“I have nothing to offer but
blood, toil, tears, and sweat”
Winston S. Churchill
May 13, 1940
Churchill outside 10 Downing Street
On May 10, 1940, six-months into the European War, Winston Churchill was invited by King George VI to serve as Britain’s wartime Prime Minister. Britain was in a desperate situation. Outnumbered by our enemies and the German U-Boats taking full command of the seas, our outlook was bleak and only a miracle could save us.
Churchill broadcasting to the nation
“I speak to you for the first time as Prime Minister in a solemn hour for the life of our country, of our empire, of our allies, and, above all, of the cause of Freedom.” Churchill’s words struck a tone in the hearts and minds of the British people as they listened intently to his first radio broadcast as Prime Minister. In France we were facing a dire situation, and in an attempt to reignite the flame of hope and encourage their continued stand, Churchill committed ten fighter squadrons to help aide the effort. “A tremendous battle is raging in France and Flanders,” he told the people. “The Germans…have broken through the French defences north of the Maginot Line, and strong columns of their armoured vehicles are ravaging the open country.” This was not the news he had hoped to be giving, but his integrity forbade him from misleading his people. Courageously, unlike most other leaders in similar situations, Churchill told the British people the truth without colour. He had great faith in their ability not only to calmly accept the reality, but also to respond with determination. His faith was not misplaced. The mood of the country suddenly transformed and his defiant words, “conquer we must…conquer we shall,” remained indelibly printed on the mind of every British subject.
In Parliament, the mood was quite different. Churchill’s first speech to the House as Prime Minister was accepted, but not with the same enthusiasm as Chamberlain’s had received at the outbreak of war in 1939. “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind,” he told the very on-edge and fearful Members of Parliament. “We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.” These were words that only a man such as Churchill, secure in his ability and with a belief in his destiny, would dare say publicly. Parliament was ready to throw the towel in. Former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had sadly proven to be an inadequate wartime leader who, despite great integrity, lacked both the courage to make a stand, and the faith to believe that a victory was possible. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” The Members remained unmoved.
In the days leading-up to his appointment, Chamberlain, aware that his political support was waning, attempted to remain at the helm by proposing a coalition government be formed. The Labour Party, led by Clement Attlee, was at that time at their annual conference. Attlee came at once to Downing Street.
Lord Edward Halifax
‘In the afternoon,’ May 9, Churchill recollected, ‘the Prime Minister summoned me to Downing Street, where I found Lord Halifax.’ Churchill had heard of Chamberlain’s plan and it had already been intimated that should he find no support from Attlee, he would resign in favour of a successor whom he had the most confidence in. Churchill recognized this meeting as one of the most important of his career. Wisely he sat, listening to Chamberlain speak of the ‘paramount need of a National Government.’ They were presently joined by Attlee and fellow Labour Member of Parliament, Arthur Greenwood. Chamberlain, flanked by Churchill and Halifax, sat on one side of the table, and Attlee and Greenwood on the other. Chamberlain explained the situation and sought an immediate response. Attlee saw the tide of the war beating against Britain’s door and he knew Chamberlain was incapable of leading the country to anywhere but defeat. He prevaricated, telling the Prime Minister that he needed to consult with his members. However, he did indicate that the response expected would be unfavourable.
News of the conversation was clearly leaked to the press because on the morning of May 10, the Daily Express Newspaper ran the headline:
CHURCHILL expected to be new Premier
CHAMBERLAIN TO RESIGN
Socialists refuse to join
his new Cabinet
BUT THEY MAY BACK WINSTON
The news however was overshadowed. That same morning the German army ‘struck their long-awaited blow,’ Churchill recalled. ‘Holland and Belgium were both invaded.’ At 11-o’clock, Churchill was again summoned to Downing Street. ‘There once more I found Lord Halifax,’ Churchill wrote in his memoirs. Chamberlain told both men that Attlee had refused to serve under his leadership and as a result he would not be able to form a ‘National Government.’ Therefore, he had decided to resign. A resigning Prime Minister holding the majority of Members in the House, has the privilege of recommending their successor to the monarch. It was clear to Churchill from the conversation around the table that Chamberlain favoured Halifax.
Lord Halifax was indeed an ambitious man and certainly, under different circumstances, would no doubt have jumped at the chance to lead Britain as Prime Minister. However, like Chamberlain, Halifax lacked the faith to believe that Hitler could be defeated. Halifax was not prepared to go down in history as the man who handed the keys of Britain to Hitler, and so politely made his excuses and refused. Chamberlain had no choice, apart from Winston Churchill, he knew there was no other. Both men left Downing Street and Churchill returned to the Admiralty where he was due to meet with the Dutch Ministers, ‘haggard and warn, with horror in their eyes’ Churchill was tied up in the plans for a defence when his Private Secretary entered. ‘…a message arrived summoning me to the Palace at six o’clock.’ Churchill recalled the event with great clarity. On arriving at Buckingham Palace, ‘I was taken immediately to the King,” he wrote in The Gathering Storm, ‘He looked at me searchingly and quizzically for some moments, and then said: “I suppose you don’t know why I have sent for you?” Adopting his mood, I replied: “Sir, I simply couldn’t imagine why.” He laughed and said: “I want to ask you to form a Government.” I said I would certainly do so.’
His Majesty King George VI
Churchill left Buckingham Palace, not with the usual spring-in-step one would have when appointed to the most powerful office in the land, but with a sombre thought of the ‘many, many long months of struggle and suffering’ ahead. His many years of warnings, all unheeded, had become a frightening reality. He was, as he put it, ‘terribly vindicated,’ but also confident that he could pull Britain through the crisis. ‘I was conscious of a profound sense of relief,’ he recalled in his thoughts of that night. ‘At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.’
Churchill at Harrow School
Churchill’s great sense of Destiny dated back many years before he became Prime Minister. In a conversation recalled by a fellow Harrow School friend, Murland de Grasse Evans, Churchill had predicted that very day in 1940, one cold Sunday evening at sixteen years old. “I can see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world;” he told Evans, “London will be attacked…and I shall be in command of the defences of London and I shall save London and England from disaster.” Churchill’s prophetic words could certainly have been seen as arrogant, but it came to pass just as he had said. Throughout his life, Great-Grandpapa was written-off as arrogant, self-centred and in-it only for himself and his own glory. However, although in his youth he certainly displayed some arrogance, which fortunately disappeared on the battlefield of Omdurman, I submit that it was his sense of destiny that drove his desire to achieve. Churchill, most definitely was a man of many faults, but arrogance was not one of them.
Winston S. Churchill
Churchill’s heart was for the people he served and the country he so desperately wanted to protect. The Second World War had not crept up on us. Churchill’s warnings throughout the 1930s, had they been acted upon, may not have prevented Hitler’s rise to power, but would definitely have ended his ability to conquer Europe. Documents from the time, now released under the Official Secrets Act, prove exactly what the government knew and when they knew it. As early as 1935, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin knew from Foreign Office documents and the reports of our spies in Germany exactly what Hitler was doing, how he was rearming, and how quickly that production line was going. Churchill’s speeches, until 1936, lacked the facts the government had chosen to ignore in a vain attempt to keep the peace. Great-Grandpapa was again accused of arrogance. He was labelled a ‘war-monger’, and shunned socially throughout Britain. However, as he recalled in The Gathering Storm, on becoming Prime Minister, there was a silver-lining to the many years of rejection. ‘I could not be reproached either for making the war,’ he wrote, ‘or with want of preparation for it.’ Churchill was far from gloating in arrogance. His attitude was one of complete determination to prosecute the war to the very end, ‘…whatever the cost may be.’ Further proof of his state of mind comes from the recollections of his son Randolph who, on the morning of May 10, had a phone conversation with his father. “What’s happening?” Randolph asked. Churchill, who by now was in the thick of dealing with the German invasion of Holland and Belgium, quickly updated his son. “What about what you told me last night about you becoming Prime Minister today?” Churchill, obviously distracted, quickly replied, “Oh I don’t know about that. Nothing maters now except beating the enemy.” Churchill, although as ambitious as the next man, was not prepared to focus on personal advancement at the expense of human life, especially the lives of those he represented. The phone went dead, and both men returned to their duties.
Sir Winston S. Churchill
I have heard it said that the best leaders are the ones who don’t seek leadership but are instead invited to lead. Churchill did not crave power, unlike his perfectly matched battlefield opponent. However, when offered it, he had the courage to accept it, the faith not only in his abilities, but those of the British people and in God, to believe a general victory was possible. Finally, Churchill had the integrity to stand-by his decisions and face the consequences of his actions as Prime Minister.
When Churchill became Prime Minister on May 10, 1940, the people of Britain breathed a sigh of relief. At last they had a leader of courage, faith and integrity. At last they had a leader who believed in leading from the frontline and not cowering behind his position or office.
Sir Winston Churchill has been given many accolades for his life of service to Britain and especially as Prime Minister during the dark years of the Second World War. However, the one that sticks out the most is the one he would have humbly refused, The Greatest Briton. Churchill died believing that he had achieved very little in his life. At the end of the Second World War he refused every honour that was offered him. It was only in 1953 at Her Majesty the Queen’s insistence, that he reluctantly accepted the Knight of the Garter and became Sir Winston Churchill. “It was a nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart,” he said on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, “I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”
Over the ten years that I have been speaking publicly about Great-Grandpapa and his life, many people have said that although times were uncertain during those years, Churchill’s courage to fight on no matter what, his faith to believe we could win, and his integrity to stand-by his faith, drew us along willingly. Today, May 10, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of his appointment as Prime Minister, I am launching an online publication, Impressions of Churchill, recording the thoughts of the generation he inspired and saved, and also the generations, such as mine, who, although never knew him, his leadership of courage, faith and integrity made possible. I would like to invite you to participate in this on-going project by visiting the website: http://impressionsofchurchill.com
Impressions of Churchill
Great-Grandpapa’s life has made an incredible impact on many people, but particularly my own. The challenges he courageously faced, especially at school, helped me overcome my own. His leadership of courage, faith and integrity, I aspire to follow. We need leaders today who, like Churchill, will lead with those same vital tenets.
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”
“This is your victory!”
Churchill waves to the crowd from Ministry of Health building
Standing atop the Ministry of Health building, Great-Grandpapa’s voice echoed out to the thousands of men, woman and children gathered in the streets below. Amongst the crowd were the two Princesses, Margaret and Elizabeth, (now Her Majesty the Queen). Great cheers went-up, forcing Churchill to pause for a moment so his words could be heard. “It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land,” he said, and again the crowd cheered loudly.
Germany signs unconditional surrender
Hitler, having committed suicide on April 30, left a devastated Germany whose new leaders, even in the face of obvious defeat, attempted to struggle on without regard for the futility of their evil cause, or the further cost of human life. Finally, on May 7th at Reims, General Jodl, on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces, and as the representative of the new Reich President, Grand Admiral Dönitz, signed the document of Germany’s unconditional surrender. To allow time for the messages to be received by all commanders on the battlefields, a cut-off point of midnight was allowed, but after that time, any German soldier resisting would be shot.
The Second World War was finally at an end and Europe could breathe again. Peace had been restored, and it was hoped that peace would last many more years than the twenty-one years between the two world wars. Sadly, in 1946, Stalin raised an iron curtain in Europe, marking the beginning of the Cold War. Although this was more a continued threat than a war, it was, as Churchill put it, “A shadow…upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory.”
Churchill’s Coalition Government
Front row left to right: Ernest Bevin, Lord Beaverbrook, Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill, Sir John Anderson, Mr A Greenwood, Sir Kingsley Wood.
Back row left to right: Sir Edward Bridges, SIr Charles Portal, Sir A Sinclair, Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Dudley Pound, Mr Alexander, Lord Cranborne, Herbert Morrison, Lord Moyne, Captain Margesson, Brendan Bracken, Sir John Dill, Major General Sir Hastings Ismay and Sir Alexander Cadogan
At the conclusion of the Second World War, Churchill disbanded the Coalition Government he had formed on his appointment as Prime Minister on May 10, 1940. It was time for the people to vote for the leader they wanted to take them forward in this peace, and everyone expected Great-Grandpapa to win without a fight. However, Churchill’s integrity forbade him from taking the people’s will for granted. “In our parliamentary system,” he told the Norwegian Parliament in 1948, “we can be assured that the will of the people will always find open and free expression. With us,” he continued, “the government is the servant of the people and not its master.”
Churchill at Chartwell
The General Election was called and Churchill campaigned as hard as he had before. Always welcomed with cheers and standing ovations from expectant crowds, it boosted the confident belief in a Conservative Party victory. Much to the shock of the country, and indeed Churchill himself, in July 1945, Clement Atlee, leader of the Labour Party, was elected as Prime Minister of Great Britain. “It may be a blessing in disguise,” my great-grandmother Clementine told her depressed husband. Great-Grandpapa looked up and with a sad and dejected expression, shock his head and mumbled, “Well, at the moment it’s certainly very well disguised.”
In many of the questions and answers sessions at the end of my speeches on Great-Grandpapa’s life, times and leadership, I am asked to offer a reason behind Churchill’s 1945 election defeat. Historians have highlighted three possible explanations, and over the years I have formed my own opinion.
Churchill and Russia
Berlin Wall being erected
It was well known that Great-Grandpapa was hurt by Roosevelt’s dominance and what he saw as a betrayal of friendship at Yalta, when it was agreed that at the conclusion of the Second World War, assuming a general Allied victory, a third of Europe would be ceded to Russia as a reward for their service. Churchill’s view was that we had not fought five long and arduous years of war to free Europe from one dictator, merely to give a third of it to another. “If now the Soviet Government tries, by separate action, to build up a pro-Communist Germany in their areas,” Churchill warned in his 1946 Fulton speech, “this will cause new serious difficulties in the British and American zones, and will give the defeated Germans the power of putting themselves up to auction between the Soviets and the Western Democracies.”
Part of the Berlin Wall
Churchill was very anxious that Germany progress as it was later allowed to do but only after the Berlin Wall fell and the reunification of Germany began in 1990. He stated, “…this is certainly not the Liberated Europe we fought to build up. Nor is it one which contains the essentials of permanent peace.” Many believe that Great-Grandpapa, so determined in his prediction of what later become known as the Cold War, would have happily started a new war against Russia, and there were indeed many who shared his view of the rising threat.
The people’s revenge
Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
The second school of thought and one that I believe carries less weight than others, was that it was a back-lash response aimed at the Conservative Party from the British people for leaving Britain so unprepared when war was declared in 1939. Although this certainly was factually correct, Churchill, now a national hero, seen as the mastermind of the Allied victory, had not been part of the 1930s governments.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
Therefore, if this were to be correct the people would have blamed Churchill equally for the situation. Great-Grandpapa’s own assessment in his first book on the Second World War, The Gathering Storm, diminishes this argument greatly: ‘Eleven years in the political wilderness had freed me from ordinary party antagonisms…My warnings,’ he wrote, ‘had been so numerous, so detailed, and were now so terribly vindicated, that no one could gainsay me.’ The British people had heard his lone voice calling out during that time, but it was the governments of Stanley Baldwin and later Neville Chamberlain that had allowed Hitler to rise unchallenged, ‘I could not be reproached,’ Great-Grandpapa wrote, ‘either for making the war or with want of preparation for it.’
Winston & Clementine Churchill
It has been said many times that behind every successful man there is a wise and patient woman, and although I do not entirely agree, as many single men have made it alone, I do subscribe to the view that many men, including myself, would not have been successful without the full support and dedication of their wives. This was no less true of Churchill. Many times Great-Grandmamma saved Great-Grandpapa from himself, and each time it made Churchill a better man. However, on one occasion Great-Grandpapa refused to listen, and I believe the result cost him the 1945 election.
While preparing his notes for a national election radio broadcast set for release on June 4, 1945, Churchill unwisely stated that the Socialist Party’s ideals of a government that conducts “the entire life and industry of the country,” would not be able to “afford to allow [the people] free, sharp, or violently worded expressions of public discontent.” Although his intention was to warn the people of some of the traits of socialism, his comment was clearly likening the Socialist Party to the Nazis. “Socialism is, in its essence, an attack not only upon British enterprise, but upon the right of the ordinary man or woman to breathe freely without having a harsh, clumsy, tyrannical hand clapped across their mouths and nostrils.” When Great-Grandmamma heard him read the draft, she was shocked. Clementine Churchill advised her husband not to make this remark, but Churchill refused to heed her. Not satisfied with the innuendo alone, Churchill drove the nail in deeper saying that they, the Socialists, “would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance. And this would nip opinion in the bud; it would stop criticism as it reared its head, and it would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders, rising like stately pinnacles above their vast bureaucracies of civil servants, no longer servants and no longer civil.”
Churchill Election Campaigning
Churchill’s comment on this occasion was out-of-line. Although he loathed socialism, to compare the British Socialists to the Nazis on any level, or intimate that they might be driven to a similar Hitlerian holocaust if their ‘humanely directed’ attempts to stop free speech failed, was going too far.
I am certainly not a Socialist myself, more a Conservative-Libertarian, and although I see certain truths behind what Great-Grandpapa was trying to convey, unless the Socialists began a true holocaust, or formally ended free-speech, they could not, in my opinion, be likened even closely to the Nazis.
The result of the 1945 election was formally announced in late-July. In the two months following VE-Day, Churchill’s approval rating had plummeted way below the 78% he had maintained since that May. The Socialist Party won a landslide victory and the world stood shocked at the result.
Had Great-Grandpapa listened to the wise advice of my great-grandmother, the result may well have been different. However, having served the country, holding it together through the darkest and most desperate times we have yet witnessed, the blessing of rest may well have given him the opportunity to fight again and return as Prime Minister in 1951. Churchill, by this time, was in his seventies. He had been a Member of Parliament for forty-five years, tirelessly campaigning for the rights of the people and the interests of our nation. It was during this break that he began one of his greatest works, the history of The Second World War, which for many years stood alone as the authority on the British-side of European and World War.
Churchill painting at Chartwell
Churchill returned to his beloved country-home Chartwell, and again picked-up his brush to paint. Throughout the War, with the exception of one occasion, his brush had remained untouched. He threw his energies into reconnecting with his family and friends, writing speeches and researching for books. In 1946, at the invitation of President Truman, Churchill visited Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri. “From Stettin in the Baltic,” he said, “to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent.” It is ironic that as also over Hitler and the rising threat of the Nazis, the world yet again ignored his warnings, and Churchill was again proved right.
Churchill with Montgomery’s troops
VE-Day marked the end of the most significant war of our time. It was, as Churchill put it, an ‘Unnecessary War,’ which could have been prevented had the allies practiced ‘Magnanimity’ in victory, at the end of the First World War. In The Gathering Storm, Churchill lamented ‘How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm.’ Throughout his leadership during the Second World War, Churchill was determined that this situation would not occur again. In many of his speeches, Churchill was deliberately careful to separate the German people from the Nazis, saying, “…the German people, industrious, faithful, valiant, but alas! lacking in the proper spirit of civic independence, liberated from their present nightmare, would take their honoured place in the vanguard of human society.” In doing this he gave Germany the opportunity to rise again as a peaceful nation, and take its rightful place amongst the European and world powers. His ‘resolution’ in the pursuit of victory, ‘defiance’ in the face of defeat, and ‘magnanimity’ once victory had been realized, gave leave for ‘good will’ to be realized in peace.
For over seventy years we have enjoyed the fruits of the hard work, determination and self-sacrifice of the men and women who tirelessly fought for our freedom from the Nazi threat. I fear that today we sometimes take that freedom for granted. However, as long as we, the people, make sure the knowledge and facts of the Second World War is passed from one generation to another, our world may yet be safe and avoid a similar war that many today believe could soon be upon us. We must take to heart Great-Grandpapa’s advice to historian and acclaimed author James Humes, “Study history, study history. In history lie all the secrets to statecraft.”
Churchill at Harrow School