Winston Churchill's "Never Give In" Speech of 1941
by Ron Kurtus (revised 17 February 2018)
On October 29, 1941, United Kingdom (Great Britain) Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow School to to hear the traditional songs he had sung there as a youth, as well as to speak to the students. This became one of his most quoted speeches, due to distortions that evolved about what he actually said.
The myth is that Churchill stood before the students and said, "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give in. Never give in. Never give in. Never give in." Then he sat down. In reality, he made a complete speech that included words similar to what are often quoted. Also, some believe he said, "Never give up." That too is incorrect.
Questions you may have include:
- How can I use this speech to improve my writing skills?
- How can I use this address to improve my speaking skills?
- What is the historical significance of the speech?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Learning from speech
Read this speech to gain insight on writing speeches and public speaking.
You can read the speech to examine its logical flow and use of imagery and emotional appeal. Note the length of the sentences and use of pauses. Short phrases make for effective delivery.
You can also outline the the speech to show where new ideas are presented and grouped.
(See Speech Writing for more information.)
Read part of the speech aloud—perhaps to a small audience or to yourself in a mirror. Pause at the commas and periods to allow for better understanding by the audience. Vary your pitch, rate and emotional level as you see fit.
(See Public Speaking for more information.)
Churchill gave a number of inspirational speeches during World War II. However, events leading up to the speech gave a hint of optimism, concerning the outcome of the war. For one thing, the United States started supplying vast amounts of war material to the UK-Lend-Lease program in March 1941.
Also, since Nazi Germany had invaded Yugoslavia and Greece earlier in the year and invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, it appeared that Britain was no longer the target for the main efforts of Germany.
(Thanks to David Bell of the UK for adding some historical background.)
Before speaking, Churchill discovered that the students had added a verse to one of the school songs:
"Not less we praise in darker days
The leader of our nation,
And Churchill's name shall win acclaim
From each new generation.
For you have power in danger's hour
Our freedom to defend, Sir!
Though long the fight we know that right
Will triumph in the end, Sir!"
This fact was noted in the speech, which may have been primarily an unrehearsed or extemporaneous speech.
Length of speech = 4 min. 12 sec.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill:
Almost a year has passed since I came down here at your Head Master's kind invitation in order to cheer myself and cheer the hearts of a few of my friends by singing some of our own songs.
Body of speech
The ten months that have passed have seen very terrible catastrophic events in the world—ups and downs, misfortunes— but can anyone sitting here this afternoon, this October afternoon, not feel deeply thankful for what has happened in the time that has passed and for the very great improvement in the position of our country and of our home?
Why, when I was here last time we were quite alone, desperately alone, and we had been so for five or six months. We were poorly armed. We are not so poorly armed today; but then we were very poorly armed. We had the unmeasured menace of the enemy and their air attack still beating upon us, and you yourselves had had experience of this attack; and I expect you are beginning to feel impatient that there has been this long lull with nothing particular turning up!
But we must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough. It is generally said that the British are often better at the last. They do not expect to move from crisis to crisis; they do not always expect that each day will bring up some noble chance of war; but when they very slowly make up their minds that the thing has to be done and the job put through and finished, then, even if it takes months—if it takes years—they do it.
Another lesson I think we may take, just throwing our minds back to our meeting here ten months ago and now, is that appearances are often very deceptive, and as Kipling well says, we must "...meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same."
You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.
But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson:
Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.
We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.
Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.
You sang here a verse of a School Song: you sang that extra verse written in my honor, which I was very greatly complimented by and which you have repeated today. But there is one word in it I want to alter—I wanted to do so last year, but I did not venture to. It is the line: "Not less we praise in darker days."
I have obtained the Head Master's permission to alter darker to sterner. "Not less we praise in sterner days."
Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.
Use Churchill's speech to the students to improve your own skills in speech writing, public speaking, or history.
Rise to the occasion
Resources and references
Never Give in - Text of speech from the Churchill Centre
Winston Churchill's Speeches - National Churchill Museum
Winston Churchill Speeches and Radio Broadcasts - Internet Archive
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Winston Churchill's "Never Give In" Speech of 1941