and get rid of Hitler as Churchill.

Chamberlain's policy of appeasement failed, leading to his resignation and the vindication of Churchill's position.

George VI asked Churchill to form a government in 1940 at the age of 65. Asking the House of Commons for its confidence in his small War Cabinet, he said: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." His evocative and stirring rhetoric, employed in many famed speeches, is seen as representing the spirit of wartime Britain, and was essential to raising national morale.

British reverses in the Western Desert, the loss of the battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse, the other war events had stirred some parliamentary opposition to the Prime Minister. On Jan. 27, 1942, a three-day secret debate began in the House of Commons. On 29 January 1942 the House supported the resolution: "That this House has confidence in His Majestys Government and will aid it to the utmost in the vigorous prosecution of the War" by 464 votes to 1. President Roosevelt sent Churchill his congratulations. "It is fun to be in the same decade with you," the President cabled.

On 02 July 1942 Churchill faced a second motion of no confidence following a long series of military defeats. The argument was that Churchill should not be both Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, or that he should be clearly delegating the responsibly for running the war to a senior Military figure. In the end Churchill won the debate by 475 votes to 25.

He was renowned as a great character and a great leader but was a paradoxical man. Possessed of astonishing vision, he also made disastrous mistakes - chiefly over the Great War campaign at Gallipoli. Nevertheless, he brought Britain to victory against Germany on 8 May, 1945.

In February 1945, when Churchill gave a banquet in the desert in honour of King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, he was told that the King could not allow smoking or drinking in his presence. Churchill replied that he was the host, and if it was the King's religion that made him say such things, "my religion prescribed as an absolute sacred rite smoking cigars and drinking alcohol before, and if need be, during all meals and the intervals between them."

Following the Labour landslide in the post-war 1945 election, a surprised Churchill found himself leading the Conservative Opposition.

The second Churchill administration some years later did not realise his hopes of ending the Cold War. In contrast to the stark choices of the second world war, he found the problems facing post-war Britain elusive and intangible.

Frustrated and in poor health, he resigned in 1955, aged 81. After his death in 1965, Churchill's body lay in state for three days at Westminster Hall before his state funeral, attracted millions of mourners.

Since his death, Churchill's stature has grown. Recently he was voted 'Greatest Ever Briton' in a major BBC poll, beating the likes of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Princess Diana and Charles Darwin.

President John F. Kennedy said in 1963, in conferring upon him an honorary citizenship of the United States, "He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

Churchill, was responsible for many actions as a wartime leader, beyond just what he himself described as the Allies' "terror bombing" of German civilians in Dresden.

"I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes," Churchill declared in a 1919 memo, referring to the unlucky people of occupied India. Using chemical weapons "would spread a lively terror," said Churchil -- ever the humanitarian, he maintained that the "moral effect" of terrorizing the "natives" would ulimately reduce the loss of life, or so he claimed to believe. As a young man, he gladly took part in "a lot of jilly little wars against barbarous peoples"; as a white surpemacist, he believed these peoples had a "propensity to kill" those attempting to steal their land, thus justifying the civilized white man's efforts to kill them.

As Secretary of State for War in the summer of 1919, Churchill would in fact authorize the use of toxic gas, planning and executing "a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia," according to The Guardian, in an attempt to terrorize the Bolshevik government into collapse.

Despite his confidence in the humaneness of the weapon -- "Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?" -- contemporary accounts suggest it was devastatingly lethal. Historian Gles Milton, the author of a book on the matter, noted in an interview with The Telegraph that "one soldier said that all 50 of his comrades were wiped out. It's difficult to know how many fatalities there were but they dropped thousands of these things on various villages."

Churchill made frequent references to his depression, which he called his "black dog". "I don't like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don't like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second's action would end everything. A few drops of desperation." - According to Sir Winston's close friend Lord Beaverbrook, the great man was always either "at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression."

Most of Churchill's income was derived from his writing, and he wrote countless articles, and 43 book-length works in 72 volumes. Churchill had persistent money troubles due to his extravagance, gambling, and lifetime refusal to plan or monitor his finances.

Churchill's favorite drink was whisky and soda, starting soon after breakfast. But no colleague who can be taken seriously ever reports seeing Churchill the worse for drink. Thus WSC's famous quip, "I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, was asked why he shouldn't have Churchill in his cabinet. Chamberlain's reply was that "the man was very unstable and he's become a fine two-fisted drinker."

Churchill frequently received his ministers or staff officers while sitting in or stepping out of the bath -- these blessed folk being referred to afterwards as Mr. Churchill's "Companions of the Bath."




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Page last modified: 15-12-2018 18:49:35 ZULU