Winston Churchill, the son of Randolph Churchill, a Conservative politician, was born in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, on 30th November, 1874. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was the daughter of Leonard Jerome, a New York businessman.
After being educated at Harrow he went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. Churchill joined the Fourth Hussars in 1895 and saw action on the Indian north-west frontier and in the Sudan where he took part in the Battle of Omdurman (1898).
While in the army Churchill supplied military reports for the Daily Telegraph and wrote books such as The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899). After leaving the British Army in 1899, Churchill worked as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. While reporting the Boer War in South Africa he was taken prisoner by the Boers but made headline news when he escaped. On returning to England he wrote about his experiences in the book, London to Ladysmith (1900).
In the 1900 General Election Churchill was elected as the Conservative MP for Oldham. As a result of reading, Poverty, A Study of Town Life by Seebohm Rowntree he became a supporter of social reform. In 1904, unconvinced by his party leaders desire for change, Churchill decided to join the Liberal Party.
In the 1906 General Election Churchill won North West Manchester and immediately became a member of the new Liberal government as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. When Herbert Asquith replaced Henry Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister in 1908 he promoted Churchill to his cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. While in this post he carried through important social legislation including the establishment of employment exchanges.
On 12th September 1908 Churchill married Clementine Ogilvy Spencer and the following year published a book on his political philosophy, Liberalism and the Social Problem (1909).
Following the 1910 General Election Churchill became Home Secretary. Churchill introduced several reforms to the prison system, including the provision of lecturers and concerts for prisoners and the setting up of special after-care associations to help convicts after they had served their sentence. However, Churchill was severely criticized for using troops to maintain order during a Welsh miners's strike.
On 16 December 1910, a gang attempted to break into the rear of a jeweller's shop in Houndsditch. An adjacent shopkeeper heard their hammering, and informed the police. When the police arrived, the robbers burst out, shooting three officers dead. The gang leader, a Latvian, Poloski Morountzeff, was accidently shot in the back by another gang member, and died later.
Winston Churchill immediately announced that the police was looking for a gang of Jewish anarchists. It was also important to the government that the incident did not cause anti-Jewish feeling and the coroner made a point of stressing "in justice and fairness to the Jewish community" that he was uncircumcised.
Acting on a tip-off, police surrounded 100 Sidney Street in Stepney on 2nd January 1911. Churchill hurried to the scene in order to direct operations. He was greeted by cries of "who let them immigrants in?" Churchill authorised the deployment of 124 soldiers.
The Manchester Guardian reported: "The firing came in spurts. The murderers would shoot first from the ground floor, then the window above … then there would be a barking of rifles in reply. Close on one o'clock an especially sharp fusillade rattled like a growl of exasperation …. a little feather of smoke curling out of the window below the point of attack. We thought at first it was gun smoke and then with a thrill we saw that the house was on fire."
Churchill refused to allow the fire brigade to douse the flames until the firing from inside stopped. When it did and the police were allowed in, only two bodies were found. One writer, Stephen Bates, has argued: "The lesson the police took from the siege was not that they had overreacted but that they needed better weapons. The lesson the press took was that the Liberal government was soft on immigrants."
The two dead men, Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow, were petty criminals, and not anarchists. However, the government leaked the story that the gang had been led by Peter Piatkow (Peter the Painter) who had managed to escape from the burning building. However, there are doubts that Piatkow ever existed.
Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in October 1911 where he helped modernize the navy. Churchill was one of the first people to grasp the military potential of aircraft and in 1912 he set up the Royal Naval Air Service. He also established an Air Department at the Admiralty so as to make full use of this new technology. Churchill was so enthusiastic about these new developments that he took flying lessons.
On the outbreak of war in 1914, Churchill joined the War Council. However, he was blamed for the failure at the Dardanelles Campaign in 1915 and was moved to the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Unhappy about not having any power to influence the Government's war policy, he rejoined the British Army and commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front.
When David Lloyd George replaced Herbert Asquith as Prime Minister, he brought Churchill back into the government as Minister of Munitions and for the final year of the war, Churchill was in charge of the production of tanks, aeroplanes, guns and shells.
Churchill also served under David Lloyd George as Minister of War and Air (1919-20) and Colonial Secretary (1921-22). Churchill created great controversy over his policies in Iraq. It was estimated that around 25,000 British and 80,000 Indian troops would be needed to control the country. However, he argued that if Britain relied on air power, you could cut these numbers to 4,000 (British) and 10,000 (Indian). The government was convinced by this argument and it was decided to send the recently formed Royal Air Force to Iraq.
An uprising of more than 100,000 armed tribesmen took place in 1920. Over the next few months the RAF dropped 97 tons of bombs killing 9,000 Iraqis. This failed to end the resistance and Arab and Kurdish uprisings continued to pose a threat to British rule. Churchill suggested that chemical weapons should be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment." He added "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes to spread a lively terror" in Iraq.
The divisions in the Liberal Party led to Churchill being defeated by E. D. Morel at Dundee in the 1922 General Election. Churchill now rejoined the Conservative Party and was successfully elected to represent Epping in the 1924 General Election.
Stanley Baldwin, the leader of the new Conservative administration, appointed Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1925 Churchill controversially returned Britain the the Gold Standard and the following year took a strong line against the General Strike. Churchill edited the Government's newspaper, the British Gazette, during the dispute where he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country."
With the defeat of the Conservative government in 1929, Churchill lost office. When Ramsay MacDonald formed the National Government in 1931 Churchill, who was now seen as a right-wing extremist, was not invited to join the Cabinet. He spent the next few years concentrating on his writing, including the publication of the History of the English Speaking Peoples.
After Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party gained power in Germany in 1933, Churchill became a leading advocate of rearmament. He was also a staunch critic of Neville Chamberlain and the Conservative government's appeasement policy. In 1939 Churchill controversially argued that Britain and France should form of a military alliance with the Soviet Union.
Britain was in a very difficult situation. In 1939 Germany had a population of 80 million with a workforce of 41 million. Britain had a population of 46 million with less than half Germany's workforce. Germany's total income at market prices was £7,260 million compared to Britain's £5,242 million. More ominously, the Germans had spent five times what Britain had spent on armaments - £1,710 million versus £358 million.
On the outbreak of the Second World War Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and on 4th April 1940 became chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee. Later that month the German Army invaded and occupied Norway. The loss of Norway was a considerable setback for Neville Chamberlain and his policies for dealing with Nazi Germany.
On 8th May the Labour Party demanded a debate on the Norwegian campaign and this turned into a vote of censure. At the end of the debate 30 Conservatives voted against Chamberlain and a further 60 abstained. Chamberlain now decided to resign and on 10th May, 1940, George VI appointed Churchill as prime minister. Later that day the German Army began its Western Offensive and invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Two days later German forces entered France.
Churchill formed a coalition government and placed leaders of the Labour Party such as Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Stafford Cripps and Hugh Dalton in key positions. He also brought in another long-time opponent of Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, as his secretary of state for war. Later that year Eden replaced Lord Halifax as foreign secretary.
Churchill realised straight away that it would be vitally important to enlist the United States as Britain's ally. Randolph Churchill, on the morning of 18th May, 1940, claims that his father told him "I think I see my way through.... I mean we can beat them." When Randolph asked him how, he replied with great intensity: "I shall drag the United States in."
Churchill now sent William Stephenson to the United States. Stephenson's main contact was Gene Tunney, a friend from the First World War, who had been World Heavyweight Champion (1926-1928) and was a close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. Tunney later recalled: "Quite to my surprise I received a confidential letter that was from Billy Stephenson, and he asked me to try and arrange for him to see J. Edgar Hoover... I found out that his mission was so important that the Ambassador from England could not be in on it, and no one in official government... It was my understanding that the thing went off extremely well." Stephenson was also a friend of Ernest Cuneo. He worked for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and according to Stephenson was the leader of "Franklin's brain trust". Cuneo met with Roosevelt and reported back that the president wanted "the closest possible marriage between the FBI and British Intelligence."
On his return to London, Stephenson reported back to Churchill. After hearing what he had to say, Churchill told Stephenson: "You know what you must do at once. We have discussed it most fully, and there is a complete fusion of minds between us. You are to be my personal representative in the United States. I will ensure that you have the full support of all the resources at my command. I know that you will have success, and the good Lord will guide your efforts as He will ours." Charles Howard Ellis said that he selected Stephenson because: "Firstly, he was Canadian. Secondly, he had very good American connections... he had a sort of fox terrier character, and if he undertook something, he would carry it through."
Churchill now instructed Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, to appoint William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC). Menzies told Gladwyn Jebb on 3rd June, 1940: "I have appointed Mr W.S. Stephenson to take charge of my organisation in the USA and Mexico. As I have explained to you, he has a good contact with an official (J. Edgar Hoover) who sees the President daily. I believe this may prove of great value to the Foreign Office in the future outside and beyond the matters on which that official will give assistance to Stephenson. Stephenson leaves this week. Officially he will go as Principal Passport Control Officer for the USA."
As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. In 1940 a BSC agent approached Donald Chase Downes and told him that he was working under the direct orders of Winston Churchill. "Our primary directive from Churchill is that American participation in the war is the most important single objective for Britain. It is the only way, he feels, to victory over Nazism."
Churchill had a serious problem. Joseph P. Kennedy was the United States Ambassador to Britain. He soon came to the conclusion that the island was a lost cause and he considered aid to Britain fruitless. Kennedy, an isolationist, consistently warned Roosevelt "against holding the bag in a war in which the Allies expect to be beaten." Neville Chamberlain wrote in his diary in July 1940: "Saw Joe Kennedy who says everyone in the USA thinks we shall be beaten before the end of the month." Averell Harriman later explained the thinking of Kennedy and other isolationists: "After World War I, there was a surge of isolationism, a feeling there was no reason for getting involved in another war... We made a mistake and there were a lot of debts owed by European countries. The country went isolationist.
William Stephenson knew that with leading officials supporting isolationism he had to overcome these barriers. His main ally in this was another friend, William Donovan, who he had met in the First World War. "The procurement of certain supplies for Britain was high on my priority list and it was the burning urgency of this requirement that made me instinctively concentrate on the single individual who could help me. I turned to Bill Donovan." Donovan arranged meetings with Henry Stimson (Secretary of War), Cordell Hull (Secretary of State) and Frank Knox (Secretary of the Navy). The main topic was Britain's lack of destroyers and the possibility of finding a formula for transfer of fifty "over-age" destroyers to the Royal Navy without a legal breach of U.S. neutrality legislation.
It was decided to send Donovan to Britain on a fact-finding mission. He left on 14th July, 1940. When he heard the news, Joseph P. Kennedy complained: "Our staff, I think is getting all the information that possibility can be gathered, and to send a new man here at this time is to me the height of nonsense and a definite blow to good organization." He added that the trip would "simply result in causing confusion and misunderstanding on the part of the British". Andrew Lycett has argued: "Nothing was held back from the big American. British planners had decided to take him completely into their confidence and share their most prized military secrets in the hope that he would return home even more convinced of their resourcefulness and determination to win the war."
William Donovan arrived back in the United States in early August, 1940. In his report to President Franklin D. Roosevelt he argued: "(1) That the British would fight to the last ditch. (2) They could not hope to hold to hold the last ditch unless they got supplies at least from America. (3) That supplies were of no avail unless they were delivered to the fighting front - in short, that protecting the lines of communication was a sine qua non. (4) That Fifth Column activity was an important factor." Donovan also urged that the government should sack Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, who was predicting a German victory. Donovan also wrote a series of articles arguing that Nazi Germany posed a serious threat to the United States.
On 22nd August, William Stephenson reported to London that the destroyer deal was agreed upon. The agreement for transferring 50 aging American destroyers, in return for the rights to air and naval basis in Bermuda, Newfoundland, the Caribbean and British Guiana, was announced 3rd September, 1940. The bases were leased for 99 years and the destroyers were of great value as convey escorts. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the British Chief of Combined Operations, commented: "We were told that the man primarily responsible for the loan of the 50 American destroyers to the Royal Navy at a critical moment was Bill Stephenson; that he had managed to persuade the president that this was in the ultimate interests of America themselves and various other loans of that sort were arranged. These destroyers were very important to us...although they were only old destroyers, the main thing was to have combat ships that could actually guard against and attack U-boats."
Churchill developed a strong personal relationship with Franklin D. Roosevelt and he asked him for help to beat Nazi Germany. On 17th December, 1940, Roosevelt made a speech to the American public: "In the present world situation of course there is absolutely no doubt in the mind of a very overwhelming number of Americans that the best immediate defence of the United States is the success of Great Britain in defending itself; and that, therefore, quite aside from our historic and current interest in the survival of democracy in the world as a whole, it is equally important, from a selfish point of view of American defence, that we should do everything to help the British Empire to defend itself... In other words, if you lend certain munitions and get the munitions back at the end of the war, if they are intact - haven't been hurt - you are all right; if they have been damaged or have deteriorated or have been lost completely, it seems to me you come out pretty well if you have them replaced by the fellow to whom you have lent them." The Lend Lease agreement of March 1941 allowed Britain to order war goods from the United States on credit.
Although he provided strong leadership the war continued to go badly for Britain and after a series of military defeats Churchill had to face a motion of no confidence in Parliament. However, he maintained the support of most members of the House of Commons and won by 475 votes to 25. Churchill continued to be criticized for meddling in military matters and tended to take too much notice of the views of his friends such as Frederick Lindemann rather than his military commanders. In April 1941 he made the serious mistake of trying to save Greece by weakening his forces fighting the Desert War.
One of the major contributions made by Churchill to eventual victory was his ability to inspire the British people to greater effort by making public broadcasts on significant occasions. A brilliant orator he was a tireless source of strength to people experiencing the sufferings of the Blitz.
After Pearl Harbor Churchill worked closely with Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure victory over Germany and Japan. He was also a loyal ally of the Soviet Union after Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa in June, 1941.
Churchill held important meetings with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at Teheran (November, 1943) and Yalta (February, 1945). Although Churchill's relationship with Stalin was always difficult he managed to successfully develop a united strategy against the Axis powers.
Despite intense pressure from Stalin to open a second-front by landing Allied troops in France in 1943, Churchill continued to argue that this should not happen until the defeat of Nazi Germany was guaranteed. The D-Day landings did not take place until June, 1944 and this delay enabled the Red Army to capture territory from Germany in Eastern Europe.
In public Churchill accepted plans for social reform drawn up by William Beveridge in 1944. However, he was unable to convince the electorate that he was as committed to these measures as much as Clement Attlee and the Labour Party. In May 1945, Churchill made a radio broadcast where he attacked the Labour Party: "I must tell you that a socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas on freedom. There is to be one State, to which all are to be obedient in every act of their lives. This State, once in power, will prescribe for everyone: where they are to work, what they are to work at, where they may go and what they may say, what views they are to hold, where their wives are to queue up for the State ration, and what education their children are to receive. A socialist state could not afford to suffer opposition - no socialist system can be established without a political police. They (the Labour government) would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo."
Clement Attlee's response the following day caused Churchill serious damage: "The Prime Minister made much play last night with the rights of the individual and the dangers of people being ordered about by officials. I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom compatible with the freedom of others. There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day. I remember when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair. There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases. For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor. Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners. The Conservative Party remains as always a class Party. In twenty-three years in the House of Commons, I cannot recall more than half a dozen from the ranks of the wage earners. It represents today, as in the past, the forces of property and privilege. The Labour Party is, in fact, the one Party which most nearly reflects in its representation and composition all the main streams which flow into the great river of our national life."
Churchill became leader of the opposition and when visiting the United States in March 1946, he made his famous Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri. He suffered the first of several strokes in August 1946 but this information was kept from the general public and he continued to lead the Conservative Party.
Churchill's cousin, Clare Sheridan had lunch with him in June 1948. "Winston, in his dreadful boiler suit was looking pale. He rants, of course, about the inefficient ignorant crowd now in power, who are what he calls throwing the British Empire away. He is almost heartbroken. All his life he has been such a great Imperialist. He is so brilliant, but unless one can make notes in shorthand one cannot recapture all he says. He quotes so aptly, which I envy, having myself no memory. He quoted Hamlet several times which illustrates his spirit of despondency... He has finished three volumes of his new book The Second World War, and only the possibility of being called back into politics prevents him going on with it."
Churchill's health continued to deteriorate and in 1955 he reluctantly retired from politics. Clare Sheridan remembers visiting his home in London after he left politics. She found him very depressed. He told her that he felt a failure. She replied: "How can you!" You beat the Nazis." Churchill remained sunk in gloom: "Yes.... we had to fight those Nazis - it would have been too terrible had we failed. But in the end you have your art. The Empire I believed in has gone."
Winston Churchill died on 24th January, 1965.