Biography for Winston Churchill
In a versatile career that spanned four decades, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill served Great Britain as a war correspondent, soldier, politician, member of the British Parliament, first lord of the Admiralty, and prime minister. A prolific writer and an eloquent orator as well, he inspired Britons with his writings and speeches during the dark days of World War II. A man of action as well as a man of words, he was an inspiring and decisive military and political leader during both world wars. Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire on November 30, 1874. He was the eldest son of Lord Randolph Churchill, chancellor of the exchequer, and Jennie Churchill, the beautiful daughter of a New York businessman. At the age of seven, Churchill was sent to St. George's Ascot, a preparatory school. Rough and rebellious, he learned to read quickly but showed little interest in other areas of study. In 1888, he transferred to Harrow, another prestigious preparatory school, where he excelled at swimming, fencing, history, and writing. Impertinent to his instructors, Churchill was nonetheless fascinated by all things military, taking a particular interest in toy soldiers and mock warfare. In 1893, he qualified with difficulty to attend Sandhurst Royal Military College as a cavalry cadet. His conduct improved through strict military discipline, and he became an avid equestrian. After graduating in 1894, he was commissioned in the British Army and joined the Fourth Hussars. In 1895, Churchill obtained a brief leave of absence from his military duties to visit war-torn Cuba, which was then fighting for independence from Spain. Churchill observed the course of the war and then informally embarked on a career as a war correspondent by writing his first newspaper article on the fighting. After Churchill returned to Britain that same year, his father died at the age of 45. Although Randolph had spent little time with his son, he had a tremendous impact on the young Churchill's character. Randolph had been one of Britain's foremost politicians during the late 19th century, but through a series of political blunders and suffering from the increasingly debilitating effects of syphilis, he slowly lost his prominence in politics. His brief political success and hard-hearted efforts to instill in his son a sense of responsibility compelled Churchill to strive for his father's approval as long as Randolph was alive. His death, therefore, came as quite a blow to Churchill, who sincerely mourned his father and regretted that he had never lived up to Randolph's expectations. In an effort to assuage his grief, Churchill threw himself into his military career at the same time that Britain was fighting a series of conflicts to consolidate its hold on the country's various colonies around the globe. From 1896 until 1897, he was on active service in India with the Malakand Field Force, about which he published a book, The Malakand Field Force. Joining the Nile expeditionary force in 1898, he fought hand-to-hand against the Dervishes in the Battle of Omdurman and served in the cavalry during the reconquest of the Sudan, writing his second book, The River War. After running unsuccessfully for political office in 1899, Churchill went to South Africa as a war correspondent for the Morning Post to cover the Boer War. He was captured in an ambush in November and held prisoner until he staged a dramatic escape one month later, returning to England a hero and publishing two books on the war, as well as a novel, Savrola. In 1900, Churchill became a member of Parliament for Oldham, standing with the British Conservative Party. When fellow conservative Joseph Chamberlain launched his campaign for higher tariffs in 1904, however, Churchill joined the British Liberal Party in support of the free trade issue and bitterly attacked the conservatives. The following year, he became parliamentary under-secretary for the colonies. In 1906, Churchill became a member of Parliament for North West Manchester. That same year, he published a biography of his father. After being appointed president of the Board of Trade in 1908, Churchill introduced the labor exchanges, a national employment service that he hoped would reduce unemployment in the country. In September of that same year, he married Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, daughter of Sir Henry and Lady Blanche Hozier. They enjoyed life-long domestic happiness and eventually had three daughters and one son. In 1910, Churchill became home secretary, one of the most powerful positions in the government, where he consistently worked for social reform. He asked for troops to keep order during the prolonged miners' strike and played a prominent role in quelling the "Siege of Sidney Street," a famous London street shoot-out that took place in 1911. In 1911, Churchill was appointed first lord of the Admiralty, a position that seemed a perfect match for Churchill's talents and interests. During his four-year tenure at the Admiralty, he methodically prepared Britain for the major war that he felt sure would come. He developed an experienced and well-trained war staff and reorganized the Royal Navy, modernizing it and securing its position as the finest fleet in the world. When World War I erupted in 1914, Britain's command of the seas was unrivaled, despite Germany's efforts to win the naval arms race that the two countries had been engaged in since the turn of the century. Throughout the course of the war, Churchill also showed his foresight by investing in the development of military aviation and the armored car (the precursor of the tank). Unfortunately, British forces suffered a series of setbacks during the first two years of the war that caused many to question Churchill's abilities, particularly as he was the most aggressive and active member of an otherwise slow-moving Cabinet. Supremely confident in the Royal Navy, Churchill convinced the Cabinet to countenance several maneuvers that proved disastrous to British forces. Foremost among these was the 1915 attack on the Dardanelles. Churchill proposed that the Royal Navy could come to the aid of the Russians (who were fighting the Turks) by launching a massive naval campaign against the Dardanelles while the British Army landed at Gallipoli and launched a ground campaign. The controversial operation began in February 1915 but turned sour when the fleet encountered a row of undetected mines that destroyed a large portion of the British and French naval force. The Gallipoli campaign in April of that same year proved just as disastrous for British forces and ended in their total withdrawal from the region. In the aftermath of public criticism over the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns, Churchill was removed as first lord of the Admiralty, although he briefly remained a member of the Cabinet. In November, he resigned from the Cabinet as well and went to the western front, serving as colonel of the Sixth Battalion Scots Fusiliers. In July 1917, he returned to politics with his appointment as minister of munitions, where he concentrated on the production of tanks and ammunition. After the war ended in November 1918, Churchill held a series of government positions, first as secretary of state for war and air from 1919 to 1921, from which position he supervised demobilization. In 1921, he became colonial secretary, helping to negotiate the treaty that resulted in Irish Home Rule in a large portion of Ireland. He was defeated in his bid for parliamentary office in 1922, but in October 1924, he was elected for Epping. He changed political parties once again by realigning himself with the Conservatives and was subsequently appointed chancellor of the exchequer under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. His tenure as chancellor, however, was marked by national unrest and economic instability. In 1925, he returned Britain to the gold standard, a move that he believed promised long-term benefits but resulted in severe short-term hardships for the country, particularly as Britain struggled to reestablish a firm economic footing during the postwar depression. The General Strike of 1926, in which thousands of workers in all industries in Britain walked out of their jobs in support of a miners strike, inspired Churchill's wrath, as he pushed the government to break the strikers' will. The strike marked the most dramatic episode in Churchill's lifelong battle against labor unions. Out of office in 1929, Churchill decided to visit Canada and the United States. He embarked on a lecture tour and published his memoirs, A Roving Commission. While visiting New York in December 1932, he was knocked down by a taxi and badly hurt. Suffering from 15 broken bones and an internal hemorrhage, doctors feared for his life, but with characteristic tenacity, he recovered from his injuries with remarkable speed. Throughout the 1930s, Churchill became increasingly angry at the government's unwillingness to recognize the threat posed by the rise of fascism in Europe in general and the establishment of the Nazi Party in Germany in particular. Believing that peace could not be maintained for long in Europe in the light of these related threats, he urged Britain to rearm and to establish a defensive alliance of democracies. He remained an outspoken opponent of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement toward German dictator Adolf Hitler, whereby Britain acceded to Germany's territorial demands in an effort to stave off war. During this period, he continued to write, publishing a volume of essays, Amid These Storms (the first book of a four-volume life of his ancestor, John Churchill) and two more volumes of speeches and articles. When World War II began in September 1939, Churchill returned to politics once again as first lord of the Admiralty. In May 1940, after Chamberlain resigned the premiership, Churchill formed a coalition government and became prime minister. At that point, Britain was facing what many believed was the country's darkest hour. Paris had been captured by the Nazis, and all of France was on the point of capitulation to the Germans. Few doubted that Hitler would turn his attention to Britain next. Churchill appeared to meet the German threat without fear, and he rallied the British people to what he called the ultimate fight for survival. His leadership would prove vital to the British war effort, as he forcefully denounced proposals to negotiate with the Germans for some kind of settlement or conditional peace. Such submission to what he saw as the forces of evil was unthinkable. Although Churchill offered the British people nothing but "blood, toil, tears and sweat," they rallied behind him, inspired by his eloquent, patriotic speeches that cited the noblest aspects of Britain's cultural heritage to stave off the threat of invasion and conquest. Britain faced incredible odds, as the German war machine appeared to be unstoppable. Nevertheless, Churchill vowed publicly that the British people would "never surrender." He faced his first serious challenge when France fell to the Germans in June 1940. In a last-ditch effort to rescue what was left of the British Expeditionary Force and part of the French Army (which were trapped on a beachhead at Dunkirk in northern France), Churchill called on privately owned British vessels to assist the Royal Navy with evacuation efforts, in what many proclaim as one of the most dramatic rescues in history. Churchill's next challenge came in preparing Britain for the inevitable attack from German forces. With steely determination, Churchill braced the country for the German onslaught, stepping up efforts to mobilize the home guard and preparing the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF) to defend the island nation. In one of his most impassioned speeches during the summer of 1940, Churchill inspired the British people with the words: What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in the island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science. Let us, therefore, brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that if the British empire and its commonwealth last for a thousand years men will still say, "This was their finest hour." In September 1940, the German Luftwaffe (air force) attacked, hoping to bomb the British into submission and ease the way for German ground troops in a subsequent land invasion. Hitler even optimistically hoped that the British would negotiate a surrender after the Luftwaffe finished with them. Much to Hitler's anger and disappointment, the British people, particularly those living in London and other major industrial cities, refused to break under the pressure of nightly bombings that killed hundreds and destroyed large segments of the city. In addition, the RAF launched a decisive defense that stymied the Luftwaffe, refusing to yield control of the skies over Britain. The Battle of Britain was the Germans' first significant defeat of the war and convinced Hitler that he should turn his attention to weaker parts of Europe before attempting to conquer Britain again. Churchill was widely proclaimed a hero for his role in leading the British through this period. After staving off the Germans, he turned his attention to rebuilding Britain's military forces. He actively solicited financial and material help from the United States, although it was a neutral country in the conflict. His close friend U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt obliged by initiating the lend-lease program, which supplied Britain with much-needed military supplies and equipment. Churchill doggedly encouraged Roosevelt to bring the United States into the war, reminding him repeatedly that Britain was "standing alone" against the Nazis. After the United States entered the war in December 1941 (in response to the Japanese attack against the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii rather than Churchill's urgings), Churchill and Roosevelt quickly allied their efforts to form a powerful coalition against the Axis powers. He also welcomed the Soviet Union to the alliance, albeit somewhat reluctantly as he despised communism and distrusted Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. Nevertheless, Churchill recognized the Soviet Union's massive military potential and set aside his misgivings to devote all of his efforts to winning the war. Throughout the war, Churchill advocated a controversial military strategy that centered around attacking what he called the "soft underbelly of Europe"—the Mediterranean—rather than launching a costly offensive against well-defended France. Stalin openly objected to this policy, believing that Churchill's plan meant that Soviet troops would end up doing most of the actual fighting. Roosevelt, too, had misgivings, but the Allies launched a series of successful, but hard-fought, campaigns in North Africa and the Mediterranean between 1941 and 1943. More Allied victories in the Balkans and Italy seemed to confirm the wisdom of Churchill's plan. By 1944, the Allies had built up their own strength and weakened the Germans enough that Churchill gave his support to an invasion of France. He played an instrumental role in organizing the resulting D-Day operation in June of that year, which ultimately led to the liberation of Western Europe and the defeat of Germany. With victory for the Allies in sight, Churchill turned his attention increasingly to the shape of the postwar world. Through a series of conferences, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin hammered out tentative agreements for dealing with a defeated Germany and restoring order to the world. Earlier than his colleagues, Churchill perceived the great struggle between communism and democracy that emerged as the cold war in 1945 and would dominate world affairs for more than the next 40 years. Following the surrender of Germany in May 1945, Churchill was alarmed and disheartened by the amount of territory the Soviets held in Europe. Churchill received another blow in July 1945, when the conservatives were defeated in the general election. He became the leader of the opposition in Parliament, a cruel disappointment after his wartime prestige. He remained, however, an international hero and proved himself an astute observer of worldwide affairs. In a 1946 speech that he delivered in Fulton, Missouri, he warned of the developing East-West rift, stating that an "iron curtain" was dividing Europe, behind which (in the countries controlled by the Soviet Union) tyranny reigned. In 1948, Churchill published the first volume of a six-volume history of World War II. In August 1949, he attended the first session of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, fostering the conception of a European and Atlantic unity, later to bear fruit in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other supranational organizations. In 1951, he returned to the premiership at the age of 77. This second tenure in office was considerably less dramatic than his first but resulted in a number of honors for the elder statesman, including a knighthood and a Nobel Prize for literature. By this time, he had become almost a legend in his own time, known for his political career, his writing abilities, his irascible personality, and his sharp wit. One of the more famous Churchill anecdotes concerns a dinner party where he was seated next to Lady Nancy Astor. At one point, Astor quipped to Churchill, "Sir, if you were my husband, I'd poison your coffee." To which Churchill replied, "Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it." For years, Churchill had suffered from a series of strokes, with the first actually occurring during the war. In 1953, he suffered his third and most serious stroke. He continued in office for two more years, however, resigning on April 5, 1955. Shortly after leaving office, he published the first volume of a four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples. In July 1964, he formally retired from the House of Commons. Although Churchill's detractors saw in him a man of political expediency and of grating temperament, at the end of his life he was looked upon with veneration, enjoying a world reputation as an all-seeing strategist, an inspiring war leader, and the last of the classic orators. Churchill died in London on January 24, 1965. After one of the largest state funerals in British history that was attended by thousands and viewed on television throughout the world, he was buried beside his parents in Bladon Churchyard, near Blenheim Palace.