British Prime Minister
No 19th/20th-century figure could have had a more eventful life than Winston Churchill. Born at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, on 30th November, 1874, Winston was the son of Randolph Churchill, British Aristocrat and Conservative politician and Jennie Jerome, vivacious American socialite and daughter of a New York businessman. A noted beauty of the day, Jennie and Lord Randolph made a striking couple. Lord Randolph devoted much of his time to his political career during which he became Secretary of State for India, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. Whilst Jennie, concentrated on her position as Lady Randolph Churchill, influential society hostess. They entertained lavishly, their home was frequented by all the great political personages of the day and by members of the Royal family, most notably, the Prince of Wales with whom it is said, Jennie had an extramarital affair. Nothing exists to substantiate this claim except the fact that politics and male social life in Victorian and Edwardian times, often meant that husband and wife spent very separate lives.
Young Winston loved his parents dearly, but for most of his early life he saw little of his Mother and even less of his Father. Left to the care of nannies and sent away to school at a very early age, Winston lamented on his lack of parental love throughout his boyhood and youth. From his school he wrote frequent letters to his Mother telling her of his progress (or lack of it) he also expressed his dislike of school examinations. His letters nearly always ended up with a heart rendering plea that she should find the time to write back to him as he missed her greatly. The love and understanding that Winston received from Mrs. Everest - his nanny for several years was perhaps the closest the young lad ever got to ' mother love ' although it is said that as an adult he and Jennie became good friends. Her years at the pinnacle of Britain's political and social life were extremely useful in assisting him to further his political career. Throughout his life he continued to hero-worship his father. He frequently proclaimed Randolph to have been 'the greatest and most powerful influence on my early life' and yet in later years Winston was to write of his visits to Lord Roseberry, he felt their discussions about Randolph helped him to feel closer to his father.
From his Prep-school Winston eventually went to Harrow where he is said to have spent happy and rewarding years. On leaving Harrow, he went to Sandhurst for military training. Churchill joined the Fourth Hussars in 1895. He campaigned with his regiment on the Indian north-west frontier and took part in the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan in 1898. From the front, Churchill provided military reports for the Daily Telegraph and started on his literary career. And thus began the extraordinary life of the man who was to become the greatest ever Englishman and deliverer of the British people from the tyranny of Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Winston Churchill left the British Army in 1899, he joined the Morning Post as a war correspondent. He went to South Africa to report on the Boer War. He was taken prisoner by the Boers but managed to escape - at Chartwell, his home for most of his life, there is a Boar War poster offering a £25 ransome for him, dead or alive. It was following his experiences in South Africa that Churchill wrote the book London to Ladysmith.
Following his fathers footsteps, at the age of 26 Churchill embarked on his Parliamentary career. He was elected Conservative MP for Oldham in the 1900 General Election. Deeply moved by the plight of the poor and needy and, the squalour of Northern towns, Churchill became a passionate supporter of social reform and it was his mistrust of the Conservative Party and their stand on the need for change that caused him to join the Liberal Party where he won North West Manchester in the 1906 General Election. In the Liberal Government Churchill was appointed to serve as Secretary of State for the Colonies and when Asquith became Prime Minister in 1908 he joined the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. It was during this period that Churchill established employment exchanges. It was also, at this time that he met the woman who was to remain at his side for the rest of his life, Clementine Hozier.
It is said that Winston met Clementine briefly a couple of years before his second introduction to her, at a society ball. He was quite enchanted with her but she was less impressed with him. However, at a second meeting she was overwhelmed by his natural charm and quick wit. An acclaimed beauty of the day, Clementine came from a very unconventional background. Her mother was Lady Blanche Hozier, who is said to have been 'racy' even by Edwardian standards. Eventually, Hozier divorced Blanch, leaving his children in the care of a mother who was, to say the least, a pleasure-seeking character who through financial circumstances led an incredibly itinerant life. After the divorce, Hozier barely thought about his children and it would appear, did not bother to provide for them either. Interestingly, from the point of view of Winston's unhappy school experiences and Clementine's difficult and unhappy childhood, the couple may have had, a shared common bond.
Winston was 34 years of age when they married in 1908 and Clementine was 23. She made him the perfect wife, she was intelligent, quick witted, vivacious and throughout all of their married life together she was extremely loyal. Completely absorbed by politics, there seem to have been times when Clementine felt neglected by Winston, this was due not so much to the time he spent away from her pursuing his career in Parliament but to the time spent discussing politics with like-minded colleagues. For over half a century, the Churchill's enjoyed a close and happy marriage, much of it played out against the backdrop of the House of Commons and the world stage. The place in which it is said they were happiest is Chartwell, the family home purchased by Churchill in which they lived for over 37 years. At Chartwell, away from worldly pressures, Winston was able to throw himself into family life. Here, he built a tree house for his children and a miniature cottage for them to play in. Chartwell, is also the place where Churchill drew solace from his passion for painting. Clementine Churchill organized the home with extraordinary ability which belied her haphazard upbringing. Forgetting her nervousness at mixing in the illustrious circles to which her brilliant husband was accustomed, she became a superb hostess, entertaining Winston's allies, opponents, world leaders and royalty, with flair, diplomacy and discretion.
The Churchill children found life at Chartwell totally unfettered; there is much documentation citing the Churchill's as a dysfunctional family, with Clementine being a somewhat cold and distant mother. But this was not the case. Clemmie (as Winston liked to call her) loved her children equally but like all parents, there were moments when she was perplexed, if not irritated by them. She was a hard working woman, intelligent and an excellent judge of character. She differed with Winston on the issue of votes for women, attempting to use her influence to ease the suffering of of imprisoned suffragettes. Clementine Churchill had a discerning mind and strong intuition of things to come - long before it happened, she warned her husband of the eventual possibility of both Lloyd-George and Asquith leaving him in the lurch, a warning Winston let go unheeded.
During his years with the Liberal Party, Churchill's career flourished. In 1910, following the General Election, he became Home Secretary, a position he used to introduce reforms to the prison system. In October 1911, he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and was responsible for the modernization of the Navy. Always foresighted, Churchill was quick to realise the potential of the use of aircraft by the Services and he established the Royal Naval Air Service and an Air Department at the Admiralty. He also took flying lessons.
The outbreak of war in 1914 was to eventually call a halt to Churchill's blossoming career. The failure of his Dardanelles Campaign saw him moved to the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The post was not to Churchill's liking so he rejoined the British Army where he served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, commanding a battalion on the Western Front. During the war, David Lloyd George replaced Asquith as Prime Minister, he brought Churchill back into government as Minister of Munitions in charge of production of military tanks, aeroplanes, guns and shells. As with Asquith, Churchill was unswervingly loyal to Lloyd George, not tolerating even the mildest criticism of the man. Sadly, this loyalty was not returned, David Lloyd George was always ready to listen to any amusing story told at Winston's expense. But such is the thrust of politics, Winston Churchill was no stranger to criticism or ridicule, it dogged him all through his political life. However, his years with the Liberal Government were about to come to an end, divisions within the party caused the loss of his seat in the 1922 General Election. Churchill crossed the floor once again and rejoined the Conservatives. In 1924 he became MP for the town of Epping where there is a commemorative statue of him.
Over the next few years Churchill grew more powerful, serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's new Conservative administration, he took Britain back to the Gold Standard and raised a strong line against the General Strike. In 1929, the Conservative Government was defeated and Churchill lost office. Viewed now as a right-wing extremist there was no place for him in the National Government formed by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. And so began for him a ten year period out of office.
At this point, with Churchill being in a political wilderness, he focused all his boundless energy on Chartwell. The house was one of the great passions of his life and perhaps the one that his wife found the most difficult to understand. It is said that in the early years at Chartwell she resented, not just the time Churchill spent on it but also the money. She saw it as a drain on their already stretched finances. Being brought up at Blenheim, Churchill was used to great comfort and the finer things in life and as was usual, paid little heed to what he saw as his wife being unreasonable. However, as the years passed and the Churchill's growing children filled the house with fun and laughter, it can only be assumed that Clemmie, like Winston, came to love the place. As much as he hated being out of politics, Winston loved being at Chartwell. He built walls, rockeries and even managed to revamp the family swimming pool. He painted and concentrated on writing about his ancestor, Marlborough. From a distance, through the endless stream of visitors to the house, he listened intensely to all that went on in Parliament and was provocative in his comments on Government and the handling of world affairs. And, it was at Chartwell, that Churchill got news of Hitler's rise to power in
With the fleetness of his brilliant mind Churchill foresaw the implications of Hitler's leadership of the German people. Thus, he began his long, lone campaign to warn the Government, the country and the world of the dangers to come. Churchill, is said 'to have felt as though a shadow had settled over the house' as alone he tried to awaken his countrymen to the potential wrath that lay ahead. With the heart of a lion and filled with love and fear for his country, Churchill fought to be heard. Indeed, long afterwards, his campaign during those years was said to be ' without parallel in English history ' . As the stream of visitors bringing news to Chartwell continued, Churchill did his own intelligence work and was able to present specific facts and figures which should have prompted the Government into swift response. It didn't, and suddenly, on a summers day in 1939 the gathering storm clouds burst upon a largely unsuspecting world. Winston Churchill's wilderness years were over. He was called back to London and appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.
Back in Government Winston Churchill remained a staunch critic of the Conservatives appeasement policy. He controversially stated that Britain and France should form an alliance with the Soviet Union. In April 1940, he was appointed chairman of the Military Co-ordinating Committee. Later in the same month Hitler invaded and occupied Norway. Early in May, the Labour Party demanded a debate on the Norwegian campaign. The Government was severely censured and at the end of the debate 30 Conservatives voted against Chamberlain and 60 abstained. Neville Chamberlain resigned and on May 10th, 1940 King George VI sent for Churchill and appointed him Prime Minister.
Churchill formed a coalition government which included Clement Atlee, Herbert Morrison, Stafford Cripps, Ernest Bevan and Hugh Dalton from the Labour Party. He chose Anthony Eden, as his secretary of state for war, later appointing him foreign secretary in place of Lord Halifax. Churchill developed close links with the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The relationship between the two men did much to help Britain in the time before America actively joined the fighting. Throughout the early years of the war Churchill's fortunes continued to be mixed and at times he was heavily criticized when things went badly.As had been usual in his life since he took the high road to political fame at the turn of the century, Winston's unsquashable resilience and sense of self belief, came to his aid and he remained contemptuous of his critics. During the dark days of war his genius came to the fore, his special gift of using splendid language served to rally the British people as never before. The people listened and responded, along with him - in the cause of freedom, they gave their all.
Winston Churchill's war time resilience, activities, blood, sweat and tears, are well documented. His courage and fortitude, as well as that of King George and his wife Queen Elizabeth (who both insisted upon remaining in London) did much to encourage the people. Women toiled long hours in munitions factories, young girls worked the land in place of men, women and girls nursed in hospitals at home and at the front. Elderly ladies ran war-time canteens, men beyond call up age served as home guards and young boys lied about their age in an attempt to serve their King and country.
It was a true case of 'cometh the hour, cometh the man' the British people needed, as never before, the wisdom and boldness of a strong leader and Winston Churchill provided that leadership all through the war years. On the day war ended, Churchill stood with King George and Queen Elizabeth and together they received the rapturous acclaim of the British people. The day belonged to him, it was indeed his finest hour.
Churchill was now the most respected leader in Europe and so it came as a sudden blow when at the 1945 General Election, the country he had saved, voted in a Labour Government. Once again he retreated to Chartwell and found solace in family life and the house and lands he loved so much. He spent time painting and began his epic history of World War II.
In 1951 the Conservatives won the General Election and at an age when most men had settled down to enjoy their retirement, Churchill was still possessed of boldness, a passion for politics and vision for his country - he relished the task ahead. Almost 77, he continued to serve as Prime Minister until he retired a few months after his eightieth birthday.
Telling friends and colleagues of his intent ' to bury myself in the country ' Winston Churchill returned again to his family and the haven of Chartwell. His, had been a long and illustrious career that had earned him the admiration of the great and the good from every corner of the earth. For a man used to holding centre stage, as much as he loved Chartwell he found inactivity difficult to cope with. He filled his days with painting and writing; he sat in his garden with friends and family, doubtless still discussing politics and the state of nations. His life, during which he gave so much to so many, drew to a close on January 24th 1965. He was 89 years of age.
Winston Churchill was accorded the honour of a state funeral. His lying-in-state took place in Westminster Hall, scene of so many great events in British history. The funeral service, held at St. Paul's Cathedral was attended by H.M. the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, H.M. the Queen Mother, Members of the Royal Family and other Heads of State. The congregation included 4 Kings, 3 Queens, 8 Princes, 4 Princesses, 3 Dukes, 3 Duchesses and 5 Presidents. His body was drawn on a Gun Carriage built in 1880 and used previously for the funerals of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V and George VI, this was the first time it had been used for the funeral of a commoner. The greatest Englishman the world has ever known is buried in a quiet corner of St.Martin's churchyard in the village of Bladon and within sight of his birthplace, Blenheim Palace.
Fittingly, on 30th November, 2004 the 130th anniversary of his birth, a pair of gates in front of the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral were ceremoniously dedicated to Winston Churchill's memory. The service was attended by the Duke of Kent, his surviving daughter and other members of the Churchill family.
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