Winston Churchill: Final Years
(Ages 70 - 90)
by Ron Kurtus (6 February 2006)
Winston Churchill led Great Britain during World War II (see Churchill's Glory Years). After the end of the war, he was voted out of office. Several years later, he was re-elected as the Prime Minister. After serving his term, he retired to spend his final years writing and painting. Churchill died in 1965 at the age of 90.
Questions you may have include:
- What did he do after WW II?
- Why was he voted out of office?
- What did he do in his last years?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Ages 70 - 79 (1944 - 1953)
The war ended with Churchill as a hero, but then he was voted out.
1944: Had double
Since there was concern about being assassinated by Nazi spies, Churchill employed at least one person who looked like him to stand in as a double. In this way, the enemy was never certain where Churchill actually was. The double would stay at Churchill's home and even make personal appearances instead of the Prime Minister.
In 1945, Churchill warned Roosevelt about Stalin's ambitions to take over countries in eastern Europe, but the U.S. president ignored Churchill's warnings. Roosevelt wanted to work with Stalin for a peaceful postwar order.
Churchill also expressed his distrust of Charles de Gaulle amd felt there was no hope for trustworthy relations with France until they got rid of de Gaulle.
Later that year, Churchill contracted pneumonia for the third time in his life.
Interesting story related to Churchill
In the 1800s, a distinguished member of the British Parliament traveled to Scotland to give a speech. On the way, his carriage became stuck in the mud of a rural road. A young Scottish farm boy, Alexander Fleming, was passing by with a team of large draft horses, so he pulled the carriage out of the mud. The gentleman insisted on paying the young man, but the lad refused. He was simply being a good neighbor, and neighbors help each other out when there is difficulty.
The English lawmaker was immediately taken with the young man and his attitude. "Are you sure I can't pay you for your time and effort?" the gentleman asked. "Thank you sir, but it was the least that I could do. It was a privilege to help such an important person as yourself," the boy replied. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" asked the man. "I'd like to be a doctor, but I doubt that it will happen since my family does not have the money for such education."
"Then I will help you become a doctor," said the politician. And as the years went by, the Member of Parliament kept his promise.
Nearly fifty years later—in 1945—Winston Churchill became dangerously close to death due to pneumonia, while attending a wartime conference. Churchill miraculously recovered because his physician gave him an injection of a new wonder drug called penicillin.
A brilliant medical doctor—Alexander Fleming, the young boy who had pulled the stalled carriage from the mud--had recently discovered penicillin. And the man who promised to return the favor by sending him to medical school was Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill!
(NOTE: Although this is an appealing story and is commonly associated with Churchill, it is apparently an urban myth. Biographies of Fleming and Randolph Churchill make no mention of them meeting. Winston Churchill did get pneumonia in 1945, but it seems he was not treated with penicillin. Apparently this story is not true. This is one of many questionable stories or myths that have been told about Churchill.)
Churchill elected out
Churchill was still 70 when World War II ended. British general elections, postponed during the war, were then held in July 1945. The wartime coalition government had broken apart after the defeat of Germany, and Churchill ran in the election as a Conservative. The results were announced while Churchill was attending the Potsdam Conference, the last conference between the United States, Britain, and the USSR.
Given Churchill's popularity as wartime leader, he did not expect to be defeated. Churchill himself was reelected, but the Conservative Party was defeated and Churchill was replaced as Prime Minister. People wanted a change from their policies.
Churchill retired his post in deep disappointment. When his wife suggested that his party's defeat might prove to be a blessing in disguise, he replied, "If that is the case, it certainly is well disguised."
In 1946, in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, he defined the barrier thrown up by the USSR around the nations of eastern Europe as the "Iron Curtain."
1947: Worked to rebuild his party
When he was 73, Churchill worked to rebuild the Conservative Party. He delivered a series of speeches that encouraged Anglo-American solidarity and the unity of Western Europe against the growing Communist threat.
At age 75, he began to write his six-volume work, The Second World War, a comprehensive first-person account of his wartime experiences.
1949: Became Prime Minister again
At age 77, Churchill's efforts to revitalize the Conservative Party were rewarded, and he again became Prime Minister. He worked to reduce the danger of nuclear warfare but was unsuccessful in obtaining a summit conference between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.
When Churchill was 79, Queen Elizabeth II honored him with knighthood. He became Sir Winston Churchill. In the same year he won the Nobel Prize for literature for his historical and biographical works and for his oratory.
Churchill as an honored man
Ages 80 to death at 90 (1954 - 1965)
Churchill lived to be 90. By the age of 80, had suffered a heart attack, three attacks of pneumonia, two strokes and two operations. But yet he ate, drank, and smoked as much as he wanted, and this appeared to be quite a lot.
In November 1954, on Churchill's 80th birthday, the House of Commons honored him on the eve of his retirement.
In April 1955 he resigned as Prime Minister but remained a member of the House of Commons.
At age 81, Churchill worked on completing A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, a four-volume work begun in the late 1930s but postponed during World War II. He devoted much of his leisure in his later years to his favorite pastime of painting, ultimately producing more than 500 canvases.
When he was 84, the Royal Academy of Arts featured his paintings.
When he turned 88, the U.S. Congress made Churchill an honorary citizen of the United States.
1964: Last years
In his last years, Winston Churchill gave up reading, seldom spoke, and sat for hours before the fire, in what appeared to be a depressive stupor.
Note: There have been claims that Churchill had Alzheimer's Disease. However, the Churchill Museum disputes the claim and says that he had mild dementia, as a result of the hardening of his arteries and his strokes.
Churchill died peacefully at his town house in London, two months after his 90th birthday. Following a state funeral service that was attended by dozens of world leaders at Saint Paul's Cathedral, he was buried near Blenheim Palace.
Churchill led his country through the Second World War only to have his political party defeated after the end of the war. Seven years later, he was re-elected as Prime Minister, which he held for three years until he retired at age 81. He spent his leisure time painting until he soon became senile, shortly before his death.
Through his life Churchill was known as a person who was "easily satisfied with the very best." He had boundless energy and his tremendous power of concentration. He also took daily naps and was fond of cigars and champagne.
Never give in
Resources and references
Who are Some Famous People That Had Alzheimer's Disease? - Claim that Churchill had Alzheimer's disease
No, ABC, Churchill did not have Alzheimer's - Rebuttal, stating Churchill do not have Alzheimer's disease
The Private Thoughts of a Public Man by Thomas Vinciguerra; The New York Times (22 Jan 2006) - Items from Churchill's notebooks
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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Winston Churchill: Final Years