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Winston Churchill
Early life

Winston Churchill was a descendant of the first famous member of the Churchill family, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Winston's politician father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough; Winston's mother was Lady Randolph Churchill (nee Jennie Jerome), daughter of American millionaire Leonard Jerome.

Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire; he arrived unexpectedly early when his mother was attending a ball and was born in the ladies' room. As was typical for upper-class boys at that time, he spent much of his childhood at boarding schools. He sat the entrance exam for Harrow School, but, famously, on confronting the Latin paper, carefully wrote the title, his name, and the number 1 followed by a dot, and could not think of anything else to write. He was accepted despite this, but placed in the bottom division where they were primarily taught English, at which he excelled. Today, this famous ancient public school offers an annual Churchill essay-prize on a subject chosen by the head of the English department.

He followed his father's career keenly but had a distant relationship with him. Once, in 1886, he is reported to have proclaimed "My daddy is Chancellor of the Exchequer and one day that's what I'm going to be." His desolate, lonely childhood stayed with him throughout his life. On the other hand, as a child he was very close to his nurse, Elizabeth Anne Everest (who would be known now as a nanny), and was deeply saddened when she died on 3 July 1895. He paid for her gravestone at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium.

Churchill did badly at Harrow, regularly being punished for poor work and lack of effort. His nature was independent and rebellious and he failed to achieve much academically, failing some of the same courses numerous times and refusing to study the classics (that is, Latin and Ancient Greek). Despite this, he showed great ability in other areas such as history, in which he was sometimes top of his class. The view of Churchill as a failure at school is one which he himself propagated, probably due to his father's disappointment regarding the young Winston and his obvious readiness to label his son as such. He did, however, become the school's fencing champion.

The Army

Churchill attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Upon his graduation at age 20, Churchill joined the army as a Subaltern of the IV (Queen's Own) Hussars Cavalry regiment. This regiment was stationed in Bangalore, India. On arriving in India, Churchill dislocated his shoulder while reaching from his boat for a chain on the dock and being thrown against the quay. This shoulder gave him trouble in later years, occasionally dislocating from its socket.

In India the main occupation of Churchill's regiment was polo, a situation which did not appeal to the young man, hungry for more military action. He devoted his time to educating himself from books which he had sent out. The Bangalore Club, of which he was a member, has records (which they display to visitors) showing that Winston Churchill failed to pay dues of 13 rupees, due to 'financial penury', a debt they believe to be still outstanding.

While stationed in India, he began to seek out wars. In 1895 he and Reggie Barnes obtained leave to travel to Cuba to observe the Spanish battles against Cuban guerrillas. Churchill also obtained a commission to write about the conflict from the Daily Graphic newspaper. To Churchill's delight he came under fire for the first time on his twenty-first birthday. On his way to Cuba he also made his first visit to the United States, being introduced to New York society by one of his mother's lovers, Bourke Cockran. In 1897 Churchill attempted to travel to the Greco-Turkish War but this conflict effectively ended before he could arrive. He therefore continued on to England on leave before hearing of the Pathan revolt on the North West Frontier and rushing back to India to participate in the campaign to put it down.

Churchill had previously obtained a promise from Sir Bindon Blood, the commander of this expedition, that if he were to command again Churchill could accompany him. He wasted no time in reminding Blood of his promise and was able to participate in the six-week campaign, also writing articles for the newspapers The Pioneer and The Daily Telegraph at £5 an article. By October 1897 Churchill was back in Britain and his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, on that campaign, was published in December.

In 1899 Churchill left the army and decided upon a parliamentary career. He stood as a Conservative candidate in Oldham constituency in a by-election of that year. He came in third (Oldham was at that time a two-seat borough), failing to be elected.

On 12 October 1899 the second Anglo-Boer war between Britain and Afrikaners broke out in South Africa. Churchill set off as a war correspondent for the Morning Post, receiving £250 a month for four months. Once in South Africa he accepted a lift on a British Army Armoured Train under the command of Aylmer Haldane; this train was thrown off the tracks by a Boer ambush and explosion. Churchill, though not officially a combatant, took charge of operations to get the track cleared and managed to ensure that the engine and half the train, carrying the wounded, could escape. Churchill, however, was not so lucky and, together with other officers and soldiers was captured and held in a POW camp in Pretoria, despite doubt about his combatant status.

Churchill managed to escape from his prison camp, resulting in a long-running criticism and controversy as it was claimed that he did not wait for Haldane and another man who had planned the escape, but who were unable, or unwilling, to risk slipping over the fence when Churchill did. Once outside the Pretoria prison camp Churchill travelled almost 300 miles (480 km) to Portuguese Lourenco Marques in Delagoa Bay. He achieved this due to the assistance of an English mine manager who hid him down his mine and smuggled him onto a train headed out of Boer territory. His escape made him a minor national hero for a time in Britain, though instead of returning home he took ship to Durban and rejoined General Redvers Buller's army on its march to relieve Ladysmith and take Pretoria. This time, although continuing as a war correspondent, Churchill gained a commission in the South African Light Horse Regiment. He fought at Spion Kop and was one of the first British troops into Ladysmith and Pretoria; in fact, he and the Duke of Marlborough, his cousin, were able to get ahead of the rest of the troops in Pretoria, where they demanded and received the surrender of 52 Boer guards of the prison camp there.

Churchill's two books on the Boer war, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and Ian Hamilton's March, were published in May and October 1900 respectively.


After returning from South Africa Churchill again stood as a Conservative party candidate in Oldham, this time in the 1900 general election, or Khaki election.

He was duly elected, but rather than attending the opening of Parliament, he embarked on a speaking tour throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, by means of which he raised ten thousand pounds for himself. (Members of Parliament were unpaid in those days and Churchill was not rich by the standards of the time.) While in the United States, one of his speeches was introduced by Mark Twain, and he dined with the New York Governor and Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt.

In February 1901 Churchill arrived back in the United Kingdom to enter Parliament, and became associated with a group of Tory dissidents led by Lord Hugh Cecil and referred to as the Hughligans, a play on "Hooligans". During his first parliamentary session Churchill provoked controversy by opposing the government's army estimates, arguing against extravagant military expenditure. By 1903 he was drawing away from Lord Hugh's views. He also opposed the Liberal Unionist leader Joseph Chamberlain whose party was in coalition with the Conservatives. Chamberlain proposed extensive tariff reforms intended to protect the economic pre-eminence of Britain behind tariff barriers. This earned him the detestation of his own supporters – indeed, Conservative backbenchers staged a walkout once while he was speaking. His own constituency effectively deselected him, although he continued to sit for Oldham until the next general election.

In 1904 Churchill's dissatisfaction with the Conservatives and the appeal of the Liberals had grown so strong that on returning from the Whitsun recess he crossed the floor to sit as a member of the Liberal Party. As a Liberal he continued to campaign for free trade. The winnable seat of Manchester North West was found for him for the 1906 general election which he won.

From 1903 until 1905 Churchill was also engaged in writing Lord Randolph Churchill, a two-volume biography of his father which came out in 1906 and was received as a masterpiece. However, filial devotion caused him to soften some of his father's less attractive aspects.

Ministerial office

When the Liberals took office, with Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister, in December 1905 Churchill became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. Serving under the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Victor Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin, Churchill dealt with the adoption of constitutions for the defeated Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony and with the issue of 'Chinese slavery' in South African mines. He also became a prominent spokesman on free trade. Churchill soon became the most prominent member of the Government outside the Cabinet, and when Campbell-Bannerman was succeeded by Herbert Henry Asquith in 1908, it came as little surprise when Churchill was promoted to the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. Under the law at the time, a newly appointed Cabinet Minister was obliged to seek re-election at a by-election. Churchill lost his Manchester seat to the Conservative William Joynson-Hicks but was soon elected in another by-election at Dundee constituency. As President of the Board of Trade he pursued radical social reforms in conjunction with David Lloyd George, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In 1910 Churchill was promoted to Home Secretary, where he was to prove somewhat controversial. A famous photograph from the time shows the impetuous Churchill taking personal charge of the January 1911 Sidney Street Siege, peering around a corner to view a gun battle between cornered anarchists and Scots Guards. His role attracted much criticism. The building under siege caught fire. Churchill denied the fire brigade access, forcing the criminals to choose surrender or death. Arthur Balfour asked, "He [Churchill] and a photographer were both risking valuable lives. I understand what the photographer was doing but what was the Right Honourable gentleman doing?"

In 1911, Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, a post he would hold into the First World War. He gave impetus to military reform efforts, including development of naval aviation, tanks, and the switch in fuel from coal to oil, a massive engineering task, also reliant on securing Mesopotamia's oil rights, bought circa 1907 through the secret service using the Royal Burmah Oil Company as a front company.

In 1915 Churchill was one of the political and military engineers of the disastrous Gallipoli landings on the Dardanelles during World War I, which led to his description as "the butcher of Gallipoli." When Asquith formed an all-party coalition government, the Conservatives demanded Churchill's demotion as the price for entry. For several months Churchill served in the non-portfolio job of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, before resigning from the government feeling his energies were not being used. He rejoined the army, though remaining an MP, and served for several months on the Western Front. During this period his second in command was a young Archibald Sinclair who would later lead the Liberal Party.

Return to power

In December 1916, Asquith resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Lloyd George. The time was thought not yet right to risk the Conservatives' wrath by bringing Churchill back into government. However, in July 1917 Churchill was appointed Minister of Munitions. He was the main architect of the Ten Year Rule, but the major preoccupation of his tenure in the War Office was the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. Churchill was a staunch advocate of foreign intervention, declaring that Bolshevism must be "strangled in its cradle". He secured from a divided and loosely organised Cabinet intensification and prolongation of the British involvement beyond the wishes of any major group in Parliament or the nation – and in the face of the bitter hostility of Labour. In 1920, after the last British forces had been withdrawn, Churchill was instrumental in having arms sent to the Poles when they invaded Ukraine. He became Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1921 and was a signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State.

Career between the wars

He was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 under Stanley Baldwin and oversaw the United Kingdom's disastrous return to the Gold Standard, which resulted in deflation, unemployment, and the miners' strike that led to the General Strike of 1926. This decision prompted the economist John Maynard Keynes to write The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill, correctly arguing that the return to the gold standard would lead to a world depression. Churchill later regarded this as one of the worst decisions of his life. To be fair, it must be noted that he was not an economist and that he acted on the advice of the Governor of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman (of whom Keynes said, "Always so charming, always so wrong.")

The Conservative government was defeated in the 1929 General Election. In the next two years, Churchill became estranged from the Conservative leadership over the issues of protective tariffs and Indian Home Rule, which he bitterly opposed. He denigrated the father of the Indian independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi, as "a half-naked fakir" who "ought to be laid, bound hand and foot, at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back". When Ramsay MacDonald formed the National Government in 1931, Churchill was not invited to join the Cabinet. He was now at the lowest point in his career, in a period known as "the wilderness years". He spent much of the next few years concentrating on his writing, including Marlborough: His Life and Times – a biography of his ancestor John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough – and A History of the English Speaking Peoples (which was not published until well after WWII). He became most notable for his outspoken opposition towards the granting of independence to India (see Simon Commission and Government of India Act 1935).

Soon, though, his attention was drawn to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the dangers of Germany's rearmament. For a time he was a lone voice calling on Britain to strengthen itself to counter the belligerence of Germany. Churchill was a fierce critic of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler, leading the wing of the Conservative Party that opposed the Munich Agreement which Chamberlain famously declared to mean "peace in our time". He was also an outspoken supporter of King Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis, leading to some speculation that he might be appointed Prime Minister if the King refused to take Baldwin's advice and consequently the government resigned. However, this did not happen, and Churchill found himself politically isolated and bruised for some time after this.

Role as wartime Prime Minister

At the outbreak of the Second World War Churchill's was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty as he was in the first part of the First World War. According to myth, the Navy sent out: "Winston's back!"

In this job he proved to be one of the highest-profile ministers during the so-called "Phony War", when the only noticeable action was at sea. Churchill advocated the pre-emptive occupation of the neutral Norwegian iron-ore port of Narvik and the iron mines in Kiruna, Sweden, early in the War. However, Chamberlain and the rest of the War Cabinet disagreed, and the operation was delayed until the German invasion of Norway, which was successful despite British efforts.

On 10 May 1940,hours before the German invasion of France by a surprising lightning advance through the Low Countries, it became clear that, following failure in Norway and general incompetence, the country had no confidence in Chamberlain's prosecution of the war and so Chamberlain resigned. The commonly accepted version of events states that Lord Halifax turned down the post of Prime Minister because he believed he could not govern effectively as a member of the House of Lords instead of the House of Commons. Although traditionally the Prime Minister does not advise the King on the former's successor, Chamberlain wanted someone who would command the support of all three major parties in the House of Commons. A meeting with the other two party leaders led to the recommendation of Churchill, and as a constitutional monarch, George VI asked Churchill to be Prime Minister and to form an all-party government. Churchill, breaking with tradition, did not send Chamberlain a message expressing regret over his resignation.

Churchill's greatest achievement was that he refused to capitulate when defeat by Germany was a strong possibility and he remained a strong opponent of any negotiations with Germany. Few others in the Cabinet had this degree of resolve. By adopting this policy Churchill maintained the United Kingdom as a base from which the Allies would eventually attack Germany, thereby ensuring that the Soviet sphere of influence did not also extend over Western Europe at the end of the war.

Churchill's speeches were a great inspiration to the embattled United Kingdom. His first speech as Prime Minister was the famous "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" speech. He followed that closely with two other equally famous ones, given just before the Battle of Britain. One included the immortal line, "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." The other included the equally famous "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.' " At the height of the Battle of Britain, his bracing survey of the situation included the memorable line "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", which engendered the enduring nickname "The Few" for the Allied fighter pilots who won it.

His good relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt secured the United Kingdom vital supplies via the North Atlantic Ocean shipping routes. It was for this reason that Churchill was relieved when Roosevelt was re-elected. Upon re-election, Roosevelt immediately set about implementing a new method of not only providing military hardware to Britain without the need for monetary payment, but also of providing, free of fiscal charge, much of the shipping that transported the supplies. Put simply, Roosevelt persuaded Congress that repayment for this immensely costly service would take the form of defending the USA; and so Lend-lease was born. Churchill had 12 strategic conferences with Roosevelt which covered the Atlantic Charter, Europe first strategy, the Declaration by the United Nations and other war policies. Churchill initiated the Special Operations Executive (SOE) under Hugh Dalton's Ministry of Economic Warfare, which established, conducted and fostered covert, subversive and partisan operations in occupied territories with notable success; and also the Commandos which established the pattern for most of the world's current Special Forces. The Russians referred to him as the "British Bulldog".

Churchill's health suffered, as shown by a mild heart attack he suffered in December 1941 at the White House and also in December 1943 when he contracted pneumonia.

On 9 October 1944, he and Eden were in Moscow, and that night they met Stalin in the Kremlin, without the Americans. Bargaining went on throughout the night. Churchill wrote on a scrap of paper that Stalin had a 90 percent "interest" in Romania, Britain a 90 percent "interest" in Greece, both Russia and Britain a 50 percent interest in Yugoslavia. When they got to Italy, Stalin ceded that country to Churchill. The crucial questions arose when the Ministers of Foreign Affairs discussed "percentages" in Eastern Europe. Molotov's proposals were that Russia should have a 75 percent interest in Hungary, 75 percent in Bulgaria, and 60 percent in Yugoslavia. This was Stalin's price for ceding Italy and Greece. Eden tried to haggle: Hungary 75/25, Bulgaria 80/20, but Yugoslavia 50/50. After lengthy bargaining they settled on an 80/20 division of interest between Russia and Britain in Bulgaria and Hungary, and a 50/50 division in Yugoslavia. U.S. Ambassador Harriman was informed only after the bargain was struck. This gentleman's agreement was sealed with a handshake.

After World War II

Although the importance of Churchill's role in World War II was undeniable, he had many enemies in his own country. His expressed contempt for a number of popular ideas, in particular public health care and better education for the majority of the population, produced much dissatisfaction amongst the population, particularly those who had fought in the war. Immediately following the close of the war in Europe, Churchill was heavily defeated in the 1945 election by Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. Some historians think that many British voters believed that the man who had led the nation so well in war was not the best man to lead it in peace. Others see the election result as a reaction not against Churchill personally, but against the Conservative Party's record in the 1930s under Baldwin and Chamberlain.

At the beginning of the Cold War, he famously popularised the term: the "Iron Curtain", which had been used before by Nazi leaders Hitler and Goebbels. The term entered the public consciousness after a 1946 speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, when Churchill, a guest of Harry S Truman, famously declared: From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.

Second term

Churchill was restless and bored as leader of the Conservative opposition in the immediate post-war years. After Labour's defeat in the General Election of 1951, Churchill again became Prime Minister. His third government – after the wartime national government and the brief caretaker government of 1945 – would last until his resignation in 1955. During this period he renewed what he called the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States, and engaged himself in the formation of the post-war order.

His domestic priorities were, however, overshadowed by a series of foreign policy crises, which were partly the result of the continued decline of British military and imperial prestige and power. Being a strong proponent of Britain as an international power, Churchill would often meet such moments with direct action. Churchill resigned from the office in 1955.


On 12 September 1908 at the socially desirable St. Margaret's, Westminster, Churchill married Clementine Hozier, a dazzling but largely penniless beauty whom he met at a dinner party that March (he had proposed to actress Ethel Barrymore but was turned down). They had five children: Diana; Randolph; Sarah, who co-starred with Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding; Marigold, who died in early childhood; and Mary, who has written a book about her parents. Churchill's son Randolph and his grandsons Nicholas Soames and Winston all followed him into Parliament. The daughters tended to marry politicians and support their careers. Some of the siblings wrote serious books.

Clementine's mother was Lady Blanche Henrietta Ogilvy, second wife of Sir Henry Montague Hozier and a daughter of the 7th Earl of Airlie. Clementine's paternity, however, is open to debate. Lady Blanche was well known for sharing her favours and was eventually divorced as a result. She maintained that Clementine's father was Capt. William George "Bay" Middleton, a noted horseman. But Clementine's biographer Joan Hardwick has surmised, due to Sir Henry Hozier's reputed sterility, that all Lady Blanche's "Hozier" children were actually fathered by her sister's husband, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, better known as a grandfather of the infamous Mitford sisters of the 1920s.

When not in London on government business, Churchill usually lived at his beloved Chartwell House in Kent, two miles south of Westerham. He and his wife bought the house in 1922 and lived there until his death in 1965. During his Chartwell stays, he enjoyed writing as well as painting, bricklaying, and admiring the estate's famous black swans.

Last days

Aware that he was slowing down both physically and mentally, Churchill retired as Prime Minister in 1955 and was succeeded by Anthony Eden, who had long been his ambitious protege. (Three years earlier, Eden had married Churchill's niece, Anne Clarissa Spencer-Churchill, his second marriage.) Churchill spent most of his retirement at Chartwell and in the south of France.

In 1963 U.S. President John F. Kennedy named Churchill the first Honorary Citizen of the United States. Churchill was too ill to attend the White House ceremony, so his son and grandson accepted the award for him.

On 15 January 1965, Churchill suffered another stroke – a severe cerebral thrombosis – that left him gravely ill. He died nine days later, aged 90, on 24 January 1965, 70 years to the day after his father's death.

By decree of the Queen, his body lay in State in Westminster Hall for three days and a state funeral service was held at St Paul's Cathedral. This was the first state funeral for a non-royal family member since that of Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar in 1914.

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