By Tom Morrow
Sir Winston Churchill was one of the most important world figures of the 20th century. He not only was a prolific writer of history, shrewd politician, valiant war-time leader, but a symbol for Great Britain and the free world during the darkest time in modern history – World War II.
Churchill was born Nov. 30, 1874, into the aristocratic family of the Dukes of Marlborough. He almost was an American citizen. Churchill’s mother, Jenny Jerome, was an American socialite. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a charismatic politician who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (treasury).
During the mid-1930s, Churchill warned against the growing Nazi menace in Germany and correctly predicted dictator Adolf Hitler would conquer nearly all of Europe.
As British Prime Minister during the war years (1940 to 1945) and again from 1951 to 1955, Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.
As a young army officer, he saw action in British India, the Sudan, and during the South African Boer War. Churchill also gained fame as a war correspondent and wrote books and newspaper accounts of his adventures.
At the forefront of politics for 50 years, Churchill held many government positions. Before World War I, he served in the Liberal Party government as Home Secretary, and First Lord of the Admiralty (Secretary of the Navy).
He was First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, until the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign forced him from government. Gallipoli was an obscure coastal location in Turkey where thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops died in a futile attempt to gain a foothold in what Churchill called “… the soft underbelly of Europe.” Turkish soldiers proved Churchill’s assessment to be false.
Out of office during the 1930s of when he proclaimed he was “in the wilderness,” Churchill took the lead in campaigning for rearmament, warning of the “gathering Nazi storm.”
At the outbreak of the Second World War on Sept. 1, 1939, Churchill was again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. Following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain on May 10, 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister, and his steadfast refusal to surrender to Germany inspired staunch British resistance.
Churchill was particularly noted for his moving speeches and radio broadcasts, which helped inspire the British and American people. Two such passages from his speeches will always be remembered.
After England’s valiant stand during the “Battle of Britain” in the summer of 1940, Churchill said of his people, “… If the British Empire and the Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour.” Of the Royal Air Force Spitfire and Hurricane fighter pilots: “In the field of human conflict, never has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
Churchill led Britain as Prime Minister until victory over Nazi Germany, but, ironically, he was turned out of office at the end of the War.
Churchill was a staunch believer in the British Empire. During the 1940s, he became controversial in opposing independence for India, the so-called “Jewel in the British Empire’s Crown.”
But, just when it seemed his public life was over, Churchill’s Conservative party won the 1951 election, once again making him Prime Minister. He finally retired in 1955.
Upon his death at 91, on Jan. 24, 1965, Queen Elizabeth II granted Churchill the honor of a state funeral, which saw one of history’s largest gathering of world leaders.
In a 2002 poll, Churchill was named the “Greatest Briton” of all time. He is widely regarded as being among the most influential people in world history. But, as we lose the “Greatest Generation” of World War, the memory of that “British Lion” fades into history.
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