Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, one of the greatest prime ministers of Great Britain and Nobel laureate for literature, was born on November 30, 1874, in Oxfordshire. He studied at Harrow and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. With intermingling careers in the army and in journalism, he traveled to Cuba, the North-West Frontier in India, Sudan, and South Africa. His political career began as a member of the House of Commons in 1900. After the electoral victory of the Liberals in 1906, Churchill became the undersecretary of state for the colonies. He also became the president of the Board of Trade and afterward the home secretary, undertaking major social reforms. In 1911 he was appointed lord of the admiralty in the ministry of Herbert Asquith (1852–1928) and undertook modernization of the Royal Navy. An abortive naval attack on the Ottoman Turks and the Allied defeat at Gallipoli led to Churchill’s resignation at the time of World War I. He was called back and was put in charge of munitions production in the ministry of David Lloyd George (1863–1945) and was instrumental in deploying tanks on the western front. He returned to the Conservative Party as chancellor of the exchequer in 1924 in the ministry of Stanley Baldwin (1867–1947). He reintroduced the gold standard in his tenure of five years. For about a decade he did not hold any ministerial office and was isolated politically because of his extreme views. Most of the political leaders also did not pay any heed to Churchill’s caution against appeasement policy toward Germany and the German march toward armament.
For Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869– 1940) the policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany was not working. There was no relenting of the march of Germany’s army under Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). Churchill became the premier on May 13, 1940, when he also took charge of the Department of Defense. As wartime policy, he initiated measures that enabled the country to withstand the Nazi onslaught and led Great Britain toward victory. However, the bombing of German cities, particularly the firebombing of Dresden, which resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives, brought criticism against him. Churchill initiated changes in the war efforts of his government. For the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), half a million volunteers were enlisted. Under the National Services Act, conscription and registration of men between 18 and 41 began. In 1944 the British army had a strength of about 2,700,000. Women’s emancipation took another step when they were called upon to work outside the home in the war economy. Agencies like the Women’s Transport Service (FANY), the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and the Women’s Royal Naval Service were created, by which women contributed to the nation’s war efforts.
Churchill, along with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, formulated war strategy, peace plans, the reconstruction of Europe, and the fate of the Axis powers. Churchill had met Roosevelt on August 14, 1941, and signed the “Atlantic Charter,” which spelled out a plan for international peace and adherence to national sovereignty. The “Grand Alliance” was committed to defeating Nazism and bringing about world peace. The last wartime conference that Churchill attended was the Yalta Conference in Crimea in the Soviet Union (now in Ukraine) with Roosevelt and Stalin between February 4 and 11, 1945. The differences between the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United States and Great Britain on the other were emerging. Churchill had many rounds of verbal dueling with Stalin over the fate of Poland, the division of Germany, and the occupation of Berlin. Once the war was over and their common enemy was defeated, the cold war began.
World War II ended in victory, but Great Britain was no longer the country commanding the most military and economic clout in the world. It was in debt £4.198 billion, and the cost of living had increased by 50 percent. Churchill’s Conservative Party was defeated in the elections of July 1945, and the Labour Party under Clement Attlee (1883–1967) came to power. Disillusionment with the Conservative Party, Churchill’s neglect of the health and educational sectors, and economic woes contributed to the Conservative defeat. Churchill was the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons. He was relentless in turning public opinion against international communism. His speech delivered on March 5, 1946, at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, was a clarion call to the West to be ultracareful against communism. He called for an alliance of the English-speaking peoples of the world before it was too late. This “iron curtain” speech was regarded as the beginning of the schism between the East and the West and the division of the world into two blocs.
With the return of the Conservative Party to power in Britain, Churchill became the prime minister as well as the minister of defense in October 1951. Great Britain intervened in Iran after its prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh (1880–1967), nationalized the Anglo Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). Churchill planned a coup to oust the government with the help of the United States. He dispatched British troops to the colony of Kenya in August 1952 at the time of the Mau Mau Rebellion, which was suppressed. Churchill’s administration dealt with the rebellion against British colonial rule in Malaya. Churchill during his first and second premiership was never willing to grant self-government to the colonies. Although high-sounding words like democracy, national sovereignty, and self-determination had been uttered at the time of World War II by Churchill and other Allied leaders, granting independence to the colonies was not in Churchill’s agenda. In fact, he had shown an apathetic attitude toward the Indian freedom movement. The Quit India movement of 1942 was suppressed ruthlessly. He had lampooned Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) as a “naked fakir.” He was also indifferent to the devastating famine of 1943 in Bengal, which killed about 3 million people. Churchill resigned in April 1955 due to ill health. He continued as a backbencher in the House of Commons until 1964. Churchill died in London on January 24, 1965.
In his lifetime Churchill was bestowed with many honors. He became Sir Winston Churchill after becoming a Knight of the Garter in 1953. For his contribution to European ideals he was awarded the Karlspreis award by the city of Aachen, Germany, in 1956. The U.S. government made him an honorary citizen in 1963. His writing career began with reports from the battlefield like The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899). He published a biography of his father, Life of Lord Randolph Churchill (1906), and wrote one on his ancestor, Marlborough: His Life and Times (four volumes, 1933–38). Churchill’s The World Crisis (1923–31) was a history of World War I in four volumes. He also wrote History of the English-Speaking Peoples in four volumes (1956–58). In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for his six-volume work The Second World War (1948–53).
- Best, Geoffrey. Churchill: A Study in Greatness. Rio Grande, OH: Hambledon Press, 2002;
- Brendon, Piers. Winston Churchill: A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1984;
- Churchill, R., and M. Gilbert. Winston S. Churchill. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966–88;
- Churchill, Winston. The World Crisis. New York: Scribner, 1931;
- The Second World War: The Grand Alliance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1950;
- Gilbert, M. Churchill: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1991;
- Jenkins, Roy. Churchill: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001;
- Keegan, John. Winston Churchill. New York: Viking Press, 2002;
- Ramsden, J. Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and His Legend Since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
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