Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, born on Nov. 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, the famous palace
near Oxford built by the nation for John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough, the
great soldier. Blenheim, named after Marlborough’s grandest victory (1704),
meant much to Winston Churchill. In the grounds there he became engaged to his
future wife, Clementine Ogilvy Hozier (b. 1885). He later wrote his historical
masterpiece, The Life and Times of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, with the
archives of Blenheim behind him. English on his father’s side, American on his
mother’s, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill embodied and expressed the
double vitality and the national qualities of both peoples. His names testify to
the richness of his historic inheritance: Winston, after the Royalist family
with whom the Churchills married before the English Civil War; Leonard, after
his remarkable grandfather, Leonard Jerome of New York; Spencer, the married
name of a daughter of the 1st duke of Marlborough, from whom the family
descended; Churchill, the family name of the 1st duke, which his descendents
resumed after the Battle of Waterloo. All these strands come together in a
career that had no parallel in British history for richness, range, length, and
achievement. Churchill took a leading part in laying the foundations of the
welfare state in Britain, in preparing the Royal Navy for World War I, and in
settling the political boundaries in the Middle East after the war. In WORLD WAR
II emerged as the leader of the united British nation and Commonwealth to resist
the German domination of Europe, as an inspirer of the resistance among free
peoples, and as a prime architect of victory. In this, and in the struggle
against communism afterward, he made himself an indispensable link between the
British and American peoples, for he foresaw that the best defense for the free
world was the coming together of the English-speaking peoples. Profoundly
historically minded, he also had prophetic foresight: British-American unity was
the message of his last great book, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

He was a combination of soldier, writer, artist, and statesman. He was not so
good as a mere party politician. Like Julius Caesar, he stands out not only as a
great man of action, but as a writer of it too. He had genius; as a man he was
charming, gay, ebullient, endearing. As for personal defects, such a man was
bound to be a great egoist; if that is a defect. So strong a personality was apt
to be overbearing. He was something of a gambler, always too willing to take
risks. In his earlier career, people thought him of unbalanced judgment partly
from the very excess of his energies and gifts. That is the worst that can be
said of him. With no other great man is the familiar legend more true to the
facts. We know all there is to know about him; there was no disguise. His
father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a younger son of the 7th duke of
Marlborough. His mother was Jennie Jerome; and as her mother, Clara Hall, was
one-quarter Iroquois, Sir Winston had an Indian strain in him. Lord Randolph, a
brilliant Conservative leader who had been chancellor of the exchequer in his
30’s, died when only 46, after ruining his career. His son wrote that one could
not grow up in that household without realizing that there had been a disaster
in the background. It was an early spur to him to try to make up for his gifted
father’s failure, not only in politics and in writing, but on the turf. Young
Winston, though the grandson of a duke, had to make his own way in the world,
earning his living by his tongue and his pen. In this he had the comradeship of
his mother, who was always courageous and undaunted. Rejoining his regiment, he
was sent to serve in India. Here, besides his addiction to polo, he went on
seriously with his education, which in his case was very much self-education.

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His mother sent out to him boxes of books, and Churchill absorbed the whole of
Gibbon and Macaulay, and much of Darwin. The influence of the historians is to
be observed all through his writings and in his way of looking at things. The
influence of Darwin is not less observable in his philosophy of life: that all
life is a struggle, the chances of survival favor the fittest, chance is a great
element in the game, the game is to be played with courage, and every moment is
to be enjoyed to the full. This philosophy served him well throughout his long
life. In 1897 he served in the Indian army in the Malakand expedition against
the restless tribesmen of the North-West Frontier, and the next year appeared
his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force. He entertained himself by
writing a novel, Savrola (1900), which curiously anticipates later developments
in history, war, and in his own mind. On the outbreak of the South African War
in 1899, he went out as war correspondent for the London Morning Post. Within a
month of his arrival, he was captured when acting more as a soldier than as a
journalist, by the Boer officer Louis Botha (who subsequently became the first
prime minister of the Union of South Africa and a trusted friend). Taken to
prison camp in Pretoria, Churchill made a dramatic escape and traveled via
Portuguese East Africa back to the fighting front in Natal. His escape made him
world-famous overnight. He described his experiences in a couple of journalistic
books and made a first lecture tour in the United States. The proceeds from the
tour enabled him to enter Parliament (M. P.’s were not paid in those days). On
Jan. 23, 1901, Churchill became member of Parliament for Oldham (Lancashire) as
a Conservative. But he had returned from South Africa sympathetic to the Boer
cause, and his army experiences had made him extremely critical of its command
and administration, which he proceeded to attack all along the line. The tariff
proposals of Joseph Chamberlain completed his alienation from the Conservative
party, and in 1904 Churchill left the party to join the Liberals. In consequence
he was for years execrated by the Conservatives, and was unpopular with army
authorities. In 1906, he published the authoritative biography, Lord Randolph
Churchill (2 vols.), and in 1908, My African Journey, a first-class example of
his lifelong flair for journalism. In this year, 1908, he married and, in his
own words, “lived happily ever afterwards.” By his marriage to
Clementine Hozier there were one son (Randolph) and four daughters (Diana,
Sarah, Mary, and one who died in infancy). He took up painting as a hobby and a
consolation, and he remained devoted to it for the rest of his life. His
accomplishment in the art should not be underestimated. In 1916 he went back to
the army, gallantly volunteering for active service on the western front, where
he commanded the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers. But his energy and ability could not
be dispensed with, and Prime Minister Lloyd George called him back to become
minister of munitions. Having lost his seat in Parliament in the 1922 elections,
Churchill lived in the political wilderness for the next two years. He was able
to go forward with his memoirs, The World Crisis (5 vols., 1923-1929), a large
canvas. After various attempts to form a central, antisocialist grouping, he
went back to the Conservative party in time to become chancellor of the
exchequer in Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s government (1924-1929). He was
least happy in this office and ill at ease with economic affairs. During the
whole of this disastrous period of 1929-1939, Churchill was out of office.

During these years of political frustration he wrote his major works:
Marlborough (4 vols., 1933-1938); the first draft of A History of the
English-Speaking Peoples (4 vols., 1956-1958); a vivid and characteristic
autobiography, My Early Life (1930); a revealing and suggestive book, Thoughts
and Adventures (1932); and a volume of brilliant, if generous, portrait
sketches, Great Contemporaries (1937). He also began to collect his speeches and
newspaper articles warning the country of the wrath to come. On May 10, 1940, in
the midst of this cataract of disasters, Churchill was called to supreme power
and responsibility by a spontaneous revolt of the best elements in all parties.

He, almost alone of the nation’s political leaders, had had no part in the
disaster of the 1930’s, and he really was chosen by the will of the nation. For
the next five years, perhaps the most heroic period in Britain’s history, he
held supreme command, as prime minister and minister of defense, in the nation’s
war effort. At this point his life and career became one with Britain’s story
and its survival. At first, until 1941, Britain fought on alone. Churchill’s
task was to inspire resistance at all costs, to organize the defense of the
island, and to make it the bastion for an eventual return to the continent of
Europe, whose liberation from Nazi tyranny he never doubted. He breathed a new
spirit into the government and a new resolve into the nation. Upon becoming
prime minister he told the Commons: “I have nothing to offer but blood,
toil, tears, and sweat: You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage
war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might. You ask, what is our aim? I can
answer in one word: Victory.” Meanwhile he made himself the spokesman for
these purposes among all free peoples, as he made Britain a home for all the
faithful remnants of the continental governments. These included the Free
French, for Churchill had himself picked out Charles DE GAULLE as “the man
of destiny.” But Churchill’s personal relationship with President Franklin
D. Roosevelt was Britain’s lifeline. Britain had lost most of her army equipment
in the fall of France and during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary
Force from Dunkirk in June. Roosevelt rushed across the Atlantic a supply of
weapons that made a beginning. On Oct. 26, 1951, at the age of 77, he again
became prime minister, as well as minister of defense. As the Conservatives held
a very small majority and Britain faced very difficult economic circumstances,
only the old man’s willpower enabled his government to survive. He held on to
see the young Queen Elizabeth II crowned at Westminster in June 1953, himself
attending as a Knight of the Garter, an honor he had received a few weeks
earlier. In 1953, also, he received the Nobel Prize in literature. On April 5,
1955, in his 80th year, he resigned as prime minister, but he continued to sit
in Commons until July 1964. Churchill’s later years were relatively tranquil. In
1958 the Royal Academy devoted its galleries to a retrospective one-man show of
his work. On April 9, 1963, he received, by special act of the U.S. Congress,
the unprecedented honor of being made an honorary American citizen. When he died
in London on Jan. 24, 1965, at the age of 90, he was acclaimed as a citizen of
the world, and on January 30 he was given the funeral of a hero. He was buried
at Bladon, in the little churchyard near Blenheim Palace, his birthplace.


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