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Sir Winston Churchill

Prime Minister, 1940-1945 and 1951-1955

Sir Winston Churchill

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, on November 30, 1874, the son of a Conservative politician and an American woman. After being educated at Harrow he went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He joined the Fourth Hussars in 1895 and saw action on the Indian north-west frontier and in the Sudan where he took part in the Battle of Omdurman (1898).

While in the army, Churchill supplied military reports for the Daily Telegraph and wrote books such as The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899). After leaving the army in 1899, he worked as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. While reporting the Boer War in South Africa he was taken prisoner by the Boers, but made headlines when he escaped. He wrote about his experiences in the book London to Ladysmith Via Pretoria (1900).

In 1900, Churchill was elected as the Conservative MP for Oldham. In 1904, dissatisfied with the party's position on social reform, he decided to join the Liberal Party. In 1906 he won North West Manchester and immediately became a member of the new Liberal government as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. When Herbert Asquith replaced Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908, he elevated Churchill to President of the Board of Trade. While in this position Churchill carried through important social legislation, including the establishment of employment exchanges.

On September 12, 1908, Churchill married Clementine Ogilvy Spencer. In 1909, he published a book on his political philosophy, Liberalism and the Social Problem.

Following the 1910 General Election, Churchill became Home Secretary. While in this position he introduced several reforms to the prison system. He was severely criticized, however, for using troops to maintain order during a Welsh miners' strike.

Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in October 1911, where he helped modernize the navy. One of the first people to grasp the military potential of aircraft, he established the Royal Naval Air Service in 1912. He also established an Air Department at the Admiralty so as to make full use of the new technology. He was, in fact, so enthusiastic that he even took flying lessons.

Upon outbreak of World War I in 1914, Churchill joined the War Department. Blamed for the failure of the Dardanelles Campaign of 1915, he was moved to the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Churchill subsequently rejoined the British Army and commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front.

When David Lloyd George replaced Herbert Asquith as Prime Minister, he brought Churchill back into the government as Minister of Munitions, where he was in charge of the production of tanks, airplanes, guns and shells. After the war Churchill served as Minister of War and Air (1919-1920) and Colonial Secretary (1921-1922). Divisions in the Liberal Party led to Churchill being defeated in the 1922 General Election.

After rejoining the Conservative Party, Churchill was elected to represent Epping in the 1924 General Election. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin subsequently appointed Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in 1925 Churchill returned Britain to the gold standard. During the General Strike of 1926, Churchill wrote that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country."

With the defeat of the Conservative government in 1929, Churchill lost office. He spent the next few years concentrating on his writing, including the publication of the History of the English Speaking Peoples.

After Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party gained power in Germany in 1933, Churchill became a leading advocate of rearmament and a staunch critic of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy. In 1939 he argued that Britain and France should form a military alliance with the Soviet Union against Germany. Soon after outbreak of World War II Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, and on April 4, 1940, he became chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. Later that month the German Army invaded and occupied Norway. On May 8, the Labour Party demanded a debate on the Norwegian campaign; the debate turned into a vote of censure, which resulted in 30 Conservatives voting against Chamberlain and 60 others abstaining. Chamberlain stepped down on May 10, and King George VI appointed Churchill as Prime Minister.

Churchill formed a coalition government and placed leaders of the Labour Party -- including Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Stafford Cripps and Hugh Dalton -- in key positions. He also brought in Anthony Eden -- a long-time opponent of Chamberlain -- as his Secretary of State for War. Later that year Eden replaced Lord Halifax as Foreign Secretary.

Churchill developed a strong personal relationship with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, which in turn led to the Lend Lease Agreement of March 1941 that allowed Britain to order war goods from the United States on credit. Although he provided strong leadership, the war continued to go badly for Britain and after a series of military defeats Churchill had to face a motion of no confidence in Parliament; he maintained the support of most members of the House of Commons, however, and won by 475 votes to 25. Although he was frequently criticized for meddling in military matters, Churchill inspired the British people to greater effort by making public broadcasts on significant occasions. A brilliant orator, he was a source of strength to people experiencing the terrible sufferings of the Blitz. His relationships with Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin also helped Britain during the war, and the "Big Three" met frequently to develop a united strategy against the Axis Powers.

Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.
Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt

Despite the successes of his wartime policies, Churchill was unable to convince the British people of his committment to social reform. In the 1945 General Election, Churchill's attempt to compare a future Labour government with Nazi Germany backfired and Clement Attlee won a landslide victory.

In March 1946, Churchill made his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton, Missouri. He suffered the first of several strokes in August 1946, but this information was kept from the general public and he continued to lead the Conservative Party. He returned to power after the 1951 General Election, but declining health finally forced him to retire from politics in 1955. He was knighted in 1953. On April 9, 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy proclaimed him an honorary citizen of the United States.

Recipient of the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature, Churchill was the author of several works on history. In addition to those mentioned above, these works include: The World Crisis (4 volumes, 1923-1929); My Early Life (1930); Marlborough (4 volume, 1933-1938); and, The Second World War (6 volumes, 1948-1953).

Sir Winston and Lady Churchill enjoy a quiet day at their Hyde Park home in 1958.
Winston and Lady Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965.


The Churchill Centre
The Nobel Foundation

See Also

World War I
World War II
King George VI
Anthony Eden
Clement Attlee
Franklin Roosevelt
President John F. Kennedy
Nobel Prize for Literature

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The Robinson Library >> England >> 20th Century

This page was last updated on September 17, 2018.