Winston Churchill: Glory Years
(Ages 60 - 69)
by Ron Kurtus (revised 6 February 2006)
After being out of politics for a number of years (see Churchill's Statesman Years), World War II brought Winston Churchill into the thick of things. He reached the peak of his career when he served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and was ranked as one of the world's major leaders, along with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Josef Stalin.
Questions you may have include:
- What did he do before WW II?
- Why did he become great during WW II?
- What happened after the war?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Ages 60 - 69 (1934 - 1943)
The ages from 60 to 69 represented the low and high points of Churchill's career. He went from being an unpopular has-been during the depression years of the 1930s to become a world-class leader of Great Britain during the Second World War.
1934: Spoke on unpopular topics
In 1934, at age 60, Winston Churchill spoke about the dangerous rise of German military power under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. But most Britons were focused on domestic affairs, because of the depression, so Churchill's warnings about Hitler went unheeded.
When Baldwin became prime minister again in 1935, Churchill was not given a cabinet post.
By 1936, Churchill's national popularity declined. At age 62, he wrote the four-volume historical work Marlborough: His Life and Times.
When he was 64, he continued his unpopular warnings about Germany and Hitler in his newspaper columns. He also wrote another a book called Step by Step. These were said to be depressing times for Churchill, and perhaps the lowest point of his career. On the other hand, he did have the satisfaction from writing his books.
1939: Asked to be Prime Minister
World War II broke out in September 1939 when Germany marched into Poland. Britain and France responded to the invasion of Poland by declaring war on Germany. The German attacks on Norway, Holland and Belgium ended public confidence in Prime Minister Chamberlain, and he resigned. King George VI then asked the 65-year-old Churchill to be Prime Minister. British political parties agreed to form a wartime coalition government.
Gave stirring speeches
Churchill set the tone of his leadership in his first report to the House of Commons, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." It was only the first of his stirring wartime speeches, which knit the country together and inspired people around the world.
Churchill gives his famous "V for Victory"
1940: Ran war effort
In 1940, at age 66, Churchill lead his nation in fighting the enemy. He was national Commander-in-Chief, with direct control over the formulation of policy and the conduct of military operations. He supervised every aspect of the war effort.
Soon after becoming Prime Minister, Churchill wrote to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressing Britain's need for destroyers and aircraft. Roosevelt was able to send older destroyers and to sell arms to Britain during the first year of the war, despite their declared neutrality.
When Germany invaded the USSR, Churchill offered to help Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, even though he had always opposed the Communist regime.
In August 1941, Churchill and Roosevelt met for the first time during the war.
In one of his notebooks, Churchill wrote of his first impression of Stalin: "Large man; great sagacity; never stops smiling." He later changed his views.
In July 1942, Churchill posted his thoughts in a notebook about the capture of Hitler: "If Hitler falls into our hands, we shall certainly put him to death... This man is the mainspring of evil."
U.S. took over
For a time Roosevelt generally adopted Churchill's strategic ideas, such as the prime minister's insistence on invading North Africa in 1942 instead of a cross-channel assault.
After 1943, however, as the United States became more powerful, Churchill was increasingly forced to accept American-imposed war plans.
Britain was also allied with France in fighting the Germans. But Churchill disliked French resistance leader, Charles de Gaulle. In June 1943, he wrote in a notebook his assessment of de Gaulle: "Greatest living barrier to reunion and restoration of France; insensate ambition."
Churchill also entered his thoughts in his notebook on July 2, 1943 about the creation of a Jewish state: "I'm committed to creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Let us go with that; and at the end of the war, we shall have plenty of force with which to compel the Arabs to acquiesce in our designs. Don't shirk our duties because of difficulties."
Churchill showed early opposition to the Nazis. He was then asked to become Prime Minister at the onset of the Second World War. He inspired his people and led the country through the war. He was known around the world as a great leader.
Always do your best
Resources and references
Winston Churchill by John Keegan; Viking Press (2002) $19.95 - A short but thorough book on the life of Churchill by an eminent military historian
Questions and comments
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