Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965) was prime minister of Britain during the Second World War and again during the early 1950s. He was also the head of the British navy for a time during the First World War and at the beginning of the Second.
During most of the 1930s he repeatedly warned Britain about the danger of Hitler but no one would listen until it was too late. When war came, no one had any doubt about who should lead. And even though Britain did not win a single battle in the first two years of war, few in Britain or anywhere in the English-speaking world lost faith in him.
For a whole year, from the fall of France in June 1940 till Hitler attacked Russia in June 1941, Churchill stood alone against Hitler. His courage seemed bottomless.
- He was a racist and an imperialist: he thought his people (Anglo-Saxons in Churchill’s case) were by nature the best in the world and should rule the rest. He saw nothing wrong with wiping out the natives of North America.
- He had a very good sense of history and which way it was going, which put him at odds with the received wisdom of the day.
- He saw himself as becoming part of his country’s destiny, even in the 1920s when few took him seriously.
Churchill came from one of the 100 families which once ruled England. But, although he was born in a palace and never had to tie his own shoes, he received neither money nor title. He had to make his way in the world.
His parents thought he was not bright enough for Oxford or Cambridge, so they sent him to Sandhurst where he became a military officer. This might seem a bit strange since we think of him as a prime minister and a writer. At root, though, Churchill was a military man. As a boy he loved his toy soldiers and even as prime minister during the war he often dressed as if he were somehow in the navy.
He was a military officer in India and during the Boer War in South Africa. During that war he wrote for a London newspaper and made a daring escape across enemy land. He came home a hero. With that he was able to stand for parliament and win. Except for one short period, he was a Tory all his life.
In the First World War he was the head of the navy. He fell from grace after the defeat of Gallipolli, of which he was a mastermind. He left government and went to fight on the Western Front with the army.
Between the world wars he was a member of parliament and a best-selling author. He could write 1900 words a day.
During the war he was in his late sixties and rarely got out of bed before noon – yet wound up working 90 hours a week.
He lived long enough to see his beloved British Empire fall.